Prologue: a long long story, short. Prehistoric rock art, as we intend it today, began in medium Paleolithic (200.000-40.000 years ago) with the first artistic expressions of the Neanderthals. Recent discoveries are confirming this, but also proving that Neanderthals performed their cave art long before the arrival of the Homo Sapiens kind, and were able to portray body parts such as hands, let alone to represent other living creatures.
The use of paint and the use of rock scraping were the master techniques of the first artists, their ways to create.
It has been said that the Paleolithic artists made the invention of the line, and this action marked the birth of unreality1.
The act itself of willing to represent something in a different form, for example using a simple contour line technique or even changing its shape and its dimension, not only implies the creationof a new object, or a new living thing. It implies the awareness not of the possibility, but of the existence of another reality, in which this newthing is born and lives: it is the world of ideas, it is unreality.
This represents a major breakthrough in the evolutionary process of the homo genre, a twist that gave way to the birth of conscience, reason, philosophy, science.
The link between the hand of the artist and the symbols he creates is an active relation, one that casts ideas from the mind to the rock, giving them life and, in some cases, immortality.
These are the purest forms of original and unspoiled form of human expression, and these were the source of the major artistic currents of the XXth century worldwide.
Along with the artistic sense of the indigenous people and the various products of the so called “naives”, children and the mentally ill, during the 1920s and 1930s the need for a new inspiration led the artists throughout the world to these first human forms of art.
The first human masterpieces were performed in various places, often inaccessible, such as caves and deserts, from Europe to central Sahara, from Zimbabwe to Australian outback. It was thanks to the work of the great ethnologist and Africanist Leo Frobenius (1873-1938) that these two worlds, the western world of art and the works of the our ancestral artists, first met. Frobenius had talented painters follow him in his travels, and made them copy, on site, all the art from the places they visited, creating a vast archive of more than 5000 copies of prehistoric rock art2.
In the1930s these copies were seen by hundreds of artists throughout the world, in international exhibitions in Europe and America, that represented a massive influence in the art of the twentieth century. This theme, the features and the intents underlying the copyist’s works, along with their impact on twentieth’s century society and the world of art has been the subject of a recent exhibition3.
Prehistoric rock art, the first acts of symbolic creation made by men, gave new life to the art of twentieth century, steering its path towards a simpler, more direct and effective relationship both with exterior and interior world, where art, nature and man meet halfway.
Art and Prehistory, today. The evolution of mankind underwent a swift turn with the discovery of metal: overcoming the agricultural phase is to enter the metallurgical phase, and this is a path that leads to the birth of modern societies, to the cities.
The first artistic offspring of the first metal age is the spectacular spread of the megalithic art and cults, that covered the whole Europe from the Atlantic coasts to the Caucasian area, from Scandinavia to the lower shores of Mediterranean basin. This phenomenon happened during the Copper Age, between the end of the 4th millennium BC and the whole 3rd millennium BC, and was substantiated by the production and erection of stelae, menhirs and boulders, sometiomes shaped as portrayals of anthropomorphic gods or maybe heroic ancestors, placed in sacred places, sanctuaries.
Valle Camonica was among the places visited by Frobenius’s expeditions, in 1936 and 1937. German scholars and painters roamed the valley, discovering, photographing and portraying the ancient masterpieces then visible: they came back and showed the world what they found.
Archaeological research has developed since then, increasing the total amount to over 2000 different engraved rock surfaces with hundreds of thousands images. The number of and the importance of these findings have led UNESCO to recognize, in 1974, Valle Camonica as the first Italian site to be classified in the World Heritage List.
Excavations and recent discoveries4 are offering a better knowledge of these significant place, and one of the most exciting matter of study are the Copper Age Sanctuaries.
From their first identification, in 1909, we now know them better: we know for example that the location of the sanctuaries was always chosen with a close relationship with the surrounding landscape, facing significative peaks or deep gorges and cleaves.
We now know that the monuments, stelae and monoliths, were placed in alignments, astronomically oriented on a perfect North-South axis, with the engraved sides facing east, toward the rising sun. The cult of sun still was probably the major of their new-born pantheon.
We also know that these sanctuaries could include highly representative tombs, along with mounds and stone circles, that contained symbolic offerings of objects. One of the most interesting aspects that we found out is that the dichotomy between man and woman was a very important matter for the Copper Age societies: in fact this was clearly evidenced by characterising the mounds and stone circles with male objects such as weapons, or with feminine artefacts, as ornaments (pendants), necklaces or vases.
In some ways, a new kind of prehistoric rock art was born in this moment.
Before the Copper Age in fact it was essentially an ensemble of lines, geometric figures and simple shapes.
From the 2900 BC onwards instead, suddenly everything changed, and art was reborn.
Image creation techniques on rock surface were immediately and fully mastered, sometimes reaching a later unparalleled finesse: copper age pecking technique could be extremely precise and uniform, rock scratching was thin and agile, while probably painting was also used.
