Author | Tiziana Fuligna

  • Benetti
  • 8 min read

The sign of eternity

“Lascaux Man created, and created out of nothing, this world of art in which communication between individual minds begins”

Georges Bataille, Lascaux. The Birth of Art, 19551

In his most pivotal writing, Gillo Dorfles2 stated that in order to understand a work of art within the context of its (and our) time, three fundamental points are needed: sign, gesture and material. In contemporary art, in its various connotations, the dimensions of time and space no longer reflect the commonplace Euclidean perspective, but are transformed into independent entities: time is no longer narration, but is contained within the gesture of the artist, fast or slow as it may be, frozen in material space or enclosed in sign. 
The works of Andrea Benetti are a pleasure to behold at first glance: seemingly random signs create lively, tangible forms. His works are at once edifying, colorful and enjoyable. They depict not that which has been perceived, but something which undeniably has yet to be perceived: the shapes that take up the space on a canvas do not correspond with reality, but they are shapes that clamor to be observed; that must be seen in detail because they emanate and inundate us with their desire to be seen. They present themselves to the viewer as something to be seen and decodified. To define them as mere paintings would be reductive. They are in every way sculptures, replete with shadow and plastic consistency. 
The first key to reading them lies in the refined technique with which they have been wrought: various materials are spread across the canvas using palette knives or other tools, following a ritual sequence; shapes of everyday objects are then applied to the layers that are formed, and freehand engravings alternate fluidly to make up the final composition. It is a complex creative process that brings together ancient gestures and contemporary methods, colors that smell of spices (carefully stored in glass jars) and nuances of oxides, a compendium of a sign which is at once dynamic and exuberant, abstract, yet figurative. 
The shapes are outlined by dark lines and shadows, with resins and oil paints, with coffee, henna, turmeric, substances dissolved in liquid to make colors; these shapes – always different and yet always the same – intersect, intermingle, and sometimes come to form ancestral symbols or stylized animal or human shapes. They are the shapes of our origins, the signs and symbols that paleolithic “colleagues” carved into history and left us as their testimony in caves and on rock faces. 
As the artist wrote in his Manifesto of Neo Cave Art, published in 2006 and exhibited at the 53rd Venice Art Biennial: 
«In the ancient caverns, where prehistoric “cave-artists” traced their lines and spread their colors, every art form was invented: figurative, abstract, symbolic, conceptual… The future of painting was already mapped out; nothing was missing. 
Let’s start over, then, once again tapping into those flashes of intuitional, instinctive genius that come straight from the heart with the power of a child; the child who draws and colors, often without knowing what his creations might mean, since they appear full-blown and unadulterated directly from his subconscious.”
In the depths of his subconscious, prehistoric man was still aligned with iconic, primordial memory which flowed into his creative process4; just like in those archaic signs, Benetti’s work also delves into that same mnemonic resource, and so expresses the rediscovered relationship between macrocosm and microcosm. In deciding to renounce narration, Benetti seeks to rediscover symbol: his thought is carved and pressed into plaster and into colored resins, just as our ancient ancestors carved their thought into the rock. Materials layered one upon the other on the canvas represent the modern equivalent of the undefined surfaces where prehistoric man left his cave paintings. The marks and colors fused into the surfaces represent a declaration of the synthesis between form and effort, man and nature. 
In this liquid society of ours, in which each of us is just one among many, where a gesture is at once the act of consuming and the action itself being consumed, and the sign is often an ephemeral reference to the here and now, where things have gone beyond their own purpose and we ourselves are beyond reality, the artist Benetti has discovered his own dimension and in this dimension his work gives substance to its significance. Just like the ancient artists, Benetti depicts the memory of man in an explosion of forms, images of self and the universe, from the infinitely small to the infinitely large, disassembled and reassembled, and finally brought together again in an ancestral model of perfect unity. 
The material gives way to gesture to make up the sign, the form is marked by an everyday object – an Ikea clothes hanger – stolen from that liquid life the artist seeks to evade. The clothes hanger has become unrecognizable: its outline is overlaid and then painted, appearing in many of his works. It is no longer a ready-made object, but a tool the artist uses to create his painting, just like the shards of stone or utensils used by prehistoric man. The medium is the message. 
The result is a well-balanced branching of shapes and colors, sometimes abstract, sometimes recognizable. The work thus becomes a ritual through which the human being is brought back to his origins, giving the work the function of salvation, restoring the relationship between man and the cosmos. 
Artists, as Danto5 has said, produce dreams. In Benetti’s work there is the time of man – and therefore the time of history. Everything has already happened and everything is still waiting to happen in the metaphysical whole that is the sign; synthesis of an eternity that we risk losing, fixed in place and bequeathed to the flexible, material dimension of the finite image. 
It is the dream of a world that is still possible. It is the dream of communication between living spirits. It is the sign of eternity. Rigorously pop.

1 G. Bataille, Lascaux. La nascita dell’arte (The Birth of Art), Mimesis Edizioni, Milano 2007, p. 19.
2 G. Dorfles, Ultime tendenze nell’arte d’oggi. Dall’Informale al Postmoderno (The Latest Tendencies in Today’s Art. From The Informal to Postmodernism), Universale Economica Feltrinelli, Milano 1993.
3 A. Benetti, Manifesto dell’Arte Neorupestre (Manifesto of Neo-Cave Art), Bologna 7 December 2006. The Manifesto was presented by the artist in 2009 at the 53rd Biennial in Venice, inside the pavilion “Nature and Dreams” at the Ca’ Foscari University – San Giobbe – Cannaregio – Venice.
4 Cfr. M. C. Citroni, Le incisioni rupestri della Valcamonica sono simboli di una via iniziatica verso la conoscenza? (Are the cave carvings in Valcmonica symbols of a beginning path towards consciousness?), Extract revised and corrected from Appunti n. 11, Breno, April 1990, pg. 1–5.
5 A. C. Danto, Che cos’è l’arte? (What Art is?), 2013, Johan & Levi Editore, Milano 2014.

Tiziana Fuligna 
former Professor of History of Contemporary Art | 
University of Urbino |