The key theme of memory, understood as a process of reconstructing the past in the present, underlines the conception of the memorial as a device used to stimulate the collective memory, one tool to counteract the dissolving force of oblivion. A definition consistent not only with the meaning of the work, but in keeping with the creative choices of shape and form made by the artist. Non Dimenticarmi however, distances itself from the rhetoric associated with that of the monument: focusing on the story and its individual elements, the pieces of which create a narrative whose purpose is to prevent the re-writing of the past.
Non Dimenticarmi is a site-specific installation. Important features include the fact that as a public thoroughfare its physicality can be enjoyed to a backdrop of uplifting and emotive sound effects. It consists of eight groups of slender iron stems connected by a dense network of slanting lines. Each stem represents one victim. Each group – starting from that of Piazza Fontana – refers in turn to each of the massacres and the number of victims. Each of them is placed on thin iron plates, irregular forms, suspended from the ground that bear the engraved names of the victims forming a sort of constellation [fig. 1].
The space that separates each group from the other gives rise to a winding path that makes the installation similar to an archipelago. Its crossing therefore becomes an engaging, interactive experience. [fig.2].
Ad ogni stelo, in cima ricurvo, è sospesa una piccola campana di bronzo. Il batacchio regge a sua volta un triangolo di ferro grande abbastanza da ospitare il nome della vittima, il luogo e la data della strage. Sollecitate dal vento le campane risuonano, diventano voci, le voci delle vittime, presenze. Presenze che invitano chi passa a non dimenticare per dare un senso alla loro morte, a ricordare perché ciò che a loro è accaduto non si ripeta.
The stem is a formal element that appears frequently in Ferruccio Ascari’s works, starting from Archi installation [fig. 3] produced for one of his exhibitions in 1982 (Milan, Galleria Mercato del Sale).
In that context, it was about long and thin branches, curved by a piano wire stretched to the extreme, alluding – with an implicit quotation to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus – to the inherent contradictory nature of everything. Effectively the bow as a musical instrument, while at the same time an instrument of death. A solution to a question that recurred in different contexts as well as the installation Il nome dell’Arco [fig. 4] (Monaco, Lenbach Museum, 1983), where a large curved branch, covered with gold leaf, was the fulcrum of a rotating twelve-sided environment formed by 12 large panels crossed by luminous rays.
A decade later the stem, as a pure natural element, became a less natural element of a larger installation, Vayu [fig. 5], located in an open place, in the Sienese countryside, near the remains of an ancient Abbey (Abbadia Ardenga, 1999).
In this place, steeped in history, the work is inspired by five elements: ether, air, water, earth and fire. In the philosophical tradition of Yoga, which the artist practises, these elements created the cosmos. “Vayu” is the air that generates life: in this installation the curved stems occupy a large open space, at the top of which, small shreds of canvas, moved by the wind, allude to the constant evolution of life forms. Like the bells that we find in Non Dimenticarmi, even the fragments of canvas, agitated by the wind in Vayu, refer to the Eastern tradition of bells and prayer, symbols of regeneration and contact with what is otherwise invisible. In different versions of a recent installation, Luogo Presunto [fig. 6], the wooden element of the stem, taken from nature, is transformed into another material, iron: it becomes the generating element of a series of symbolic architecture, of archetypal buildings, such as the palafitte, whose symbolic meaning is a clear reference to the origin of architecture, to its relationship with nature, and with the symbols that dot the history of human beings and their inhabitation of the earth.
Within the artistic path of Ferruccio Ascari, Non Dimenticarmi is part of a series of works united on the same lines: memory, in its various meanings, as a fundamental element of our identity. The relationship of this work within the urban context must provoke the collective memory. It is for this reason that the choice of the location in which to place it has been of particular importance and not only one of symbolic nature. Non Dimenticarmi was designed to interact with the passerby, by attracting his attention. Each element has been designed to prevent it from becoming opaque over time, becoming absorbed into the order of the landscape. The bells/voices fulfil this function: perceived by those who pass, they ask that their story is heard within the larger one, of the city with its perennial flow of busy, distracted people along with tourists intent on photographing and being photographed.
A theme that also run through a recent exhibition by Ferruccio Ascari, Silenzio, located in three extraordinary places of worship in the heart of Milan: the small cloister of the Basilica of San Simpliciano, the rectory of San Raffaele church, the chapel of San Bernardino alle Ossa. The visitor, invited to make the journey connecting the three sites, becomes part of the experience. In the rediscovery of such places of intense spirituality, the experience of silence, colliding with the noise of the city acts as a means of detournement. Also, as in Non Dimenticarmi, the work with its internal articulation, maintains an active relationship with the fabric of the city. Establishing a rapport, the observer is urged to ask questions, ultimately in order to make sense of the world around us. In both cases the site of the work is the place where different generations, different communities meet to configure, without conflict, their own identities, and their position with regard to that large deposit of both personal and collective memories.