Giovanni Anselmo

The Renaissance Society

The dreamlike title of Giovanni Anselmo’s “Lungo it Sentiero Verso Oltremare,” 1997, roughly translated as “Along the path toward the sea,” begins to suggest an agile wanderlust, a kind of a demarcation or passage between here and there. The journey to which Anselmo’s installation alludes is only obliquely geographic; this evocative piece treats in turn physical, professional, and perceptual accounts of passage, and remains impressively inconclusive.

Between two vertical, deep ultramarine stripes (representing the sea or sky?) painted on opposite walls of the gallery, Anselmo ran a long and meandering narrow pathway of dirt (the earth?) across the floor, its passage from one end of the room to the other neither quick nor direct. Along this pathway two smallish granite blocks were placed, the first more roughhewn than the other, but still a clearly cut block, as if some handiwork could turn it into a headstone. The second and smaller block was closer to a square and more polished, with copper wire wrapped around it to support a much smaller piece of granite. Sandwiched between these two stones was a head of lettuce (changed daily per the artist’s instructions). Just a few feet away from one of the ultramarine stripes Anselmo placed several slide machines projecting images of the words “particolare” (particular) and “visibile” (visible). The former was projected onto a nearby wall, but both were projected into the gallery space so that they were perceptible only if the light were interrupted by some obstruction a certain distance away.

Ambiguities as well as textual and visual slippages were built into every aspect of the installation. “Oltremare” can also be translated as “ultramarine”; thus, an alternate and oddly literal title for the piece is “Along the path toward ultramarine.” The slide that can be perceived to read “visibile” was created by Anselmo by painting over the prefix “in-” on a slide that originally read “invisibile,” and, of course, when projected into space it was precisely that. Making it visible by interrupting its light journey changed its state of invisibility and made possible alternate, even incompatible readings, reflecting Anselmo’s interest in creating suggestive states of indeterminacy, in layering, obscuring, and adjusting meaning until it begins to reflect the additive and sometimes contradictory processes of thought.

Anselmo’s long familiarity with some of the motifs employed in this installation gave aspects of it a retrospective flavor. Some elements—for example, the copper-wired granite blocks supporting (caressing? squeezing?) the lettuce—appeared as independent works as far back as 1968, when Anselmo was a crucial participant in the nascent arte povera movement. His insistent reintroduction of many of these elements, in new venues and combinations, is not simply the restaging of repertoire but part of his practice; these motifs have not lost their allusive mystery for him, and represent the teasing impossibility of the fixed possession of knowledge and the great wonder and energy of the journey toward it.

James Yood