My life has something legendary about it-even as a boy, I’ve always seen myself … a bit later… I don’t know if it’s good or not, but it’s something legendary. My life is small, but a bit like a legend, a bit like seeing yourself later…. Legends are the only real things that exist…. The rest is history, but history, as you know, is false.

-Enzo Cucchi

Childhood sees the world illustrated, the world with its original colors, its true colors. The great once-upon-a-time which we relive by dreaming in memories of childhood is precisely the world of the first time…. The permanent child alone can return the fabulous world to us…. Every human being bears witness, when he is remembering his childhood, to a legendary childhood. At the bottom of memory, every childhood is legendary.
-Gaston Bachelard
The Poetics of Reverie

Enzo Cucchi is a painter of legends. He is the first artist, the painter of the original world. In his work the world is being invented anew with every brushstroke. The world of Enzo Cucchi is the world of the first time. He is the artist as permanent child. Cucchi’s paintings and drawings sound the origin of being.

I am reading, among many similar examples, about a rain king in Africa, whom the people ask for rain at the beginning of the rain season. But that means that they don’t really believe that he could make rain, otherwise they would do it during the dry periods of the year, when the land is “a parched and arid desert.” Because if one assumes that these people once appointed a rain king out of stupidity, then it is surely clear that they had the experience that the rain starts in March beforehand, and therefore they would have let the rain king operate during the rest of the year…. The nonsense here is that Frazer represents it as if these people had a totally wrong (even mad) idea of the way of nature whereas they only possess a strange interpretation of the phenomena. That is, their knowledge of nature, if written down, would not differ fundamentally from ours. Only their magic is different.

-Ludwig Wittgenstein
Remarks on Frazer’s “The Golden Bough”

A train’s derived and straightaway there’s a painter doing a picture of the derailed train, or an earthquake. Something always has to happen before you do something-which is just not true-in fact it’s the exact opposite.


In 1977 Jacques Derrida discovers in the Bodleian library in Oxford the reversibility of cause and effect: Plato before Socrates, a postcard of Plato dictating to Socrates. The reproduction from a 13th century fortune-telling book overturns the history of philosophy from Socrates to Derrida. Derrida’s envois(1) is an attempt to rewrite philosophy based on this subversion of what has usually been understood as an irreversible sequence: Socrates-Plate-Paulus-Nietzsche-Freud-Heidegger-Derrida.

Cucchi does not paint catastrophes after they happened. Rather, his painted train accidents and earthquakes precede the past, reversing time, cause, and effect. Cucchi’s paintings bring catastrophes into being. He is the painter of the original catastrophe. Like the Greek prophets and visionaries, Cucchi sees both sides of time, “remembering” what is to happen tomorrow. Cucchi’s work leaves our 4-dimensional world and enters the n-dimensional space of fatality.

The prophet and the visionary. Both possess the unique power to express in strong words what they have never been taught and what no one could express in their place. The prophet keeps to the forthcoming, the visionary to that which was and is but has never before been seen that way…. Clairvoyance and foresight undeniably unfold a very special bloom in the poetical work. I will give two examples: an eternal one and an everyday existence-Rimbaud and the experience of the sea.

-Victor Segalen
(from a letter to Jean Lartique, January 29, 1915)

If no identifiable machinery is at hand to tell the lone photon which way to go then why not simply say of the route it actually takes, Allah willed it? And willed the outcome of every other individual quantum process? To strike down a proposal of this kind, it has been pointed out more than once, is beyond the power of logic. Instead we simply say, fatalism is not a useful approach to the choices each day offers between the paths of peril and of promise. If in the individual quantum process prediction comes to the end of the road, we do wrong to demand of science a “cause” of the individual quantum outcome.

-John A. Wheeler
The Computer and the Universe

The quantum phenomenon of probability introduced fatalism back into physics. The “double-slit experiment” is a fundamental of quantum theory. An electron gun emits electrons toward a thin metal plate with two holes in it. Beyond the plate is a wall with a detector of some kind that counts the electrons that pass through the holes. The result presents itself in the form of a paradox: each electron goes through one of the two holes if the other one is blocked during the experiment. But each electron goes through both holes at once if both stay open during the experiment, making it impossible for an observer to determine which hole is passed by each electron.

Recent astrophysical studies on the structure of our (expanding) universe have revealed that the arrow of time could reverse during a contracting phase of the universe, or inside black holes, rips in the fabric of space and time that mark points of singularity.(2) Just as the topology of n-dimensional superspace (doughnuts, spheres, tunnels, and Mobius strips) describes points of singularity, so Cucchi renders a topology of the edges at space-time, of simple truths and singularities.

Cucchi outflanks Hegel’s dictum of the end of art (“We no longer regard art to be the highest manner in which truth comes into being”) by putting himself before history. Cucchi’s paintings are fetishes that bring about the miracle of fatalism, of absolute necessity.

If I have chosen Madrid and refused to do exhibitions in other places, it is because Madrid represents, as far as I am concerned, the ethical proof of what would constitute Europe’s ideal frontier. It is the source of a river that would run through many countries until it reaches Moscow …”The Furrows of Europe”:”:…they are a frontier of desire that had been divided, cut up into pieces, by languages, through alienation.

In 1985 Cucchi did Solchi d’Europa (Furrows of Europe), a series of drawings. While in America the desire of the subject has been replaced by the seduction of the object, at a time when the position of the subject has become untenable and painting impossible, Cucchi chose Europe as place for the reterritorialization of desire and painting as its discourse.

(1) Jacques Derrida. The Postcard. From Socrates to Freud and Beyond, Translated by Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

(2) S.W. Hawking, “Arrow of Time in Cosmology.” Physical Review D, volume 32, number 10 (November 1985): 2489-2495. See also “Is There a Past in the Future?” The New York Times (December 30, 1986): C1.

The quotations by Cucchi are from an interview with Giancarlo Politi and Helena Kontova in Flash Art, number 114 (November 1983) and from “Enzo Cucchi,” Fundacion Caja de Pensiones, Madrid, 1985.

Klaus Ottmann

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