Oh! Nirica, daughter of Oneiros!

Mauro Lovi

A dim slanted light illuminates the sheet on which I write a few thoughts on Oh! Nirica. On this cool July morning, my head is still adrift in the currents of dream, not yet emerged into the rhythms of wakefulness. I opened my eyes and the first image was of the previous evening when, seated at the edge of the bed, I extended my left leg (I sleep on the right side of Ulysses’ bed) then raised my right from the floor and found myself in a veiled supine position my mother described with words that can’t be translated. I pulled a spread of sheet over myself and was covered. In that moment, I had the same feeling one gets when, aboard ship, after undoing the lines from the bollard on the quay, you push off with your foot and step onto the boat. Memory’s the only thing tying you to the land, at that point. Everything real that led up to that moment is now memory, emotion, etc. Mental stuff. Now there’s the sea, another way of being in the world. Another dimension, for you. So I found myself revealed by the sheet that covered my body, as it does every night, to protect me, shroud of the day and veil for the night.

This new sea/dream dimension (the sea is a symbolic representation of the unconscious), a territory which everyone inevitably inhabits, but is chiefly explored by artists, literary types, poets, musicians, psychoanalyst/psychologists/psychiatrists and priests, according to the navigational instruments in their possession. That is to say, those who take on dreams and those who build objects for the bedroom, to rest one’s head and cover oneself.

When the idea of Oh!Nirica emerged, I’d been thinking for a long time about engaging a shipbuilder, and a crew of artists, to explore these regions. Olivia, a woman who’s decisive, determined and daring enough to get past the sandbars of artistic conformism, ordered the “Ship-shaped bed” built and asked me to pick the crew that would take on the planning of objects for our oneiric side. At first we thought we’d take on 10, but the number grew to 39. Because the complex, fascinating material demanded more explorers, more viewpoints.

I thought of the “Ship-shaped Bed” for this crossing to meet Nirica, daughter of Oneiros, because I’d already designed two beds with similar references to nocturnal navigation: Ulysses’ Bed for Megalopoli and the Sea-Bed for Buonaccorsi. Maybe the motives behind this designing passion for this place/object lie in my long sojourns in bed due to illness. This new bed wanted and needed to be a thought about the history of the Mediterranean, our sea/collective unconscious, an homage to the Phoenicians and all those who crossed it from top to bottom and side to side. I think the Phoenicians were the first to abandon shoreline navigation, venturing into the open sea, especially at night, with their ability to read the stars. I designed the ship/bed after asking my friend Marisa Famà, directrix of the archeological site at the Stagnone di Marsala, which contains the Phoenician island of Mozia, for more information about the boats and navigational methods used by the Phoenicians, during a visit to the Museo del Bardo in Tunis.

Stefano Breschi, from Camaiore. Since he’s a sculptor, I asked him to reflect on the pillow as concept, as far as mass and material are concerned. He took off with the idea of sleep, an action one does above a pillow, making two hypotheses: heavy and light sleep. Based on these ideas, he’s made two pillows: a heavy one in white terracotta where he expresses his pedantry, and a light one in celluloid where he expresses volatility. A decidedly disciplinary and precise juxtaposition, such as can be given only by someone used to giving meaning to material.

Marina Calamai, from Florence, presents a work that represents an elegant therapy, a sublimation of sweets (which arose, she says, from a personal problem with sweets). A refined reconstruction of sweets, treats and sweetmeats, in 3D and way out of scale; therefore in 4D…the 3 classical ones and out-of-scale. By super- sizing the problem, she analyzes and exorcises it, through these constructions in cloth. She presents a giant “profiterole.” We can drown our anxieties in this soft, very welcoming sweetness, without getting covered in chocolate. A proposal for a therapeutic piece of furniture, for singles and for the whole family.

Simone Caldognetto, from Milan – Lucca. The sculptor and I have had many discussions on matter and materials, weights, dimensions and mass and how these can be reduced, subtracted, while maintaining an expressive pattern. I inserted the theme of use, having seen his recent work in bas…extremely bas…relief, made with paper and cardboard on xxx for engraving. We decided to use this technique for a bedspread, but only homeless people who live on the street use paper bedspreads. Therefore, Simone gives us this highly poetic, moving gesture; completely (as Daverio would say) unironic, to allow those who hold these serious concepts only within themselves to sleep elegantly and beautifully.

