text by Luigi Fassi
«I believe a book can restructure its readers' perception. Books restructure our perception of time, landscape, people, urban space, moving, our mortality, institutions, language and so on. We writers work, it can be said, on the form of our readers' senses […] It may sound ridiculous, but I feel like saying: Italians, I urge you to describe».
With these words Giulio Mozzi (G. Mozzi-D. Voltolini, Sotto i cieli d'Italia, Sironi, Milan 2004) recently urged Italian writers and artists to undertake a renewed descriptive commitment to their audience. Descriptive writing should be salvaged to recount to the people the transformations and mutations of their everyday surroundings, because people are sometimes subjected to change without having the necessary critical tools to register their effects. In this scenario, description has an ethical connotation rather than simply dealing with cognitive facts. It implies recording and caring for the present.
Laura Pugno's work fits neatly into this experimental equation. Her work seems to be a direct response to Giulio Mozzi's appeal. For several months the artist regularly visited Olympic venues in the Susa Valley in the run up to the 2006 Winter Games (transformations in the Susa Valley appear to be the most invasive). She visited the sites that underwent a colossal morphological upheaval to accommodate ski jumps, ski runs, spectator stands and other imposing structures. Pugno documented these changes through a series of paintings of the changing landscape. Her keenly observed accounts are precise and silent. But here the artist opted for a subdued representation in stark contrast to the immense scale of work carried out at these sites. The delicate, fragile and almost liquid nature of these pieces is almost a visual oxymoron of the shifting landscape work, and a bold conceptual provocation. There is no interpretive paradigm in this group of panoramas except for those subtle and elegiac pictures held i n our memory. The canvases are the result of many months of study carried out on location, recording the mutation and eventual creation of a Winter Olympic venue. The textual qualities of these paintings provide us with snapshots of those locations that are very different from the ones we can now see: long red pipes no longer lie coiled on the gentle tree-covered slopes; barriers have since been pulled down, and grassy alpine pastures have given way to mounds of soil used to prepare the runs. What the artist reveals to us through her painting are therefore limits reached or turning points on the road to what will be, limpid traces of scenes that no longer exist.
Caught as it is in an analysis of the present, it is the ambiguity of memory inherent in this fragile threshold between what was and what will be that makes the work of Laura Pugno so provoking and incisive.
This vein is further explored, albeit obliquely, in a new series of work by the artist, Kwh (2007). It is no longer a direct experience of the environment as it undergoes radical transformation that concerns the artist. Here she provides us with a pictorial account of some of the largest and most devastating man-made structures ever realised on Earth: dams. To do this the artist has studied maps and Google Earth satellite photos of colossal dams - vertical concrete walls built some decades ago - that have altered the mountain landscapes irreversibly. Although modern versions are nowadays somewhat less imposing, their impact on the environment is nevertheless considerable. Pugno painstakingly traces the forms, curves and perimeters of each dam to record their precise surface area as if codifying them with the help of the Earth's latitudinal and longitudinal lines. Accompanying this precision work of cataloguing is an almost abstract pictorial rendering of the landscape and its waters, together with a use of colours and perspective that renders almost them indecipherable. It is as if she intends to highlight the artificial qualities of natural scenes that have been remodelled forever by man's energy needs.
Where does the energy come from? What are the devastating effects on the landscape of these structures, designed to provide our homes with electricity? These are the fundamental questions that have prompted the artist's latest research, and they provide the foundation for Presa di posizione (2007), a sculpture made from a bundle of electrical elements. Like a mass of vegetation thrusting outwards uncontrollably in full spatial expansion, this mute and questioning conglomeration of household plugs ironically lights only one bulb, a sharp and ironic reminder of the problems and contradictions connected with the world's energy supply.
A more sinister and misterious interpretation of this theme can be found in Energia oscura (2007), a shadow-installation on one of the facades of the Accademia Albertina in Turin. The haunting outline of a wind-powered generator represents the unexpressed form and doubts concerning a possible alternative energy source that has still to be widely adopted in Italy.
With Wind farm (2007) the artist seems to be offering a clear response to these issues through the use of renewable energy sources. This representation of a harmonious coexistence between human work and natural environment is not critical at all. It develops out of our ancient desire to be able to return to the land, which is understood here to be a sustainable synthesis of contrasting elements: nature and culture, homes and woods, and hills and plains.