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    On December 9, 2010, in Venice, following the Architectural Biennale, an exhibition from the Chigny fund “Giovanni Batista Piranesi” was closed.

   Trip Report.

   Who doesn’t know Piranesi! He is everywhere. In every museum, in every architect apartment, if you look carefully, you can find a picture. But what is Piranesi and pyranesianism is quite difficult to understand and, moreover, to explain. I have known him since early childhood. In the parental house, in the dining room, always hung “Arch of Titus” and “Gardens of Tivoli”, bought as originals in the twenties, on the 'Kuznetsky Bridge'. Then, in the library, I found old albums with engravings. But I rediscovered Piranesi, already studying at an architectural institute, when I accidentally stumbled upon a folder with photo prints. They were much better in contact printing than in book printing. In the 40s, prints were acquired by our parents - students. Having pulled out a dusty folder of contact prints, we examined them for a long time together with Sasha Brodsky. Perhaps on this basis our creative association took place and a real fascination with architecture and etching began. 30 years have passed since then, a lot of water has flowed and it seemed to me that I already know everything about Piranesi. But, unexpectedly, Alexander Brodsky came to my studio and said that I urgently needed to go to Venice for the Piranesi exhibition... I felt that something serious had happened... and I went...
    The mood was skeptical. I did not like Venice this time. The weather was trashy, it was raining, the water constantly flooded the streets, preventing us from relaxing. And the tourists seemed to be more than usual. But most of all annoyed renovation, which was everywhere. I began to notice what I hadn't noticed before. Plastic euro-windows on the Grand Canal. Boutiques with underpants, not turning off their lights, lit the streets, as it was getting dark early. Somewhere, between "per Rialto" and "per San Marco", I came across a huge modern house, already ugly cause it is modern. San Marco and the Doge's Palace stood knee-deep in the water, covered in commercial banners with half-naked girls. Musicians played in the last open cafe, recalling the last scenes from the movie "Titanic". These girls were particularly annoyed. It costs a penny to print such a banner, and advertising gives a lot of money. Without this it’s impossible now.. At the time of Piranesi, the print of the engraving performed the same role, and the print itself on paper did not cost a lot of money. Making engravings required a lot of work and special skill. Once I tried to explain to students how etching is done. How a copper sheet is selected and polished for a long time to a mirror state, how it is worked out by alum, then it is heated and tamped with a special varnish. What varnish, you need to properly smoke with a candle, which then, the sketch drawing, carefully, is mirrored on the black surface of the etching board. How the finished drawing is etched with acid, how paper is prepared, and the whole printing process. I tried to explain how the engraver should mirror the negative of the picture on black, while imagining the positive. And when I saw the smirks on the faces of the students I realized that they will never do this. And they will do what is easier. And in a different way. And I don't know how "differently". Art without hard work and skill does not work.
    The same prejudice was with the closing Architectural Biennale. And I decided that besides the architecture of the Arsenal itself, I had nothing to look at, and I didn’t go to the exhibition, leaving my "strength" for Piranesi.

   The exhibition began for me from the moment when the vaporetto theatrically sailed away headed along the green waves from the “dying Titanic” to San Giorgio island, to the beloved Palladio and Piranesi. And there, at the Piranesi exhibition, I finally calmed down, feeling at home. First of all, I saw an amazing interior space where an exposition was placed, ending somewhere in the dark with wooden beams. All light's attention is on engravings. The first discovery is that the beautiful (as it seemed to me) copies are very different from the originals. And sometimes I did not recognize the works familiar to me. This is especially related with the large etchings. An engraving print, like architecture, cannot be reproduced by book printing. Large engraving has its own scale. You need to go to it. First, the whole image is perceived, and as you approach, you notice more and more details, up to a bizarre web of patterns of the author's stroke. Paper irregularities breathe, making the images voluminous and vibrant. One such etching can be watched for hours, walking along the ancient pavements, looking into the arches of the aqueducts. There are not just beautiful pictures, but sheets with a huge amount of information about archeology, architecture with text, drawings of plans and sections. Struck by its scale, the four-meter column of Troyan, consisting of two parts with a full description of the exploits of the emperor. The material exhibited in one place is grandiose and incomprehensible in terms of the scale of the declared themes and quality of works. We must pay tribute to the authors of the exhibition for the taste and quality of all the details: frames, passepartout, inscriptions, etc. In addition to the exhibited Piranesi etchings collection, the inspired authors of the exhibition made three independent projects. One of them - it's is not a new project. This is a comparison of the engraving views of Rome with photographic paintings taken from the same points. This project is most popular with the public, because it is striking in the similarity of these paintings with the preservation of these same historical objects. It also entertains the audience to find the differences between etching and the original photo. Meanwhile, a knowledgeable specialist here must take off his hat, because the whole world owes such preservation of historical monuments to Piranesi. Drawing ruins as finished compositions, he did not suspect that he was laying the foundations of a future restoration school. And then, after many years, his etchings will be needed in order to build historical monuments from the rubbish of archaeological debris.
  The idea of ​​another project is the revitalization of engraving images in real objects. It also shows the process of how a digital model is created using computer technology, and then the technology of casting and assembling objects in natural material is shown. It features a fireplace, a lamp and several vases. A rather arbitrary attempt was made to recreate the interior of the fireplace room. We are all used to computer miracles, and we’re even used to scolding a digital product for its dryness and lifelessness. But, having seen the recreated etching in real volume, the discovery for me was that this “fine grass” ideally suited to etching graphics could exist with the same success in the author's subject design. It turned out that all these painted herbs, plants, shells, turning into the faces of animals have their own logic, meaning and form the unique style of the author himself.

   An animated project “Prisons” looks bold and freshly studentlike. A five-meter wooden tower was exhibited - a hut covered with a white sheet. This independent design object, inspired by etching graphics, plays the role of a movie, where a three-dimensional journey into the world of architectural fantasies is continuously accompanied by music. The film itself is not a surprise for a specialist either. All in all, this is a student work done in 3D MAX. But all in all is luck. And the main advantage of these projects is that volume elements have traditionally been added to the exhibition walls, it has become possible to use the space theatrically, to diversify exposition accents along the trajectory of visitors. Everything is done professionally and with great taste. This is probably the best exhibition dedicated to the memory of the great Piranesi.

   It turned out that the legacy left by a simple "Venetian architect" who did not build anything influenced the course of development of architecture much more than the real works of outstanding architects. It influenced the minds and philosophy, fashion and styles, interest in history, the formation of the world restoration school.

   And, it seems to me, the most important thing is that the art of Piranesi has always inspired and continues to inspire creative people to engage in architecture and art.



Ilya Utkin

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