Giovanna Caminiti, from Calabria. An architect who makes small poetic dreaming things, works with tenderness and magic, develops the home symbol through synthetic signs and poor materials and raw materials that seem to have been picked up along the beaches of her ancient native land. Beaches intended as important places for dreams, borderland between the earth and the sea, the “unconscious”. Giovanna’s work is important because it entrusts her passion for architecture, the house, to emotional poetic synthesis. The end product is a house to be kept in the home, a small poetic heart.

Federico Caruso, a sculptor from Florence, well-versed in the working of marble. In his elaborate, minimal show-room in Florence, sculptures of human figures of modern cut and ancient elaboration are on display. He’s submitted a cylindrical red marble nightstand, rent with a crack from which a light shines.

Silvia Cheli, from Florence, is an artist with varied interests in artistic languages. For Oh! Nirica, she produced a toolbox full of tools for sleeping and dreaming. She concentrated on the phase of falling asleep, and built a wooden box similar to the ones where we place tools for drawing and painting, or precision instruments. In this container, inside individual small semi-circular terracotta bowls, she’s placed: barbiturates, chamomile, sheep (for counting) etc. Linked to the piece is a CD containing a video, where a man wearing a goat mask and carrying a briefcase repeatedly jumps over a fence. To help one sleep.

Roberta Cipriani, from Florence, is an architect. She worked with fire, symbolic, represented and made physically real, and produced a small alcohol burner, to be hung in a room, or carried along and used wherever one goes. A small nomadic hearth made of iron, with a rough cut, that has an archaic quality, where the flames hewn into the heavy iron sheet have the form of fire. Almost a reinterpretation of the containers of the sacred flame used by ancient nomadic peoples.

J.P. Delaney, the restless Irish friend. The artist lived here in Italy for many years, in Rome, and founded the site “Art Process”, where artists can publish the creative process behind their work. For Oh! Nirica, he presented a work which at first seems provocatory, crude, material-related, visceral: a “dream place” as he titled it. Instead, it becomes a story of thoughts and images in its creative and destructive process, which I’d call “bed extracted”, in which the artist spots a mattress in a stream, etc. You can read about it in the catalogue, no point telling the story again. This is a work upon a burst mattress which becomes open petals; or a female sexual organ, for those inclined to see it that way; a place for the dream of the being (the little man in the mattress in the stream) who slept there. A vital fairy tale, also in the sense of belonging to life. A great lesson in the working of material, a rough, elegant call…simply, Art. Thank you, thank you J.P., for your uncompromising expressive sincerity.

Gum Design: Gabriele and Laura from Viareggio. In their punctual and rigorous work and in keeping with their pedigreed “design”, they submit an object (actually three) with a poetic function, a dream-container whose limits they’ve selected, perhaps because it has no corners, as a symbol for the sky and aerial things, a circumference made in marble from the nearby Apuan Alps, containing a grid (with tight angles!) made of cloth strips. A spiderweb to catch your dreams, a notebook with irregular lines, such as can be found in dreams. And from these reinterpretations of an ancient object, they propose three which ideally would fit one inside the other, and therefore also belongs to the properties of dreams.

Mimmo di Cesare from Palermo (but international) a great, refined worker of the material of all materials, which he’s expressed in every dimension, gives us a domestic sun, his own, the sun of his native island, which he presents in xxx wood, almost a souvenir, a wood which the sun has gathered every year, for every day, and delivered it to him in Castiglioncello, where he lives now. A work which the sun and its light, dimmed with a timer, allows us to abandon the full light, and enter sleep and dreams with the sun inside us for energy.

Elia (that’s all), from Lombardy. A young wood-sculptor who interacts with painting and metal intrusions, in terms of copper brackets which stitch the wooden material, through the artistic gesture of sewing up lesions and lacerations with an atypical, noble material; cracks that result from natural inclination or traumatic event, which tend to ruin wood–the first material, I think, used by mankind, to make tools and art. Elia’s reliance on copper–the great conductor of information–to stitch wood– vital essence of existential traumas–is interesting. In his mirror piece for Oh! Nirica, he presents another level, or maybe a key, for interpretations, making us see our own face, inside a frame where the above-mentioned is synthetically expressed.

Sabrina Giovannini and Silvia Vercelli, two more architects with a passion for design and rendering. Bearing in mind a project for a public park in Capannori that kept them busy for years, they gave us a terracotta cushion stuffed with raw earth, where you rest your head and grass grows, a re-call to contact with the earth; rest your head on the ground through the sign-filter of cushions. The wish to rest reflects fantasizing; to rest one’s head on a meadow in the studio too, after the realization of the park project.

