martedì 8 dicembre 2015

If we remembered who we were: re-discovering the Creativity

I had to write something about children rights, children protection, strategies to allow them to have a good childhood. I thought that the most important right we can recognize is the right to be "themselves".
"We have to recover the child we were" - Freidrich Froebel said - "this is the only way to be happy".

I talked about it on the 5th of December at Akademia Pedagogiki Specialnej "Marii Grzegorzewska".

Since the born of the contemporary society, the International Community made lots of efforts in order to promote child rights: in 1924 in Geneva was adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, a quite simple document with very basic – but even concrete – protections. As now is taken for granted, “The child that is hungry must be fed, the child that is sick must be nursed, the child that is backward must be helped”. Then, in 1959, the original document – signed even by very important figures as Janusz Korczak - was expanded and the updated and latest version was developed in the 1989: the Convention of the Rights of the Child, became famous for the large acceptance it received in the world.

Janusz Korczak and his children, all died on Treblinka.
All of these documents draw up the rights and the needs of children in order to act in the best interest of them. The innovation of the 1989 Convention was the introduction of some modern principles, as the right to life, the right to have a name and an identity, the right to have privacy protected or the right to express opinions and “to have those opinions heard and acted upon when appropriate”.  
It is understandable that all these rights developed in an era when basic rights – as food, health care, family, education – were already granted. Everyone knows that there are some areas in the world where not even basic rights are assured and lots of children are submitted to hunger, to lack of pure water or where they are forced to grown up without education or even obliged to fight: but for today my attention will be focused on our so called “developed” society and on its responsibilities and duties.

Especially, I want to focus on the article 13 of the 1989 Convention:  “the child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice”.
When I read this for the first time, I did not understand properly what it means. I was too young and it was so difficult for me to imagine a child who “impart information and ideas” to someone else, as it was difficult to confer such a big importance to their expressions: I wandered on my old paintings – piles of colorful sheets, mostly copies of some pictures on books, left on the top of some closet and forgotten there – considering them just the production of a flourishing creativity, but nothing more. Just the hobby for a little zealous girl.

Then, one day I went to a kindergarten for a work project and everything changed. 
Opened the main door, I was suck down on the childhood vibe: little chairs, little desks, little coat hangers, little armchairs. All the stuff and the materials necessary put in very low shelves that I had to be careful to avoid. This is pedagogically perfect, as Maria Montessori suggested in “The Discovery of the Child”: “open and close drawers, doors and windows, tidy up a room, arrange the chairs are exercises which permit the body to move and in this movement the body and the mind are perfecting”: everything has to be “child friendly”.

I became an adolescent with two little siblings so I was constantly involved on childhood mechanism. But probably for the odious jealousy typical of brotherhood, I never empathized with their age. That day, I was shocked to re-discover such a tiny and minuscule world that I completely forgot. And moreover I forgot how much these colorful sheets were important for me, when I was a child.

Drawing is important, in whatever position...
Serena Saligari © 2015
It is not common to talk about and to take children creativity into consideration. Maybe because we are used to consider their fantasy as strange, weird, illogical if not ridiculous. We mock them if they are talking with their imaginary friend, if they make their puppets speaking, if they imagine to be doctors, nurses or teachers. This is a very important component of their social development, as Jean Piaget said about symbolic play. But we are astonished to look at them playing, impressed by the expressions they use – often repeating, copying, mixing the adult behaviors – and especially not conscious we did the same. It is like if, when we are grown up, we are ashamed by the same things we used to do.

It is very important, instead, not to judge their conduct but rather to leave them free to express theirselves in any manner – of course in a polite and proper way.

A “right to be creative” must be added and enshrined in our societies and law.

As Ken Robinson says, creativity is “the process of having original ideas that have value”. 
Basically, as we said before, every child is provided with this baggage of creativity competences that is our responsibility to encourage. Be creative allows to built new worlds, to create things that are not in our reality. Be creative allows to find different points of view, to see beyond common things, to be visionary. Be creative introduces to the “divergent thinking”, the ability to see lots of possibilities to answer a question. Guilford, the creator of this expression, in the far 1950 underlined the positive effects of this activity, that leads our children to be innovative, elastic, able to adapt in different situations. 
These are the reasons why we have to encourage their natural talents, abilities, skills: maybe this stimulation seems useless, without significant results  but it will bring lot of positive effects in their future.

To see the whole video, click the link below.

But exactly, what to do?
One of the best way to stimulate lateral thinking is to ask “stupid questions”: not in the meaning of “daft”, “non valuable” or “foolish”, rather in the meaning of “basic”. Sometimes we forget to go deeper in the basic concept of what we are doing. “I am working on imagination”: but what “imagination” is? “I want to stimulate their fantasy” but what “fantasy” means? Which is the difference between “fantasy” and “imagination”? We are so sure to know what these words mean, that we do not care about the real sense.
And when we try to define them, we remain powerless in front of the evidence we are not able to do that.
For that reason we have to teach children to go deeper in the etymology of their actions – even if it seems ambitious.

