Critical Texts

i MULINI di DIO è stato scritto, CIRO PALUMBO
Alessandra Frosini

i MULINI di DIO è stato scritto

From the artist’s ability to look, from an unveiling or, perhaps, even more, from a revelation: this is where the work originates, a work which is not the result of life or history, but only of art itself. The creating artist investigates the thought starting from the central nature of the relationship which exists between object and image, between past and future, between author and user and, lastly, between fiction and reality.
In the film The Mill and the Cross by Lech Majewski, the inspirationthat triggers Ciro Palumbo’s series of works entitled “I Mulini di Dio” [God’s Mills], the role of the creator artist is carefully outlined through the figure of Bruegel represented, with continuous shifts between “reality” and creative imagination, while he studies the composition and experiences it, giving body to its images, participating in the events which unfold in it and prefiguring future developments. This is the starting point for a reflection within a reflection that investigates the role and value of the artist, of art itself and of the film that narrates itself. The game of constant references, of symbols within symbols, the dizzying game of Chinese boxes, amplifies the study of the evocative potential of the means of expression, be it art or, precisely, film. Here we have a demiurge painter and a film (a director) who shape and look at their work, like God observing from outside the world which He created, like a miller that looks from above, from the mill on the rock, man’s destiny, and another artist, Palumbo, who creates painted dreams in an uninterrupted overlapping of levels and in a game of references between real and surreal, with the freedom of a modern poem. That atmosphere of constant alienation that permeates the film is echoed in Palumbo’s works, which investigate that distant mill perched up high on the rock, that, mindless of the events which are unfolding below it, continues to mill grain, the grain of the destiny of the great miller in the sky. It is a symbolic mill that mills a destiny that plagues mankind just like it plagues the Redeemer in His dual nature, a tragic passion shared by man and by Christ, who tries to steal man’s destiny away from His own Father.
This is the second stage of the cycle entitled "God’s mills", at the centre of which reflection there are works of considerable pictorial intensity enhanced by the symbolic meaning of the colour white and of the sublimation of light. We find ourselves in the phase of the itinerary (an itinerary that is both tangible-logical and symbolic at the same time), in which the abstraction process has reached the mill. It is an abstraction, then, intended in its classical philosophical meaning, of a proceeding through which an element is isolated from all the other elements to which it was connected, which becomes an object upon which the research is focused, a logical method for obtaining universal concepts by extracting them from the sensible knowledge of particular objects.
We are in Matera, and it is no accident that this phase is welcomed and displayed in this city. Matera is a city of light and stone that almost create themselves one out of the other. The white limestone that is a mountain, but also a cavity, the Rock that becomes a mother’s womb and welcomes life: a city-stone that is also a city-cross, also chosen by directors such as Pier Paolo Pasolini and Mel Gibson to set the drama of Christ’s Passion in films that have become famous. Because human culture necessarily cannot but confront itself with the thought of destiny and thus reflect upon the event of the cross and of man. This is precisely why it was decided to set up this moment of the itinerary in Matera, under the ferociously ancient sun of the Italian Jerusalem: man’s destiny, the drama of pain and the desire for salvation are combined here with the symbolic white of stone and light, harmoniously blending the conceptual idea with that of the symbol that evokes the memory. And white is the symbolic colour par excellence, an absence of colours really,since white swallows them all up, considered light and symbol of spirituality and of transcendence in all cultures and interpreted, according to the Apocalypse of Saint John (7, 13-14) as the colour of purity obtained through sacrifice up to martyrdom. We are essentially observing a Via Crucisthat is taking place under our guilty eyes and are travelling down a road made of passages and eternal comebacks, a road that is also, paradigmatically, an exhibition itinerary.
An itinerary split into stages comprises the concept of continuity, which nevertheless does not mean return, but rather development, opening towards new perspectives. To expand the horizon of the discussion, to cross it, Palumbo steps in at this point with unexpected and enigmatic visions in order to offer his own personal philosophical vision of the human trajectory that, like a wheel, turns and turns and repeats itself over time.
That which “was written” is perhaps man’s destiny, which endlessly repeats itself, the destiny of human sacrifice that wants victims, in order to keep its ancestral balance. That which “was written” belongs to the tales of the Passion of the canonical Gospels (but also of the apocryphal Gospels), the same way it belongs to the cyclic nature of human destiny, to the world where everything returns or where everything stays the same in a mobile, recurrent eternity, and which calls to mind the concept of “flaky pastry of time”, hypothesised by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, according to which time (and history) finds the best representation of its complexity and mixture through a comparison withflaky pastry and its characteristic overlapping of layers, where there exist no “new” because “that which from time to time represents the new is simply a thin layer floating upon immeasurableabysses of latent possibilities (1*)
After all, time, space and numbers are the only possible abstractions through which the human mind can approach natural laws and proceed from them, reducing the external world in signs, as systems that refer to a content, as unique expressions of a universal language, imbuedwith the enigmatic meaning of things. And the signs that Palumbo disseminates in his paintings are shared signs for which each one of us can search for a logic, as they are a mirror of man’s daily reflection on existence.
