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Monochrome mania: Boetti’s obsession with the Xerox machine

Colour = Reality show lights up artist’s photocopy fetish

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Adding a further layer to the Cini’s exhibition of Alighiero Boetti’s work is Hans Ulrich Obrist’s “show within a show”, the enigmatically titled Colour = Reality, B+W = Abstraction (Except Zebras), which will introduce the public to a virtually unknown but important aspect of the artist’s practice: his obsession with photocopies.

Boetti’s better-known series of works, such as his maps and embroideries, reveal none of his fascination with technology and communication. As far back as 1969, when photocopiers had just been invented but had not yet found their way into homes and offices, he was making photocopies of all kinds of different objects and materials, pushing the boundaries of the new medium with his unique mix of conceptual rigour and childlike playfulness.

As soon as photocopiers became everyday objects, Boetti made sure he was never too far from one, installing machines in his studio in Rome and his country home in Todi, where he spent hours on end making photocopies with his young daughter Agata. These sessions included attempts to photocopy live baby ducks, much to Agata’s delight, as well as drops of rain as they fell from the sky. The latter actually worked, although it was short-lived as the rain, quickly and inevitably, seeped into the machine, and it broke down.

Over the years, Boetti amassed so many photocopies that in 1992 he had them bound in a book titled 111, consisting of 111 pages. A year later he expanded it to 15 volumes of 111 pages each, which became known as the series Da 1 a 15 (from 1 to 15).

“There is a democratic idea behind this process,” Obrist says. “It was very much an open work, an open system in which he incorporated all kinds of photocopied material, such as newspaper and magazine clippings, fragments of his personal life, artistic inspirations, contributions from artist friends of his, photocopies of works by artists from previous generations and, of course, all kinds of research documents related to his other work.”

The original bound volumes will punctuate the installation, which is made up of photocopies of the original photocopies, a notion that Boetti would have most likely enjoyed. Expect to get lost in an A4-sized world in which images of his family and private life coexist with images of the first war in Iraq, a silhouette of Prince in concert, the artist Mario Schifano on the pages of Vogue, the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, and adverts for cigarettes. Somewhere within the installation is a photocopy of the show’s title, handwritten by Boetti.

Obrist has invited the Mexican artist Mario García Torres to contribute to the show with a homage to Boetti’s photocopies—a fitting idea given that Boetti is often described as an “artist’s artist”. García Torres will install a photocopier that visitors will be allowed—indeed, encouraged—to interact with once they’ve seen the show, although they must keep to a set of rules (Boetti loved games with strict rules).

“There’s an important element of play here, which was central to Boetti’s practice. We didn’t want to just make a retrospective of his photocopied work—we wanted to bring it to life,” Obrist says.