Pompeii. A long strip of volcanic sand that slides slowly from one end of its pavilion to the other. Across this page of ashes, the "machina scriptoria" digs with its prongs, racks, and metal moulds attached to moving mechanical arms: marks, scratches, almost like signs or codes from the ancient city.
The installation was designed as a prologue to the visit of the excavations
(arch. Benedetti-Di Martino, Spazi Consonanti)...
A half-light envelops the long room. Only in the centre does the light caress the river of grey sand, its entire length slowly flowing over a raised riverbed. Up close it reveals its volcanic ash consistency; the very same that buried Pompeii and Ercolano, and whose thick blanket today still covers mosaics and bodies, streets and gardens, in that part of the city that yet lies underneath our feet. The ash flows incessantly from a narrow fissure in the roof of the pavilion: filtered, sifted, and compressed by a heavy iron roller, it is like an endless, smooth page with a silvery reflection. A few metres after its entrance, the ash flows underneath the small-scale bridge crossing the river.
This is where we find the Machina scriptoria: a set of articulated ploughshares, blades, and tines that sink into the sand or delicately brush against it.
Some of these tools scrape at the compacted surface, others brush the ash, leaving their form impressed upon it. Lines, rhythms, layers of sand. With its new engraving, the sheet of ash silently progresses towards the far end of the room, where it is swallowed by another dark fissure.
Against the walls, sets of steps flank the pavilion. Visitors standing in the middle can see the marks change almost imperceptibly according to the angle of the light. Those standing near the machina scriptoria can observe how its three sections go about their work, and how the progressive phase shift created with its movement constantly triggers new variations.
Prongs, racks, and metal moulds attached to moving mechanical arms occasionally rotate and lift in order to transfer other shiny tools into contact with the sandy page. Not much else can be seen of this room and its high, iron walls.
The mantle of ash is grooved with marks and scuffs, almost as if they were signs, or a code sent from the city underneath, or rather from the deepest sediment of archetypes, a memory of shapes that the human eye cannot avoid connecting to something that is known, something preexisting, or something that yet persists.
It is not a description of something, but more like a dance, in which ideas are sometimes manifested in figures. With its numerous metronomes, this machine that makes its signs in a time that is not univocal, leads us to imagine a hand that is completely detached from the mind, and therefore immune to conformity to an internal design; something not confined by invention, patterns, ideas, or styles.
Here is a contracted version of time leaving its mark: at first it may be defining fields of energy, or of barley, then it may begin designing the monochord scale, or throwing a weaver's shuttle. But each prong, each blade, each ploughshare can become a claw that cuts into the current. The continuous flow stretches itself out; it spins out and winds its way around. The movement of the sand and that of the public initially occur in opposite directions. Then, once the bridge has been crossed, the movement of the public continues in the direction of the current; to the viewer now following the flow of ash, the stream appears to slow down.
Examining the imprints up close, one can make out precisely where the territory has been marked with fissures, grooves, and ridges, or when a cut is not a wound but just a shadow. The blackest areas of sand are not carved in the dark, but drift towards it with an air of finality. Darkness is nothing but a form of latency, or rather, the way in which the outside will penetrate the inside; that folding over itself of a flat surface that a philosopher might see in the creases of drapery.
There is a constant feature in the edge formed by the sand as it piles up; beyond that edge the sand slides down the slope, softening contours as it goes.
That constant lays bare the entropy at work here as it veils the marks, pushing them towards their flat destiny; erosion without water and without wind.
There is also the inconstant light, which turns reality into the metaphoric, and drags it into the realm of possibility, a sea or desert where one cannot distinguish between the wave-like motion of ropes and the motion of rope-like waves.
A piece of writing which becomes a drawing in spite of itself, and this can happen, for example, when it repeats itself, when it retraces its steps, when it multiplies: when the points keep on falling like a constant pattering of rain; stains like tiny dots of grey that vary in intensity according to the thickness of the prongs.
Are these arrangements a metaphor of sounds and silence, or a simple anatomy of sound, one that lays bare the purity of its design?
As the etchings become more elaborate, as they proliferate, as they head towards the edge of chaos, the bigger the possibility that a superior, more relevant and more cohesive figure will manifest itself.
It is not Borges' map hidden in the jaguar's fur, or the carving of sins on the back of the condemned: with what form of intelligence or irony the tracks twist and merge, and which of these may be true signs I know not. The only certain thing is that this river flows uniformly in the same way humankind imagines the passage of time.
It stretches up towards the light, and at journey's end it cascades into indistinct shadow: an hourglass that wipes out each design, each shape or meaning, like the hand of the monk that sweeps a table clean of its sandy mandala.