At a later stage, the main role of adults is to provide materials, settings, experiences in which children could perfectly fit. Then, give them basic rules - as to show respect for other children, for other works, for the environment and the material.
But we do not have to say them what to do. Our input is just to put them in the condition to be creative.
Instead, we can stimulate them by giving some general precepts they have to pursuit: “work on the shape” or “work on the dimension”: basically, “change it”, “give it a different function”. Very general rules that can help them to focus on a certain way, without compromising their will.

When a pestle becomes an enchanting flaute.
Serena Saligari © 2015
If children have the possibility to grown up in an environment like this, the formae mentis they will develop should give them lots of advantages on their normal future life: problems solving, prevent risks, think positive.

We do not have to be scared by all this nameless stuff they produce, that for sure will fill our armchair until the top: Bruno Munari provided a precise definition – a thing we suggested to do talking about “stupid questions”. It could be called “invention” – the act to produce something that there wasn’t before, that works even if it is not esthetically good. We can call it “fantasy” – the act to think about something new without limits of feasibility. We can call it “creativity”, the union of fantasy and invention that is feasible and esthetically good.

Serena Saligari © 2015

In any case these activities allowed children to distinguish between improbable and fantastic, to understand that the reality we are constantly undergone is not the only possible.
Creativity could be even a “sacral space” where children can express their feelings: this is a “sacral space” on the meaning of “being separated from the ordinary space”, as Van der Leeuw defined, so a place where cultural and social rules and roles are suspended in order to be free from every kind of duties.
Thus, in a painting, in a certain way to dance, in some expression used to tell a story we can find clues referred on their emotional condition, on their identity, on their personality and temperament.

Moreover, there are well known potentialities on the therapeutic drawing, used both as diagnosis and as therapy. Looking at some children paintings we can infer things they are not able to tell for some psychological blocks or for the scare of the consequences.
“They became painter for the reason there is something that is not possible to say”, Rainer Maria Rilke said.
Lot of us do not have enough competences to use this kind of tools, but in a certain way we can become more sensitive on the potentiality of the art therapy.

Gianni Rodari, Italian writer, poet, pedagogue, wrote “Fantasy Grammar”, a book in which he tried to find the common fantasy and creativity mechanisms, considered as a basic component of the human being.
In his opinion every person should have the opportunity to keep going on the creative process because of its positive consequences: the joy of expression and of playful fantasy’s game.

And if we will be perplexed, it is just enough to search on Google  "The Luncheon in Fur" by Méret Oppenheim, “Le violin d'Ingres” or “The flexible Mirror” by Man Ray, “The cork hammer” by Chaval or “The limp typewriter” by Claes Oldeburg, the “Codex Seraphinianus” by Luigi Serafini: for sure the following sensation will be of amazement. We discovered our children to be like artists because of the similarities with these well known art works. So your certainty that your child is crazy will rapidly decrease!

"The luncheon in fur" Méret Oppenheim, 1936
Sometimes creativity means “destroy in order to rebuilt”: the socio-cultural frames and the recognized knowledge have to be subverted, overturned, mixed in order to see a different perspective, as in the former artworks.

And be open: it is enough to look at the nature to find “art” and splendor that you suppose were only in your children mind. Bruno Munari and Leo Lionni in “Good Design” and “Parallel Botany” try to make us astonished at such weird shapes, colors, functionalities which are possible even in our terrestrial world.

From "La Botanica Parallela", Leo Lionni, 1976.

lunedì 7 dicembre 2015

Se ci ricordassimo chi eravamo: per una riscoperta della Creatività

Dovevo scrivere qualcosa sui diritti dei bambini, su come proteggerli, su come permettere loro di avere una buona infanzia. Così ho pensato che non può essere riconosciuto miglior diritto che quello di "essere se stessi"
Un viaggio dentro i nostri processi creativi e su come, crescendo, ci siamo dimenticati chi eravamo. "Dobbiamo recuperare il bambino che c'è in noi" - diceva Friedrich Fröbel - "solo così potremmo essere felici".

Quello che per me era un diritto scontato, ha destato una grande riflessione. Così mi sono ritrovata a parlarne ancora, il 5 dicembre presso l'Akademia Pedagogiki Specialnej "Marii Grzegorzewska".


Sin dalla nascita della società contemporanea, la comunità internazionale ha compiuto molti sforzi per promuovere i diritti del bambino: nel 1924, a Ginevra, fu adottata la Dichiarazione dei Diritti del Fanciullo, un documento piuttosto semplice contenente basilari – quanto concrete – garanzie. Così come oggi è dato per scontato, “Il bambino che è affamato deve essere sfamato, il bambino che è malato deve essere curato, il bambino che è in condizioni di difficoltà deve essere aiutato”. 
Poi, nel 1959, il documento originale – approvato anche da figure che sarebbero diventati simboli della pedagogia del Novecento quali Janusz Korczak – fu ampliato e aggiornato. 

