In 1973, following a period of intensive painterly experimentation and production, Clemen Parrocchetti (1923-2016) wrote a brief manifesto Promemoria per un oggetto di cultura femminile, embroidering the text in block letters with a double red thread on a sheet of aluminium. The manifesto reads very clearly: “Memoran-dum for an object of female culture composed of reels and fabrics freely embroidered with threads and ribbons sewn on a plate encapsulated in latoplex. Denouncement of the condition of the enduring female underclass. To draw attention to the racial discriminatory problem. Sew and be quiet woman pin cushion woman punching ball woman ultimately object woman.” These were decisive years for the artist’s research; having reached a mature phase in her life and in a challenge to her social background, she decided to embrace feminism on a level of personal political commitment, articulating its issues in her artistic practice.
The works that followed the drafting of the manifesto delineate the themes and the circumstances of her position with respect to feminist thinking and the movement: Speranza di parita (1973), Ultima alternativa, potere vedovile (1974), Mezzo Cielo (1974), Fuori dal ghetto, accerchiato (1974), Corpo (1974), Custodita e repressa (1975), Macchina delle frustrazioni (1975), Quattro righe amorose per una sposa (1975), La grande madre (1975), Speranza di liberazione dopo la resistenza (1977), Metamorfosi di una processione (1978), Appendiabiti del potere (1978), being among the most im-portant. These compositions were realised with materials drawn from the world of female domestic labour, of darning and sewing: reels, spools, shuttles, threads, pins, spindles, thimbles, trimmings or scraps of soft, coloured fabric, pin cushions, kitchen utensils for dolls and syringes were assembled by the artist in the form of eyes, moths and fleshy vaginas embroidered on fabric or in relief, realised in padded cloth, in certain cases pierced by pins or tied to reels and shuttles, all sewn on an aluminium plate. Small, colourful but biting “anti-trophies” of female domesticity sealed within Plexiglas boxes that recount the existence of women caged within the domestic environment: the shuttle the feminine, the reel the masculine, the red cross and the syringe the responsibility for care, the Latin cross the restrictive Catholic education, the female sexual organ the crime of pleasure and the gaping mouth the cry of liberation breaking the barriers of the reclusive life between the four walls of home.
In the representation of this anatomy, Clemen Parrocchetti used the instruments and methods of domestic labour to rewrite the issues most fiercely debated within the feminist movement in terms of theory and political struggle: the subordinate role of women and repression within the family, abortion and divorce as initial demands of emancipation, rebellion against domestic violence and sexual liberation.
The first series of these “objects of female culture” was presented at the Galleria II Mercante in Milan in 1976 and a year later at the Collegio Cairoli in Pavia in the exhibition Lavori femminili. From 1977, the artist’s iconography became increasingly more complex and laden with objects, to the extant that it escaped the Plexiglas capsule and began to inhabit large portions of raw or black hessian. In this phase and through to 1978, Parrocchetti created a series of tapestries that represented “doors, curtains large openings , through which could pass the gaze or the voice and this last at last express itself in a cry. The canvas was in fact almost always dominated by a great gaping red mouth, a symbol of the struggle for freedom, of the voice and the undisciplined word, screamed during the marches and against the ordinary language, authoritarian in both written and spoken form.
1978 was another key year in the artist’s career: in January she participated in the conference “Donna Arte Society” at the Centro lnternazionale di Brera (Milan) and then joined the Feminist Group Immagine from Varese (Silvia Cibaldi, Milli Gandini, Mariuccia Secol). Some months later, together with the group she realised for the 38th Venice Biennale the collective work Dalla creativity femminile come maternity-natura al controllo (controruolo) della natura (1978), which referenced the primary and primordial condition of the creator woman in the natural world that can, however, dominate nature to become a creator in culture too.
With the collective project presented at the Biennale the artist’s work emerged empowered from the point of view of the environmental dimension. Late in 1978, following the Venetian exhibition, for the group show with Maria Grazia Sironi, Dalla gabbia all’aquilone at Centro Attivita Visive di Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara, Clemen Parrocchetti presented the installation Barriere. The work consisted of six structures each composed of three planks of wood, mounted to form overturned triangles designed by the artist to house her own interventions of various kinds and those of diverse artists. A new device following the encapsulated sculptures and the tapestries, with another different meaning. Connotating her Barriere (Barriers) with the same female symbol that characterised many of the compositions and the hessian canvases, the artist overcame the idea of the female gender as eternally subordinate and subjugated, beyond which expression was not permitted. With the idea of physically surpassing the threshold imposed by gender, a barrier indeed, behind which every woman risk construc-ting and suffocating their quotidian universe, Parrocchetti herself saw the possibility of overcoming the danger of a feminism that, if poorly understood, “always grates, even grates on many of the women themselves.”