Jung Wen Jung, a Korean who lives in Olso, gave us a work in tune with our theme, which I interpret as a net pillow, a house of dreams, given form as origami, which hold themselves osmotically dangling in the structure nearest the sleeping head and crystalize themselves into hypothetic fragile structures for the day, protected from the noisy glare of the waking state.

Ho Khan from Milan, originally from Nanking, China. He’s lived in Italy for many years. A connoisseur of avant-gardes such as “astrattismo”, he’s recently been working on geometric compositions closer to Chinese tradition, interpreted through the “astrattismo” experience. He submitted a picture which could be a snippet of painting addressed to various cultures, to be hung over the bedstead.

Liu Jung Yen from Taipei, a sheet derived from one of Liu’s paintings, while we’re always working on a tapestry derived from a painted picture. Liu’s painting, with its very traditionally Chinese colors, red black yellow, spreads over large spaces xxx. The whole painted with an abstract expressionist technique, which becomes archetypal figures which tell of sea-ships, of mountains, volcanoes, yellow sea. Maybe the years he spent at the Brera Academy in Milan made him play with nostalgia, and distill those elements from his roots, looking from far away, and at the same time confronting the techniques of historical avant-gardes.

Sue Kennigton, from London, got to work right away, stimulated by the bedspread theme, a new experience for her, which allowed her to experiment with textiles and their coloration. A new world was opened to her, a refined and splendid painter, into which she ventured with great enthusiasm. The work is amazing, full of authenticity and new chromatisms, and which respects its expressive code.

Sabine Kort, German photographer. I thought of her immediately, because of her photographic work, her research between photos and psychology, which also makes difficult, complicated comparisons through therapeutic photography workshops she’s done with patients who suffer from psychological disorders. She was able to render, thanks to the structuring of composite images, the idea of how a dream can work. She brought us a work composed of three photocompositional tri-cycles and a mirror for the room, a portal for the introspective journey where we verify the correspondence of how we feel with the form we see. A mirror framed by a sequence of Polaroids, of travel situations.

Matthew Licht, a writer popularly known as the Least Blind Blues Singer in the USA. Since Matthew translates the texts for Otto’s catalogues, I asked him to write a book of short stories to be read before falling asleep and taking off for Dreamland. So the stories have to be read, that’s all there is to it.

Antonio Lo Presti, originally from Catania, but a resident of Florence for many years, showed up in the gallery while we were preparing the show. He had his work with him, which I found fresh, extremely delicate and refined. I felt it both near to me and yet somehow distant. The work has a very strong poetic intensity, to be read in the the traces left by piercing through his lines on white paper. For Oh! Nirica, he gives us his interpretation of the symbiotic relationship between nightstand and book, and another object which might have come out of a manual; a highly poetic and moving gesture, not at all ironic, to help one sleep, to make a home, with elegance and beauty, even for those who can only possess these concepts internally.

Roberta Lozzi, from Milan, gave us the sail bedspread, an inspired rigorous space, dense and minimal, blue contrasting with pink through the symbolic shape of the wave; a reversible cover where the themes are inverted. There’s the day side and the night side, which naturally alternate. There’s the exterior part and the part that touches the interior world, the more intimate one , when they alternate during the day. I thought of my artist friends from various parts of the world who could and would put themselves to the test in this adventure.

Gabriele Mallegni from Pisa. A sculptor who also submits a luminous work, where a life-size sculpture of a human brain radiates light–an enlightened mind–whose “enlightening” title reminds us as ambient light that everything happens in the brain, and that its luminous networks can reveal the oneiric dimension’s alphabet and try to decipher the borders between light and darkness.

Michele Martinelli, from Lucca, proposes another portal: a bookshelf made of aluminum boxes, shaped like a traditional stone doorway, in memory of doorways in Lucca, where sleepwalkers drop off their books and dreams each morning. The passageway where books and other objects from imaginary voyages are gathered, other portals, other reading instruments, before sleep comes.

Cristina Massei, a young artist from Lucca who, when investigating the act of dressing oneself, doesn’t look to fashion, but to traditional tailoring. She sews modes of dressing together; finding and re-sewing used clothes, playing at changing the garment’s typology. For example: with de-structured men’s shirts, re-used as female dresses to wear at happenings xxx and also not. She submitted a female pyjama which is closed with a drop of cloth that fastens the nocturnal garment.

