'The embroidered map is for me the ultimate in beauty. I did nothing for that work. I chose nothing, in that the world is made the way it is, I did not draw it; flags are the way they are, I did not draw them; in other words I did absolutely nothing; once the basic idea has emerged, the concept, the rest is not a matter of choice..." (Alighiero e Boetti cited in Boetti, exh. cat., London, 1999, p. 19)
The best known and most loved of all the artist's works, Boetti's embroidered maps (the Mappe) lie at the heart of the artist's oeuvre and express in one single and comprehensive image almost all the key ideas and aesthetics of his art.
Embroidered tapestries showing the map of the world with the man-made borders of each country "coloured in" by the colours of that country's flag, the Mappe were the first of Boetti's serial works and were all made by Afghan craftsmen and women between 1972 and 1993. A tempo in tempo col tempo il temporalea ('in time, on time, with time, the temporalea') is a Mappa executed in 1981 by Afghan refugees then living in the Peshawar region of Pakistan. It is one of the first Mappe to be executed after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and therefore also one of the first to depict Afghanistan under the flag of Babrak Karmal's Soviet-backed government. Like many of the Mappa this work took a long time to make and was only signed, titled and dated on completion by Boetti in 1983. In addition to the Italian inscription at the top of map which is a systematic permutation of word play on the notion of time and progression, the other three sides of the work contain descriptions in Farsi of the embroiderers' abandoned homeland. The three texts read: "Afghanestan dar ghalbé Asia gharar darad" (Afghanistan is in the heart of Asia), "Afghanestan yek sarzaminé koohestaani ast" (Afghanistan is a mountainous land) and "Saakhté Alighiero Boetti tarikh yek hezar sisado chast noh dar Afghanestan" (Made by Alighiero Boetti, date 1360, new in Afghanistan). The Persian date given here of 1360 equates with a Western date of 1981.
Uniting East and West by incorporating the work of unknown craftsmen and women from Afghanistan into the process of making an artwork aimed at a predominantly Western audience, Boetti's Mappe invoke the central aesthetic of Boetti's art - the principle that he called "Ordine e disordine" (order and disorder). This was a theoretical principle which Boetti 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 order and disorder. This belief in the symbiotic and seemingly paradoxical relationship between order and chaos is itself 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.
Unlike other Afghan-made works such as the Arazzi, where the principle of order and disorder was conveyed only through contrasting systems of world play and colour, the simple beauty of the Mappe lies in that the visual image they present - a picture of the whole world divided and split into fragments by man's disparate political and national ideologies - is a factual and visual chart of the principle of 'ordine e disordine' at work in the modern world. Although clearly objective and undeniably factually accurate, the Mappe are therefore also a severe critique of such artificial political, national and ideological man-made borders. In addition, the process by which the Mappe have been made is a deliberate and conscious attempt to encourage the healing of such divisions. For by having the Mappe made in the "heart of Asia" by Afghan craftsmen,who themselves had little or no interest in the contemporary art world, Boetti was bridging the long-standing metaphorical East-West divide and using this creative partnership as a powerful symbol for the potential of such union and healing.
The concept for the Mappa grew out of the Dodici forme dal giugno'67 (12 forms from June 1967 onwards) a work that Boetti made in 1971 as a response to the recent Arab/Israeli war and which presented the outlines of twelve countries then in political crisis or military conflict. As Boetti explained, central to the concept of presenting the borders or outlines of a country was the concept of time. "With the Dodici forme I started to consider the present in my work. The 'forme' were borderlines of the areas occupied by Israel. The newspapers constantly retained the same graphic depiction of these areas; one colour each for Gaza, Jerusalem, the Sinai and the Golan... I had realized that whenever such a form appears on a newspaper title page something important must have happened...What interested me in these drawings was the fact that they were not spawned by my imagination, but prompted by artillery attacks, air raids and diplomatic negotiations." (Boetti cited in Alighiero Boetti, exh. cat., Frankfurt Am Mein, 1998, p.65)
In this way the formal outline of a country came to be seen by Boetti as a purely temporal manifestation. As his Mappe make plain, the political map of the world is in a constant state of flux and a map is therefore in reality only a portrait of the world as it exists in the mind of man at any single given moment. This purely temporal relationship between maps, particularly political maps, and the present which Boetti first recognised in his Dodici forme is emphasised in A tempo in tempo... through the title of the work which, like a memento mori, uses a progressive linguistic permutation of the word "tempo" (time) to announce the transitory nature of all and everything.
As in his Arazzi tapestries, each letter of each word that frames the work is individually separated from the other by a coloured square in such a way as to emphasise both its physical form and its individual quality as an abstract sign. As in the Arazzi this stresses once again the principal of 'ordine e disordine' showing the unity of words and of the meanings we construe through language to be merely a systematic ordering of disorderly signs and symbols. In addition, the Italian script with its letters from the Latin alphabet is contrasted with the more fluid calligraphic script of the Farsi in order to emphasise the collaboration between East and West that has taken place in the creation of this work. As Rolf Lauter has observed , "East and West blend in Alighero's work to form a unity; with their different signs, contents, and cultures they frame the earth as it were." (ibid.., 1998, p. 75.) In this way Boetti underwrites the essential hope expressed in the Mappe that an increased breakdown of cultural and political barriers will lead to wider understanding and to further collaboration between the disparate parts of the world; ultimately resulting in an end to all artificial borders and divisions.