MARISA MERZ : Art is a mental thing

LIGHT AND FLEXIBLE, WITH NAILS

by Rosanna Albertini

MARISA MERZ, Untitled 1993, Copper wire, unfired clay, steel structure. Photo: Hannah Kirby

MARISA MERZ, Untitled 1989. Unfired clay, galvanized metal, glass cup, flowers. Photo: Hannah Kirby

Los Angeles,  Hammer Museum: THE SKY IS A GREAT SPACE   June-August 2017

March – April 1968:
“I do not respect Johnson, I do not respect the masters.
I’m not available anymore because I want to start from scratch.
I could still be available to a child, but not to a man, no.
If a man asks me to do something, I do it the way I want to.
I no longer believe in catalysts* because they are the beggars of slaves.
At present the world is peopled by slaves, and catalysts are still around.
I’m not interested in power or career; only myself and the world.
I can do little, very little.
I’m battling against malice and competition.
I cannot escape the reality I see.”

Marisa Merz, Come una dichiarazione, Bit, vol.II, n.1 March-April 1968.

(*catalyst, the prime agent of any change or action.)

MARISA MERZ, Untitled 1968. Nylon thread, nails.

Despite her official position in Arte Povera’s historical dress, I want to unravel this ninety year old Italian artist from any cocoon. Just her and reality around her in Turin, from what I remember, also around me in Milan, the same years when she was knitting little nylon shoes like clouds ready to fly, joining the green of the grass to the light blue of Northern sky, as if colors did make the shoes for a walk in the void. Mid sixties. I was wearing comfortable boots to run faster during the police-student confrontations. I was a philosophy student, and clouds were in my brain.

No wonder Marisa Merz dislikes catalysts, they were nailing our minds to ideological boxes, heavy like lead, separating the mind from the rest of life. Marisa was building around her an undefined space, a hole in between art and life. The same way that Robert Rauschenberg considered the adventure of painting, or of art making in every way. Doors, tables and chairs are a population of hopeless objects, condemned to only one form forever. There is not much she can do about that. But she can surround them with natural or artificial shadows to soften their rigidity, and approach them to the human touch, helping them to escape from their destiny. Sometimes the shadow materializes in knitted, transparent shadows moving squares and rectangles from the floor toward light triangles pointed to the ceiling, becoming smaller and smaller, she can do little, very little. Yet, out of her hands, stools can dream of a kite and a wooden door plays with the illusion of softness of squared empty pillows made with copper wire, as if opening a new mode of being for a door, opening and not only closing.

 

MARISA MERZ, Untitled 1976. Copper wire, nails, canvas. (detail)

MARISA MERZ, Untitled 1977. Wood, copper wire brass. newspaper. Photo: Hannah Kirby

Any connection between the art world in the sixties and seventies and the student movement was absent. And Marisa Merz seems to me now much closer to Piero Manzoni personal mythology than to the Arte Povera heroic answers to the growing search for perfection and technocracy — rationality in modern societies turning into sickness. Although married to Mario Merz, the sculptor who built powerful forms like bubbles of thought impenetrable to the viewer’s body, Marisa kept her feminine instinct intact. Yes, her tables wrapped in veils bring a sense of isolation, although adding, at the same time, the absurdity of a dream that could be of freedom, or just of care. Her little sculpted heads look at the sky. Humans are the invisible bodies dissolved around her pieces, leaving their scent.

MARISA MERZ, Untitled, 1977. Table, copper wire, flower, metal rods.

MARISA MERZ, Untitled 1975. Nylon thread, iron.

MARISA MERZ, Untitled 1975, Iron wire, copper wire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The more we are immersed in ourselves, the more we are open; when we approach the earliest signs of our totality, we also approach everyone else’s totality. The difficult task is to liberate ourselves from foreign and superfluous things, facts and gestures that pollute the compact units coming from the art of our days and easily becoming the emblems of artistic fashions.”

Nebulous memories from childhood, impressions, abstractions, sentimentalisms, deliberate constructions, pictorial symbolic or descriptive intentions, fake anxieties, undigested unconscious events, the perpetual hedonistic repetition of already explored subjects: these are things to be discarded. The process of revelation and elimination releases our original quality in the form of images: images that are primary, and the ones of our time gushing out from the same point, for us and our civilization. Nothing must be avoided to accelerate the emergency, the urgency of acquiring our own gestures.”
PIERO MANZONI, Prolegomeni all’attività artistica.

MARISA MERZ, Head, Testa, 1984-95. Unfired clay, was, tin, lead, steel table. Photo: Hannah Kirby

A point in time: the soil suddenly trembling under my feet trodding on the sidewalk from Piazza Fontana to Piazza del Duomo, in Milan, on December 12, 1969. The bomb’s explosion didn’t make much noise. It was behind me, where 13 were killed and 88 injured. I was not one of them by only a few seconds. I didn’t turn, a wave of danger pushed me quickly walking away toward the Dome, my heart beating fast. It was like wearing Marisa Merz’s green shoes, and feeling the nails. In minutes, the place was filled with ambulances.