Elisabetta Nencini, from Florence, made a bedspread. With her usual enthusiasm, she launched a research expedition to gather waste materials from factories and workshops in Empoli and Prato, including prized materials such as leftover cut leather, polyethylene curls, various rubbers, in order to bring them to new life through skilled artistic manipulation: a cover with large packing-polyethylene flowers. A sort of Alice in Wonderland, who more than amazing herself, amazes us with this transposition into the (real) 3D of a cover with large flowers, an interpretation of pop artworks, with an ironic/oneiric background which, when back-lit, turns it into a fresh, shady underbrush: a fertile place to grow mushrooms, dreams and fairy-stories.

Marco Pace, from Lanciano. I asked him to design a sheet because he’s a good painter who works well and opens new “oneiric” visions, has effective technique and does spectacular design. He gave us a design which will become a sheet, on the theme of the apparition of a dreamy personage on a pile of stones on the Maiella (his native land). I like the idea of a sheet, synonymous with lightness and volatility, on which a pile of stones is represented, symbolic of weight and solidity.

Lorenzo Perrone (Milan), who erases the text from books with gesso and white paint, was introduced by Matthew, who writes stories. He makes white books without writing. Someone…can’t remember who…said that the story is elsewhere, not in the book. And it’s true, because the book is a medium that carries text, while the text drives the reader’s consciousness-transmission mechanism. A book without text, therefore, wouldn’t drive anything. As an artist, Perrone is concerned with and at the same time works on how to become the book, text and story himself. The book form, with its page-turning action, presumes consequential newness from the preceding page to the page that hasn’t been turned yet. I invited him to Oh! Nirica because his work seems oneiric to me. By erasing the diurnal, logical and rational writing, he entrusts the book-as-object to its symbolic, analogical language, as happens in nocturnal dreams.

Jelena Pesic, from Belgrad, tells us a story, she says, of solitude; she also tells the story through her work, which deals with such themes as existence, memory, time and death. After many false starts and sketches which we received via email, she finally, recently, reached a synthesis, a piece of astonishing beauty, considering how lean it is. I would call it a story of affect, both achieved and missed out on; pillows covered by shirts that formerly belonged to men who’ve played such roles as: soldier, uncle, father, passenger, parson. The sequence ends with a self-portrait that explains how to use the pillow. Thank you, Jelena, for getting us to genuinely know Serbia, through several pillows set on a table.

Benvenuto Saba, a Sardinian who lives in Pietrasanta, an incognito photographer and sculptor, presents a very intriguing work, the pillow from Ilaria del Carretto’s tomb by Jacopo della Quercia, a “3D photograph” of the locus for historic and artistic sleep, subliminal sleep. Benvenuto has made a “punctual” relief, using touch, of a cast from the plaster cast gallery of the Istituto Passaglia di Lucca, with permission from its scholastic director, Walter Rinaldi. Another work whose creative course suggests methods and techniques not often practiced, which presents a marble pillow lit from within, and where the salient points are outlined with points of light.

Antonio Sammartano, from Trapani, lived in Florence for many years, then in Milan, where he studied at Brera. A generous man, generous artist, an abstract expressionist (if we really want to attach a label to an expressive language), passionate about art, and, most of all, one who knows how to share his passion and relate to people. A friend with whom I’ve shared many adventures and discoveries around the world, from Sicily to Germany, from Germany to Tunisia to Taiwan. For this event, he’s designed a mysterious cryptocryoneiric lamp: the KKD, (Klus Klus Design).

Caterina Sbrana, from Pisa. Caterina interprets the light which allows us to read in bed prior to falling asleep in terms of the poppy bulb, her primary painting material, which she uses like rubber stamps to paint cloths and Guinea sheets with sleeping lambs, the very definition of tenderness and fragility, turning it into a luminous treasure-chest where light stamps the surface on which it’s shone. An adolescent lamp prototype of rare beauty, which will become a finished object of special luminosity.

Elisabetta Scarpini, from Empoli, a restless artist who experiments with languages, from graphics to painting, from photography to sewing. She confronted another important theme: the place where we lay our head to sleep and/or dream–the cushion or pillow. She reinterpreted the myth of Aesclepius by sewing on a soft object, an obese, soft thistle, matrix of the “brucaliffo”, itself a relative to oblivion or a vision of oneiric and symbolic traces.

