Da 1 a 10 (From 1 to 10) is a fascinating embroidery work made by Alighiero Boetti in 1980. It is one of an increasingly prolific series of works, usually made on paper, that Boetti began to make in the early 1980s that embraced childhood artistic practices, games and other creative activities and incorporated these into the ongoing aesthetic of his own work.
Boetti’s concept for Da 1 a 10 was that of a children’s counting book. In accordance with the tradition of these books but also with the tautological and doubling nature of so much of his own work Boetti sought to illustrate the concept of counting and the sequential growth of numbers from one to ten using numbers, letters and fingers. The pattern for the counting book, as for this embroidery was based on original drawings that Boetti made by tracing around his daughter’s hand as she opened one finger, then two and so on until all the fingers on both hands were displayed. These drawings, here rendered in black and white, are accompanied by the name of the relevant number spelled out in letters and in Arabic numeral in a sequence of coloured embroidered squares, similar to those used in his Arazzi. The number of different coloured threads used on each canvas panel also accords with the number they are illustrating; hence, three colours are used to illustrate the number three (‘tre’) while on the last panel ten separate colours illustrate the number and letters spelling ‘dieci’ (ten). In this way the ten canvases also chart the proliferation and growth of multiple possibilities as each panel progresses. Visually, taken as a whole, the sequential progression of the ten embroidered panels that constitute Da 1 a 10 show a spectacular burst of colour seemingly blooming from a near monochrome starting point.
Da 1 a 10, like many of the works that Boetti would create for, and often with, the participation of children in the early 1980s, also belongs to a series of works in which Boetti has deliberately set about countering the notion of the spontaneous gesture in art with work that abides by a set of simple rules and yet through them, creates an image fully illustrative of the extraordinary variety, richness, and diversity of the world. In this, and in Da 1 a 10 particularly, with its concentration on the image of the hand, Boetti may also have been positing a counter to the then emerging tendency in contemporary Italian art of the transavanguardia group whose work reasserted the concept of the spontaneous, instinctive hand gesture of the artist and the supremacy of the unconsciously drawn mark or image. Boetti, as he said in an interview given in 1992, was deeply suspicious of this tendency in art. ‘There is a problem of the “gesture” in art’, he said, ‘I think that it can become something very dangerous. One can end up becoming enamoured of one’s own gesture, which thus becomes a vice, a nervous tic; it is no longer controlled, but acts as if it were something natural - and thus loses value and energy, loses thought. If you simply follow your own instincts in playing the drums, you end up always playing the same rhythm. This may be gratifying, but it leads toward total entropy, towards a degree zero, towards the total negation of thought.’ (Alighiero Boetti quoted in Alighiero e Boetti 1993/1962 exh. cat. MADRE Naples, 2009, p. 36)
Instead, and as Da 1 a 10 clearly illustrates - with its simple imagery of human hands and the logical rule and sequence of proliferation with which it and its ten fingers accords - Boetti always sought to create work that expounded the establishment a harmony between invention and a simple, logical rule or progression. Work that demonstrated the power of human thought and the infinite amount of potential inherent within keeping faithful to the rule and the already inbuilt structures of the reality of world around us. ‘It is like a numerical series’, Boetti said in the same interview. ‘There are two elements: the series and the numbers (which are infinite). That is, there is the one (the series) and the infinite (the numbers). I remember a phrase: “Because the head is a friend to the feet and both of them to the moon and the tides.” I think that if one is to do things well, one must find oneself in that situation: one must have achieved a sort of harmony, a state of grace. It is something one has without knowing it: when you know it, you know longer have it…’ (ibid). Something of this connection between the human, the numerical and the infinite potential of the wider cosmos is also powerfully illustrated in this, joyous, colourful and apparently simplistic sequence of embroidered canvases from ‘one’ to ‘ten’.