“When the feminist battles were raging, the techniques adopted by Clemen were embroidered and quilted cloths, pieces of cardboard, with tight threads running across them. Hence the use of needles, shuttles, reels and so on constituted the ironie and fanciful answer from the artist — as such, above the fray but wanting to be involved in it — to the problems of woman’s condition and its traditional servitude.
Her subject has gradually widened, the problematica issues have grown more complex and delicate and the stock of themes has been enriched, though it is .still associated with female names and images, from Eve to Daphne. Her early pictorial experience has flowed back into her hand with unbridled fantastic exuberance. But she has kept her fondness for softly shaggy sewing and embroidery techniques that teli ambiguous stories. Bitter denunciations still lurk among their folds, but they open towards subtle anxieties, existentia. 1 melancholies and bewilder-ment. They display the many curbing nooses of all conventions, wherever they may come from.
In her work of recent years Clemen seems to hade become less the stitch-ing embroideress and stubbom house-wife lied to the routine of her condition, and more the whimsical dressmaker, the temperamental milliner fashioning gaia evening dresses that verge on masked ball costumes. Thus she brandishes gauzes, ribbons, jet and paillettes, sparkling on black or winking against light grounds. In the deliberate futility of her materials, these works represent woman’s, and the individual’s, identification with compulsory roles, without freedom of choice. In them the person’s reality is undone. Eyes, mouths and hands rotate upon these artificial backgrounds without managing to form a unitary figure. Ali this is spoken tongue in cheek, with a mischievous air; and the game may also be wittily intended to reverse the emphasis of fashion and of the function of its high priests in today’s culture.
In Clemen’s most recent output, the traces of albeit symbolic human presences have grown very few and far between. The technique of dressmaking, or mise-en-scène, is employed to carry the spectator’s eye onto the free colours of nature. Wind, lightning and stars move impetuously across the slender framework of these apparent games. The innocent contrivance of a haberdasher’s weaponry is a modest and polite way of ex pressing startling emotions. Never believe the lightheartedness of artists — not even when their thoughts are made of tulle.”
Myths in the feminine
“These are times of a renewed interest in the figure as a naturalistic representation; and thus, in the work of Clemen Parrocchetti, encamped among the symbols that for years have punctuated her art with unpredictable inspiration and irony, recognizable young faces have now appeared, enigmatic in their impenetrable freshness.
The technique is still that which Clemen began to experiment with when feminist protest was at its most fervent; when needle and thread, the tools of feminine occupations, were the weapons of a polemic rendered concrete : the vehicle of an image in fact, which had become the image itself. But, without forgoing her beliefs and her specificity, her technique has gradually altered to keep up with a development not entrenched in its own positions, but pliably open to reinvention. Thus the “poor” tools of her work - the humble shuttles, sharp pins and pincushions - the severe compositions - the - broad tapestries, especially the black ones populated by occasional emblematic signs -have now made way-for a sparkling play of silks, strass and spangles representing the traditionally frivolous aspects of the feminine psychology, to proclaim a freedom of condition without moral isms. The play is rendered all the more subtle and rich by the references in this series of works to mythological characters, evoking the name of Eurydice, or inventing the female equivalent of the Dioscuri and wandering thus, without revisitations, in the garden of classical quotation, so beloved today. We should not let ourselves be deceived by the apparent absent-mindedness of the fanciful composition: the gentle and aggressive young girl with the red hair can find her place in a debate the results of which have yet to be judged.”
“I have been following Clemen Parrocchetti’s work with interest for many years, particularly since the exhibition held in Milan in 1975 at a gallery in Via Brera, where the kind of research, which then in the presentation in Pavia, would have been called “Female Works.” This exhibition saw irony as something easy, in the sense that the artist used as feminist materials, that are currently used in the practice of domestic work such as sewn , embroidery, needles, pins, threads, scissors. She composed small allegories and forms that had a clearly inverted meaning, that can be seen as ironic meaning with regard to the materials used. [...]