Janusz Korczak e i suoi bambini, tutti morti a Treblinka.

L’ultima versione è datata 1989 ed è conosciuta universalmente come la Convenzione Internazionale sui Diritti dell’Infanzia, divenuta famosa per la vasta diffusione e per l'approvazione che ha ricevuto ovunque nel mondo.
Tutti questi documenti stilano i diritti e i bisogni dei bambini affinché si agisca nel loro massimo interesse e per la loro tutela. 
L’innovazione della Convenzione del 1989 fu l’introduzione di alcuni principi moderni, come il diritto alla vita, il diritto ad avere un nome e un’identità, il diritto ad avere la propria privacy rispettata o il diritto di esprimere le proprie opinioni che devono “essere ascoltate e tenute in considerazione quando appropriate”.

È dato per scontato che tutti queste garanzie si siano sviluppate in un’epoca in cui i diritti basilari – come il cibo, l’assistenza sanitaria, l’educazione – erano già assicurati. Tutti sappiamo che ci sono aree nel mondo dove nemmeno i diritti basilari sono garantiti e dove molti bambini sono sottoposti alla fame, alla mancanza di acqua potabile o sono obbligati a crescere senza educazione e poi a combattere: ma, per oggi, la mia attenzione vuole focalizzarsi sulla nostra cosiddetta “società sviluppata” e sulle sue responsabilità e sui suoi doveri.

In particolare, sull’articolo 13 della Convenzione del 1989: “il bambino deve avere il diritto alla libera espressione; questo diritto include la libertà di cercare, ricevere, impartire informazioni o idee di ogni tipo, anche oralmente, in forma scritta, stampata, in forma d’arte o attraverso qualsiasi altro mezzo che il bambino voglia scegliere e indipendentemente da qualsiasi tipo di barriera”.

Quando ho letto questa disposizione la prima volta, non ho capito davvero che cosa volesse significare. Ero troppo giovane ed era difficile per me immaginare un bambino che “impartisce informazioni e idee” a qualcun altro, così come era difficile dare tanta importanza alle loro forme di espressione: vagavo con la mente tra i miei vecchi disegni – pile di fogli colorati, la maggior parte copie di qualche immagine trovata su un libro, lasciati in cima a un armadio e lì dimenticati – considerandoli solo la produzione di una florida creatività, niente di più. Solo il passatempo di una piccola zelante bambina.

Poi, un giorno, sono tornata all'asilo – sarebbe meglio dire alla “Scuola dell’Infanzia” – per un progetto di lavoro e ogni cosa è cambiata. Aperta la porta, sono stata risucchiata nell’atmosfera infantile: piccole sedie, piccoli tavoli, piccoli appendiabiti, piccoli armadi. Tutto il materiale necessario era disposto su bassi scaffali che dovevo stare attenta ad evitare. 
Tutto certamente perfetto, a livello pedagogico – come suggeriva Maria Montessori in “La Scoperta del Bambino”: “aprire e chiudere i cassetti, le porte e le finestre, riordinare una camera, sistemare le sedie, tutti questi sono esercizi che permettono al corpo del bambino di muoversi e questo movimento permette di perfezionare il corpo e la mente”: tutto deve essere “a misura di bambino”.
Sono diventata adolescente con due fratelli piccoli, costantemente immerse nei meccanismi dell’infanzia ma, probabilmente per la gelosia tipica della “fraternità”, non ho mai empatizzato con la loro età. 
Quel giorno, sono stata completamente scioccata nel riscoprire un mondo così minuscolo e piccino che avevo completamente dimenticato. 
E soprattutto avevo dimenticato quanto quei fogli colorati fossero importanti per me, quando ero bambina.

L'importante è disegnare, la posizione non conta...
Serena Saligari © 2015

Non è cosa comune tenere in considerazione e discutere del processo creativo dei bambini. Forse perché siamo abituati a vedere la loro fantasia come strana, stravagante, illogica se non addirittura ridicola. Li scherziamo se parlano con il loro amico immaginario, se fanno parlare i loro pupazzetti, se si immaginano dottori, infermierini, maestre. Questo “gioco simbolico”, come lo chiamava Jean Piaget, è una componente fondamentale per il loro sviluppo sociale, ma quando li guardiamo giocare siamo stupiti e impressionati nel sentire le espressioni che usano – spesso ripetendo, copiando e mischiando i comportamenti che assorbono dagli adulti – e soprattutto ci dimentichiamo che facevamo così anche noi. È come se, una volta cresciuti, ci vergognassimo delle cose che eravamo soliti fare.