A few days after, the daily paper reported that Giuseppe Pinelli, a well known anarchist, had fallen from a window at the police station. He had been accused of placing the bomb. A dead angel to me. As many of my friends, I used to go to his house where his wife Licia typed academic papers for us. We were bad typists, I still use two fingers. Two little girls running around us. It was an odd time, of idealism killing people. As if the amazing theories we had tried to digest had turned fleshy, back to their sprouting from vital organs, and were made softer, gentler by human frailty. The empty carcass of words crashed with the anarchist body on the asphalt, after the flight through the void. What happened exactly, we never knew. Except, Pinelli was innocent.

MARISA MERZ, Small Head, Unfired clay

We did not know that artists had turned our precious thoughts into metaphors, actions, questions about human identity, as effectively as our philosophical castles. Marisa Merz, for instance, worked on our broken threads, moving the line into hand made, often knitted objects. They embody flexibility, adaptation. They bring a soft hand on reality.

PIERO MANZONI, Catalogue of the exhibition at Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Milano, Arnoldo Mondadori Arte,1991

Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962-1972, Catalogue  of the exhibition organized by  the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and Tate Modern, London. 2001-2003

Objects of a dysfunctional time: PETER SHIRE’s TEAPOTS

At MOCA Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles

 

MUSICAL, WHISPERING VOICES

 by Rosanna Albertini

Photos: Hannah Kirby

One can look at them naked, or encrusted with the shells of futurism, art deco, Milanese design, post modernism, California surrealism, like the door of a lobster cage. I would prefer to put all the verbal definitions into a fishnet and throw them deep into the ocean. The abandonment of the teapots to themselves “is an act of generosity,” as Mario Merz would say, “deciphering is the will to die.”

They are sirens these teapots singing the music of colors and forms: an endless, nostalgic song longing for water. Their nose too big, too long for their body, and the body shrunk like a musical instrument, or borrowing heaviness from a building, or eternalizing a fruit that tries to preserve the beauty of a flower and misses the branch moved by the wind. The teapots know there is no use for them. They are sculptures, born from an artist who likes to lie on the void, trying to forget rules and all the rational roads to understanding. Search for beauty is a source of anxiety.

“to orient
not to compel
to orient
in architecture
as in sculpture
like in a drawing of oriental vocal sensibilities
that is to say musical”
— Mario Merz

“All value depends upon somebody else’s opinion. For it is the essence of this philosophy that things have no independent existence, but live only in the eye of other people. It is a looking-glass world, this, to which we climb slowly; and its prizes are all reflexions. That may amount for our baffled feelings as we shuffle, and shuffle vainly, among those urban pages for something hard to lay our hands upon. Hardness is the last thing we shall find.”
— Virginia Woolf

That’s why there is no futurISM in these teapots, no celebration of civil and warlike mechanical machineries expected to pierce the present with energy, violent breaks, and, at least verbally, to introduce hardness. Instead, the teapots are a whispering voice, like the French and Italian words avenir, l’avvenire. From the late Latin ad-venire.

I find their softness and I don’t know what it is that touches me, unless what I like is just the uncertainty about what they are. They are displaced and useless, but searching for their face to face with us. The human side which is in them, the artist’s making, meets other humans in a present which is constantly coming to be, fleeting and incapable of standing as an accomplished future. Displacement is everywhere: between words and things, dreams and reality, thinking and making. What a dysfunctional time!

And yet, I miss stroking them, giving them a caress. I can only send them a philosophical caress, the most beautiful I found.

“The caress doesn’t know what she looks for. Such ‘not knowing’ such fundamental incongruence, is essential.” “The caress is waiting for a pure time to come, time without a content. She is made with growing hunger, and more and more enticing promises, which brings new perspectives on the things we cannot grasp.”
— Emmanuel Lévinas

Mario Merz, Lo spazio e curvo e diritto, Firenze, Hopeful Monster Editore, 1990

Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader, London, The Hogarth Press, 1935

Emmanuel Lévinas, Le temps et l’autre, @Fata Morgana, 1979. First edition February 1983, PUF, Paris.

 

FOTO DI TERRA : MARIO GIACOMELLI

typographer and self-taught photographer (1925-2000) from Senigallia (Italy)

MARIO GIACOMELLI’s  MOTHER EARTH

and my planet of leaves languages and trees meeting Anouar Brahem playing music on his oud (a Middle eastern string instrument)

MARIO GIACOMELLI, metamorfosi della terra, 385 x 278 mm

MARIO GIACOMELLI,  metamorfosi della terra, 385 x 278 mm

Mario Giacomelli passed away three days ago of some years ago November 25th and Mario Merz who was born the same year 1925 followed him on November 3d a few years after why should it be easy to remember dates that are not not at all interesting numbers they don’t shape the history of the person nor do they participate in the natural history not to mention the natural art made with numbers which is sister to music and spirals in the shells