And so the work becomes the setting for a vast repertory, which takes its moves in Palumbo’s universe from the inspirationdrawn from De Chirico, Savinio and Magritte, as well asfrom the symbolism of Böcklin and Klinger, to arrive, ina play of centripetal and centrifugal forces that go from joint to deflagration, to something absolutely new in which the enigma provides nourishment and strength toessence. And so fiction becomes an allegory of life’s illusory nature and of a knowledge that, in terms of the artist, can move on only by sudden flashes, enlivening the spirit through the help of different references. The dwelling of this conceived image, that silent place where everything is born is the drawing fixed by the artist with watercolour pencils and then with acrylic, on a canvas prepared with multiple gesso layers, a drawing that continues to govern the representation from behind the wings (along with certain phrases and thoughts added to it, directly on the canvas). This is followed by the application of colour in which he captures lights and shadows, adds and removes, and then the subsequent thin layers of bitumen and the highlights to bring everything to life through light. A process that is also a path, made of pauses, times for reflection and in-depth thinking, a flurry of movements extraneous to a certain extemporaneous painting that burns up during the instant of its creation.
Signs are added to the paintings according to the point of view with which the artist has observed them, a metaphysical look upon a world of physical objects, translated into a painting that is neither figurative nor abstract. The desire for synthesis through signs and symbols also permeates those elements which are the goals of the itinerary of “God’s Mills”: all that was part of a structure and a system before, is now shown only as an element, one step at a time, one sign at a time.
And God’s mills seem to change and open up to us.
One can see amongst them the mill that creates energy from its blades and that, at the top of the steep rock, seems to attempt to fly, using the blades almost like wings. A flight that might turn out to be catastrophic but that justifies such a difficult climb, a climb towards a top that has all the makings of a prayer. Because to get to the top man has to climb within the belly of the mountain (as one infers in the film);in this surreal architectural condition we catch a glimpse of a metaphor in the sense of an ascent which, at the climax, we realize is not enough because that which we really need is a flight: it is the paradigm of the endless journey, the end of which never comes because it would stop being  a search and an afflatus, an impulse,so as to no longer be anything.
So the spaces open up like an abyss and attest the dizziness of the climb and of the flight; the clouds gather or are totally absent, while the rocks show us the substance of things, offering us extreme points of view, opening up and rising upward (Nel bianco, nella luce e nel nulla; Lassù; Lassù dove volano i pensieri– In the white, in the light and in the nothing; Up above; Up above where thoughts fly).
But the wind is unable to move the marble blades of petrified mills, immovable like a moment and a remembrance. Mills white with light and matter, turned into gypsum or stone or marble, that stick out from the rock and seem sculpted in it or inhabiting it, or communicating with indicating rocky elements, almost as milestones (Monolite), balanced on forestages which are also made of stone and hide and allow a glimpse of another dimension, creating a surreal and contradictory game. Are we placed in front of multiple realities (or fictions), or is it us that are searching and are multiple realities?
We are both audience and players (with Palumbo) as we look at these forestages that show the objects building time and space, creating the inside and the outside, the before and the after, the here and the elsewhere. The installations set up by Palumbo are theatrical spaces which the artist himself uses, adopting the point of view of the theatre audience or of the actor, putting on stage angst, thought and his own reflections, looking at and allowing to be looked at. Space and time cancel each other out because we see at the same moment and in the same space one thing rather than another and we are in two, three worlds, three parallelisms, three moods, three ways of feeling.
In Visioni,this concept is illustrated and taken to extreme consequences: the mill has left the rock upon which it was perched and looks at it with scorn from another dimension, orbiting in the air upon a stool placed in front of the painting from which the mill itself comes from. The place of awareness of the still rock has vanished by now, all has been deconstructed, we even see the abandoned grindstones (La salita;Dimenticanze) and the parts of the mill that no longer exist by now if not as fragments, and the extreme consequence of this phase can only be a “lifting” during which the soul appropriates itself of space. Hanging cloths then accompany or swaddle the rock that was part of the mill, which loses the gravity of matter and becomes evanescent towards light, in order to deal with a transformation that is not a passing, but instead an elevation towards a higher level, to symbolise getting closer to God or achieving a fuller awareness of oneself. Many of the signs are represented in this elevation which makes them icons of an interior and cerebral art capable of expressing extremely modern feelings. The symbols of the passion join the iconized stones and the suspended pages as poetic acts, and form scenes featuring a refined and meditated balance where the relationship with the ancient and with tradition also presents itself as focus of the reflection on beauty, betrayed by so much contemporary art. And if there is a desire to free oneself from the clichés of the Christian Catholic tradition (the menhir stone with primitive incisions inSegni) in an act of overcoming which is also a reference to universal archaic concepts, that aura of beauty that allows works to charm the eye with grace and discretion, is always searched for and assimilated, in order to admire the knowledge of memory and language, and to feel the mystery of certain feeling-related phenomena.
In the work “Ultimo atto, transformation reaches sublimation, with the sign par excellence: the bread-body of Christ that rises up into the absolute of the cosmos with a cloth, the base from which He has become detached, like a Holy Shroud that welcomed and wrapped Him, made pure white with the blood of the Lamb. (2*).
The moonlit background captures one’s look and focuses the attention on the instant in which the action is carried out, in the eternity of a moment that showcases the existence of a world that remains sealed shut to our eyes, underscoring the contrast between physical existence and metaphysical looking.It is in this synthesis that painting finds the only constitutive sense of the matter which it delivers to us, leaving the discussion open in order to investigate the enigma of life, distilling eternity from a moment in the past.

Galleria Gagliardi - 2015 solo exhibition "GOD’S MILLS so it was written" by Ciro Palumbo, curated by Alessandra Frosini

(1*)    H. M. Enzensberger, Zig zag. Saggi sul tempo, il potere e lo stile, Turin, 1999. 
(2*)     Apocalypse of Saint John, 7, 14.