Cristiana Bottigella: How has the relationship between the artwork and the surrounding world changed in your work since the Mirroring Paintings?
Michelangelo Pistoletto: Since the early ‘60s the Mirroring Paintings (starting from 1962) placed the artwork in a dialogue with the viewer, the real space, the world and therefore with society. The roots of my entire path up to the present can actually be found in the first Mirroring Paintings. The traditional painting becomes a mirror, not metaphorically, as it truly becomes a direct mirror, a real mirror. This mirror originates and becomes necessary in the research of the selfidentification of myself as the artist. Therefore it is a work carried out on the self-portrait where the mirror is the protagonist because without the mirror, the artist can’t see himself. The self-portrait offers this possibility of self-representation of the artist.
However, traditionally in self-portraits, we see the artist always alone in the painting. Instead when the mirror incorporates itself in the painting, the artist’s self portrait opens itself to the presence of the viewer, to the presence of whole world, to the presence of everything happening in front of the painting; therefore the mirroring self portrait goes from being a place of solitude to a place of meeting, of exchange, of communication and of direct participation.
[MP] In the Mirroring Painting happens the identification of one’s self and, at the same time, the identification of the world. The fourth dimension, the “time” is also protagonist in the mirror. In the Mirroring Paintings past, present and future coexist.
The successive step was the translation of the meaning of the Mirroring Paintings into reality that is the passage from virtual to real. The Mirroring Paintings absorb the real and bring it into the virtual. The subsequent work transfers the meaning that the real is assumed in the virtual, bringing it to practical life in the three-dimensionality of life.
The experience of the rapport between those who watch and those who surround, the experience of the rapport between past and future, an objective vision of time, the dynamic of becoming, were translated in a series of works that I called Minus Objects (1965-66).
Minus Objects because each of them is the embodiment of a specific moment. Reality is different in every moment and is ever changing: each work expresses a situation that is different from the one that precedes it, and the one that will follow it. The dynamics of time transformed themselves into the dynamics of differences.
[MP] The Minus Objects became a true and actual definition of the phenomenon of difference. The Objects are created through a work process based on spontaneity and present context. These works are all different from one another as if they came from various artists collected in an exhibition, this infringes upon the norm that every artist must be stylistically consistent.
The universe is fertile with unexpressed possibilities that little by little, day by day, second by second concretise themselves. The mind itself is a small universe of possibilities of which only some are expressed and realized. Each object which is born, is the totality of possibilities minus that possibility that is no longer a possibility but instead a reality. It is the whole minus one, the realised object. The sum then happens through proximity of subtractions and through accumulation of subtractions.
The Zoo (1967-70) was then born from the Minus Objects. The Zoo was a open group, where people coming from different artistic languages met, and from those meetings direct creative communication was born. This happened in the streets, outside the expected places like galleries, museums and theatres. There was research for new spaces beyond the pre-defined enclosures of artistic and cultural systems.
[MP] This meeting of one another and this creating together translated that individual dimension of creation into a new dimension of creative engagement that was interactive, interdisciplinary and collective.
From those experiences, with time, Progetto Arte developed, a manifesto written in 1994, in which I identified real problems in the social life. I proposed a passage from the previous interrelational experience to an enlarged dimension which involves not only the artistic languages but also the different sectors of the social structure, economics, politics, production, spirituality and education.
These various fields today constitute the structure of the new institution that is Cittadellarte. Cittadellarte, established in 1998, is intended as a central nucleus. Initiating from the “University of Ideas” which gathers young artists and creative’s from all over the world it divides itself into different cells which we call Uffizi.
Each Ufficio (office) is occupied with a specific area of civic society, bringing art and creativity through engagement not only aesthetical but ethical, in order to operate a responsible transformation of the different sectors of society.
CB: So with The Zoo you were looking for a way to leave the institutions, with Cittadellarte you created an institution in order to operate within the system.
MP: Exactly, with Zoo we escaped from institutions in order to find new spaces. With Cittadellarte an institution was created that proposed new ways of interaction between the different fields of society.
It is an engagement that ranges from the most complex and untouchable points such as those of spirituality, to the most practical situations of physical survival on the planet. It is a practical necessity in a moment when the planet itself entered in a dimension of worrying degradation caused by human society.
CB: This rapport with nature and the planet was already present in Arte Povera…
MP: In the second half of the ‘60’s Arte Povera (starting from 1967) strongly perceived these problems of a world that was entering into crisis, of a system of excess that was progressing.
[MP] The concept that poor (povera) meant to go back to the earth under our feet, to go back to the territory, to the prime value of materials as fundamental elements, materials as re-found local dignity, dignity of the “poor” as a cultural system. This cultural system has its roots in the past and clearly distinguishes itself from the opulent consumer system and from its systematic flattening of economies and cultures and therefore of the flattening of the concept of diversity.
In my work, instead of pursuing only the realisation of objects (even if representing what I said above), I found it necessary to move into a direct collective intervention in the real world in order to make these principles bring about a real transformation that was an alternative to systems and consumer hegemony.