Five years on, Flower Landscapes – Tessuti. Fiori. Ricette is an exhibition that hasn’t “faded”. Why it’s lost none of its original freshness is because it’s more than a simple exhibition, rather a vision of the world through the impalpable multicolored veils of the Fondo Heberlein, an extraordinary collection that the Zegna Archives put on show for the first time in 2015. The silks and other fabrics in this collection of over 2,200 sample books still offer an effective and ever-changing kaleidoscope with which to discover “flower landscapes”, whether they’re real landscapes or conceptualizations or symbols thereof.
The juxtaposition of the Heberlein fabrics with floral essences and recipes, as seen in both the exhibition itself and its catalogue, serves up the tastes and fashions of one half of the 20th century in all the chromatic and formal phantasmagoria of the fabric samples conserved in those books. Not the first or the second half of the “short century” though, but its middle, from the Twenties to the Seventies. Ten lustra that saw the world change more than once, through deaths and rebirths, art and ideology, visions of the future and re-elaborations of the past.
The Heberlein collection has all this. And more.
Going back over Flower Landscapes is to revisit the concepts expounded by Maria Luisa Frisa, Elda Danese and Alessandro Gori, introduced to us by Anna Zegna and accompanied by the culinary magic of Mina Novello. It shows us how the landscape is never made up of a single “layer” but a number of layerings that create thickness. The “various layers of ideas” Maria Luisa Frisa talks of in her introduction reflect not only the method informing the exhibition but also, indeed above all, the different, complex and interconnected sedimentations that produce a landscape. And the landscape is never merely the “form of the territory” but also our vision, representation and modelling of it.
The layers are: nature itself, our imitation or transposition of it (pictorial for example, or photographic, but also textile) and architecture, when we create or modify the landscape. Architecture may act on the landscape in the classic sense, with buildings, such as a textiles factory, a smoke stack, a villa, or change the future of a given environment by, say, planting hundreds of thousands of trees, or shaping a community by giving it welfare facilities and charity initiatives.
It’s not possible to enter the world of Heberlein without points of reference.
The three suggested by the 2015 event were colors, flowers and flavors. Hence the authors range from herbariums (Heberlein fabrics are themselves sumptuous “herbariums” of a botany often escaping the confines of taxonomy) to mandalas (for the etymological and semantic insights of a complex and fascinating floral language), and from the observation that the whole comes together like a Wunderkammer to how the colors of the woven flowers match those of the cooked flowers. Food and nourishment for the eyes in a continual dialog not only chromatic but also ideal, because perception of landscape is never limited to the senses but also works through the spirit.