They were controversial objects concerning the masculine activi-ties - very clever, very funny, in which can be seen the most symboli-cal and most at hear themes of Parrocchetti = these are the female mouth or genital organ juxtaposed or contrasted with other related symbols through different materials or even with the intervention of l’object trouvé. So, in addition to embroidery and traditional feminine activity, Parrocchetti, used to place in its small objects, puppets, dolls, always with the intention of clearly symbolic compositions. [...]
The large review in Pavia was a very significant in-between stage between the activity of the early days and those expressed later in the Ferrara exhibition and in the other two here, in the Galleria di Porta Ticinese,, Items of various sizes were linked to this. Futher to that, Parrocchetti used the motif of the inverted triangle in the Gallery that we are currently in with other artists. She played on the theme of barriers, as a reference to all the sentimental barriers, which are profoundly linked to the life of the woman and to being human, that need to be overtaken in order to reach freedom.[...]At this stage Parrocchetti has thought to use this concept in a sort of diary: a woman who sews the jour the theme of the hemstitch, the theme of the work that is repeated; similarly to embroidery, similarly to knitting, similarly to sewing it is of various types, a constant symbol of female activity, it plays on the term à jour to indicate a daily daily remediation of the barriers that the artist, the woman must cross.
She has decided to use these symbols which represent constraint and release from the constraint, and she traced this kind of large alphabet with graphic comments, it would seem. This related to a deliberately elementary text made with a nursery rhyme, where there is a mixture of Italian and French, so that it gives the sense of game, connected to the theme of the jour.
The hemstitch is the day of her hem, is the hem of every day: concerning this theme, I believe that she has given a less anecdotal dimension to her work. [...]
I have always thought that this tweaking of fixed themes done by Clemen was glorious. These are the inverted triangle, the mouth with all the variety of the symbols of the mouth itself, which recurs frequently, the eye always with the intention of the female eye, with recurrence of other closed or collected shapes. the artist is in-creasingly willing to give back these forms in a wider way, magnifying them, making them become a cry and in this case the cry, is let’s say “Boh! that is the crying due to not knowing.”
Hence, while before the irony was slightly detached and witty, now there is a more serious identification and protest - proposal of a cry, which we do not know in which direction it may lead. In the tapestries the times faced have become a formulary, really its alphabet, which in a narrative continuity expresses the continuity of the hem, day by day. [...].”
“The imagination hammered by stories and myths: a cut apple and a wounded breast are distant and memories. The fabric camouflages like the power of thousands of masks. I’ve left all frustrations and the snake caught at the hanger . I don’t want any more sadness and tears over that red strip of blood coming from the mattress that binds us all to the repetitiveness of the thousand tasks rises: I have opened a tear of freedom and hope in a red mouth.”
“ [...] Clemen Parrocchetti, who has painted for many years, complains about the traditional condition of women in an ironic and co-participatory way.
She does not make use of her own reality as a woman-artist, but finds her own identity by producing a large scale of different artworks such as embroidery and sewing, threads and fuses, fabrics, needles and pins in order to tell with bright gracefullness and a few points out of breathlessness, the way of life linked, for a long span of centuries, to the artisan patient working inside the domestic walls, to work that is not work because it does not make work as it does, it has no time, it does not read: interrupted and resumed according to rhythms regulated only by sexual and family servitude.
Therefore on one hand the artist composes clearly recognizable feminist symbols, on the other hand she gives new imagination to the womanly art of sewing, cutting, knitting, (and giving injections, if necessary: the angel of the transformed hearth, when necessary, in the bedside angel). The final result is items of vital communications, in which the portions of the culture of the “ready-mades” bound to a direct meaning are recognized in their originality. However the intense surreal transference guarantees their reliability, which is not part of the clear argument. Finally, she reinforces the coincidence of the imaginary and critical role in artistic world.”
“The themes relatable to the “feminist culture” that Clemen Parrocchetti outlines here, in a concise and summarized work, in a “story” of the day and life of the “woman” as a character, are part of the work that aims to satirically criticise the world of consumption. [...]
The complaint-analysis that, from the “Fourth steps required for an apotheosis” leads to the “Last alternative: widow’s power” through “Emancipated with marriage” coherent as regards the “content” to the series of drawings on the theme of the “belt of charity” is carried out, curiously, with materials, which seem to be fished, as if by chance, in a work basket, in that work basket symbolizing the “power” of the woman of society patriarchal. Clemen Parrocchetti continues to demonstrate her willingness to affect the real by using a technique of a tailor-blacksmith, with poor tools and with a choice of linguistic codes to to all and above all to all women, to whom the artist wants to address herself in first person, in order to push for a genuine participation in the present reality. [...].”
