Gianni Colombo: A Space Odyssey retrospective by the Milanese artist to celebrate 30th anniversary of his death

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Gianni Colombo: A Space Odyssey retrospective by the Milanese artist to celebrate 30th anniversary of his death
Topoestesia, 1965-70, Vitalità del negativo nell'arte italiana 1960/1970, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Roma, novembre 1970-gennaio 1971. Fotografie Ugo Mulas © Eredi Ugo Mulas. Tutti diritti riservati.

MILAN.- Fondazione Marconi and Gió Marconi, until July 17th, 2023, are hosting Gianni Colombo: A Space Odyssey, an important retrospective dedicated to the Milanese artist on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of his death. The exhibition, curated by Marco Scotini, focuses on the particular spatial dramaturgy that characterises Colombo’s work, starting from a comparison with 1968 Stanley Kubrick’s spectacular sci-fi movie. Considered one of the greatest international exponents of kinetic and environmental art, Gianni Colombo made the link between space and body the catalyst for all his three-dimensional investigations. Using flashes of light, moving objects, immersive environments and isolated architectural elements, the artist created disturbing spatial devices capable of disorienting acquired perceptual forms and deconstructing ordinary behavioural codes.

In perfect union with Lygia Clark, throughout the 1960s Colombo challenged rigidity with the mise-en-scene of elasticity. However, during the 1970s he put gravity at the centre of his personal challenges. It is not by chance that the three large installations conceived for Studio Marconi during this period – Campo praticabile (1970), Bariestesia (1975) and Topoestesia (1977) – mark a fundamental stage in his journey in this direction, confronting gravity as an equally inevitable and invisible factor to be overcome. Electronic bands on TV screens, baresthesic perception (a condition of equilibrium) and the progressive replacement of cubic space with curved space determine his work in his period.

It is in fact with the curved platform of Campo praticabile [Practicable field], that Colombo created a walkable environment on the floor of the gallery in collaboration with Vincenzo Agnetti. As Agnetti later wrote: Given a base: the floor, a platform or something else, identifiable at the threshold of sensitivity, we already have a field consisting of two hemispheres: the upper one as a positive virtual field tending towards redundancy, and the lower one as a predicted unpredictable negative field.

Also in 1970, an extraordinary photo by Ugo Mulas portrayed one of the three corridors of Topoestesia (presented at the Vitalità del Negativo exhibition) as a centrifugal space. All four perimeter walls converge towards the back wall, creating the visual effect of a torsion, thus excluding the identification of any reference axis. Gianni Colombo is at the centre of the image: his feet rest on one side wall, his torso on the other in front, and his hands are compressed on the surface. If the image were rotated 45 degrees, the side wall would immediately transform into the floor. The impression is therefore of a photograph taken in a spacecraft with the astronauts’ bodies orbiting in an anti-gravitational space.

Moreover the Apollo 11 moon landing took place in July 1969 and Topoestesia (Planned Itinerary) was shown just a year later, while Stanley Kubrick’s sensational sci-fi film, 2001: A Space Odyssey is from 1968. The purpose of the exhibition is to focus on the artist’s challenges to gravity and on his idea of inclined surfaces: an aspect which was shared by many contemporary dance choreographers of the time, from Yvonne Rainer to Simone Forti. From the earliest ceramic works Costellazioni Intermutabili [Interchangeable Constellations] from the 1960s to the suspended, moving metal structures Spazi Curvi [Curved Spaces] from the 1990s, and interspersed between these, the reconstruction of several fundamental environments (Bariestesia, 1973 and Topoestesia, 1977), through which a part of Studio Marconi’s history is reconstructed. In essence, Gianni Colombo. A Space Odyssey offers a journey inside a strange space machine in the company of an exceptional crew (Vincenzo Agnetti, Ugo Mulas, Joe Colombo, Livio and Piero Castiglioni and Maria Mulas). A journey in the embodied knowledge (Donna Haraway), that effectively questions the certainty of our Cartesian coordinates.

The association of Colombo’s space to the one set in Kubrick’s movie arises from Annette Michelson’s evocative text and, in both cases, it stems from the use of a perceptual disorientation in order to make our bodies re-establish a state of balance as an open process, thus responding to a sensory disruption with a physical readjustment carried out by experience. A situated knowledge far from any abstraction.

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