Speaking of...


Photo by Cesare Chimenti. Courtesy Archivio Grazia Varisco.

Artista!? Dicono… e io me la godo! Perché la parola “artista” non mi chiude in un’attività definita e limitata, mi concede uno spazio più ampio e libero e… anche perché vale ugualmente al maschile e al femminile… non è poco ancora oggi.

Grazia Varisco, Courtesy of Archivio Grazia Varisco

Born in Milan in 1937, Grazia Varisco has been a key representative of programmed and kinetic art throughout her artistic career. Together with Giovanni Anceschi, Gianni Colombo, Davide Boriani and Gabriele De Vecchi, she was a member of the Italian Gruppo T (T Group, where “T” refers to the concept of time as a new content of art).

Founded in 1959 in Milan, Gruppo T was one of the most important collectives of kinetic art in Europe, introducing innovative forms of art through the creation of perceptual experiments and interactive environments designed to encourage and generate different and unexpected reactions in the viewer.

Varisco was one of the earliest artists who explored concepts such as motion and changes in time, while seeking a direct interaction with her audience. Through the use of simple geometric signs, her artworks inhabit the space around them, creating different spatial dimensions that challenge the viewer’s perception and disorientate the senses.

For Grazia Varisco, the function of art responds to its own process of cognitive activation, and has a meaning independent of all restrictions except those established to elicit the synesthetic complicity of the viewer, an exchange of impulses that imply new probings of space and expectations of the unknown.
In every stage of her career, Varisco explores the dynamic essence of the image, employing different tools to reshape the sensibility she has acquired, instruments that never exclude the elements of doubt and unease, amplifying our perception of what usually happens yet goes unobserved.

Currently on schedule, Palazzo Reale Milano this July will host an anthological exhibition, Grazia Varisco. IL CASO. Tra le pieghe della mente dedicated to the artist. The show will retrace 60 years of research and project on aspects of multi-sensorial perception translated into active aesthetic experiences.

Cortesi Gallery London
Installation view ''Grazia Varisco if..." 2015
Cortesi Gallery Milano
Installation view ''Grazia Varisco ne ho solo 80..." 2017. Photo by Cesare Chimenti
Cortesi Gallery Lugano
Installation view ''Grazia Varisco Filo Rosso" 2015. Photo by Bruno Bani
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Selection of works

Reticolo frangibile rosso/nero, 1968-69
white cardboard, Q 130 industrial glass, wood
37 x 72 cm

The titles (‘Mercurials’, ‘Breakable Grids’) point to the hallmark, the specific trait of these works— something that is ‘happening’. Temporary, shifting, and allusive, the pattern eludes visual control, breaks up, disappears, and reforms in an unpredictable way; other signs emerge. Two or more complementary or primary colours are alternated, functioning as opposites. The pattern of the glass interferes with the signs, expanding them, diminishing them, obscuring them.I would like these signs to be alive, darting around like the goldfish in the glass bowl in that painting by Matisse.

​The optical/kinetic movement grows strong in the Reticoli frangibili and “Mercuriali” (1965-1971), visually magical experiments in which the temporary perceptual event flows up out of the broken structures, with the surprise of something happening under one’s very eyes.

​A definite shift occurs here with respect to the scientific implications. Our eyes trace the indefinite space, slip between the grids of time, develop variations that run the gamut from the degree zero of “all black” to the sensory interference of color.

Spazio Potenziale, 1975
wood, nails, iron painted frames variable dimensions
52 x 37 cm

This was a work/game in which an anomalous portion of the perimeter of the plane, hinged and raised up from the plane itself and by interacting with the shadow projected on it, produces shifted, unpredictable planes, ambiguous spaces, ‘potential spaces’. I vaguely recall that Donald Winnicott used the definition of ‘potential space’ as a theme for recovery in analysis. Something that has to do with the idea of recovering expressive language (not just speech) by using play as a therapeutic tool—recognizing play as having a sort of maieutic property. I like this association and connection between my potential space and the playing that takes place in art.

