Filippo Minelli Uses the Tools of War to Create Sublime Landscapes

The colored wisps at the center of Filippo Minelli’s Silence/Shapes series appear in trickles and plumes. As ghostly images mingle with placid natural landscapes photographed across the European continent, the smoke evokes something more sublime than sinister—despite being created by smoke bombs, a tool of violence and a symbol of unrest.

The series, which the Italian Minelli began in 2009, is a subtler riff on themes the aggressive, politically influenced artist has been working on since he began creating public artworks in the ’90s. “I’m really into the aesthetics and the meaning of political processes,” he has said, and “using the aesthetics of politics to talk about existential issues.”

Some of Minelli’s best-known works have used the language of digital media to draw attention to technology’s various hypocrisies. In 2007’s CLR+ALT+DELETE Minelli painted the eponymous keyboard combination for “force quit” onto the Qalandiya Checkpoint at the Israeli-Palestinian border. For another project, the ongoing Contradictions (2007– ), the street artist stencils the large, blocky names of well-known social media services (Twitter, Myspace) in economically unstable at times politically tumultuous parts of the world (among them, China, Mali, and Italy).

Like the work of many artists influenced by graffiti culture, Minelli’s statements have been bold and often combative. Silence/Shapes, while inspired by a similar interest in political and social symbolism, is a more nuanced, visually delicate take. In the artist’s own practice he refers to such works as addressing “silence”—a designation he sets apart from his aforementioned, more vocal works, which he refers to as “speech.” Minelli traces this categorization back to his childhood; he was raised by a deaf aunt and straddled the worlds between she and the hearing population.

The idea for Silence/Shapes came to Minelli when he was watching videos of political demonstrations on the internet with the audio off. “My eye was caught,” he said, “by the fact that the most aesthetically relevant thing joining the people and the messages was the movement of smoke in the air. So I decided to experiment […] I wanted to juxtapose the beauty of a medium traditionally devoted to creating chaos with the romantic beauty of landscapes.”


—Molly Osberg


“Silence/Shapes” is on view at Beetles + Huxley, London, Jul. 21–Sept. 5, 2015.

Follow Beetles + Huxley on Artsy.

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