The craft of Alighiero Boetti
Private Collection © Alighiero Boetti Estate by DACS / SIAE, 2012, courtesy Fondazione Alighiero e Boetti
Enter Room 6 of Tate Modern’s current exhibition Alighieri Boetti: Game Plan, and you’ll immediately notice beautiful blue canvas paintings that span the length of the room – shaded here and there with large white speech marks dotted throughout, they appear to be created by the master painter, with years of artistic wisdom within him and carefully chosen colours from around the world. In fact, they are nothing more than large pieces of paper criss-crossed by the humble imprint of a common biro held by an army of ordinary men and women commissioned by Boetti as collaborators.
Alighiero Boetti values time; worships it even. Much of his work, like the biro pieces, or the lightbulb that switches on for just 11 seconds a year, or the carefully traced piece of graph paper that took nothing but a pencil and hours upon hours to create, is a bow to the unbending power of the ticking clock.
It throws us, pondering what it is about time that matters so much. What is time wasted and time well spent? How much does time cost and how should it really be measured?
Boetti addresses these questions in a variety of ways, one of which is his commendable use of craft. Perhaps best known for his ‘Mappa’ – a series of political maps embroidered by groups of women in Kabul – they are noteworthy for their intricacy, the complexity of a final piece using nothing but skill, labour, time, and a big idea about the changing political boundaries.
Another is a list of the world’s one thousand longest rivers, painstakingly embroidered in green and white, but ultimately futile – the list changes according to the way rivers are measured – whether in the centre or on one of the banks, from the source point to the sea or otherwise.
Whatever he does, you get a sense that Boetti searches for humbleness. He mocks and deconstructs values appropriated to academic values of classification, the pretentious value of art collection, he empowers the humble biro (and so too all who own them) and the Afghanistani seamstresses, elevating their work to the critical level of an art gallery.