‘What is ‘decisive’, Boetti once said, ‘is the fact that structures (systems) have replaced pictures and that pictures obtain their meaning from structures (systems). The goal is to convey structures (systems) by constantly rediscovering them and to create pictures in such a way as to forget the structures within them’
Comprising of nine drawings and nine stamped-addressed envelopes that have been franked and sent through the mail to the Sperone Gallery, Lavoro postale (autodisporsi) is, as its title suggests, one of Alighiero Boetti’s celebrated postal works. These were an ongoing series of works made periodically by Boetti throughout his career in which he extended his fascination with permutations and with one of the central guiding principles of his art and philosophy (the concept he called ‘ordine e disordine’) out from the interior world of his studio into the wider world by enlisting the unwitting co-operation of the Italian postal service.
Executed in 1974 Lavoro postale (autodisporsi) is an ‘automatically arranged’ postal work that expresses a deeply personal sense of this contrast between interior and exterior worlds. It comprises of nine drawings and nine envelopes because Boetti has used a precisely ordered combination of nine stamps (eight grey and one orange in each case) with which to send each letter. Each of these letters consisted of a personal drawing on a grid and a seemingly arbitrary, though also personal word and was sent through the mail from his studio to an individual (Antonio Russo) at the Sperone Gallery in Turin where the whole work of nine letters and their envelopes would ultimately be reassembled and collectively exhibited as a whole. As the work’s subtitle, ‘autodisporsi’ (auto-arrangement) indicates, the precise position of each drawing and its corresponding envelope in the final collective display corresponds directly to the position of the orange stamp in the arrangement of the nine stamps on its envelope. Starting from the top left and working its way in sequence through a possible permutation of nine, the position of this singular orange stamp forges a unity between the diversity of the nine separate and different letters.
In addition, the apparent sequential order of this simple permutation is augmented and undermined by the working procedures of the Italian postal service. For in sending the letters through the mail each single stamp had to be franked by a postal worker working with their own date stamp. The ordered workings of the postal service in processing each letter therefore, introduced the element of chance into Boetti’s ordered letters; for each arbitrary, random franking of Boetti’s ‘automatically arranged’ postage stamps completes the work by randomly disrupting the grid-like regularity of their order. In this way the work’s own invocation of ‘ordine e disordine’ (order and disorder) is complimented by the collaborative mechanics of the Italian postal service.
What Boetti called ‘ordine e disordine’ was a theoretical principle that he often incorporated into his art in order to demonstrate his belief that the perceptual world is a constantly changing but essentially harmonious and ordered unity made up of the twin, interdependent forces of order and disorder. This belief in the symbiotic and seemingly paradoxical relationship between order and chaos was based on a mixture of Eastern and Western thought. On the one hand it reflects the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus - who taught that the world was like a river in that it was in a constant state of flux but nevertheless always maintained itself as a united and harmonious entity – and on the other, it has its roots in much Eastern mysticism, particularly that of Sufi poets like Jalaluddin Rumi and in the simple but profound rational permutations of change to be found in the Chinese book of Change; the I Ching.
At the heart of Boetti’s fascination with the principles of ‘ordine e disordine’, which he saw at work in all aspects of life, was also his interest in the connections between the hidden and the seen, the visible and invisible, the open and the secret or concealed. This aspect of his work is also revealed in this ‘lavoro postale’ through the manifest contrast displayed between the inner, unrevealed mystery contained in its the drawings with their seemingly corresponding words contained inside the envelopes and the open mystery of the ‘order and disorder’ displayed on the outside of each personally stamped and addressed envelope.
What is ‘decisive’, Boetti once said, ‘is the fact that structures (systems) have replaced pictures and that pictures obtain their meaning from structures (systems). The goal is to convey structures (systems) by constantly rediscovering them and to create pictures in such a way as to forget the structures within them.’ (Alighiero Boetti, quoted in Alighiero Boetti exh. cat., Basel, 1978, unpaginated).