Open: Tue-Sat 11am-6pm

20 Great Portland Street, W1W 8QR, London, United Kingdom
Open: Tue-Sat 11am-6pm


Francesco Pacelli: Stones and stars and Spells


Fri 17 Nov 2023 to Sat 13 Jan 2024

20 Great Portland Street, W1W 8QR Francesco Pacelli: Stones and stars and Spells

Tue-Sat 11am-6pm

Artist: Francesco Pacelli

Co-curated with Marta Orsola Sironi

Des Bains presents Stones and Stars and Spells, the first solo show in the UK by Francesco Pacelli (Perugia, Italy 1988), co-curated with Marta Orsola Sironi. The exhibition displays an entirely new production of works conceived for the occasion.

Installation Views

Installation image for Francesco Pacelli: Stones and stars and Spells, at DES BAINS Installation image for Francesco Pacelli: Stones and stars and Spells, at DES BAINS Installation image for Francesco Pacelli: Stones and stars and Spells, at DES BAINS Installation image for Francesco Pacelli: Stones and stars and Spells, at DES BAINS

Francesco Pacelli’s research mainly focuses on sculpture, immersive installations, and drawings. He works within a variety of media, such as ceramics, synthetic materials, metals, graphite, and light, by exploring several techniques. In the artist’s works we can find various references inspired by science, spirituality, philosophy, history of architecture, and alchemy. He thus investigates the relationship between nature, artifice, and cosmic stories. The resulting imagery concurs in creating alternative organisms and environments, in a shifting balance between what is accepted as reality and a dimension of otherness. These unreal yet plausible scenarios, similar but not completely recognisable, live in a verisimilar realm. They are the sculptural expressions of Pacelli’s interest in creating a bridge between different worlds, giving physicality to concepts and ideals.

Stones and Stars and Spells is a declaration of intent. It’s a triad or tricolon, a rhetorical device referring to the role of number three in various cultures as a symbol of power and divinity, as an access to the mystery of nature and soul. The exhibition acts as a charm, casting together stones, the real world, stars, the cosmos, and spells, the ineffability of magic and ideals.

To overcome any separation between these three realms, Francesco Pacelli embraces the concepts of utopia and uchronia as metaphorical models to look at. Generally considered unattainable and from a different timeline, where crucial past events have unfolded differently from how they occurred, the ideas of a perfect world are powerful theoretical tools to open different scenarios. Inspired by socialist ideals, radical architecture of the 60s and 70s and examples of visionary projects such as the floating cities by William Katavolos, Pacelli’s enquiry reframes ideal models which historically failed to actualise.

As a material and spiritual way of elevating the soul, ancient alchemy and the search for gold-making constitutes another critical aspect of the work. In a state of constant transformation of matter, the artist considers high and low culture through different materials and chemical reactions, creating a plurality of social scenarios. Francesco Pacelli steals cues from physical reality to explore alternative worlds, embracing the power of connecting dimensions.

Text by Maria Valeria Biondo

Alchemy: The drive to transmute naturally existing matter into a man-made concoction. Alchemy remains to this day far more than a fantastic pipe dream of making gold: Alchemy is a creation of myth, and therefore intimately related to artistic practice. The process of chrysopoeia, the transmutation of base metals, the search for and creation of the panaceas, including an elixir of immortality, and the perfection of human soul and body.

The aim of alchemy was to purify, mature and perfect objects. The art of alchemy transformed visual culture from antiquity to the Industrial Age, and its legacy still permeates the world we make today.

Francesco Pacelli’s artworks are not objects or events but constitute universes of their own. They function neither as a representational nor as a simulation. But rather generate non- chronological-assembling-multilevel worlds, archipelagos/pockets were to speculate and construct knowledge. These codes of nature are also cultural signs. Distributed profusely in a specific yet non-linear aesthetic formula. Ejected from the normative of language into the one of a dream, - with the occasional withdrawal into something, somehow, mystical. Multiple-complex-level-systems, interchange from the alchemic into the mechanistic and the scientific. Space-time intuitions, in comprehensive yet irreducible scientific descriptions. And an art’s historical relationship with the real embraces this dream- like scenario.


The ways of worldmaking are many. Sometimes they involve reduction, sometimes pure construction.

“Even the waters, the grasses and varieties of wood, the animals are populated by salts or mineral elements. Not everything is metal, but metal is everywhere.” (Deleuze & Guattari, 2004)

The miner, the metalworker: the functionality of excavation is hallucinatory. It is an inspiring way of investigating the subterranean, the ground, the secret, the dynamic flux of sediments. In art and science, this flux of sensory information is not restrained to linguistic predicates. Its agency influences how we assemble such interactions and projections. The philosophers’ stone is meant to both express organicity and immateriality. Pacelli’s purpose in invoking the esoteric tradition is to support and validate his opposition to conventional systems of rational knowledge contrives based on both chemical and aesthetic research.

If utopian dreams have their origins in the social ills of their time, Pacelli’s utopias could be considered as broken ones. As a process that leads itself to never fully materialise, therefore by it being always incomplete. Envisaging cities and architecture, imaginary societies, and unfulfilled promises, these works embody the universal aspiration to both social perfection and inner elevation. Alluding to political and historical circumstances, these worlds impulse to imagine different human possibilities beyond an alienating reality.

1. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (London: Continuum, 2004), 454.
2. Manuel DeLanda, Deleuze: History and Science (New York: Atropos, 2010), 86–87

Installation views, Francesco Pacelli: Stones and stars and Spells at DES BAINS, London, November 17 - December 23, 2023

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