Invece di giudicare la loro condotta dovremmo piuttosto lasciare i bambini liberi di esprimere se stessi in ogni modo – ovviamente nei canoni delle modalità accettate e corrette.

Il “diritto di essere creativi”  dovrebbe essere aggiunto e conservato nelle leggi delle nostre società.

Come Ken Robinson dice, "creatività" è “il processo che consiste nell’avere idee originali che hanno valore”. 
In principio, come dicevamo prima, ogni bambino ha il suo bagaglio di competenze creative che è nostra responsabilità incoraggiare. 
Essere creativi permette di creare nuovi mondi, di immaginare cose che non ci sono nella nostra realtà. Essere creativi permette di avere nuovi punti di vista, di vedere al di là delle cose comuni, di diventare visionari. Essere creativi ci abitua al “pensiero divergente”, ovvero alla possibilità di vedere diverse soluzioni allo stessa problematica. J. P. Guilford, l’ideatore di questa espressione, nel lontano 1950 sottolineava gli effetti positivi di questa attività, che consente ai nostri bambini di diventare elastici, innovativi, abili nell’adattarsi alle diverse situazioni. 
Questi sono i motivi per cui dobbiamo incoraggiare i loro talenti naturali, le loro abilità, le loro competenze: all'inizio questo stimolarli ci sembrerà inutile e senza risultati significativi, ma porterà innumerevoli effetti positivi al loro futuro.

Ma esattamente, cosa fare?
Una delle migliori vie per stimolare il pensiero laterale è porre “domande stupide”: non nel senso di sciocche, superficiali o insensate, quanto piuttosto nel senso di “basilari”: a volte ci dimentichiamo di approfondire il concetto chiave su cui ci stiamo impegnando. “Sto lavorando sull'immaginazione”: ma che cos'è “l’immaginazione”? “Voglio stimolare la loro fantasia”, ma che cosa significa “fantasia”? qual è la differenza tra “fantasia” e “immaginazione”? 
Siamo così sicuri di conoscere il significato di queste parole che non ci preoccupiamo del loro effettivo significato. E quando proviamo effettivamente a definirli, di troviamo impotenti di fronte all'evidenza che non siamo in grado di farlo.
Per questo dobbiamo insegnare ai bambini a prestare attenzione all'etimologia di ciò che stanno facendo – anche se può sembrare ambizioso.

In un secondo momento, il principale compito degli adulti è quello di provvedere i materiali, le condizioni, le esperienze in cui i bambini possano sentirsi a loro agio. Poi, dare loro qualche regola essenziale – come quella di avere rispetto per gli altri bambini, per i loro lavori, per i materiali e l’ambiente in cui stanno lavorando.
Ma non dobbiamo dire loro cosa fare. Il nostro input deve essere solo quello di metterli nelle condizioni di essere creativi. Piuttosto possiamo stimolarli, dando loro alcuni generali principi da rispettare: “lavora sulla forma” o “lavora sulle dimensioni”: fondamentalmente “cambialo”, “dagli una diversa funzione”. Regole molto generali che possono aiutarli a focalizzarsi in una certa direzione, senza compromettere la loro volontà.

Se un pestello diventa un flauto incantatore...
Serena Saligari © 2015
Se i bambini hanno l’occasione di crescere in queste condizioni, la formae mentis che svilupperanno darà loro un sacco di vantaggi futuri nel risolvere i problemi, nel prevenire i rischi, nell'essere positivi.

E non dobbiamo essere così preoccupati da questa loro "indefinibile" produzione, che sicuramente riempirà i nostri armadi fino all'orlo: Bruno Munari le ha dato una precisa definizione – seguendo il principio dell’approfondire concetti “banali”, come dicevamo. Può essere chiamata “invenzione” – l’atto di produrre qualcosa di nuovo che funziona ed è esteticamente attraente. Può essere chiamata “fantasia” – l’atto di immaginare qualcosa che prima non c’era e che non deve per forza essere praticamente realizzabile. Possiamo chiamarla “creatività” - se uniamo fantasia e invenzione per produrre qualcosa di originale, che funziona e che è pure bello.

Serena Saligari © 2015

In ogni caso, queste attività consentono ai bambini di distinguere ciò che è improbabile da ciò che è pura fantasia, di capire che la realtà cui siamo costantemente sottoposti non è l’unica possible.

La creatività è oltretutto uno “spazio sacro” dove i bambini possono esprimere i loro sentimenti: “spazio sacro” nel senso dell’"essere separato dallo spazio e dalle regole dello spazio ordinario”, come lo ha definito Gerardus Van Der Leeuw, quindi un luogo dove le regole sociali e culturali sono sospese al fine di essere liberi da qualsiasi forma di dovere.
Così, nel pitturare, in un certo modo di danzare, in un’espressione usata per raccontare una storia, possiamo trovare indizi sulla loro condizione emotiva, sulla loro identità, sulla loro personalità o sul loro temperamento
Le potenzialità terapeutiche del disegno, usato sia come strumento di diagnosi che come terapia, sono risapute. Osservando il disegno di un bambino possiamo inferire aspetti della loro sfera emozionale che essi non sono in grado di esprimere a causa di qualche blocco psicologico o per la paura delle potenziali conseguenze.
“Loro diventano pittori per il fatto che c’è qualcosa che non possono dire”, diceva Rainer Maria Rilke.

