‘I asked my assistants to draw everything, every possible shape, abstract or figurative, and to amalgamate them until the paper sheet was saturated. Then I took the drawing to Afghanistan to get it embroidered with 90 kinds of different coloured threads, provided that there was an equal quantity of each of them. The different colour of each shape is chosen by the women. In order to avoid establishing any hierarchy among them, I use them all. Actually, my concern is to avoid to make choices according to my taste and to invent systems that will then choose on my behalf ’
(Alighiero Boetti quoted in Adachiara Zevi, Alighiero e Boetti: Scrivere, Ricamare, Disegnare, Corriere della Sera, 19th January 1992).
Boetti’s series of Tutto (Everything) are among the very last works that the artist made and represent in many ways, the culmination of his entire aesthetic - a kind of pictorial summation of his artistic career. Including several images drawn from Boetti’s own life and art, this Tutto of 1988 is an intensely detailed canvas belonging to this mesmerizing series of all-encompassing and holistic works that - as their name suggests - appear to represent ‘everything’.
Portraits of the macrocosm as a myriad of interconnecting miniature parts, the Tutti, depict the object-filled world of visual experience as a complex unity - as a perpetual and fascinating field of chaos and flux held together into a cohesive and united order. In this, these works are also the ultimate expression of the central guiding principle of Boetti’s art; the principle he called ordine e disordine (order and disorder). This principle which underpins all of Boetti’s art from the late 1960s onwards - including the artist’s own twinned identity of himself as Alighiero e Boetti (Alighiero and Boetti) - originated in the ancient thought of philosophers like Heraclitus, and is a central part of the philosophy underlying much Eastern thought, in particular that of Sufi mystics like Boetti’s spiritual teacher during the 1970s and ‘80s, the poet Berang Ramazan. The principle asserts that, like a river, the world exists as a continuous and chaotic flow but maintains itself as a unity. Inherent within chaos is the principle of order and vice versa. Order and disorder permeate one another maintaining a constantly shifting balance. Like his Mappe or the Arazzi in which the separate countries of the world or the individual letters that form words, were shown to combine into a cohesive unity, the Tutti are embroidered representations of the world of objects as a self-organising composite of chaotic form.
Marking the extension of his Arazzi and the Mappe into the wider realm of ‘everything’, the origins of the Tutti lie most specifically in an early project Boetti created in 1967 entitled Pack. This work originally consisted solely of a bucket half-filled with cement which, when allowed to dry, subsequently cracked and separated into several different segments but still maintained a cohesive sense of unity. This basic conceptual sculpture, heavily reflecting the very material emphasis of the arte povera context within which Boetti was then working, was a clear and simple manifestation of the principle of ordine e disordine at work in the natural world. Its title Pack - referring to pack ice - was intended to emphasise the ‘naturalness’ of this phenomena and also to underline the universality of the organising principle that Boetti was pointing to.
It was not until 1975 that Boetti created the first works entitled Tutto and not until 1982 that his first large scale Tutto embroidered pictures were made. Many of these first Tutti (all square in format) were also given the title Pack and/or perdita d’identità (loss of identity) and these were the first embroidered Tutti to take the form by which the series is now known. Each one made use of a selected variety of intersecting shapes of ‘all’ the separate objects and things that make up the world, with each shape coloured, arbitrarily, by the Afghan women who wove them.
These skilled women, who Boetti had first employed to make his Arrazo and Mappe, worked according to a stencil-based pattern drawn out in biro by Boetti and his assistants in which a variety of objects was rendered in such a way that each overlapped directly with the other so as to fill the canvas with a myriad of form in the manner of a horror vacui. Boetti chose the various objects to be depicted from an extensive range of sources including encyclopaedias, schoolbooks, magazines, newspapers and other lexica that also included exhibition catalogues of Boetti’s own work. Such an approach ensured the wide range of motifs; but the degree of this range and its scope was always ultimately determined by Boetti himself with many stencils made of certain favourite motifs so that they could be reused in later Tutto designs. This work for example, contains images of Boetti’s 1968 San Bernadino self-portrait image with arms raised and his Shaman/Showman double self-image in its myriad imagery. Also discernible is the silhouette of a pair of scissors – a common motif often found in the Tutti because of its relationship to the process by which these works are made.
When the overall design for the work was finished it was taken to Peshawar to be embroidered using a precise quantity of threads of different colour. The application of this colour was left up to the women doing the embroidery, the only stipulation being that they use all the colour so that overall an equal amount of colour was used in the finished whole. ‘These women’ Boetti observed of his co-workers on the Tutto embroiderie, ‘are extraordinarily tasteful in their choice of colours. I simply say to them “use all your colours” - there are one hundred in all. I would not have been able to supervise the choice of all the colours. I find myself facing thousand-years-old culture and when I have one hundred embroidered versions made...then there are one hundred women who carry out the work and each has a taste of her own.’ (Alighiero Boetti quoted in Alighiero Boetti exh cat, Museum für Moderne Kunst , Frankfurt Am Main, 1998).