“Although it has been many years (her first personal exhibition is from 1958) that Clemen Parrocchetti has been painting with a consistent professional attitude and already has a well-definedcareer”, deserving not occasional comments (from those of Giorgio Kaisserlian, which, one can say l Mario De Micheli has been christened, to those of Raffaele De Grada, Mario Radice and, last in order of time, explicit in the consents, I would like to think that the peak of her artistic career kicked off in 1969. During these three years the painter has succeeded in carrying out a much more sophisticated route rather than her previous years. [...]
Clemen has been an artist for a long time and it can be stated that her “prima”, of serious and slow differentiations, can now be considered history. It could be seen almost as a humiliation of feelings and of fantasy (an unbreakable combination to her) under which (or in spite of which) Clemen of now, precisely, of the “flower gardens” has been taken, as long as these words are given a wider meaning, as indeed is its polyvalent image.
On the other hand, it is appropriate to portrait Clemen’s art in its wholeness, similarly to the lifecycle of a flower. In fact it can be stated firstly to which species it belongs to and what color (either a voice or a stamp) even to which mouth. Whoever looks at a painting of the Milanese artist for sure does not think of toxic air and most likely not even of an Italian region, despite the brightness can be seen without any doubt; in contrast, what can be imagined are shores and islands relevant to the fantasy world, which represent an interior landscape that isn’t simple or straight forward but full of details, soaring in a trophy or tangle of sensations, sumptuous yet quite childish - a fairy tale obtained with the symbols of a Sunday cosmic reality, a sexology discharged from surrealistic cruelty and as dressed up, in quilts, in fringes, as if the artist were to make herself beautiful only through the paintings, her femininity is there - in an always unconscious premeditation, in a premise for hyperbole analysis, precisely, that half suffocates the image and half attacks the viewer. […]
This painting, as quoted by Dino Buzzati , involves the neurological theme and also optimisim is one if its key characteristics and, from a psychological point of view, this is correct; I don’t agree with the writer/painter/critic when he says that the art of this crazy artists is a mixture of “children’s drawings, drawings of madmen, pop art, sadism, intended sex as a toy and carnival festivals in the countryside, that celebrate tournaments of clumsy people dressed up.” I would disagree in the sense that the madness of Clemen has a purpose and it doesn’t present as a cocktail that includes different ingridients; it can be seen as a feast that changes into a fight. The signs of the void (not of a soul, but of a space within which the restlessness of the artist wants to be placed, caressed, justified, absent-minded and, why not, sublimated), become protests of furious sweetnesses, escapes-aggressions, sighs screaming, there is no what to say. [...]
Contact is an adventure; precisely, this is created by woman that is meticulous, happily reckless, yet the master of her means, not at all unprepared for knowledge in “isms,” from Mirò to Kandinsky, for example, without taking into consideration Liberty; the artist knows the difference between the image of decoration and the image of painting, she knows the attention to detail in the economy of the canvas making, she knows how to deliver, without yielding too much in literature, she respects the pictorial image and she likes extensively the finished picture [...].”
“[...] As a matter of fact the artist has not exhibited any art work since 1963, the year she was engaged in some research that has profoundly affected her way of presenting. The current review therefore includes an entire new selection of paintings and drawings related to the most recent events, which are the most significant and represent a new way of seeing things, that is without haste and without ambition.
It includes an open criticism of certain aspects of contemporary society. It can be seen as a courageous and decisive act carried out without acrimony, with spontaneous and measured passion.
The cheerful “show off” of a lively and pleasant chromatism would seem to contrast with the resent-ful and sometimes spiky morphology; However this discordance between medium and content enables the language of the Parrocchetti to develop its outstanding personality. [...]
Matching with contemporary artitsts which aim to rebuild the core values , Parrocchetti joins the debate with enthusiasm, agility and operational readiness, passionate coherence towards the ideas and thinkings of our days.”
“[...] While sewing with needle and thread, the two artists have [...] understood quite rightly that the battle can become a strong voice that can tackle the cages of fixed structures; they have happily accepted an opretional and homemade way of working so that each one finds its own way of being himself (and in the work of Sironi there is strong commitment towards the finished object, from large tablecloths; on the other hand Parrocchetti maintains a personal and more ironic conceptualization).
