Blain:Southern, London Hanover Square
9 August - 28 September 2013
Review by Francesca Laura Cavallo
For those who are not already familiar with Gilberto Zorio’s work, his latest solo exhibition at Blain:Southern (the first in five years) is a must-see. The exhibition presents some of the key works of the Italian Arte Povera artist, tracing the master’s trajectory from 1968 until now: a constellation of suspended canoes rotating at intervals; buckets containing iridescent chemical reactions; fluxes of electricity testing the resistance of animal skin; javelins sustaining alchemical ampoules.
Alongside that of his co-protagonists in Arte Povera, Zorio’s work has its creative foundations in 1960s Torino, a city of industrial prosperity and contradictions, where a sort of post-fordist organization of work had introduced the warehouse life into the collective imagination, bringing with it an aspiration to liberty not just as an existential condition but as a linguistic statement. Leftovers from industrial processes, such as metal bars, copper, cement, and also chalk (see Kounellis) became vehicles for a form of art that rejected decorative or so-called fine materials and techniques - but also any minimalistic restriction - to liberate the poetic and somehow transcendental properties of humble materials.
For all his ‘industrial roots’, Zorio’s imagery reverberates beyond the social environment in which it was produced, and is invested with ancestral and timeless symbolism, which finds his origins in the every day experience but speaks of universal aspirations.
Bars of metal, stolen from industrial processes, become javelins - primitive tools of survival - or are assembled in star-shaped monuments evoking cosmological imagery, as in ‘Stella con arco voltaico’ (Star with Voltaic Bow, 2007) where metal bars are held together with American grippers. In other works, chemical reactions break out of the laboratory to become fluorescent processes of live transformation, whose performativity strikes as a form of alchemic process. In ‘Piombi II’ (Leads II, 1968) two sheets of lead, similar to precarious beds, collect the sediments and solidifications of shimmering copper sulphate.
The political implications of using such materials and processes persist (as the recent the re-enactment of Szeemann’s legendary ‘When Attitudes Become Form’ at Prada Foundation in Venice suggests), and Zorio’s relationship with matter is as current as ever, especially considering his pioneering work in the current trend of science inspired art.
Zorio’s exploration of the laws of nature never takes the form of passive contemplation but has an irruptive, forceful energy. Similar to systems where reactions are activated or induced via the clash of matters, Zorio’s arrangements are often polarized between extreme diachronic forces: acceleration and stasis, light and darkness, electromagnetic actions and reactions, which introduce the viewer in a world of systemic responses.
So while contemplating ‘Arco Voltaico’ (Voltaic Bow, 1968), one of his seminal ‘skin with resistance’ works, I am suddenly surprised by a noise and then by an electric discharge that passes like small thunder through a copper bar directly into a thick piece of leather which still resembles the shape of the animal it once belonged to. Something between an electric shock and a regenerative, animating force (a Frankenstein spark), it is difficult to define: what it is certain is that it awakens my senses like a slap, warning me that every thing in the space is somehow alive and requires my awareness.
Spurts of sulphate enliven the walls in an improvised night in the gallery, and in turn other works are activated, their mechanical movements almost pushed through a time spiral: a dark canoe suspended from the ceiling starts to rotate without direction, gently pushed by a noisy motor as though it is navigating a mysterious universe. I peer through the hole in the intimidating star-shaped construction in the center of the gallery space, to discover the hidden chamber guarding some inaccessible process of fermentation.
‘It is not to comprehend; it is to perceive that matters’, Zorio has recently affirmed in regard to art. During the public conversation with fellow artists Jannis Kounellis and Santiago Serra he was asked about the political engagement of his work: his position stands away from direct illustrations of current events, to thrive in a territory that is roughly terrestrial and yet intergalactic, where allusions to the social realm can only be perceived as synesthetic echoes reverberating away from the everyday.