‘Twenty-five is the square of the holy number five and is therefore also the centre of the magical squares. It consists of the sum of the numbers 1+3+5+7+9 and therefore contains all the holy numbers which can be used in magic’
In this beautiful, polychromatic arazzo Alighiero Boetti presents the viewer with a complex visual riddle, as different languages, scripts, letters and cultures become interwoven in an intricate system that plays with the dual concepts of logic and chaos. Inviting the viewer into a cryptographic game in which the artist hides a series of his iconic phrases and statements, Oggi terzo giorno quinto mese mille nove 100 ottantanove embodies one of Boetti’s most important guiding principles – his belief that the unity of the world rests on a delicate balance of ordine e disordine (order and disorder).
As with all of Boetti’s arazzi, the work comprises of a multi-coloured grid of twenty-five by twenty-five squares, the majority of which are overlaid with a contrastingly coloured letter. Using upper-case characters only in order to emphasise the strict geometry of their shapes, the artist appears to have arranged the letters at random, with their order producing no obviously legible words or phrases when read in a traditional manner. However, concealed behind the colourful multiplicity of the squares and letters there exists a highly regulated internal system, which the artist uses to encipher some of his favourite statements and axioms. Embedded within the pattern are such typically Boetti phrases as ‘Dare tempo altempo’ (give it time), ‘Avere sete di fuoco’ (to be thirsty of fire) and ‘Incontri e scontri’ (encounters and clashes), as well as semi-instructive directions for reading the work, such as ‘Leggere vertical’ (read vertically). Boetti arranges these phrases in individual sub-squares of sixteen equal parts, with each letter arranged to read from top to bottom and not left to right as is typical in Western culture. In this way, the arazzo straddles the border between legibility and illegibility, its letters clearly identifiable but its coded messages hidden to all but those familiar with Boetti’s complex system.
The title of the work, Oggi terzo giorno quinto mese mille nove 100 ottantanove, is spelt out across two intersecting lines of squares at the centre of the canvas, which cut through the tapestry in a linear, cross-like formation, dissecting it into four equal sections. At the centre of each of these quadrants, a single sub-square disrupts the rigidity of the arazzo system, as the artist introduces the soft, flowing script of a Farsi text to the composition. Read from right to left, the Farsi appears much freer, more lyrical and almost calligraphic in character, flowing across the individual borders of the coloured squares and acting like a visual counterpoint to the rigorous arrangement of the Latin alphabet. The contents of these messages were determined by Boetti’s Afghani collaborators, highlighting the role of the traditional craftswomen who were responsible for creating the tapestries. Passages such as ‘The unknown Afghani Embroidery weaver resident of Pishawar Pakistan’ (sic), not only identify the figures behind these works, but also refer to their displacement to Pakistan, where they had fled following the conflict and subsequent Soviet occupation of their homeland. Others offer a glimpse into their lives, offering snippets of information about their everyday existence: ‘At our home, winter time, Landi meat next to the warm heater.’ These contributions exist outside of the highly controlled system created by Boetti, and allow an element of chance to enter the artistic process. Boetti never met the women responsible for the creation of his designs, as they lived in an extremely private feminine universe, protected by tradition and cultural mores. By relinquishing control of this aspect of the arazzo to the embroiderers, Boetti grants these traditionally invisible craftswomen a new presence within the composition, giving them an increased level of artistic autonomy within the design.