'Time is a fundamental, it’s the principal factor in everything. Besides, it doesn’t take much to say this, but it’s really the basis. Dates and postage stamps and squares are always a management of time that is the sole truly magical thing there is, incredibly elastic. Everyone has his own time’
(Alighiero Boetti quoted in Alighiero & Boetti, exh. cat., Naples 2009, p. 215).
Acquired directly from the artist in the year it was made, EMME I ELLE ELLE E which has remained in the same collection ever since is one of an important, early series of works that Alighiero Boetti executed in 1970. This innovative series, in which uppercase letters are arranged in gridded squares, served as the source for the artist’s later use of mosaic-like ‘word’ or ‘language squares’. Encapsulating the concepts of language, order and time, EMME I ELLE ELLE E is embedded with the main concerns that governed Boetti’s oeuvre.
Consisting of a 7x7 square, divided up into a grid of 49 smaller squares, EMME I ELLE ELLE E presents a sequence of individual letters which, when read from the top and from left to right, phonetically spells out the Italian pronunciation of Millenovecentosettanta, the year the work was made. In this self-reflexive work Boetti has taken a simple piece of information, the date, and transcribed it into a combination of letters and sounds, revealing the innate structure that governs linguistic systems. The investigation of language and semantics would become one of the central concepts of Boetti’s subsequent work, such as the lavori biro that he began in 1972, and the embroidered Arazzi, which feature riddles and phrases presented in the same gridded format.
Within this series, Boetti created the same grid structure out of a variety of materials including, as here, cast iron. In the early 1970s, whenever such a work was exhibited, Boetti would often spray a luminous green paint over the surface of these works. The resultant amorphous shape of the sprayed surface contrasted directly with the regularised grid and sharply incised letters. The strict regularity of Boetti’s system was, in this way deliberately undermined by the fluid spread of paint which destroyed the impression of all right-angles and deliberately confused the borderlines between the work and the wall on which it was hung. The present work is a comparatively rare example from the series in that it bears no traces of green paint. In accordance with Boetti’s practice in exhibiting these works, the Boetti Archive has invited the future owner of this work to spray-paint the work green if and when they so wish.