Franco Scudieri, a Florentine artist, a sculptor who has gone through many decades altering surfaces with the play of light and shadow, in important pieces for many parts of the world. For this occasion, he presents us with two works: one is playful…colorful wooden airplanes to be hung from the ceiling, which bring us back to childhood games and dreams; the other piece is a pillow made of the small wooden cylinders which he uses for his compositions. A pillow which evokes reflection on the perception of materials linked to a function, the whole watered with a light spray of red paint-drops.

Beatrice Speranza, from Lucca. Images that awaken the imagination. An architect and photographer, she has been one of my valued collaborators. She has always taken pictures and, having abandoned architectural practice, decided to become a professional photographer. Thus, she gives us a pillow on which hands, knocking from the inside, are printed. Her second piece is a pillow with a texture of rose thorns. For Beatrice, the gentle gesture of entering Morpheus’ world has scratchy aspects, or can be scratched (so she says).

Mirella Spinella, from Venice. I love her work in textiles. In it, one can read all the splendour of the Republic of Venice, and its presence in the world between east and west, its opulence, its stress on luxury. In it, one can read the whole Mediterranean, from the Greeks to the Turks, the Arabs, as well as the Byzantines and Venetians. I asked her for a bedspread to gather the winds of these Mediterranean cultures and tell us the story of their energies. She gave us an extraordinary piece, synoptic panels of our sea on cloth.

Studiovo is two young designers who’re confronting the world of industrial products–in many cases a “rupe tarpea” for individual dreams and expectations. They conceived, designed, visualized and produced (with the loving attention of Benito Giovannetti, who understands soft object design) an egg: cushion container cushion. The egg: a great symbol, and also a great formal challenge. The success of a pleasing object, playful in its colors and softness, also with respect to the egg tradition. Inside, there’s a container which can hold personal objects, or, more prosaically, the TV remote control.

Tarshito (Nicola Strippoli), from Bari, Puglia; an architect who’s been greatly attracted by the East ever since Gianni Pettena introduced us, back in the days of Megalopoli, during the mid-80s. over the years he has developed the following themes: meditation, the sacred and the relationship between the disciplines of those cultures. His work has been a research on the sacred, on noble materials, or materials that can be made ennobled through form, its manifestation and archaic meaning. His passion for beauty and for broad, noble, generous gestures is certainly at the origin of the work which he presents: a lamp made from a circle with gold leaf, where three milled agate stones have been inlaid, through which the light filters; a light modified for an oneiric and/or transcendental dimension.

Livio Tessandori, a friend from my Art High School days in Lucca, whom I found again, after his travels, adventures and intense work at auction houses. In the name of painting and friendship, he has given us a fascinating, intriguing painting, where chromatic flashes circumscribed in the painterly workings build superimposed structures and rhythms, always on edge, drawing the observer and therefore the observer’s mind to recognize himself in the figures and lose himself in the unconscious visions of musics or mysterious visual timepieces. This ambiguity on the edge has become the sheet which dictates the rhythms of the night and is visible by day.

Giuliano Toma from the Salento, Apulia. Currently he sculpts using grids, welded-iron rhythms and lines that evoke cities and metropolises (including Metropolis by Fritz Lang), extremely light, almost playful 3D structures. In contrast to his previous work, bas reliefs with bits of welded iron, where the city was more chaotic, dark, where he felt the need to anoint his native land with olive oil. It’s his tale of the metropolis’ impact before he arrived in Lucca. His object for Oh! Nirica is a candelabrum. To invoke the fact, in this electric culture that illudes itself as being super-evolved, that in all previous centuries, the path leading up the stairs and to bed was lit by candles. In the room, the candles inside the candelabrum reflect ghost structures that we’ve given ourselves, which constrain or protect us, or maybe both.

Zang Yu, from China. An important artist in his country, who, touching surfaces, paints the world, leaving fingerprints like petals of small red roses and the rhythmic grammar reveals signs of emotional modulations, sentences, stories and meditations in the spaces where the fingerprints are superimposed, an Eastern sensitivity or poetic trail that unveils new interpretations and possible degrees of sensitivity. He presents two objects, two containers of these stories to be read when we’re about to fall asleep, when wakefulness makes room for sleep and the communication between the two worlds is open. A scroll and a book to be kept on all nightstands in the East and West.