​The anomalies of the superimposed, shifting planes are highlighted by the Spazi potenziali (1973-75), constructed through gaps and deviations linked to the dynamic power of the intuitive energies that leak out and interfere with the geometric layout of the underlying frameworks. The flights past the established boundary are lateral and transversal, an asymmetrical desire to link together solid and hollow structures, real and virtual perimeters, scales that rove through the oblique ambivalence of possibility. The regular layout of the nails on the wooden boards invites us to imagine many different structural hypotheses, as a playful manifesta-tion of the thought process involved in design.

Extrapagina, 1977-2011
paint on aluminium
26 x 37 cm

Pages chosen by a ‘what if’. Yellow pages. Front and back. Margining. Opening. Grid. Layouts. Printing/binding: a world, a microcosm that programs precision. The product, the ‘printed in’, all perfect, all fixed, all the same, all standard, all right angles. Actually, for me, it is a world full of stimuli, above all due to the part it ignores, it hides, it rejects, it discards. For me it is yet another pretext to look at the interference between chance and program; even the portion of unforeseen chance that has no name since the operation in question is automatically ruled out. In 1974, when I began investigating these things, I asked printing experts what the technical name was for this occurrence, this accident. Answer: ‘Nothing. It has no name, it’s not supposed to happen!’‘ And what if it does happen? ’My attention, now hijacked, focuses on this IF that does indeed exist, that diverts and shifts my exploration toward dealing with opposites—a constant trend in my work. An IF that is difficult to plot and develop because it is based on timeframes and spaces and scales that are contrasting, out of sync, but inseparable. Before/after. Outside/inside. Over/under. Everything ‘topsy—turvy’… A game of chance. And I am chance’s accomplice in the game. A work based on gambling and chance, cards and discards, set in motion by nothing, by something that ‘it’s not supposed to happen”, but which is sometimes found in the pages of books, like a margin, a leap, a sudden deviation from the norm.

​An inclination to modify the fixed, frontal nature of the surface can be seen in the Extrapagine (1974-1982): jutting folds, calculated deviations from the rules of form, violations of the geometric grid, divergences and aberrations of chance, shapes that respond to unexpected events in the outside world. The lopsidedness of the folds indicates a new openness not just to the anomalous implications of the visual surface, but above all, to the different exercises of interpretation demanded by the major imbalances of the image.
Varisco subverts the frontal nature of the “pages”, accentuates the rhythm of the structural divergences, destabilizes the proportions of the surfaces, both on the small scale of the paper and in the large folds of the metal. The “Extrapagine” seem absorbed in their own ambivalent game, in the structural and chromatic qualities of outwardness, in the allure of pliant twists that hint at the pos-sibile expansion of the sculpture/environment

Quadri comunicanti, 2008
5 elements, iron frames, aluminum
64 x 49 x 3 cm (each) ​

Once again, the whichever… like a guiding thread that runs through experiences and surprisingly acknowledges and underscores the meaningfulness of forms of doubt.The whichever in the arrangement of a repeated form that contains whichever amount of empty space or whichever amount of full space. All these which evers suggest something provisional, precarious — a state of uncertain balance that is fixed yet not at peace, even in a rigid, peremptory right-angle alignment. In a way that is once again contradictory, we find a perceptual divertissement that juxtaposes, in doubt and in play, coincidence and law. A decantation of liquid that flows out and discovers, in solidified form, a content that is content… almost fulfilled.

​The series of Quadri comunicanti develops on the idea of “rectilinear alignment” within the metal frames, a suspended evocation of the symbolic space of painting, without ever becoming the thing itself. The varying inclination of shapes that are always the same and always the different is calculated according to their respective perceptual weight, a systematic perception of unstable equilibriums. The communicating frames are conceived in the key of “qualunque” (whichever), the term Varisco uses to indicate the active foundations of chance, the provisional nature of balance, a situation of fluid uncertainty not guaranteed by the rectilinear arrangement of the tilted structures.

These works, with their basic lack of balance, have nothing illusory or deceptive about them, but rather in-vite reflection on the intuitive mechanisms of perception, beyond any usual gestalt law. Moreover, it is impossible to completely fathom Varisco’s art without sensing that the spatial inventions are experienced as exceptions to the rule, leaps into the void, models of chance, emotional enchantments.


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