Seen through the screen, which partially obscures it, the scene becomes what Freud called a mnemonic trace. The figures are more shadow than substance, in part because they appear in black and white photographs. The photograph by definition is a mnemonic trace. The scene in the lower half is quite different; it is completely abstract. Pink polka dot-like forms irregularly fill the blackish space. It is as though a grid has disintegrated; traces of order remain, but the field as a whole is chaotic. Some of the cell-like dots dissolve into the black--disappear into oblivion, adding to the mournful entropy. A few amorphous forms, generally pinkish white, also float in the space. The one at the lower right has a certain affinity with the female form in the upper half of Duchamp’s Large Glass. The space is an endless continuum, a mix of form and formlessness; Boffi frames and focuses a fragment of it, as though viewing it under a microscope. The shift in scale between upper and lower halves adds to the uncanniness of the work, already signalled by the discrepancy--stand-off--between photographic realism and painterly abstraction. Or is it their ironical union: the reconciliation of photography and painting, usually thought of as implacable enemies? It is emblematic of the difference between life and art--but also their affinity, their uncanny if subliminal resemblance, for each is magnetically drawn to the other, and changes the other. The touch of text confirms the conceptual character of Boffi’s subtle painting. Like Waiting for Godot, the drama he narrates is tense with unresolved suspense. In both Beckett and Boffi, the tension between absence and presence--the strong sense of absence, the lack of substantive presence--remains unresolvable.

“In Beckett,” T.W. Adorno writes, “the negative metaphysical experience affects both form and content alike.”(1) I will argue that the same negative metaphysical experience--the same sense of what Adorno also

called “metaphysical meaninglessness”--affects the form and content of Boffi’s works. The result is a similar “radical absurdism,” conveyed in modernist expressive and aesthetic terms. As Adorno writes, “meaninglessness can become aesthetic content and determine aesthetic form.”(2) It is the sense of the metaphysical meaninglessness of existence that gives Boffi’s painting its aura of pathos. It is a kind of abstract metaphysical painting, as the feeling of loneliness it conveys suggests.(3) This loneliness makes metaphysical meaninglessness humanly meaningful. It is this dialectic between dehumanizing meaninglessness and rehumanizing meaningfulness that gives Boffi’s pensive art its existential force.

Boffi, then, deals with metaphysical loneliness, like Beckett, but unlike Beckett he is not entirely in “favor of death,” as Adorno thought Beckett was(4)--however much he used humor to defend against the meaninglessness its inevitability signified. Boffi deals with death, but also life at its most intense, and suggests their inseparability. This seems particularly clear in Red Monera and Green Monera, both 1979. Monera are “a taxonomic kingdom of prokaryotic organisms that typically reproduce by asexual budding or fission, compromising the bacteria, blue-green algae, and various primitive pathogens,” to quote the dictionary. They are the most primitive form of life, each a self-contained microcosm, as Boffi’s hermetic circles make clear. In Boffi’s paintings we see them--magnified into emblematic absolutes--at the vital moment of reproduction. But it is an equivocal moment--a creative but fatal moment. (Boffi in part is symbolizing the creative act in all its ambiguous narcissism.) Boffi’s Monera resembles a blastula, the most primitive stage of animal life. It is enigmatically abstract, as though it was a creature from another world: at our beginning, we are no more than a central hollow cavity surrounded by a spherical layer of cells.

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