Gilberto Zorio

Centre d'Art Contemporain Genève

This exhibition of Gilberto Zorio’s work united older and newer pieces, but not in the manner of a retrospective. The show was not concerned with a respectful backward glance at established works, but with their manifestation in the present. Yet however well an individual piece may work on its own, here it always had a relationship to its predecessors and descendants. This was not just a consequence of the show’s well-conceived installation, which seemed in and of itself a work of art that incorporated and transcended the individual works.

This structural cohesiveness at the level of installation was accompanied by the material affinity of the works themselves, an exchange of energy that seemed to jostle the show’s subtle organization, at times bursting the boundaries of the exhibition site and spilling over into the enormous hall within which the central gallery is set. Zorio grasped the very special conditions of this space with almost intuitive logic, incorporating them into his installation design. As a result, the lines and arcs of copper tubing, rope, and electrical cables—the material staples of his work—created an unmistakable diagram in the room that indicated the tension thematized in the individual objects and installations. In Odio (Hatred, 1969), for instance, this tension is created by a rope, stretched between opposite walls of the gallery, by which a slab of lead is suspended. The rope literally spells out the source of this tension in the psychological dimension. Zorio has coiled the rope to form the word odio, and then hammered it into the lump of lead. “Hatred” has thus been restrained, at least, if not eliminated, by an act of violence. It has been objectified, balanced at the center of a line of dialectical tension, in effect harnessed so that it can be used productively. Yet it’s not simply a matter of reconciling opposing forces here, but of consciously focusing on and transforming the energy that arises from such oppositions; in this sense, the stretched rope is also a bridge.

The multiple copper tubes that arc from one vessel to another in many of Zorio’s works can be interpreted along similar lines, of course; but here, the particular quality of copper must be considered as well—its conductivity, its similarity to gold, and gold’s associations of warmth, malleability, and magical powers. An aura of scientific research is created by the vessels he uses, the chemist’s retorts and lead baths, and by the liquids and solids they contain—water, alcohol, acids, and copper sulfate in the forms of deep blue crystals and equally mysterious blue liquid. This quiet suggestion of alchemic procedures raises the work as a whole onto a metaphorical plane where chemical processes become symbols of psychic and social processes. The artist’s concern with these issues is manifest in the title Per purificare le parole (For the purification of speech), which he has repeatedly materialized in a variety of works since 1962. In one of these, dated 1979, a retort filled with alcohol is suspended in a room; its “mouthpiece,” into which one could speak and through which one’s words would be guided into the cool, purifying alcohol it contains, is unattainable. In an identically titled piece from 1980 a wineskin-shaped terra-cotta form backed by floodlights sits waiting for someone to speak through its mouthpiece, so that their words might make their way into the light through its fire-purified belly These objects have to do with elementary acts of communication, the conveyance of speech through a rational, yet mystical, process of clarification. Here, communication becomes a form of confrontation, one in which energy finds form and form becomes a source of energy

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.