Gilardi’s Nature is neither comfortable nor safe. It is not an alibi but it is a rite. It is not a victorious nature, it is not a violent nature, neither savage nor happy. It is a miserable nature of loss. A nature of fallen apples pumpkins from a suburban vegetable garden when the happy flowers of the peas and beans, zinnias and dahlias have withered and the fruit has been picked, a nature of ears of corn when the June poppies, July wheat and August peaches have gone, and the stumps and roots remain in the devastated fields, a nature at a loss. Gilardi’s rite is like the ritual in the caves of Lascaux: is the rite for the fear of loss, to invoke a victory one doesn’t believed in, to invoke a certainty that is not in our hands and which we’re looking for who knows where, to invoke courage in the face of death, rebuilding the adventure of defeat with our poor hands.
Ettore Sottsass jr.
(excerpt from Domus magazine, December, 1966)
As we step into Gilardi’s portable ecosphere, the empirical reality of what we are experiencing cannot really be called into the question. What is transformed over time, however, is the sense of certainty that man’s greatest affectations and nature’s deepest mysteries are really so far away from one another. Perhaps this experience brings us a step closer to understanding why we long to glimpse in works of art some evidence that our inner lives are as multi-faceted, as endlessly compelling, as the natural order in which they claim their deepest roots. Without some affirmation of such underlying connections between nature and ourselves, we seem to forget that our existence is anything more or less than that which we have produced along the way. Perhaps because nature herself does so much more than simply create or destroy, our role as initiates in Gilardi’s simulated garden must also involve establishing contact with that part of ourselves which most feels itself to be in a harmonious relationship to nature. After all, Gilardi seems to be saying, tending to the world we live in and making ourselves happy as well are just two ways of approaching the very same problem – a point we would never have doubted had we not ourselves been banished from the garden those many millennia ago.
For the past eight years, Gilardi has been preoccupied by Parco Arte Vivente (Park of Living Art), or PAV, his most ambitious endeavor to date, In late 2008, Gilardi unveiled the work in progress, and last year a series of educational programs were launched. A collaborative effort that he conceived and designed (he currently serves as its artistic director), PAV is a monumental undertaking situated on an approximately 6-acre green space in the heart of the Lingotto section of Turin. Surrounded by high-rise housing and industrial buildings, PAV encompasses a new museum and study center with laboratories, workshops and spaces for temporary and permanent exhibitions, including “Bioma”, a permanent, multigallery, new-media installation by Gilardi. The grounds are reserved for sprawling earth art and ecologically engaged outdoor installations by an international group of invited artists, with a special focus on young and emerging talent. his season, PAV hosts a variety of exhibitions, outdoor installations and performances (details available on the park’s website, www.parcoartevivente.it). In the most ambitious works of his nearly 45-year career, “Bioma” and PAV, the artist offers a unique experience of nature within the context of art. Remaining steadfast to the idealism of his youth as well as the innovative spirit of Arte Povera, but with the addition of electronic-age implements, Gilardi succeeds in merging art and life.
(Excerpt from the article “Organic Technology su Art in America, giugno 2010. New York)
The artistic sensibility of an artist concerned with the new languages of art that are emerging, open-mindedness towards experience and belief in the fruitfulness of the relationship with the world for the development of the artistic vocation, are the characteristics of the role played by the artist Gilardi: the information on new areas of the contemporary obtained first-hand during his travels in Europe and America, which he gives news of in the form of a diary, always “packing his bag and thinking of the road”, where “the road” reveals the “doing” of art, investigated in the multiplicity of places used for its incubation and then, in a sort of “art anthem”, reported by the traveler to his fellow investigators who’ve stayed at home. Thus Gilardi has made the works of Long, Dibbets, Flanagan, Beuys, Van Elk, Nauman, Hesse and Wiley become known in Italy. So while simultaneously presenting the daily life of travel and introducing the reader, again on a daily basis, to the heart of several other existences dedicated to art (Gilardi’s meeting with another artist is almost always an encounter with a body, a character, a home, a way of life: in short, the notation of the various possible ways of “living art”), Gilardi carries out its practices and makes them effective through the telling of the utopia of the aesthetic community as a figure/forerunner of the political community. From his itineraries, Gilardi gives the impression of a common factor in the new attitude of international art, which he calls “entropic sensitivity”. But it is in the concept of “micro-emotional art” – expressed in a paper published in ’76 by Celant, who was still unpublished at the time – that Gilardi sums up the the international art situation, starting from ’67: “The reference that has guided me in distinguishing all these experiences from others that are similar in mechanism or formal suggestion but in a different sense, is that of overcoming the static nature of the primary datum; all the work, in fact, expresses the idea of free and individualized ‘micro-movement’.”
