Gianni Colombo: A Space Odyssey

Gianni Colombo: A Space Odyssey

Fondazione Marconi

Gianni Colombo with Spazio elastico, cubo, 1970. Photo: Oliviero Toscani. Courtesy of Archivio Gianni Colombo, Milan.

May 10, 2023
Gianni Colombo
A Space Odyssey
May 12–July 17, 2023
Fondazione Marconi
Via Alessandro Tadino, 15
20124 Milan

Curated by Marco Scotini.

Fondazione Marconi, in collaboration with Archivio Colombo, presents Gianni Colombo: A Space Odyssey, an important retrospective curated by Marco Scotini and dedicated to the Milanese artist on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of his death. The exhibition focuses on the particular spatial dramaturgy that characterises Colombo’s work, starting from a comparison with 1968 Stanley Kubrick’s legendary 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. 

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 by Colombo was shown just a year later. Stanley Kubrick’s sensational sci-fi film, 2001: A Space Odyssey from 1968 could be another important reference not only for these works but also for many others Gianni Colombo conceived throughout his career. 

The purpose of the exhibition is to focus on the artist’s challenges to gravity and on his idea of slant surfaces, also shared with Yvonne Rainer and 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, the exhibition offers a journey inside a strange space shuttle in which Gianni Colombo/David Bowman is in company of an exceptional crew (Vincenzo Agnetti, Ugo Mulas, Joe Colombo and Maria Mulas). A journey through “embodied knowledge” (Donna Haraway) and effectively challenging the certainty of our Cartesian coordinates. 

The idea of the exhibition of associating Colombo’s spaces to the ones set in Kubrick’s movie arises from a text by Annette Michelson and from the use, in both cases, 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 and far from  abstraction. 

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Fondazione Marconi
May 10, 2023

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