Giovanni Anselmo, born 1934, is an Italian artist. He participated in Arte Povera events from that movement’s beginnings in 1967. His first sculptures were made in the spirit of ‘taking possession of reality itself’, to use Celant’s phrase. It was a matter of using unprocessed materials. And indeed, from the beginnings of his career, Anselmo used combinations of natural materials (e.g. stone or wood) and vegetable matter (e.g. sponge or lettuce). Typical is an emblematic work entitled ‘Untitled’ (Eating Structure)1, which combines granite and salad.
Every one of his sculptures or installations is unique, both in his choice of stone and in his treatment of its form, and also in its setting. The viewer is invited to sense the tensions in these constructions: matter, weight, gravity, mass and energy.
THE TIME AND SPACE OF AN ARTWORK
There is always a tendency in my work to expand the visual field, to connect the work to the outside world (…).2
Anselmo’s work is presented in a real space, which incites the visitor to move around in order to grasp the effect of the work in its entirety. The arrangement, which involves various supports (stone, soil, slides, photographs), requires time for the work to be recomposed and this is a time during which the spectator will mentally reconstruct and absorb the work. It involves ‘entering the work’, a notion taken from the title of a photograph of the artist in the middle of a landscape.3
Giovanni Anselmo’s work situates the spectator in the middle of a sculptural arrangement:
• Il panorama con mano che lo indica (View with the hand pointing to it) invites the spectator to enter another space. The drawing of a hand points to a space that could be seen as a curtain, a virtual wall. Or it might be directing one’s gaze towards a material – stone.
• A block of stone bears the inscription ‘VISIBILE’, whereas the title of the work is Invisibile. This creates a tension between the two words and a clash between what we see and what we read. It disturbs our perception and transforms the interpretation of space and reality. What is he expecting us to see?
• The word ‘Particolare’ is projected onto the wall. It focuses the gaze onto a precise point defining a luminous area on the wall space. The work puts us in a situation where there is a continuous flow of energy which, since it is projected on the wall, neither covers nor transforms that which exists.
STONE: A TOUCH OF PAINT
Stone is present in Anselmo’s work as a primary source. It is a solid matter or substance and a sensitive surface, but it is also used as a base or support for the work. It makes its presence felt through its density, its hardness – even its colour. In fact, one of Anselmo’s main concerns is colour. He sees himself first and foremost as a painter, as he is convinced that stones have different qualities of grey. And the natural and unaffected way in which the stones are presented brings out these qualities.
Anselmo plays with paradoxes and oppositions. He works against the inherent nature of stone (its weight, mass and gravity) in order to dematerialise it better, all the while taking into account the colour and space of the wall. With his installation, Anselmo uses the stillness and immobility of stone, its hardness and its mass, to create the perception that it is a light material. In the arrangement of granite blocks on the wall close to a blue rectangle, the grey of the stone seems to grow pale in contact with the colour, and to tend towards a sky blue colour. The blue dematerialises everything around it. The stone seems to lose its weight; it becomes different from its original nature and thus acquires a new status.
Anselmo’s work stemmed originally from an experience at the summit of the volcano Stromboli, in 1965. With the sun in his eyes, in a specific space, he experienced sensations of dizzying speed close to the volcanic explosions. It was at that moment that his artistic practice became consolidated around his relationship with natural forces (gravity, attraction, and gravitational pull). As he has put it, ‘It is something inserted into the flow of life, a matter of taking into account something real that I can transform into a work of art.’4
The twenty photographs from 1969 are the result of a project which involved him in walking very quickly towards the West while taking photographs, every twenty paces, of the sun above the horizon. His intention was to delay the sunset by means of moments captured on film.
Energy is represented in his works, notably by a compass placed at the centre of the earth, or by three identical panels of black granite fixed to a wall. These panels, which in shape and size resemble gravestones, contain a magnetic force that radiates coloured lights.
‘Energy is never visible in itself, it manifests itself through its effects. Inserting energy into a work of art, not in order to demonstrate that it exists but in order for it to remain active, allows the work itself to conjugate time in the present tense, in terms of the life surrounding it.’5
As a result of his physical and sensorial experiments and experiences in the natural environment, Time, space, movement and light are recurrent themes in Giovanni Anselmo’s art. The materials he transforms and the words he chooses are a positive assertion of his urge to call into question the spectator’s relationship with the world.
ARTE POVERA (literally, poor art)
The term was coined by critic and art historian Germano Celant to describe a group of artists in an exhibition he had organised in Genoa in September 1967. His exhibition presented artists who, seeking to detach themselves from conventional techniques and materials, began using new artistic practices: straightforward gestures, with a general paring down and preference for craft techniques and the natural and ephemeral quality of the artwork. Some of the key artists in Arte Povera are Luciano Fabro, Mario Merz, Giuseppe Penone, and Gilberto Zorio. They rejected American trends of the time such as Pop Art and Minimalism and were distinctly Italian in their identification with the contemporary setting (the economic crisis and the 1968 riots in Italy). They also rejected the mechanisation of artworks (Pop Art) as a means of criticising the technology and mass production based society of the 1960s and 1970s.
(1) This work can be seen in the Arte Povera collection exhibition.
(2) Interview during the exhibition Giovanni Anselmo, Galleria Civica, Modena, 1989.
(3) Entrare nell’opera (Enter the work).
(4) Interview of the exhibition of Giovanni Anselmo, Galleria Civica, Modène, 1989.
(5) Interview conducted by Giovanni Lista ‘Energy is never visible in itself’ in Ligeia N°25-28, Arte Povera, October 1998-June 1999.
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