The Infinite Line Performance





Transcription of Piero Manzoni’s Infinite Line With Sewing Machine.


On August 6th 2013 a full page article about the “Transcription Of Piero Manzoni’s Infinite Line”was published on Taz.  The performance was presented at Reh Kunst  for T.R.D. on July 11th 2013. For reading to the article in German pliease see: Die Unendliche Linie Transkribiert Taz August 6th 2013

Elena Berriolo lives and works as a book and performance artist in New York. Since 2009 she is working exclusively on artist books which she creates as a unique single piece or in small editions. On July 11 she presented her performance about Piero Manzoni’s infinite line at REH Kunst and This Red Door in Berlin. This performance will also lead to a book. While sitting at the sewing machine, sewing strands of blue balloons onto narrow white ribbons, transcribing therefore Piero Manzoni’s 1960 “Infinite Line” into a three-dimensional floating line, a dialogue developed with her assistant, Blake Carrington, which we will document on our page. As an inspiring and concise discussion about the Italian postwar avant-garde, especially Lucio Fontana, and the lesser known, though not less consequential work of Piero Manzoni. (Translated from German by Gabriela Pohl)

The New York book and performance artist Elena Berriolo creates a true three-dimensional line which moves through space and surface by using thread and a sewing machine.

What Is a Sewing Machine?

A sewing machine is an instrument used to stitch fabric and other materials together with thread. It was also the first home appliance, starting in the 1800, allowing for possibilities of income and creativity for women. Right now not very many households in the developed world have a sewing machine, but in the third world it still plays an important role in the lives of women.Besides sewing fabric, it can do other sorts of things. But most importantly, it produces a line. To make a line I need two threads, one at the top and one at the bottom in my spool, the two threads get connected through the holes made by the needle. While producing a line, the machine makes a sound, a beat, which is different depending on the chosen stitching pattern.

Is it possible to draw with a sewing machine?

When we talk about drawing, the first instrument that comes to mind is the pencil. The graphite of the pencil does not penetrate the paper, it sits on its surface and we can erase it when we make a mistake. If you are a little bolder, you can attempt to draw with a pen. Because the ink of the pen is absorbed deeply in the paper, it is harder to erase it; this is a much deeper line than the one made with the pencil. But if the artist is really brave and believes in the truth of his or her gesture, then he or she can go much deeper than that, as deep as to the other side of the surface, using a knife, the way Lucio Fontana did. I am grateful to Fontana for opening to us the other side of the canvas, however, by attacking the canvas, by wounding it, he made it hard for the painting to hold the line, so the painting had to be prepared to sustain such attack. I want to believe he may have asked himself the question: “is it possible to produce a line as deep as the one produced by a knife, that would not undermine the stability of the piece?” The answer to that question was probably right there, next to him. It was the sewing machine. The sewing machine, in fact, can produce a true three-dimensional line very similar to the one Fontana made with his knife without hurting the surface as much as he did with his knife, but most of all, while the deep gesture with a knife is an act of violence on the skin of the artwork, the sewing machine   produces a peaceful line. It is a line as undeniable and as deep as the one made with a knife, but is a line of peace, in fact the needle (the weapon) is not in my hand, and the line is produced by the gesture of pushing the paper under it.

Why do you want to transcribe Piero Manzoni’s Infinite Line with Sewing Machine?

The idea of “Transcribing “ Piero Manzoni’s line comes from my interest in music.I am a visual artist and about 5 years ago I committed to use the book format only. I make a book like another artist would make a painting. Most of my books  are titled after pieces of music. Many musicians have transcribed music from an instrument to another, for instance Busoni transcribed J.S.Bach from violin to piano. So I thought why can’t I transcribe, for instance, Lucio Fontana from painting to book with sewing machine? I could not see why not, and so I did it. I made 3 books of transcriptions from Lucio Fontana using the sewing machine, mostly with not thread.  Since then I have been thinking about transcribing also Piero Manzoni’s infinite line because using a thread with the sewing machine I can produce a true three-dimensional line that in a book can be moved though space.


Why do you have balloons sewn to the line?

