Fabrio Plessi was born in 1940, in the Reggio Emilia, Italy. He studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice where he has taught painting since 1983. From 1989 to 2000, he held the chair for the Humanization of Technology at the Academy of Media Arts, Cologne, and since 1994 has been Professor of Electronic Scenography.
Since the late 1960s, Plessi has primarily focused on the element of water, using it as material or in its medial representation. At first, he dealt with the element in project sketches and Performances, later in photographs and videotapes. Performances show how Plessi severs a lake with a saw, punches holes into the water, or tries to cut through a water jet in the sink. Generally, water is invested with manifold meanings, serving as an allegory of temporality and finiteness or as a metaphor of memory.
In the mid-1970s, Plessi did his first space-oriented video installations, using monitors as sculpture-like supports and shaping them into Environments of materials such as soil, stones, metal, rusty iron, wood, and straw. The videos mostly show fire, lava, and wind. His audio-visual installations tend to be composed of many monitors, the repetition of the same film sequences excluding narrative moments. Plessi, who is considered the founder of video installation, thus does not position himself as video artist, but rather regards the use of video technology as part of his sculptural and painterly work.
Plessi achieved international recognition with Roma, shown at the Documenta 8 (1987). Taking up the whole room, Roma is an installation with 43 monitors arranged in a circle. They are surrounded by travertine panels and a conveyor belt. The monitors show the flowing waters of the river Tiber, demonstrating a new, theatrical way of staging a work by drawing on sculpting as well as media art. Since 1986, Plessi’s drawings have documented the emergence of his installations. In their closeness to Arte Povera, they have been characterized through a specific selection of materials.
Tempo Liquido (1993) again shows this relatedness between traditional and new artistic technologies and media, between past and future: 21 monitors are inserted into the paddles of a water wheel that is five meters high and made of rusty steel. Each of the monitors shows the same sequence of a rushing stream of water. Belonging to the old technologies of generating energy, the water wheel turns in an 18 meter pool filled with real water. Plessi stages a clash of fiction and reality, of that which is reproduced through the use of media and of the real. Through his installations the artist demonstrates human alienation from nature through technology. He is concerned with humanizing technology by using it to enable the experiencing of nature’s basic elements.
Further elaborate installations that established Plessi’s international recognition are Fiume della storia (1996), done for the Landesmuseum Mainz, Aquedotto(1996), shown at the Art Society Heidelberg, Stanza del Fuoco (1999), exhibited at the Kestner Society Hanover. Moreover, the video installation Waterfire (2001), arranged around the San Marco Square in Venice, also drew a lot attention. Here, Plessi staged – nonstop – water falls and fire cascades on 15 video screens. In cooperation with Frédéric Flamand, Plessi designed several stage settings, among them settings for the operas The Fall of Icarus (1989) and Ex machina (1994). Travels to Fez, Bombay, and Cairo inspired Plessi to create video installations that carry the names of the cities.
In 1970, Plessi for the first time presented his work at the Venice Biennale in which he was to participate eleven times. Further exhibitions followed leading to a first comprehensive show of his work at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, in 1982. In 1998, a large solo exhibition took place at the Guggenheim Museum, New York. As a traveling exhibition it was shown at various museums in the U.S. In 2004, the Martin-Gropius-Bau dedicated a comprehensive retrospective to Plessi’s work, carrying the title Traumwelt / Dreamworld. It showed 16 large installations, addressing the cities of the world / the world’s cities. A central work in this exhibition was La Flotta diBerlino which consists of twelve Venetian barges moving above the visitors’ heads. In the openings of the barges that are turned upside down, monitors show fire cascades. Again, nature’s elements are made to reconnect.
The artists lives and works in Venice and Mallorca.
Fabrizio Plessi. Traumwelt: Ausst.-Kat. Martin Gropius-Bau, Berlin 2004
Fabrizio Plessi: Ausst.-Kat. Guggenheim Museum SoHo/ N.Y., hg. v. A. Dornbracht, Mainz 1998
Fabrizio Plessi. Il Fiume della Storia: Aust.-Kat. Landesmuseum Mainz, Mainz 1996
Plessi – Retrospektive 1976 — 1993: Ausst.-Kat. Museum am Ostwall, hg. v. I. Bartsch, Dortmund 1993
Kubisch & Plessi – Konzerte, Video, Performances, Installationen: Ausst.-Kat. Neue Galerie Sammlung Ludwig, Aachen 1978
Plessi: Ausst.-Kat. Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, hg. v. A. Zweite, München 1974