Molti di noi non hanno le competenze per sfruttare le potenzialità di questo strumento, ma in un certo modo possiamo diventare più sensibili sulla potenzialità terapeutiche dell’arte.

Gianni Rodari, scrittore, poeta, pedagogista italiano, ha scritto “Grammatica della fantasia”, libro in cui ha indagato i meccanismi della fantasia e della creatività, considerandoli componenti essenziali per lo sviluppo umano.
Secondo la sua opinione, ogni persona deve avere l’opportunità di portare avanti la sua attività creativa e di sfruttare gli effetti benefici che ne derivano: anzitutto la gioia dell’espressione personale e della giocosa produzione pseudo-artistica.

E se siamo perplessi, basta cercare su Google “La colazione in Pelliccia” di Méret Oppenheim, “Il violino d’Igres”o “Lo specchio flessibile” di Man Ray, “Il martello di sughero” di Chaval o la “Macchina da scrivere molle” di Claes Oldeburg, il “Codex Seraphinianus” di Luigi Serafini: di sicuro la sensazione che ne deriverà sarà di meraviglia. 
Scopriremo che i nostri bambini sono uguali a degli artisti, per la somiglianza delle loro produzioni con quelle di questi celeberrimi artisti. E la certezza che siano pazzi si sgretolerà rapidamente!

"La colazione in Pelliccia", Méret Oppenheim, 1936.
A volte “creatività” significa “distruggere per ricostruire”: le cornici socio-culturali e la conoscenza riconosciuta devono essere scosse, ribaltate, combinate per guardare il mondo da un’altra prospettiva, come nelle opere d’arte citate.

E bisogna essere aperti: è sufficiente dare un’occhiata alla natura per scoprire “arte” e splendore che siamo soliti pensare possano esistere solo nella nostra mente: Bruno Munari e Leo Lionni, rispettivamente in “Good Design” e “la Botanica Parallela” ci insegnano proprio a stupirci di fronte a forme tanto strane, a colori e funzioni che diventano possibili anche nel nostro mondo terrestre.

Da "La Botanica Parallela", Leo Lionni, 1976.

venerdì 27 novembre 2015

Codex Seraphinianus: compendium of a neverending story

People who know us heard about this book hundreds of times. We fell in love with it and, achieved a copy, we started on showing, describing and talking about it in different situations of our routine. Between friends, for a chat, for some projects, until when it became part of our job. We proved is efficacy at school, testing its creative potentialities: our project is shown in the number 326/2015  of Andersen Magazine (

With this post we want to collect all the informations and the curiosities we gathered on "Codex Seraphinianus", to create a sort of compendius for the ones who heard about it for the first time, for who want to go deeper on it and for who want to tidy up ideas and suggestions.

For sure we did it also for ourselves, to give a shape to all the chatters produced and for the other we will produce, as in a dialectic database. 
A not easy reading awaits you: but you don't have to read all it. Follow the subtitles and dwell on what mostly care you, as in an (other) encyclopedia.

Talking about “Codex Seraphinianus” to someone who never found out his meaning takes the long way round. The only thing you can shorten is the name, being known par exellence as "Codex”. Even if there are no requirements needed to have access in its universe – for his nature it rather demands “only” to get free of any frame or preconception –it is difficult to find the proper place for such a unique artwork in our knowledge or even before, in our perception.

First of all, the “Codex Seraphinianus” is an encyclopedia: well, that is quite a good point of reference but, if we want to be more realistic, it is better to call it "the encyclopedia of a visionary man”, as an authority as Italo Calvino suggested.

Serafini's naturism
It is an encyclopedia first and foremost because it is rigorously systematic, for the reason that Codex is divided in chapters and sections and it has related anticipatory index.
It is an encyclopedia because of its iconic component: every respectable encyclopedia contains accurate illustrations of described phenomena, joined by captions and frames, arrows and cross references to teach what is happening to the public, who is still ignorant about it.
But probably the fundamental requirement is that an enciclopedia has to include all the assembled human knowledge about the universe. Given the fact that Luigi Serafini is obviously a “human”, we expect that his book is nothing more then a more updated and precise copy of the eighteen-century challenge of Diderot and D’Alambert.

