Fire – Ash – Silence

Alfredo Pirri

...Fire is both intimate and universal. It lives in our hearts. It lives in the sky. It comes from the bottomless pit of substance and presents itself as love. It sinks back down into the substance and hides itself, invisible, dormant as hate and vengeance. It really is the only phenomenon that embraces in such a clear way two opposites: good and evil. It shines in paradise. It burns in hell…”1

Fire-Ash-Silence is an installation set up in the Circo Massimo in Rome on New Year’s Eve 2020. It consists of six towers made of cement and metal, six pyres of different sizes, from four to eight meters high. The title describes the process of transformation the towers will undergo: first of all the overtures of fireworks followed by the aggression of live fire. They are, in fact, surrounded, almost bejeweled, by fireworks that strike to the beat of a bright and joyful countdown, covering them with explosions and blazing colours concentrically created from the ground. Then they soar upwards towards the sky in a final and festive eruption of six spheres of white light, each one released from the inside of a single tower. Subsequently, exactly at midnight, the fire, this time real fire, rises inside the towers transforming them from city towers to rumbling furnaces in which their sound resembles the organ’s attempting to make an agreement with the fire, first trying to harmonize it, then yielding to the grey of the ash, and finally to the pleasing but at the same time painful silence of the day. The material in which the towers/pyres are built reminds us of subsoil, coming from its underground environment. They are perforated cement tubes, examples of drains (not always lawful) that make up an underground network above which the city rests and lives trusting that it will collect and take away everything that needs to be disposed of. These rings, made to stand out by use of an elementary metal structure, take on the shape of a piece of urban skyline.



Seeing them burn from a distance one would be tempted to shout: “The city is on fire!”. Its habits are burning and with them also the things to forget or to change; in this way the city defines itself as a melting pot of changes that produce ash. Right! Let’s start again from the warm colour of ash, a welcoming and fertilizing grey that makes you want to gather it and make use of this colour as a background for new paintings, in the same way as the painters of icons did, producing a dirty greyish colour for the backgrounds of their works. A colour with the feeling of infinity and the indefiniteness of the soul, on which every colour shines brighter than on the mundane white background of reason.
Let the city become itself again, returning to its greatness thanks to the festival of fire which welcomes joyfully and angrily, as in a cathartic metamorphosis, everything that it is offered: the cuttings from trees, straw from the countryside, the cracklings of its reed thickets, the technical equipment which crosses the towers. Everything burns producing a lively and confusing chatter calling out from the towers/ pyres/organs/suburban landscapes/monumental constructions of powerful buildings/ glances from above and below/ desire for warmth… everything comes out like a joyful and festive chorus from out of those openings that normally transport sewage, reversing low with high, transforming what drains away to something that evaporates reaching up to the sky, offering its scent to a God hidden among the clouds and plunged into the earth. The scent of smoke which makes merry, not like the one coming from criminals burning at the stake or from burning books, but like the kind coming from a gypsy camp, from village festivals, ultimately the desire that burns inside all of us.


We are like those towers that, setting alight like solitary pyres, spread vital light and regenerating warmth that fills us, but meanwhile also consumes us. From outside, actually from faraway, one only sees smoke that sings its stories with the unison of a choir that shouts its angry and monochromatic songs to the sky: the tragedies of history, well-written theories, social and collective events.


Smoke of Smokes says  Qohélet  Smoke of Smokes. All is nothing but smoke …2



1 G. Bachelard, The intuition of the moment. The psychonalysis of fire, Dedalo, Bari 1973.
G. Ceronetti (a cura di), Qohélet: the one who starts to speak, Biblioteca Adelphi, 2001.
Alfredo Pirri is an artist who works between painting and sculpture, architecture and installations and who has been known to an international audience since the middle of the eighties. Materials, volume, colour and space are the principle instruments of his poetic creation. The originality of his works lies in the use of painting as a way of conducting light and light as an architectural and spatial element. Space becomes a landscape filled with sculptures whose painted surfaces create the presence of light and shadow. Alfredo Pirri’s art creates a harmonic confrontation with architecture and constantly moves towards the creation of an archetypal area, a living space and at the same time a place for public functions.


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