The times we live in force us to live in self-isolation, and although this dimension might, on the one hand, be experienced as a deprivation of liberty, it can also provide the essential conditions for creativity: to be with oneself without external distractions.
Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994), perhaps more than any other artist, developed the idea of creativity as a shared act: he delegated the making of his art to others (including embroiderers and a large number of studio assistants), and he pioneered a collective and social idea of artistic expression. However, while he was experiencing a period of solitude and isolation, he created an extraordinary cycle of work, which he named Tra sé e sé (Between Self and Self) and which remains a unique and revelatory facet of the artists career.
In 1980, after Boetti had been living between Rome and Kabul for almost a decade, Afghanistan became inaccessible due to the political conflict and Soviet invasion. As if compensating for this forced state of exile and after suffering the loss of his mother, Boetti self-isolated and created a new body of work in his studio, on his own the only body of work he made alone, entirely with his own hand. The series work that emerged - Tra sé e sé - represents and expresses his profound disillusion with humankind and the political troubles and divisions of the world. He continued to work on this series over the next decade. Tornabuoni Art
is now presenting these works in a special online exhibition in our virtual viewing room until 22 May.
Boetti initially conceived this series in the 1970s, inspired by a game he used to play with his daughter, Agata. However, in the 1980s he introduced new works to the series, including La natura una faccenda ottusa (Nature, an obtuse Matter) and other drawings. While previously Boetti had to wait for his ideas and plans for artworks to be made by others, in the Tra sé e sé series, the time lapse between conception and concretization was significantly shortened as he made all the works himself, resulting in a special intimacy and immediacy unique to these works.
"We sometimes made paper cut-outs of our hands and placed them on the floor, one pair on each side of the room. We then connected them by making a long line of cut out letters and objects of all shapes and sizes, usually starting with smaller pieces and then picking up pace and adding larger ones. When this long line made up of 'everything' was ready, Alighiero positioned himself behind one pair of hands and I did the same behind the other, blocking the objects between us and completing the circuit. We called this game 'tra me e te' (between you and me) and ended up making a series of works inspired by it. He called that series 'Tra sé e sé' [Between Self and Self]." Agata Boetti, Il Gioco dellArte, 2016
Boetti used Max Ernsts frottage (or rubbing) technique to transpose the varied shapes of everyday objects scissors, an ashtray, a spoon, a table tennis racket gathered from around the artists house, onto paper. He then framed these images on either side of a drawing made by the artists hands, as if to suggest that artists have entire universes within their reach. Boetti would often make use of both his right and left hands while making these drawings because, for him, the left hand was drawing while the right hand was writing and the artist needed to unify the two. In La natura una faccenda ottusa, Boetti created a doubled image by folding one drawing and working on its reflected imagery, in this case using the technique of spray-painting through a straw over a stencil cut-out of frogs.
Boettis Tra sé e sé works from the 1980s are filled with animals such as frogs, lizards, dolphins or apes, because the artist considered them to be more adapted to the world than humans. His decision to represent these animals is a statement of what the artist most admired about them: their grace, speed, agility and intelligence, but also their powerful use of their senses. As the art critic Federico Sardella has written:
these animals repeat themselves and fuse together, blending, multiplying and aggregating, giving life to happy and colourful compositions. Constructed and defined, yet characterized by an unrivaled freedom, these works reveal a lesser known aspect of the artist: he was an exceptional painter.
Online viewing room
Discover our online viewing rooms. Although nothing can replace the pleasure of (re)discovering art in a physical space, with all the subtilities of texture and light it allows, our new online viewing feature enables you to navigate through an online space curated for you.
Tornabuoni Art's depth of knowledge about and extensive holdings of work by Alighiero Boetti have enabled the gallery to organise numerous exhibitions and to publish widely on Alighiero Boetti's art, as shown below, and also to lend important works from our collection to the major retrospective of Alighiero Boetti held at the Reina Sofia Museum, Tate Modern and the Museum of Modern Art in 2011-12.