The exhibition Air, Flowers, Salt. Artworks from the Collections of Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art offers a new perspective to the museum collections, spanning across newly acquisitions and major works by artists including Ettore Spalletti, Aslı Çavuşoğlu, Fausto Melotti, Gilberto Zorio, Luciano Fabro, Marco Bagnoli, Ingela Ihrman, and Jannis Kounellis.
Despite the generational and cultural diversity, these artists share a sensibility towards the natural element, the organic life of plants, and the ductility and reminiscence of the matter. The selected works invite the public to discover a hodgepodge of narratives; from personal memories shaping the objects to collective accounts; from the evanescent and atmospheric essence of colors to their relevance; from the magic of the nature to its dynamic sublime.
The exhibition departs from a series of works by Ettore Spalletti (Cappelle sul Tavo, Pescara, 1940) and their imperceptible material suggestions (Room 32). Spalletti’s poetics pivots on colors used in the form of pigments, in a slow process mixing plaster and glue on panel. Anfora Bacile, Vasi (Anphora Basin, Vases), 1982, is a sculptural installation, where Spalletti adopts colors such as the white, the gray, the light blue, and the pink. The artist considers the light blue essentially as an atmospheric color, which does not exist as a surface, rather as an environmental condition. He also adopts the pink, reminisce of the human skin tone; it is a constantly variable color, which is never a steady tone due to humors of spiritual conditions and intelligence whose skin belongs to. Installed within the garden nearby Manica Lunga, Fonte (Fountain), 1986, is a work newly presented to the public, after an accurate restoration. It is a discreet fountain with a water gush, where birds from nearby woods flying over Castello di Rivoli can sip from, offering a live sound action.
Aslı Çavuşoğlu (Istanbul, 1982) is interested in how disciplines such as archeology, ethnography, and anthropology investigate social events, producing discretional narratives. Çavuşoğlu expresses a personal view by collecting partial or unqualified objects, and observing the specific environment of conflict zone. Obtaining the red pigment from the small Armenian cochineal, RED / RED, 2015-2017 (Room 28), investigates political dynamics on Armenian/Turkish natural border. When in Yerevan, the artist obtained the red pigment from the only phytotherapist, who can still extract this red based on the recipes from Ottoman empire, prior to Armenian genocide. The work consists in a series of painting and sculptural books of an intense violet toning to a bright red. The carmine pigment is juxtaposed with another, more enduring red, the brighter one of the Turkish flag.
Following his stream of consciousness, from 1959 Fausto Melotti (Rovereto, Trento, 1901 – Milan, 1986) adopts metals such as brass, steel, and copper to produce tridimensional thread-like works. At times, his sculptures seem like visual scores, musical expressions where the counterpoint rule. An instance of Melotti’s lyricism is La Pioggia (The Rain), 1966-72 (Room 27), whose rhythm echoes falling drops and their splash. His general production, which in the latest years reaches a monumental dimension, on the one hand traces allusive, fantastic, fabulous forms; on the other hand, it develops abstract concepts.
The sculptures and installations of Gilberto Zorio (Andorno Micca, Vercelli, 1944) are unending fields of energy and matter in transformation (Room 22). Among the pioneers of Arte Povera, he has directed his research in terms of process and has activated chemical and physical reactions making his works as part of an organic cycle. In Tenda (Tent), 1967, the evaporation of seawater and the resulting traces in the form of salt crystals delineate the dynamic of a natural landscape. The salt lake that forms at the viewer’s eye level corresponds to the anthropocentric dimension that Zorio celebrates in his works. Zorio renews the language of sculpture, freeing it from the fixity and heaviness with which it has traditionally been associated. In Colonna (Column), 1967, a tube of heavy asbestos cement rests on an inner-tire tube, almost as if it were an overturned column. The tube thus remains in precarious equilibrium, and its weight causes the inner tube to harden and the rubber to lose its flexibility.