(excerpt from the catalogue of the exhibition “Identité italienne” at the Centre Gorge Pompidou, Paris)
Around 1985, Gilardi resumed his specifically plastic activities, after an excursion into art therapy in different Italian psychiatric hospitals. He introduced new technologies in his course of the development of a project concerning a large technological sculpture, called Ixian, which was supposed to take on the shape of a giant bionic doll, inside of which visitors would have tried out their own creativity on interactive equipment, bringing their own body and senses into play. Proving to be too expensive, this project was never carried out but Gilardi continued his work in this same direction, namely with an installation entitled Inverosimile (Implausible), where the viewers move among three rows of artificial vines that react to their movements. Like other artists of this bent who are interested in techno-ecology, such as Jurgen Claus and his Sun Sculptures or Otto Piene and his Sky Art, Piero Gilardi enhances the irreplaceable qualities of our environment by using the forces of nature as his model and the new technologies to highlight the power of artistic expression. Whether it’s a simulation or a re-creation of natural elements or a combination of natural and artificial factors, we are always before an attempted reconciliation between two seemingly contradictory terms: scientific or technological progress on the one hand and on the other, man’s spiritual and biological survival.
Gilardi’s work is directly concerned with two situations that are quite well-defined: Nature, the subject of his work, and Technology, the techniques he uses. After all, Technology has influenced our way of understanding Nature. He has perhaps made Nature even more formidable than it was before. More frightening, not only because – according to McLuhan, – he has resurrected Pan alienating us from a comfortable and mechanistic understanding of the environment in which we live (Darwin, after all, made it so that monkeys almost appeared to be our friends) but also because we have simply removed ourselves from nature and are concentrated in cities, limiting our relationships with the land to looking out of the car windows or ascending a mountain in a ski lift
(Excerpt from the article “Arcadia Tecnologica”, Art & Artist, January 1968, London)
Whether it be a matter of nature-nature or nature-man, for Gilardi everything passes through the reflection upon the meaning of death that pervades the present, and he seems to indicate that it is the task of art to retrace all the moments that have characterized modernity, up to becoming the only instrument capable of still possessing universal communication.
The technology that characterizes his work deals with the death of the subject and the death of nature, well aware that only an external act, the impulse of an electronic circuit, may act as the life expectancy for the entire living system, even if within an obvious artifice. The lymph of nature and the blood of man have been replaced by electronic circuits that can give us a life, an illusion of life, that is more exciting and enticing than daily reality.
The bionic dream cultivated by the artist places him at the center of a universe characterized by widespread creativity and an artistic act that will no longer be the symbolic moment of creation by an individual, but which will be played out in the interrelationship between all the interrelating individuals leading art to present itself as a global communication, a language capable of giving people the chance to have a say and in which the value of technology will play a key role. In these works, the technological element is not experienced as an alienating factor, able to prevail upon the subject only by overriding it, but as a means people can use to help in increasingly expand their possibilities of language and communication. A bit that is equivalent to a breath of life.
(Excerpt from a review published in the magazine “Flash Art” in May, 1989)