IN THE NAME OF ORPHEUS



     At least one of the innovators of the means of electronic communication which has only recently transformed our world, for better or for worse, could have seen fit to evoke his name. In fact, while they were at it, they could have patented his name at the same time. It is a familiar yet forgotten one:

     Orpheus.

     From his devotion to the cult of Orpheus Pythagoras arrived at his action of uniting music with mathematics through the Orphic view of numbers. Sandro Zendralli is in good company by his avid frequentation of music, as it is to be remembered that Paul Klee was the son of a music teacher and that he himself was a violinist; Fausto Melotti first took a diploma in music before turning his creative impulse toward visual expression, and it can be said that the sculpture of Sandro Zendralli bears a kinship with that of Melotti. Finally, it is too often forgotten that the architect Daniel Libeskind first underwent long training in music before he became the architect he is today. "Architecture is music," Libeskind has written, "and the building is the instrument."  

     The great Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti once said that, moving to Rome, it had taken him twenty years to come to peace with the Baroque, a term shared equally between architecture and music. Prior to that, his sensibility had been more inclined to the Romanesque. It may be possible to explain this discomfort by recognizing it as a -in this case very long- period of accustoming oneself to a new mathematical order, as if making the transition from Roman numerals to the Arabic, or from two-and-two-equals-one to trigonometry. Or from Monteverdi to Schoenberg.

     Sandro Zendralli: " 33 . 17 . 7 .  8... an old telephone number is like a dance."

     In this sense, telephone numbers, like street addresses, room numbers of hotels, hat-check tickets, can almost come to act as amulets, spells to be cast, as charms. Emile Zola is said to have had a mania for adding up the license-plate numbers of fiacres to see if they came out odd or even.

     Sandro Zendralli: "Why did I do numbers in my work? First of all for the birthdays in my family and the obligatory birthday cards. They asked me to do drawings, dates, witty stuff and later on I got more and more involved with numbers, since I considered them no longer as enemies but on the contrary even as friends. Friends that I played with confronting them without fear which made me smile because everybody looked at numbers with suspicion and preoccupation as if they were bad news, while they had turned out to be very close to me. I had domesticated and drawn them closer to the way I wanted them. In fact, I have created a whole grammar, an alphabet of numbers that allows me to compose them in a harmonious way.

     Like a circus master, Sandro Zendralli makes numerals jump through hoops, roll over, and stand on their hind legs. An elaborate process precedes each of the single works whether graphik or sculpture involving numbers.

     Sandro Zendralli: "Those numbers were born thanks to the various birthdays of my uncles, grandparents, brothers and other relations. In addition to the invitation card for luncheon I had to write a birthday card. All my relatives and friends came to me because they knew I was capable of doing a decent card. Since the festivities were usually connected with birthdays, I came in touch with numbers. One day I said to myself: why don't I just create an alphabet of numbers so that I could do the days, months, years all in one. something that could be combined. I started closely examining the numbers from one to ten.

     "There are numbers like 1 that are edgy and traverse like a speer, other numbers like the 6 are made of circles. That's how I divided the numbers into male and female that can be combined emphasizing one or the other until arriving at 100. The problem was how to combine the dates since they all had to be connected among each other like a clock that indicates the hours, minutes and maybe also the seconds that are three dates to be combined. Thus a sort of calender clock that shows the date of birth: I had to start at a certain point and make them turn like a time piece.

     "That's how I realized that there are numbers that cannot be connected like the 8. So I had to attach it onto the other numbers and create a basis that looked like a rope which the numbers could lean against avoiding them to turn around. Those are the two fundamental considerations for the composition of numbers.

     "Architecture can be suspended or based on the ground. Plus, the numbers need to be composed as a unity made of two ciphers. 71, for example: one has to be able to read 7 and 1 together without letting them appear as 17. The 7 then has to be dominating in contrast to the 1...

     Numbers then take on an heraldic symbolism, emblematic, as in a coat of arms, a nautical ensign, the logo of a well known product. A mark.

