Gilberto Zorio

Galleria Salvatore + Caroline Ala

Gilberto Zorio’s work poses a problem: within an art context, what is the significance today of observing the mechanisms of the transformation of materials as a discourse on time? Zorio was one of the leading participants in the Arte Povera movement in Italy, beginning in the late ’60s. The recovery of the real time of nature’s laws was one of the themes of that movement, to which Zorio contributed with works based on chemical reactions and the physical properties of various elements. In fact, in many of his pieces, the realization of form is tied to the possibility of foreseeing the development of an organic-chemical process. The space and the time of these transformations, which coincide with the process by which the work and the form become visible, are the space and time of utopian imagination. This imagination diverts one’s glance from the negativity of history in order to seek out, within the cycles of nature, confirmations of order and reassurances against death. In Zorio’s recent sculpture it is possible to observe the changes in his declaration of this myth, since he is reworking motifs that he developed (but according to different values) in the past. The new character of the myth, as it appears here, is distinctly wintry.

An example of this is the work that one first confronts upon entering the gallery. Here Zorio has reworked an installation that he had produced in 1968: the two ends of an arc-shaped copper bar are immersed in two basins, one containing sulfuric acid, the other hydrochloric acid and water. With the passage of time, blue crystals form on one end of the bar, rising along it toward the middle; meanwhile, green crystals are produced at the other end. They both keep forming until they meet, causing a transposition of color from one place to the other and from one state of material to another. The passage of time, therefore, guarantees the appearance of a new form, one that is brought about by the artist’s use of a natural process. In this work three contradictory figures converge: the scientist (in the project itself and in the calculated prediction of effects), the alchemist and the metallurgist. The first protects us from chance occurrence, while the second two play with it.

In 1968 the structure of this work was elementary: the copper bar was immersed in two open lead basins, against which the color of the acids stood out emphatically. Today, the copper arc meets the colored acids in the dark bottoms of two crucibles used for casting bronze. Attention to the processes by which materials are transformed is extended to an examination of the receptacles in which this transformation is carried out. These crucibles, in fact, are object-signs, and they are used as such by Zorio. They are testimonies to the mystery of the passage from unformed matter and energy to a material form; with use, these crucibles become ever more suited to their function, but the moment of their maximum efficiency coincides with the moment of their decline. In their destiny, two lines of development—one that leads their destruction through wear and tear, and one that leads toward their achievement of a functional identity—slowly come together.

The same wintry character of the myth of nature is found in a second piece—a glass beaker that Zorio has placed equidistant from an iron javelin (which doesn’t touch the ground) and a copper tube suspended by wires, like a gigantic balance scale. The beaker is, like the crucible, both a cultural sign and a vessel in which transformations take place. It is made of Pyrex, a transparent (conceptual) material that, like the lead containers in the first piece, can tolerate elevated temperatures. It contains alcohol for the purification of the words of whoever decides to introduce discourse into the heart of energy mutations—in accordance with the myth, often referred to by Zorio, of the reciprocal integration of the spiritual and the material.

This myth is suggested, as well, by another container “for the purification of words”: a structure of animal skin, suspended from two bars, one copper and one iron, holding the piece in midair in the passageway between the first space (where one finds the crucible construction) and the main space, which holds the beaker construction. The observer, moving from one room to the other, is nearly blocked, and therefore is forced to confront the suspended sculpture. This is the only violent element in this exhibition, which tends overall to evade traumas by presenting processes of transformation in order to save the mythical treasure of rebirth from the threat of the historic moment. In fact, using the symbolic code of the properties of the elements, these structures emphasize the vitality of material. All in all they give the impression of being just barely part of this world. They are suspended in a precarious equilibrium, calculated to keep them at the edge of danger. They feign a virtuousity of form that, in a hostile season, congeals into a mask, apparently immobile at the same time it is still in flight from the world.

Luciana Rogozinski

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.