Alighiero Boetti: An early Damien Hirst who had it all mapped out

Arifa Akbar looks forward to Tate Modern's retrospective of Italian artist Alighiero Boetti

The Italian artist Alighiero Boetti spent a lot of time thinking about self-presentation. He loved the idea of the "double", so he re-cast himself as two people (Alighiero and Boetti), sent out postcards showing himself as twins and gave the artist a split personality – that of "divine shaman" who channelled life's profundities and "public showman" who beguiled the crowds with tricks of the eye.

Born in 1940 in Turin, he thought like a conceptual artist far beyond his time. As his career progressed, he challenged the notion that an artwork was only an artwork if it had been created by the artist's own hand. He had the idea, and he sent it out to be made by others, a concept that contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami have since adopted. The method was contentious then as now: David Hockney is the last in a long line to criticise the artist that conceives his work, but does not engage in its production.

This month, Tate Modern will bring Boetti's work to Britain in a large-scale retrospective that will explore not just the themes behind his work but the considerable influence he had on artists long after his untimely death in 1994.

An artwork, Boetti believed, could be authored by different people, to give it a multiple character. This belief led him to enlist friends, acquaintances, children, students, janitors, as well as unknown teams of crafts-people in Rome, and later in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to make his works.

In 1971, he bought premises in Kabul – One Hotel – to co-ordinate a lifelong project of map-making, called Mappa, but often, he did not meet the local craftsmen and women who embroidered his giant "world map" series from the beginning of the 1970s to 1994. In these maps, each country was coloured with its national flag, and as the years progressed, the maps became a geo-political record of shifting boundaries, the formation of new countries, the dissolution of old, not least charting the independence of African states and the break-up of the Soviet Union.

His instructions on how to make the maps gave the workers some creative leeway, and were delivered though a local interpreter. A catalogue essay on this seminal stage of Boetti's career states: "It is not by accident that Boetti finds in Afghanistan the most efficient way to neutralize the spectre of authorship. Within the domain of the Islamic art and architecture of Central Asia, the dissolution of authorship and collective work are undisputed facts of a centuries-old tradition."

Other people were enlisted for a series of drawings made up of thousands upon thousands of repetitive lines made by a ballpoint pen and encoded with mysterious codes, words, and puns. Play, and the concept of playfulness, was a major preoccupation for Boetti. Some of this was literal – he made jigsaw puzzles and domino games for children. A more conceptual playfulness came with sculptures such as Yearly Lamp, in 1966, comprised of a lightbulb in a box that lit up randomly for 11 seconds a year. Even more inventively, he wrote letters to friends and notable figures dead and alive – Marcel Duchamp and Bruce Nauman – with deliberately incorrect addresses on the envelopes, which he got back after they had travelled around the world and back again.

Lynne Cooke, the curator at Reina Sofia in Madrid (where the Tate exhibition was conceived) worked with Boetti in the last five years of his life. Alongside the idea of play, she says, was his enduring fascination with time. In a work entitled 16 Dicembre 2040 – 11 Luglio 2023, Boetti marked the 100th anniversary of his birth, alongside a forecast of the day of his death (11 July 2023). He overshot by quite a margin on the latter date, though his work and influence, with its focus on multiple authorships and creative co-operation, undoubtedly lives on.

Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan, Tate Modern, London SE1 (020 7887 8888) 28 February to 27 May

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected