[open full screen gallery]



About a month before the 2020 lockdowns I received an Axidraw pen-plotter, a wonderful machine I had been eager to experiment with for some time. I am quite terrible at hand-drawing, but I had a number of ideas that seemed better suited for paper rather than a screen. I also had countless other concepts eager to be revamped into illustrations. Overall, the pandemic’s timing worked in my favor – the creative outlet it provided was so liberating that I almost regretted returning to social obligations. I exaggerate, but for one brief moment in my life most of my energies could be dedicated to rapidly learning a new medium – and it was great.


Like with many interesting modes of expression (cough- haikus -cough), the allure of pen-plotting derives from the constraints imposed by the medium. There’s no obvious control over stroke hardness, using multiple colors is a pain, shading is not subtle. Short of bending the medium itself, the artist is essentially limited to lines and dots.


And yet, entire worlds quickly materialize from the robotic hand’s precise movements. Watching the plotter doing its work has an oddly soothing quality. Once the plotting job starts, there’s no intervention – all you can do is watch if you did your homework right, if the code you wrote translates well to the picture you envisioned, if you chose the right pens and paper for the job. The difference between the digital version and the final product is always remarkable.


An additional aspect that was new to my practice was the community centered around pen-plotting, aptly named #plotterTwitter. And even if normally I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member, I felt humbled to be part of this cohort for some time. It served as a safe space for exploration, where everyone was supportive and helpful to one another – a stark contrast from the world the media portrayed during those days. Hannah Twigg-Smith excellently captured the essence of the community in her paper Tools, Tricks, and Hacks: Exploring Novel Digital Fabrication Workflows on #PlotterTwitter.


I wish to never fall out of love with this medium. The passion of my pandemic honeymoon with the pen-plotter is over, but there’s a lot, so much, that I still want to express through those automatic arms.

You shall know a word by the company it keeps
(John Rupert Firth)

The premise of The Adventures Di Pinocchio is simple: what if we could learn a new language simply by reading a book? What if we could do that without realizing it?


We’re all familiar with the notion of learning a new word after finding it in a well-known context. By seeing an unknown term surrounded by words we already know, we can pinpoint the general meaning of the new one simply by inference. As the new word is seen in more frequent and varied ways, its meaning can be refocused and we become capable of understanding and using it correctly. Now imagine doing that with words in a language you do not know. And if it’s true that to have another language is to possess a second soul, wouldn’t it be great to learn one while enjoying a novel?


The Adventures Di Pinocchio is two books in one: the English translation of Pinocchio is gradually mixed with the original Italian version. In the first few pages, an Italian word pops up here and there, made obvious by its italic type. Gradually more and more words are added to the mix. By the first quarter of the book, we see the first few, very short Italian sentences. By the middle of the novel, half of the words are in English, half in Italian. Eventually, the book ends in its original form, in glorious 19th century Italian.


Some parallelisms came to my mind while I was putting together this book. First and foremost: the journey. Pinocchio yearns to become a real boy, in the same way as any translation wants to be as close as possible to the original. Only by the end of the book you get to enjoy the prize of the real thing.


Second: the original Pinocchio is darker than any adaptation you might have seen as a cartoon or movie. Its roughness resonated with me as I witnessed the results of a “machine-mediated” linguistical metamorphosis: if translating is an arduous effort, gradually morphing sentences is bound to create even more friction. But when it does work, it is so much fun to read the ambiguous, demilitarized zone that is the bilingual sentence—the pleasure and pain of every parent of every bilingual child.


And lastly: the big lie. As Pinocchio struggles to keep his stories straight, so does The Adventures Di Pinocchio. Can you really learn Italian by reading this? Of course not. 160 pages are not nearly enough. But it’s a great start. For a more complete language transformation, I will focus on applying this same method to “In Search of Lost Time” (À la recherche du temps perdu, by Marcel Proust), a novel tallying a whopping 2,215 pages. Now that’ll be your chance to learn French!