Among the founders of Arte Povera, Luciano Fabro (Turin, 1936 – Milan, 2007) expressed himself through a wide variety of materials and forms. Fabro was interested in showing us “the encumbrance of the object in the vanity of ideology.” To achieve this, he adopted familiar, largely recognizable forms, while removing their collective symbolic function. The artist was interested in exploring the vocabulary of sculpture, using traditional materials, such as marble and iron, or innovative ones, such as glass and silk, intentionally liberating them from ties to representation or content. Croce (Cross), 1965–86 (Room 23), is part of an investigation that attempts to explore the possibilities of space and the bodies contained within it. The work is constructed so that the length of the metal segments is proportional to the dimensions of the surrounding space, and so that the work can be installed in such a way that it occupies the maximum available space.
Marco Bagnoli (Empoli, 1949) entertains a multidisciplinary dialogue, looking back to the Italian Renaissance, to a cultural tradition in which philosophy and science were integral. Engaged in continuous study and travel, Bagnoli delves into Islamic culture, the mystical poetry of the Persian writer Rumi, Sufism, and the doctrines of Hinduism and Taoism for his work. A search for the absolute is also one of the themes of the installation made up of Colui che sta (He Who Is) and Benché sia notte (Though It Be Night), both from 1991–92 (Room 24), which Bagnoli created specifically for his solo exhibition at the Castello di Rivoli. In the first work, the various rotations of a series of wooden disks create a sculpture whose shadow projects a double human profile. The title is derived from the Vedic figure of Sthanu, the deity who, according to mythology, was transformed into a pillar of fire surrounded by the continuous emanation and disappearance of multiple figures, evocations of those mortal beings that he refused to create. Like a two-headed creature, capable of seeing in opposite directions, the work suggests the possibility of overcoming the dualistic limitations of reason. The second work consists of a loosely woven grid of copper strips, on which are placed small boxwood roots.
Pioneer of an art that investigates female identity, Joan Jonas (New York, 1936) has recently turned to the natural world, hypothesizing a closer relationship with marine organisms often threatened by rampant pollution. At the beginning of her career, in the sixties in New York, she looked at the work of numerous dancers, in search of a new language that led her to develop new performances. Further inspiration comes from the Nōtheater, whose simplicity and precision she appreciates. Wind, 1968 (Room 25), is one of his first videos. Filmed among snowy fields and the seashore in the presence of an incessant and impetuous wind, the video stages a series of choreographies created by a group of performers who carry out actions hindered and slowed by the strong wind.
Through floral and plant-shaped sculptures, Ingela Ihrman (Strängnäs, Sweden, 1985) focuses on the temporality behind organic development. Her work explores the ways in which human knowledge seeks to order and contain the vitality of the natural world through taxonomy (Room 21). The Giant Hogweed, 2016, is a monumental plant-shaped sculpture installed horizontally. Seemingly cut by its roots, it shows the hollow red interior. The sculpture resembles a Mantegazza hogweed, an ornamental plant originally found in private gardens in the late 19th century. Its beauty contrasts with its hazardous features, mainly linked to the dermal and ocular toxicity of its sap. Moreover, the extreme adaptation of the hogweed can cause the deterioration and destruction of native vegetation, making it a threat to biodiversity.
While not specifically framed within the exhibition, a major work by Jannis Kounellis(Piraeus, Greece, 1936 – Rome, 2017) is also presented. Kounellis gave social value to his artistic engagement, throughout his work, which never feeds into didactic or didascalic features. References to ancient culture or the history of art relate to the drama of a lost synthesis that the artist has set about to reconstitute. Kounellis is one of the leading figures in the Arte Povera. Untitled, 2009 (Room 32) is an installation, where a series of winter coats and shoes composes a solid ensemble on the wide pavement. It is made of used and disused garments, retaining a trace of the owners, testifying a historical presence while corroborating an ineludible absence and loss.