The balloons and their color takes its inspiration from Yves Klein’s statement: “We shall become airborne man, we shall know the force of attraction upwards, toward space, toward nothingness and everything at the same time, having thus dominated the force of earthly attraction, we shall levitate, literally, a total physical and spiritual liberty.


Why do you think Piero Manzoni choose to make an infinite line?

From the time of the cave paintings, the marking line has been the main instrument for symbolic representation. An example: if we were in a cave and I wanted to share with you a horse I was imagining, I could “picture” it on the cave wall and then draw a line around it so that you and I, while I was drawing, would be able to see what was previously invisible. Then since I am not a cave woman but a contemporary artist, I have the right to claim that horse limited by my line, as mine. The artist’s right of ownership of the space limited by the tracing line is the reason why Piero Manzoni wanted to make a line able to be stretched around the Earth to claim it as his own work of art. He chose the length of the Greenwich Meridian: I think it was a fantastic idea because by drawing that line he was able to attempt to impose his artist’s right also on time.

 Is it possible to represent time?Mean Time is an idea and therefore it is invisible. It is thought that time is impossible to represent. But because it is invisible, we must believe the line can represent it just as it represented my imaginary horse on the cave wall. That is what the line has been used for since the beginning of humanity: to make the invisible visible. Piero Manzoni’s infinite line did include and represent time along with space; after all, the reason why it is impossible to make an infinite line is because no one can live forever

Is it possible to represent time in a book? I believe any book represents time. When we see a book on a table, just by looking at the object, we can predict how long it will take us to read it and how long it took the writer to write it by estimating the number of pages. The pages of a book are units of individual time. An hour is an hour for everyone, but a book page represents a different, because emotional, amount of time for each of us. The possibility of ownership of the time represented by the book is the reason why I have been working with the sewing machine, because by tracing a line through the surface and including the whole book page, I am able to claim ownership of it as a time unit.

Why didn’t Piero Manzoni use my sewing machine?

In Italian the word “punto” means point, stitch and dot all at once. It would have been very easy for Piero Manzoni to think about making a line using stitches, that is how I thought about it myself, since I am Italian too. Why didn’t he think about making the infinite line with a sewing machine, I will never understand. To make his lines, since one of his challenges was to be able to make an interrupted line of great length, he used a newspaper printer and other complicated and expensive mechanical devices while he could have used this very simple, portable and economical tool. The sewing machine would have made possible for him to connect an infinite number of surfaces while he was producing an uninterrupted line as long as he would have liked.

Why are you using a sewing machine?

I have been using the sewing machine for my work for more then 20 years. Before that I was one of those artists who was so happy when someone told her “I love your work! No one could ever believe it was made by a woman!”

The sewing machine has been a tool that allowed me to state I was not ashamed to be a woman artist anymore. I started using it to make three-dimensional objects, but then I tried it on paper and I found that it opened a lot of possibilities for me. Most of all it allows me to work on the two sides of the surface at once. The sewing machine is the only tool I know that can produce a three-dimensional line that in a book can be moved though space.

Piero Manzoni

short for Conte Meroni Manzoni di Chiosca e Poggiolo (1933-1963), stands despite his short life as most influential artist after World War II. He became known on a broader scale in 1961 with his preserved “Merda d’artista”. To honor Manzoni who would have celebrated his 80th birthday this year, the Staedel Museum in Frankfurt is organizing a show of this central figure of the postwar avant-garde, “Piero Manzoni – When Bodies became Art”. The generously laid out presentation is the first Manzoni retrospective in the German-speaking region and the first museum presentation outside Italy in over two decades. Until September 23 2013 the exhibition in the Staedel Museum is showing how radical his facet-rich artistic position is. Over 100 works from all creative periods of the artist allow a complex insight into – until today – a virulent work between Informal and the rise of a new art term, between classic modernism and neo-avant-garde, between art and everyday life. (Translated from German by Gabriela Pohl)

Photos by Jomar Statkun of “Transcription of Piero Manzoni’s Infinite Line With Sewing Machine”

The “Infinite Line Book”, size folded 1x9x half”, size unfolded : 68×1 inches, materials: starched cotton ribbon, cotton thread, India paper, watercolor. It is set into a paper-lined wooden pencil box 22×2-1/2×1 inches, three books were produced within the performance process.