But the most important aspect of this “visual revolution” is conceptual. Copper Age rock art deploys an impressive and astounding set of abstract and figurative symbols, all brand new, thus creating a code so powerful that shaped this form of expression for millenniums, giving way to the later visive keys to the world. Rock art was not anymore the description of an existing world, neither the creation of an alternative world, similar to ours: it had become a conscious form of expression, that reasoned on itself. It had invented the true portrayal of ideas.
Copper Age artists thus, not limiting their art to the description of what they saw, created a new world, made of objects, living things, symbols, all of them creating complex scenes and associations, gaining new meanings.
It is truly the birth of gods, and man made them, somehow at his resemblance.
The act of carving images on the stone was always linked to the sacred. Every representation carved on the stelae or menhirs, being it an object (a dagger, an axe, an ornament or a garment), a living thing (an ox or a deer, a wolf or a man), or even the most obscure symbols (for example the so-called solar symbols), obeyed a precise code of expression, which was probably mirrored by complex and strict rituals.
The world was filled with sacred, and the artists were the ministers of this cults.
They were the creators.
Playing with Ghosts Andrea Mariconti’s work is lucidly focused on the analysis of the actual process of creation that is so clearly and powerfully displayed by copper age monuments.
This masterpieces, found underground, have lost through the centuries their sacred role, laying hidden from sight. forgotten, waiting to see again the light of day.
As the work of the archaeologist proceeds through layers, slowly and steadily going deeper underground in the pursuit of knowledge, the method of Mariconti addresses these objects through layers, in pursuit of their essence.
By deconstructing these ancient works of art, the present artist is able to fixate and represent the very moment when an idea, right after its birth, becomes immortal.
Through the works of Andrea, we can see the support, the cold block of stone that has been chosen by the creator, before its becoming. This stone is not polished or untouched. As the original boulders were chosen, and then roughly worked in preparation of their artistic execution, sometimes shaped, sometimes cut, sometimes fragmented, also Mariconti’s stones are often tormented, through a series of cracks, cuts, origami folds, almost as preparation, hard and painful, for them to receive the sacred symbols.
These symbols aren’t seen when already executed.
In Mariconti’s works, it is possible to observe ideas becoming signs, right before they happen.
It’s the creator’s eye, that projects its ideas in thin air, giving them life in the blink of an eye.
Ideas become symbols, floating over the nude rocks, right before their birth, like ghosts.
Mariconti portrays these sequences of symbols like palimpsests, that always obey to the code, underlying and all ruling, in their purest form: it’s the form of a thought, crystalized and fixated in time, like a distant horizon, still, immutable.
The painter plays with ghosts.
Paolo Rondini, archeologist (Valcamonica Valley- Unesco)
Selected works and inspiration.
Andrea Mariconti’s research has deep roots in both contemporary and classical art world.
Among his main reference points there are masters like Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter and Joseph Beuys, but his research is clearly inspired by the new generation: Dieter Appelt, Christiane Lohr and many other fellow artists of the German school.
Also Christopher Wool, Monica Baer, Jaqueline Humphreys and William Congdon have been the most influential to Mariconti’s “Playing with Ghosts” visual research, along with the post–Factory New York scene. From the Italian perspective, it is necessary to mention the influence of Claudio Costa, Giuliano Mauri, and few other contemporary painters from north of Italy, on the shape and the intent underneath “Playing with Ghosts”.
Finally, it is also vital the link between Andrea’s ways of art and the tradition of 17th century, in particular the painters from Napoli, as Jusepe de Ribera.
At the center of the room there is a sculpture, °Neuma I°. This work has been realized with a bronze melting with the traditional loss wax process, performed in an ancient smelter.
Metallurgy and the science of the mineral transformation have consisted in an impressive jump ahead in the history of man, and the subject of the exhibition, that is Copper Age monuments and rock art, is directly linked to metal.
°Neuma I° thus symbolically represents the first metallic note heard from man, in a time when sound was performed only with rough flutes, or by the wind. Copper was the first to be worked. Then it was mixed, and Bronze was born.
Man has given this name, Neuma, to the single sound particles of singing, or produced by the first instruments. Its etymology is directly linked to the idea of breath itself, clearly linked to the human voice.
The technique used to realize this sculpture is more than 600 years old, direct heir of the ancient times techniques.
The artisans who performed this, Fonderia Allanconi in northern Italy, are a long tradition family enterprise: their first works are more than 450 years old.
Bronze is an alloy made of tin and copper, that need a temperature of 1200° C to work: when melted, the liquid metal is collected in a graphite crucible, and then poured into small canals that take it at the center of the sculpture, ready to receive it.
Andrea Mariconti’s artistic approach is a personal research on this ancient technique, with which the artist plays,interferes, breaks in, re-elaborates ancient works in a contemporary way.
This well established technique is now interrupted and re-worked by the artist, in the precise moment of the descent of the liquid metal.
Martini F., L’arte paleolitica e mesolitica in Italia, Millenni, 12, Firenze 2016, 31-35.
The works are housed at the Frobenius Institut, in Frankfurt.
“Kunst der Vorzeit. Felsbilder aus dem Sammlung Frobenius”, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, 21. Januar – 16 Mai 2016, curated by Dr. Richard Cuba, with collaboration of Dr. med. Hélène Ivanoff.