‘I would like to do a collaborative drawing on paper of thousands of airplanes […]. Precisely rendered planes all seen in different perspective and at different angles so that they provoke desire. It must be an explosion'
(A. Boetti, quoted in 'Interview with M. Fagiolo dell’Arco’, in Il Messaggero, 23 March 1977).
Enveloping our view with its pulsating energy, Alighiero Boetti’s 1988 Aerei presents a set of planes, whose defined silhouettes – drawn by the famous illustrator Guido Fuga – are scattered on a background of densely and meticulously traced strokes of black ballpoint pen. In March 1977, in an interview for the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero, Boetti expressed the idea which would inform this series: ‘I would like to do a collaborative drawing on paper of thousands of airplanes […]. Precisely rendered planes all seen in different perspective and at different angles so that they provoke desire. It must be an explosion' (A. Boetti, quoted in 'Interview with M. Fagiolo dell’Arco’, in Il Messaggero, 23 March 1977). Witnessing the artist’s fascination with the generative principles of order and chaos, coincidence and necessity, the triptych plays on the contrast between the turbulence of its composition and the concentration and patience required by its making. For this work he involved his assistants in a consuming process taking months of covering, with mechanical and precise pen marks the large areas of paper, step by step, line by line, stopping when they met the contours of the airplanes, which were left white. As a result, the surface of the paper, soaked in ink and saturated by the pressure of the strokes, gives the impression of looking from a great height over the rippling waves of the ocean, imbuing the work with an incredibly tactile poetry.
When asked by Jean-Christophe Ammann about the meaning of his Aerei, Boetti explained: ‘I think I made it because today everything seems simultaneous and superficial to me’ (A. Boetti, quoted in A. Sauzeau, Alighiero Boetti, Paris 2010, p. 29). The energy and speed inherent in the movement of airplanes in the sky well expresses the importance of time: Boetti’s Aerei all seem to be on the verge of crashing between each other, but the ballpoint pen lines freeze them in the instant of the viewer’s contemplation of them. Movement and stillness, spontaneity and precision are condensed in the moment of the viewer’s contemplation of the work: ‘Wind is a moment of grace. The shapes created by wind are always ones of energy, of movement. Wind, furthermore, makes things temporary, and also conveys a sense of time, because through its succession, instant after instant, is rendered in shapes… it is a real force, alive, like the sun’s rays, but lighter, even if its energy at times can be extremely violent. But its image remains one of lightness’ (S. Lombardi (ed.), Alighiero Boetti, Dall’oggi al domani, Brescia 1988, p. 21).
Conceived by the artist and executed with the help of assistants coming from various ages and social backgrounds, Aerei’s ballpoint pen lines become a sort of seismographic account of the mood of its makers, of their unconscious revealed in the imperfections of the automatic and repetitive drawing, in the variations of its cross-hatches and hue. One may try to spot their personality in the drawing, as if in an archeological quest across geological layers of stone. Aerei’s texture becomes a kind of embroidery, the creative result of a repetitive work spread through time. In this regard, Aerei may be compared to Boetti’s famous Mappe (embroided in Afghanistan by local women), both being a reflection on human work as a means to measure time: ‘That which is represented by the pen for people from the west, is embroidery for the people of Afghanistan’ ( J-C. Ammann, Alighiero Boetti – Works 1966-1988, exh. cat., Monika Sprüth – Philomene Magers, Munich, 2002, p. 7).