Precise and accurate index
Right here we have to recover the second part of Italo Calvino expression: “visionary”. For sure Serafini collects his knowledge, but not about our world: he describes and in the meanwhile he molds the world of his imagination, of his fantastic vision, of his alternative way to see the world.
And that is how an architect becomes an artist and from artist to visionary, the one who is able to see beyond the immediate and empirical reality and to built a parallel universe with some demiurgical actions.
And here, in this other world so similar to ours to become estranging – or, should I say frightful? – that the charming mystery of Codex is hidden: an universe of plants, flowers, machines, humans apparently so similar to the surrounded reality but however different.
The author borrows from reality elements and he mixes them, making us astonished about the possibility of such a deep semantic reconstruction of the world in which we live. 
An hybridization, which someone defines as Borges hybridization, that show how everything could be changed and subvert until an upheaval that imbalances, upsets and scares us. It leads us to reinterpret the world in which we live by the frame generated by Codex.
The images become the model of the permeability in the different existence territories: the anatomy changes its shape with mechanical shapes – consider the gun-arm or the finger-pen – often mixing with vegetal world. Then the latter blends with commodities creating scissors-leaves, pencil-spike. Thus the technological with the heraldry, the savage with the metropolitan, the written with the alive stuff.

Hybridated limps
Someone says that this book has no sense, that's a huge mockery (even if  astounding): but everyone in front of his indisputable coherence has to admit that it could not be just the product of a casual and improvised ispiration.

But the mistery does not end here: it is reinforced by the riddle of an unintelligible writing, until now not decoded and (maybe?) asemic, in which we want to entrust to discover the arcane: it is a pity than instead it gives us only the illusion to be in front of a “normal” book.

Therefore, the anguish this universe instills does not come from his difference with our world, rather from the similarity: the elements are quite always recognizable, but their connection is completely unverted. The visual disarray produces monsters, so that we can call the “Codex Seraphinianus” as a teratology artwork of refined logicality. 
The twisted links seem here ready to be pronounced, because with just a look at them some lights switch on in our mind.


From "Decodex", booklet of the 2013 edition.

It is September 1976 when Luigi Serafini, born in 1949, is drawing in sketchbook with some basic colored pencils: he is in his atelier at the address 30, Sant’Andrea delle Fratte street, near to Piazza di Spagna in Rome, his home town. He lives in this palace so called “crumbling building with peperino’s steps worn out by centuries”.
From his hands, hybridated men with pincers-arms or wheel-arms or pen-arms sprout out.
He spent the years before traveling between America and Africa, from Congo to Euphrates – which suggest his traveling experiences are brilliantly re-elaborate in his artwork.

But actually, the stuff in his mind is not clear to him eather. He becomes aware that his drawings assume spontaneously quite a taxonomical disposition and he keeps going on his production feverishly. One evening, his friend Giorgio visits Luigi Serafini with some ideas for spending time, but he declines the invitation saying he is involved on drafting an “encyclopedia”: this affirmation upholds the turning point.

He involves in the amanuensis role, isolated in his scriptorium inside a monastery and
this condition lasts three years. He lives alone, taking benefit of some pigeons coming to banquet with the crumbs on his balcony, to take “the daily news throught the gobble gobble and the flapping wings” which he is able to interpret thanks to his grandmother's teaching. 
But who lead to Codex’s creation? Where do the paintings and the writing come from? Is everything a result of his imagination?
Often he affirmed that actually Codex is an other-direct creation, led from external power: he talked about genius loci, in other words the supernatural forces present in a place – in this istance Rome, but we will talk later about that – and about the Zeitgeist (spirit of the time) – which in Hegel's opinion justify the spirit’s creations in different ages. 

Origin of ladybirds
In his Decodex, booklet in the Rizzoli 2013 edition of Codex, he suggests a thesis more related to fairy. One evening, going back home, he saw a white cat, probabily abandoned: he brought it home and they lived together until the end of Codex. It used to climb on his shoulders and to curl up snoring meanwhile he was drawing. Its tail was hanging loose here and there depending on its dreams – as in the Puškin tale of Ruslan and Ludmilla – and, being in contact with is hypophysis, transmitted him songs and tales he confused as his imagination. 
That is the only theory able to justify such a large production in such a short time. 
In this long months of frenzied and exclusive work, looking for a way to support himself, Serafini cooperated with some architects – for this reason he said that Codex’s pages are infected by “the precision of technical drawing and the deep of Indian ink” – but he especially searches a way to optimize his creativity: he chases all the possible editors but no one seems interested on his work. The good occasion appears in Franco Maria Ricci: after waiting for him two days long in a borrowed economy car in Santa Sofia street, the place of Ricci’s office, Luigi Serafini can meet him and show him some of his tables. 
At that time his artwork was already in fieri: Ricci, excited by the astonishing innovative brilliance of Serafini, encourages him to keep going on this work, not aware of his fecundity – at certain time he will stop him because of always new tables.
The first edition of Codex Seraphinianus hit in the libraries on 1981: it is a very big success which impress also Italo Calvino and other world wide famous artists.

