View of “Grazia Varisco,” 2017–18. Photo: Cesare Chimenti.

View of “Grazia Varisco,” 2017–18. Photo: Cesare Chimenti.

Grazia Varisco

Cortesi Gallery | Milan

View of “Grazia Varisco,” 2017–18. Photo: Cesare Chimenti.

Mounted in Grazia Varisco’s hometown of Milan, “Ne ho solo 80” (I’m Only 80) is a worthy homage to this pioneer of kinetic art, who was born in 1937. Covering more than fifty years of her research into space and time, it begins with works from her “Tavola magnetica” (Magnetic Table) series, 1959–62, formed of mobile geometric elements attached to magnets that viewers can move over a metal surface. Engaging in this apparently simple game leads to a probing of categorical opposites, such as order and disorder, closed and open. A childlike playfulness encourages us to reconsider seemingly elementary relationships between form and space, line and field.

The thread that connects Varisco’s varied works is her presentation of the pieces as experimental stages in a serial process. Perceptual ambiguity characterizes Quadri comunicanti. Omaggio a E. Castellani (Communicating Paintings. Homage to E. Castellani), 2016, one of the most recent works on display, part of the series “Quadri comunicanti,” begun in 2008. It consists of three frames made of iron, partly filled with brushed, stamped steel. The proportions of solid and void vary from frame to frame. Hung at different angles on the wall, the three elements are aligned along the straight line that separates the empty upper portion from the solid lower part within each frame. Here, space is like a fluid distributed among communicating vessels. The horizontal alignment constitutes the fundamental rule to which the eye clings, creating a perceptual situation of disturbed and nervous equilibrium.

Varisco’s research over the past ten to fifteen years has emphasized a more multisensory and evocative dimension, and the resulting works are more likely to arouse sensations of instability and disquietude than are her earlier kinetic works. This new mood is evident in the title of two pieces here, Silenzi (Silences), both 2005, which itself evokes a state of suspension and expectation. Both of these works are composed of superimposed painted aluminum boards that can be extended like theater flats. Remaining within the system of relationships between void and solid, but recalling the space of a stage, these pieces seem to suggest that in life, as in theater, silence, absence, and presence are changeable variables that all contribute to dramatic effects. In works such as Risonanza al tocco (rossa) (Resonance to the Touch [Red]), 2010, the artist makes an association between hearing and touch, and proposes that color can have a sound. She puts the senses on synesthetic alert and holds them there in expectation; resonance is a phenomenon that propagates in space but is verified in time. In the “Gnomoni” (Gnomons) series, 1975–86, the artist folds the sides of a rectangle, transforming the flat figure into a three-dimensional one. Implicazioni, Gnomoni (Implications, Gnomons), 1986, is made up of five variously folded elements made of iron. A gnomon is the part of a sundial that casts a shadow; struck by natural light, these bent structures could project shadows that change with the passing hours, visualizing the rhythm of time. The certain structure of geometry twists, multiplies, and becomes an enigma to be deciphered, a space of possibility. Uniting science and humanism, Varisco proposes complex perceptual experiences of space and time that increasingly take the form of questioning and doubt.

Alessandra Pioselli

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.