Dans ce progrès invincible, et comme impeccable, de la forme, … qui semble créer son temps propre, on admire la combinaison du rythme, marqué par les taches ou les aspérités régulières, et du movement indivisible. C’est là voir de la musique. Paul Valéry, L’homme et la coquille 1937
an invincible almost impeccable progress of form… seems to create its own rhythm holding spots or regular asperities and an indivisible movement that is like seeing music

each of us surfing on a limited truth flows through life where time doesn’t exist as a peculiar volume buzzing with particles it can’t be stopped until mother earth disappears in meanders of memories that remake, retell the story so many times there is not a first image anymore over unfinished thoughts

tonight I don’t feel like breathing with commas and periods

I wish words could be sensitive like Mario Merz (1925-2003) forced them to be foglie tenere di acqua leaves tender with water or Giacomelli calling his pictures foto di terra photos made with dirt  rather than photos of earth because Italians at least some of us think of ideas like odd ghosts slipping away from the physical matter of a decomposed and ruined space where the animal person looks for abstraction – freedom

it didn’t happen to me for a while this need of disobeying it makes me see words sinking into Giacomelli’s blacks and whites while written lines are traced like furrows with trees and bushes in a wood of punctuation left behind for writers obsessed with grammatical intersections their soul not knowing where to go

effortlessly ancient habits join our art as if calligraphy and drawing were only one thing sharing the same space as five or six centuries ago in hybrid Chinese paintings meant to be poems of words and nuanced landscapes

Extraordinary events came to shake suddenly the quotidian life of millions individuals. We are projected toward the unknown, with immense fears, joys and hopes. What’s happening goes beyond imagination. It took me a long time to be able to write this music. Anouar Brahem Souvenance

Giacomelli says that language becomes the environment within which the image breathes as it flies toward a new life called art

more can be seen in a landscape that is language more than anything else sometimes plowed by the peasants under the artist’s request

more can be felt through the energy that connects our hands brain and feet to the larger scene of reality with it’s musical score inviting us to listen and share our part in it

ahead of the current localism Anouar Brahem’s music is an harmonious journey of intermingled songs that seem to pick from music of every kind petals of hope and strings of voices determined to expand together in a long rope of sounds free from style traditional forms and rigid obligations for beauty herself sings from the window waiting for the prince

the wind that goes around the column
goes round inside the column
it happens when one paints an image
giving reality to an image, the house runs with the world.

Mario Merz, Lo spazio è curvo o diritto 1990

MARIO GIACOMELLI IN HIS IMAGES AND WORDS

Attraverso le foto di terra io tento di uccidere la natura, cerco di toglierle quella vita che le è stata data non so da chi ed è stata distrutta dal passaggio dell’uomo per ridarle una vita nuova…

Through photos of earth (foto di terra) I try to kill nature, and take away from her a life received from I don’t know whom and destroyed by humans to give her a new life…

MARIO GIACOMELLI, presa di coscienza sulla natura, 300 x 405 mm

MARIO GIACOMELLI,  presa di coscienza sulla natura, 300 x 405 mm

Signs like light tension. It is like having emptied, carved the white out and filled it with dark.

Language becomes the environment within which the image breathes.

MARIO GIACOMELLI, Pesa di coscienza sulla natura, 388 x 283 mm

MARIO GIACOMELLI,  presa di coscienza sulla natura, 388 x 283 mm

The mark remains, the scar, the symbolic image of my intervention, as an act of expression to escape from a reality that does not leave space for creativity.

MARIO GIACOMELLI, storie di terra, 235 x 300 mm

MARIO GIACOMELLI,  storie di terra, 235 x 300 mm

I wish I could slide under the skin of things, to show the energy passing through my soul and the things around me

To express the potential that overturns the real into poetry

MARIO GIACOMELLI, presa di coscienza sulla natura, 392 x 298 mm

MARIO GIACOMELLI,  presa di coscienza sulla natura, 392 x 298 mm

I am not interested in repeating the visible things, but making visible what filters through my unconscious.

MARIO GIACOMELLI, Le fogli, 258 x 390 mm

MARIO GIACOMELLI,  le foglie, 258 x 390 mm

My latest ideas that are growing inside me from typography. In my latest photographs, naturally also in Landscapes, there are many apparitions. The object is always modified, but remains as a memory with the signs of the antique and present time, with a new memory, which is also that of the gesture, the movement, the document.

MARIO GIACOMELLI, presa di coscienza sulla natura, 305 x 404 mm

MARIO GIACOMELLI,  presa di coscienza sulla natura, 305 x 404 mm

Archivio Mario Giacomelli – Sassoferrato
http://www.archiviomariogiacomelli.it

These and others  photographs by Giacomelli are currently on display at Galleria Studio Guastalla, Modern and Contemporary Art, Milano (Italy).  I went to see the exhibition because Silvia Guastalla, curator and director of the gallery, decades ago was one of my students in the Department of Philosophy of the University of Pisa. A great joy to see her again and having her this time guiding me through Giacomelli’s art.