Alberto Garutti and the Art of Lighting-up Reality
This Italian artist has turned made a poetics of revelations and encounters.
Italy has the fortune of having been sutured on several occasions, here and there, by the poetics of artist Alberto Garutti. In those places where there was previously a rupture, an opportunity for dialog or a need for connection, Garutti produced his invisible thread and transformed a real space into a narrative scene. But to understand his poetics of art, one must read it on various levels at the same time, knowing that each of his works is a circulatory system that pushes the blood from one organ all the way to an encounter, and in the journey goes through birth, dogs, landscape, architecture of homes, birds, neighbors. It goes through all the threads that comprise the fabric of a city, and pulsates stronger in the folds that we, its inhabitants or passersby, barely acknowledge.
On one occasion in the city of Bergamo, Italy, for example, Garutti intervened the electrical mechanisms so that whenever a baby was born, the street lamps in Piazza Dante would pulsate. When this occurred, the lamp would blink with increasing frequency until it returned back to normal in about 30 seconds. Near these street lamps, on the ground, was a stone plaque that said:
THE STREETLIGHTS OF THIS SQUARE
ARE CONNECTED TO THE MATERNITY WARD
OF THE HOSPITAL OF GHENT
EVERY TIME THE LIGHT SLOWLY PULSATES
IT MEANS A CHILD HAS BEEN BORN.
THE WORK IS DEDICATED TO THAT CHILD, AND TO THE CHILDREN BORN TODAY IN THIS CITY.
His piece was called Ai Nati Oggi (To those born today) and operated from 1998 to 2000. It was a live nativity scene with a pictorial quality, on the one hand, and on the other it was an event made-up of revelations, as he calls them. The moment a passerby saw the flickering of a street lamp and then read the plaque, his or her nervous system would branch out through the whole city until reaching that hospital and that new life, and therefore recall his or her own birth. Thus, whenever a baby was born, a light would come on there, in Piazza Dante, and there, in the world of metaphors.
Garutti’s method is subtle. His work also has a minimal environmental impact (such as the soft pulsation of the lights), reuses existing architecture and it is intentionally presented as anonymous––he prefers to be an invisible director of the theater of reality. That’s why the way in which the public discovers that his pieces are there, resignifying reality, is by way of subtitles. Each of his pieces is accompanied by an inscription that appears somewhere in the city and includes a brief explanation and dedication of the piece.
For Temporali (2010) the dedication was published on the front page of a free newspaper and said: “This opera is dedicated to those who passing here will look at the sky.” This beautiful installation was composed of 200 halogen lamps that were lit up whenever a lightning struck in Italy. The spectator’s attention was, therefore, beyond the piece itself––in the very wonder; in imagining, whenever the candelabra shined, a lightning flash illuminating some place on the peninsula. It was an unprecedented homage to this light phenomenon, and, of course, it was a celebration to the relationship that art maintains with nature. This piece was presented in different versions in Rome (2009) and Turin (2010), and soon in Faena Hotel, Miami Beach.
The idea of revelation is focused on the relationship of the piece with these subtitles. The legend announces, explains and adds levels of interpretation and meaning to the work itself: it is the device that “switches on” the work and allows it to take place and propagate. Like when one reads the inscription below a painting or monument and then looks up at the work and sees it differently. The subtitle is, in his words, “a contemporary linguistic experiment” that re-enchants reality.
Alberto Garutti could be an ever so delicate combination between a doctor and an industrial plumber who reconnects vital systems, both human and urban, so that the flow finds other pathways or changes direction. In other words, he found a way to gush within the folds of a city to create fortuitous encounters. “In the end, what is a work if not an encounter?” states the artist.
I believe that for a work to exist as a public artwork, it must establish a dialogue with the social and geographical fabric of the place. Only by setting up a form of encounter – confrontation and seduction – between the work and its context is it possible for the work to take on independence and meaning, becoming an active organism capable of adapting, modifying itself while also altering the social space and the landscape in which it is inserted.
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