"Codex Seraphinianus" edited by Franco Maria Ricci, 1981 (Source

Luigi Serafini did not want to give a title to his art work but, as he said, “I did not know how to justify this absence”. Franco Maria Ricci chose the title “Serafini’s Code” translating it into Latin which evoke the misleading enigma of the book, understable only being involved in Codex universe.


The book is composed by more than 400 pages – it depends on the editions: if you want a precise data, we suggest you to count because even the numerical system is coded.
It is divided in 11 sections which seem to trace our natural division of reality: there is a botanical section, a zoological section, an anthropological section, a physical section, a mechanical section and even a gastronomical one! Wide space is reserved for ethnography, for architecture and for alphabetic-writing. 
It is interesting to underline that at the beginning of each one of these sections there is, in addition to the index and to the accurate description of the topic, a careful exhibition of the micro particles that give shape to the elements: thus there are some small beings, similar to cell of different shapes and colors that are accurately classified. 

Micro particles
In the book there are some recurring elements that mostly stimulate the visionary raptus, as Calvino said: the rainbow, the egg and the skeleton that is waiting for his skin clothes. The rainbow seems to be the origin of the universe: it is punched by small animals that could be the life sources, it is the bridge which support whole cities, it is able to change shape and colour depending on his support and it is created by real machines.

Recurring elements

Serafini says that the “words” were inserted in Codex because they were necessary, coming out from his hands in the emergency to explain such weird images, obscure to him as well: “I drawn a paint that I did not understand”. He felt the absence of words that were able to describe this atlas and so, convicted that comparison of writing and painting gives at least an appareance of meaning – even if we don’t understand any of them – he created this alphabet that fit properly in his hands.
The writing in Codex is not comparable to anyone written before by human and it is composed by baroque and roundish signs: that is probably the element, even more than the images, that mostly attracted the attention of scientists and not, that tried to decode and to find the key - if it exists – beyond the mechanism.
Here too, the absolute proximity of our language to Serafini’s one make us astonished and amazed, as well as powerless even if we do not want to capitulate. Even if 30 years passed since the first publication, the discussion is still feverishing especially in blogs and other internet formats. 

Machine that produces letters
Recently, Luigi Serafini affirmed his writing is asemic, open, without words, without any specific meaning or content: there is a empty place that the reader should fill in and re-interpret.
But the graphs orderliness, the redundance of so called “letters” remove the theory that is an anomic writing, therefore without rules: even in the Decodex there is written “slowly I distillated a calligraphy with capital letters, dotting and stresses”. The astonishing fact is that the graph comes to life and it is represented by the images. It has his body, it could become tridimensional, could raise up from the sheet hung to a balloons, could bleed if hit by a pin. Even, we can examine it with a lent, to see the small animals who composed it.

The writing is taking a shape

As we said earlier, the first edition is the 1981 by Franco Maria Ricci: it was divided in two big volumes bind with black canvas, few thousands of copies in total, that became very rare.
Two years later, in 1983, Codex was published abroad: in Netherlands, in USA, in Germany. Sold out, in 1993 a new edition arrives in the European trade, with the preface of Italo Calvino.
In 2006 Rizzoli rediscover the artwork and reprint it: the author added nine tables of preface, deceiving us that they could be the key for Codex correct interpretation. A typographical review of the original colours was made as well.
In the last edition of 2013, there is also a “deluxe” edition flanked to the “trade” one: only 600 copies (300 for the national, 300 for the international trade), numbered, signed by the author, placed in an elegant slipcase and joined by one of the four Ta-roc of Serafini, big cards showing a personal interpretation of the Roc bird myth.

Roc bird. Source:
Today Codex is published all over in the world, from Russia to China: a video that includes all the comments about “the strangest book in the world” – try to type this formula on Google, if you want to prove what we are talking about (,ssl&ei=j41YVpnoHMSgyAO5vLHoAw) - in the different languages was made.
The effect is surprising because in this case Codex’s writing is compared to other obscure, even if used and existent, writings that we can not understand because of the different alphabets (Chinese, Korean, Cyrillic).


If we want to discover, more or less legitimately, who such original author has debits with, we obtain – obviously - a not common answer: he incures debits with Rome and Mozart. The first because it is his native city and the (chimical) reaction context where Codex originated. Serafini is aware of the fortune to have lived in the Grand Tour Rome, when the city did not know the economical transformation yet and it was immersed in the atmosphere of the so called “Hollywood on the Tiber”. “Keats and Goethe houses were waiting patiently their return” because of the modernity struggle to soak alley and courtyard.

Mozart was inspirational because “The Magic Flute” was the soundtrack of his working afternoon: he listened to a vinyl record with the gramophone, until a hole appeared on it.
Someone, maybe in the attempt of disminishing its originality, finds some preceding in the Voynich Manuscript, in Arcimboldo, in Bosch, in Escher or in “Macchine di Munari”; we think that Codex is the amazing result of a network between artists who have been important and alternative thinkers, before being producers.