     Sandro Zendralli: "Exactly. You don't notice it on first sight, but after a while someone accustomed to reading them can interpret them easily.

     From graphic form the numbers began to assume an increasingly sculptural character in wrought iron.

     Sandro Zendralli: "I wanted to transpose them physically in order to see them in reality. The only problem is when you look at them from behind: the numbers change. That's why I like to hang them: I always make an umbilical cord in order to suspend them in the air so that they can move and turn. This way I avoid front and back viewpoints.

     "I always dedicate great attention to the aspect of softness in the body of numbers like the 8..."

     The whole enterprise is similar to the ludic outlook of Paul Klee. It is not be be forgotten that children often attribute an anthropomorphical identity to the letters of the alphabet as well as to numbers, like the personages encountered in a deck of playing cards, or on a chessboard. It was in this playful childlike spirit that Igor Stravinsky wrote his delightful, though rarely performed, ballet "Jeu de Cartes."  

     Sandro Zendralli: "Exactly. When I draw the numbers on the umbilical cord like in a circus there are inclinations and stretchings of the numbers that follow the laws of harmony of the all-over compositions of the numbers. They are never the same. I work in Bellinzona with a young metal worker who not only builds technical objects but also loves to develop his own sculpture. Mine are conceived directly on location in his office 1:1.

     "The pages of my address books with all the telephone numbers look like playing cards. I still want to do a sculpture with all the telephone numbers of all the people that are no longer with us. Those address books reflect my whole life, as if my biography were encapsulated in a telephone number."

     Free association here comes into play. Sigmund Freud gave special importance to dreams considering them as starting point for a process of freie assoziation. However, Carl Jung gradually realized that this was the wrong approach as well as an inadequate one, considering the phantasmagoria that the inconscious produces throughout our sleeping hours. "My doubts increased," Jung was to recall, "when I heard the story of a colleague who told me about his train trip across Russia. He could not read cyrillic and thus started to hallucinate with regard to the strange letters that communicated announcements by the railway."

     He fell prey to a slumber which gave way to a reverie during which he imagined all sorts of meanings. Leaping from one idea to another in this relaxed state of mind he realised that this type of free association had brought back to him a great many old memories, many long forgotten in a process of voluntary selective amnesia.

     Carl Jung: "This episode made me understand that it was not necessary to use the dream as starting point for the process of free association... It showed me that one could proceed with any starting point: cyrillic letters, meditations on a crystal sphere, a prayer wheel, even a modern painting..."

     The famous innovation of the Swiss explorer of the geography of the mind, Herman Rorschach, was his invention of the therapeutic game which today bears his name, the Rorschach Test, made up of no more than simple ink stains that serve as a stimulus for the liberation of associations even of a mythological or prototypical nature. This practice is to be encountered in certain drawings and canvases of Sandro Zendralli.

     Another form of free association is found in certain drawings of Sandro Zendralli: his use of a continuous unbroken line can also be identified in the drawings and wire sculptures of Alexander Calder, or in the works of Saul Steinberg, whose art disguised itself as popular cartoons, as well as in works of Le Corbusier as the "Série Ca Ma Ao" of 1963, or before that in such drawings by Paul Klee as "Ein Strich," 1931, or "Morgengrau," 1932.

     Paul Klee: "The visible constitutes only one isolated demonstration of the fact that there are, unknown to us, far more numerous truths the significance of which is multiple and in constant expansion, and often apparently in contradiction with the rational experience of the past."

     The cult of Orpheus found its greatest follower in Pythagoras, combining the music of the spheres with mathematics, so that to this day we occasionally speak of the "divine numbers" of Vivaldi or Bach. The form of the lyre gave us the harpsichord and then the pianoforte, from their keyboards came the typewriter. Today, with the letters of the alphabet merged with numerical systems, human knowledge is evoked by touching the keyboard whose ancestor is the ancient lyre. The cult of Silicon Valley should be Orpheus.

© 2014 SANDRO ZENDRALLI