Nicola Gobbetto

For his show “Shapeless Shape,” Nicola Gobbetto, a young Milanese artist, totally transformed the gallery space into a white polystyrene grotto. Upon entering Cave (all works 2006), one lost all points of reference, and it was no longer possible to recognize the square space of the room that held the installation. Instead of smooth walls, there were polystyrene monoliths that formed recesses and projections. The ceiling, usually traversed by neon tubes, was transformed by layers of polystyrene panels. It was indeed like being in a cave, but one that had nothing natural about it. The feeling, rather, was like finding oneself in an artificial, computer-generated space. The sculpture—a cavern that must be physically negotiated—is a mental space resulting from a synthetic process. This same process generated a series of audio messages emitted by small speakers set into the polystyrene. The sounds, repeated and broken down like Morse code, are excerpts from “Hall of Mirrors,” a 1977 Kraftwerk song, whose lyrics were printed out in ’80s-style video-game typeface and displayed in a niche.

Having traversed the cavern, drawn in by the light, viewers entered the second gallery space, this one left unaltered, where there were two pieces on the wall and one spectacular freestanding sculpture. The contrast between the two spaces was extremely vivid, and yet the feeling they conveyed was the same. Grey Clouds consists of a sequence of prints that evoke the shape of a cloud, presented in a succession of chromatic variations that range from blue to gray. Here, too, there is a play between the natural and the artificial and, most of all, a contrast between apparently recognizable geometry and amorphousness. The colored clouds, made by manipulating images of clear and stormy skies, are like flattened ellipses that fade away at the edges, negating the purity of the geometry. We seem to be looking at something simple and easily recognizable, but a second look reveals that the forms and colors we’re seeing evoke something else, something much more impalpable and immaterial.

But the play of references between the physical and the otherworldly, the material and the mental, reaches its apex with Blob, a surprising sculpture that seems to be the materialization of something alien. Indeed it is a blob, an amorphous lump, with indefinable contours and seemingly randomly occurring planes. The entire sculpture is covered in a cobalt blue gelatinous substance that can be identified, from the smell, as toothpaste. It is an object that resembles nothing else, and for this reason it makes an enormously powerful impression. It is the triumph of the absence of form over form—just as the title of the show suggests.

Filippo Romeo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.