The result of this a sort of theatre, a story split episodes, from the cage to the kite. There is margin to solve personal problems, in the difficult qualification of the general problem. The artist’s creativity makes sense if she is always at least one step ahead the thought behind it.”
“[...] With regards to the most recent work where Clemen, without any doubt, showed her full capabilities and created a space of her own in the framework of post-pop values, I would define these “pantomimes” as the feminine objects are protesting. Clemen minimizes everything to the common denominator and carries out her protest.
The same reason is in “half the sky” where two phases are announced, the “cheerful” one of embroideries, small scratches, stifled cries and laughter, the other cold of aggressive gray, black bobbins, symbol of the masculine power. They are flower beds of pictorial thoughts in pantomimes of goods, black or red mouths, surrounded by pins with colored heads, a sort of revival after mourning, gold filigree, black spools...
Of course, those who posed in front of these emblems or shields of thoughts with a fiscal spirit, inventing piece by piece, perhaps backtracking the journey made by the artist to achieve the unity of the work, with the result of being in the hands of inert things. In any case people who appreciate Clemen already know Schwitters, Man Ray, Duchamp, Rauschenberg and many more. [...].”
“The work that I have completed over the past 2 years, which is currently in the Galleria del Mercante could be called “ambiguity of the proletarian revolution.” In fact, I am convinced that a complete social revolution is not possible if women have not first achieved a true awareness of their role. How is it possible for people to improve their conditions if the underclass-women is still a victim of their own subordination? [...]
Tabula rasa, then, and start back!
It doesn’t feel right to insist and to keep half the sky in the sunshine and the other half in full night, with very few stars! Precisely concerning the latter half-sky, so poor, deceived and exploited, I have started the work, and I am now sitting on 20.
I call them items of female culture. They are made of cheap and soft materials, sometimes with vividly coloured fabrics, joined with ribbons, with threads often left deliberately so that these express the ferment, the rebellion, something that wants to come out and expand, despite these are still trapped. These are shapes that are being emphasized, almost all symbolic female vaginas, expressly sewn on a metal plate to declare the daily fatigue that they are forced to face. They are all wounded by pins which express the everlasting tortures.
They are often fixed and tied to tails of thread that symbolise male sexual, and represent oppression and the obstacle to freedom. During the course of my work, I have debated feminism with artists and critics, however this is something that always annoys and puts off even many women.”
“[...] Nowadays it’s trendy to associate every artistic composition to the context of social nature. I believe that we can state without any doubts, that the art works of the painter Parrocchetti are far from being relatable to the events of today’s world; this is not due to the themes that are covered , but for the way in which these are represented. In other words, every “real” artist reflects in-consciously and obviously the world in which he lives. [...]
The art works of the painter Clemen, in my opinion, appear not to be segmented in the usual frameworks: there is very little pictorial element to them and they are not at all abstract or even surrealistic; they cannot be included in the “neofiguration” that mostly comes from (technically) informal art. Could this be the artist’s apparent detachment from the usual of today a merit? Maybe. In any case, the uniqueness of these paintings helps to highlight the personality of the author. In contrast with the common opinion, however, I give to the so-called personality little importance. [...]
Every canvas done by Clemen Parrocchetti can be seen as a fairy-tale dreamed of and painted with sincere and evident passion . The most important canvases are obviously those in which the harmony of colours wins over every other element of its composition. The naïve and almost childish formal structure allows the enchantment (when there is) of harmonious colours is the priority over everything else, and when there is this enchantment the work lives of its own life, the theme is of less importance and this is when the fairy tale can expresses its full potential. The paintings are executed with clear compiling and every field and every sign is clear and without formal uncertainties [...].”
“Only God knows from what part of the unconscious the Milanese Clemen Parrocchetti has taken inspiration and developed these strange and colourful fantasies. It appears that many memories mix and hide in this. Children’s drawings, drawings representing crazy people, pop art, sadism, sex intended as a toy, the carnivalesque festivals of the valley with tournaments of grotesque and diabolical masks. Without any doubt this reflects a modern and original world. In the Gino Traversi catalogue can be seen a kind of agitated satire of some aspects of modern society. To me, the paintings of Parrocchetti are for sure kind of neurotic, but overall cheerful and optimistic.”