Voynich Manuscript


It is not a surprise know that Serafini, drawing these tables, did not imagine a potential reader: that because he always feel Codex as a personal and own necessity, without practical interests but rather elaborated just for the pleasure to do this. That is also for the reason that he does not consider himself as an artist: artist is an expired word, he preferred to be called “traveller”.
But his aim remains the revolution of the art market, free and demonetized, able to become the engine for discussion and confront: he created a blog before the born of internet, because of the wide Codex’s echo became a sensationalistic phenomenon. Everyone own this book talked about it, initiating a discussion disentangle with a knock-on effect – the same kind of opinion that now we have the possibility to show with a Like. A real network born, at the beginning material, nowadays virtual – and virtuos - being adapted to the “spirit of the time” – recalling Hegel – on Codex interpretation.


Codex teach us to be free from the frames our society imposed us. For sure Codex is an artwork that is influenced by the cultural background: we could not understand the elements which composed some of his pages if we were not constantly exposed to the stimuli of our reality. But we need a critical point of view.
Codex means fracture, turmoil, lack of balance in opposition to a stable and ordinary system, in opposition to our common knowledge that we learn, elaborate, use since our birth: it catapults us in an upsetting but liberating reality, where everyone could give his personal interpretation, his meaning, becoming the one who could redefine the categories.

Meeting with Luigi Serafini during the project led by us
in "Paolo e Paola Maria Arcari" library, Tirano.
Foto: Ivan Previsdomini © 2015
“Do you remember when we were children and we “read” illustrated book daydreaming with the fantasy on the images? ”: this is what Codex allows us to do, to return in this situation of basic knowledge, of inexperience free of prejudices, to look this book as illiterate. 
Everyone is illiterate in front of Codex: we can not understand the pictures, we can not understand their meaning. The only thing we could do is to recover this infantile emotions and to become free. 
The fact that it is indipendent from prejudices makes it an universal artwork and for this reason it became an international book: it could be contemplated by adults, children, Scandinavian as well as African, without loosing its effectiveness.
The amazement it makes triggers an endless and borderfree game. We can enjoy the possibility to make hypothesis, to look at the fact that everything could be interpreted in different ways.
Ricci affirmed: “I would like the reader to browse the pages as a child that does not read yet, but who is able to play and to enjoy the dreams and the fantasies that Codex suggests to him”. It is easy to imagine that Codex became a source of inspiration for lots of other
artworks and projects.


In 1986 a dance experiment about Codex started in France led by the choreographer Philippe Découflé, who will later produce Codex (1986), Decodex (1995) e Tricodex (2004).

The Scottish band “North Atlantic Oscillation” created a video (easy to find on internet) called “August” that associated some images of Codex to some of their compositions.

In 2014 François Gourd and Mélanie Ladouceur directed a full-length film about Codex and his author called “Luigi Serafini, Grand Rectum de l’Université de Foulosophie”. 


The artist has not to be atomized nor carved up: often the art trade invests on some works, the most astonishing, because they create curiosity, and then profits. To fight this mechanism we recommend you to go deeper also into the other works of Luigi Serafini: among the books, the "Pulcinellopedia (piccola)", a suite of pencil paintings and short descriptions dedicated to Pulcinella costume and "Le Storie Naturali" (2009), strange representations of Jules Renard tales.

Few days ago "Il coniglio d'oro" was published: it is a lapinopedy-recipe book of imaginary and real rabbits.
From "Pulcinellopedia (piccola)". Source:
In 1990, Fellini asked Serafini to realize the poster of “The voice of the Moon”.
In addition to being painter and architect, Luigi Serafini is also a sculptor, ceramist and designer.
He cooperated with Rai (Italian Radio Television) and especially he worked in Milan, where his studio is located and where he exposed lots of artworks: the Pac Exhibition (Pavilion of Contemporary Art) called Luna-Pac Serafini, that was visited by more than 11.000 visitors in 30 days or “Geometrindi e Matematindi" a big tondo painted for the Council Room of the Mathematics Department of Milano Politecnico. 

"Geometrindi e Matematindi". Source:
For the construction of Naple’s underground in 2003 he realized some decoration at the exit of the train station “Materdei”.
For one of his productions he came particularly closer to us – in Sondrio’s district (Italy): on July 2008 he realized the "Balançoires sans Frontières" (seesaw without borders) installation in Castasegna, on the border with Switzerland: it permits to swing between two different
He is so famous to be called also abroad to take part on different artistic and experimental projects.

Now, we don't know if we collected all the informations. The only thing we are sure about is that everyone can "read" and interpret Codex, enjoying or criticizing it.
For that reason, Codex is a neverending story and we hope you could continue this liberatory project, falling into this alternative reality!