Enigma of Nobel
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Le Murate. Progetti Arte Contemporanea, curated by Valentina Gensini, Firenze.
March 2016

The Enigma of Nobel formed the second chapter in a wide ranging project dedicated to Nobel, begun several years ago in one of the abandoned explosives factories in Forte dei Marmi, Pettena’s first Nobel discovery. Further investigation brought to light a series of abandoned dynamite factories, all of which were displayed in the photographic exhibition: Nobel Explosion.

Within the walls of the Murate (the old prison for women) in Florence, the exhibition, part of Contemporary Art Projects, displayed some photos of industrial architecture: abandoned buildings covered in weeds. There was also an evocative installation:  a building that was both laboratory, archive (with technical drawings, wage books, archive materials, stereoscopic negatives, visors and models), and a greenhouse for the cultivation of orchids. It was a homage to Gino De Dominicis.

Pettena filled the room with materials that he found in the old abandoned factories, or bought from antiquarians, bringing to life a long forgotten time. This was a reflection on the contradictory aspects of  Alfred Nobel, often spoken of as a visionary, but about whom very little is known in any detail.

“Nobel’s passion for plants” the artist said “was every bit as intense as his work […] in Avenue Malakoff (now Avenue Raymond  Poincaré) in Paris, which led to numerous patents. He had a winter garden where he cultivated his orchids, and his explosives research went on right next door. […] He had this contradictory relationship with the production of explosives, for use both in wars and big civil works, at the same time as his philanthropy towards pacifist organisations. He was particularly generous to the pacifist association of his one time secretary, Bertha von Suttner. […] the loud explosions his experiments with nitroglycerine produced, so hated by his neighbours, are in sharp contrast with the almost religious care he took of the plants in his greenhouses. The peace generated by his interest in plants and his intense research into unstable materials are two sides of the scales. The Enigma of Nobel installation, a laboratory/greenhouse, aimed to trigger such synergies in a timeless reconstruction. Every object within it, though far from its original place and significance, could create a short circuit generator of  interesting inventions; could recreate in the viewer the conflicting sensations felt by Nobel”.

© Robert Pettena 2022