Beginning with explorations of portraiture in his early career, Pistoletto, also known as the founder of the Arte Povera movement, employs a conception of the space of art as the space of action. For nearly half a century, Michelangelo Pistoletto has merged art and its environment through performance, sculptural installation and, most famously, his iconic mirror paintings. Comprised of photo-silkscreened images on steel, these signature works were developed in 1962 and represent the artist’s interest in not only conceptualism and figuration, but also in an intrinsically socially engaged politics of viewing which is, for Pistoletto, the purpose and potential of artistic practice.
Central to the structural and aesthetic conceit of the mirror paintings is the inclusion of the spectator as a form of dialogical exchange, each as much experiential as environmental; the artist uses the concept and phenomenon of reflection as a means to demand that the viewer is also called into the position of participant in the contingent experience of the work of art. This emphasis on contingency, participation, and experience—from the very inception of the mirror paintings in the early 1960s to the present day—can be seen as intrinsically related to Pistoletto’s interest in performance, beginning with solo works and developing into large collaborative installation ‘interventions’, otherwise understood as ‘happenings’. As the artist suggested in 1969, “The mirror paintings could not live without an audience.… The step from mirror paintings to theater—seems simply natural…It is less a matter of involving the audience, of letting it participate, as to act on its freedom and on its imagination, to trigger similar liberation mechanisms in people.”
Art as an act of intervention, liberation, and social exchange is nowhere more evident than in Pistoletto’s circular performative mirror installation Suspended Perimeter—Love Difference(1975-2011). As the artist wrote in 2002, in his Love Difference Manifesto, “Politics and the economy need to be inspired by a new way of thinking. The formative space for this thinking is the creative laboratory for socially-engaged art. Love Difference is a movement arising out of this laboratory.” Written four years after Pistoletto’s founding of Cittadellarte, a collaborative creative project space in his native Biella, Italy, this manifesto, and attendant work, are exponents of the artist’s desire to propose new inhabited spatial possibilities— unmooring the spectator’s passive experience—that “through creative engagement… work towards responsible social transformation.”
Also included in this exhibition, Pistoletto’s Black and Light Flux series from 2008 render the artist’s mirrors in their ultimate role as an image of the world, both of humans and society, and even of transcendental space. “It seems clear to me that the space in which this reflection takes place is neither limited nor exclusively individual, but is the cosmic space of totality and therefore of everyone.” Breaking the mirrors is equivalent for the artist to altering the prolongation of space and time, that is, of reality. In these works, the alternation between light and darkness is perfectly balanced. As in chaos theory, the apparent disorder is actually organized according to a hidden, more creative, order.