Geografie dello sguardo, per una nuova iconografia dell’inclusione
In choosing the works to display at the Massa Episcopal Complex, Paolo Topy responded thoughtfully and intelligently to the invitation formed by the title of the cycle – of which the show of his work forms the first chapter. By the inclusion in this architectural complex of an iconography encouraging us to reflect upon what it means to be human and on our relationship to others, he invites us on a stroll through this remarkable geography of stone in order to bring a different gaze to bear on the world around us, and invites us to explore the relationship we maintain with it.
To grasp the full meaning of Paolo Topy’s presence at Massa, we must recall Pope Benedict XVI’s letter to artists of 21 November 2009. The Pope read it to a group of them in the Sistine Chapel, beneath the admirable frescoes of Michelangelo Buonarroti. Benedict XVI did not forget to mention his predecessor John-Paul II’s meeting 10 years earlier, on 4 April 1999, or even Pope Paul VI’s meeting with artists in the same place forty-five years earlier, on 7 May 1964 to be precise. Speaking to the gathered artists, Benedict XVI expressed himself thus: “You are the custodians of beauty: thanks to your talent, you have the opportunity to speak to the heart of humanity, to touch individual and collective sensibilities, to call forth dreams and hopes, to broaden the horizons of knowledge and of human engagement. (…) So great was Paul VI’s esteem for artists that he was moved to use daring expressions. ‘And if we were deprived of your assistance,’” Benedict XVI reminded the assembled, before adding that Paul VI had called for a “’renaissance’ of art, in the context of a new humanism.” In expressing a sincere concern as to the eventual absence of artists in the permanent and necessary reflection upon our shared humanity, Paul VI highlighted the importance of their presence and of the contribution they can make to debates about important ideas. Artists have a lot to say to us. But do we know how to listen to them? In the democratic debate that is the true wealth and strength of this Europe that is still in the making, their assistance is precious to us. What, indeed, if we were deprived of it? Their view of the world and upon humanity; the manner in which they invite us, as “viewers,” simple visitors, to share that moment of reflection by experiencing art means that we can not do without them. Nor, finally, was the popes’ explicit reference to the Renaissance – a privileged moment in the history of humanity’s ideas as well as of its art – fortuitous either. Drawing on the Greek and Latin thinkers and philosophers, the Renaissance aimed to elevate humanity, to turn its back on the obscurantism that continues to threaten us today.
Paolo Topy’s oeuvre is socially committed and courageously free of any ideology. It fits perfectly into the humanist tradition in Europe, a place with profoundly Christian roots. Europe’s construction depends on a philosophy that places mankind and its questions at the center of its concerns. A philosophy that was incarnated very early, by Christ himself, and later, both by important thinkers like Erasmus, Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Francis of Assisi, and by artists whose work still has so much to say to us, even now. “Humanitas,” the title Paolo Topy has given to the selection of work shown at Massa, is a direct reference to the humanist culture that those thoughtful, enlightened and righteous popes were calling for in their letters to those men and women who, in their studios or when facing the sometimes somber spectacle of the world, ponder things deeply, and invite us to join them in their generous, heartfelt criticisms, reflections and suggestions.
So let us accept Paolo Topy’s invitation willingly, and make our way through his work with him; let us listen to what he has to say to us. Let us find in ourselves the strength to conceive of a different world, a different relationship to both it and the beings with which we share it. Yves Peltier