“Antonella Zazzera. In dialogue with the history of art” by Federico Sardella, 2009

The artist looks ahead. He is naturally projected beyond and the results of his efforts are often out of his time. He is in anticipation in respect to the times: avant-garde. This anticipation, the consciously keeping ahead of the rest of the troop, is none other than the fruit of knowing how to look even at past, reaching the origins, knowing that it has its shoulders covered and a memory to ride.

“Art is the search for harmonic values of space, trace and light and all that derives from their combination. Art history studies these combinations in different eras and draws accurate conclusions in relation to the contemporaneity of individual artists. Zazzera’s arrangement displays itself in the search for these three fundamental elements, favoring light and trace, and assuming the value of space from experiences close to her contemporaneous nature as an artist. To better understand Zazzera’s sculpture, we must discuss something else. It is necessary to turn back, far away, very far away…”[1]

The far away referred to above is the most remote which we can imagine: far before history (or the very beginnings of most of the manuals of art history), where Antonella Zazzera’s work consciously touches the roots of art, by referring to the first traces which man instinctively left on the walls of caves. In the paintings in the Altamira caves, for example, the technique used is surprisingly complex and varied, with wide and shaded brushstrokes, thin and rapid scratches and signs which immediately make clear the sense of movement. Antonella’s fascination with this primordial form of expression and art dates back to her years at the Academy. In 1997, in one of her first expositive occasions, in Gàlgata, in the province of Perugia, it was not by chance that she chose to intervene the perimeter walls of a building of which only some parts remain, working in the space between a stone and another. Antonella saturated these fissures with materials such as coal, stucco and plaster and obtained areas on which to intervene by practicing scratches and grooves that she later recognized in the works of Alberto Giacometti, Emilio Scanavino or Hans Hartung. From the early days, Antonella displayed a particular attention to elements that have characterized her path until now and have distinguished her work. Everything is owed to the Segnotraccia, a term chosen by Antonella to define the maximum expression of the individual artist and the ideal place where the fusion of artist’s being takes place with the artistic matter.

Before Antonella’s interest in the rock reliefs, there was her interest for the painting of Caravaggio. “I reproduced his paintings in pencil. I was always fascinated by the contrast between darkness and light in his paintings, his ability to exploit light and use it to determine the fundamental event inside the work … “[2] Antonella recounted in a recent interview. With Caravaggio, light becomes the undisputed protagonist, as well as the absence of light. Thanks to Caravaggio, light can be caught in the form of a luminous instant, an instant that, once passed, determines a change. This change, the moment of variation, will then be the factor around which much of the painting of the following centuries is concentrated, arriving at Impressionism, Pointillism, Divisionism, and then Futurism until today (to briefly summarize).

In the continuous dialogue with the history of art that Antonella Zazzera’s movement evokes, some works have particularly determined its progress. This is the case in Gaetano Previati’s “Maternity” (1890-91) where the forms dissolve in the filamented sign: the mother embraces her child, surrounded by a choir of praying angels painted with long and regular strokes of oil color which give the picture brightness, softness and depth. We will find these features looking at the surfaces of Zazzera’s “Armonici” . Their textures, obtained by the overlap of copper wires of different colors and thickness, are indeed indebted to Giacomo Balla’s “Arc Lamp” (1909). If in Previati’s picture the fixed light is natural, Balla’s famous work reveals an artificial light (as opposed to that of the sun or moon) made by the arrangement of signs/fragments of pure colors as generated by an incandescent core. In subsequent studies of Balla’s light, especially in the “Iridescent Interpenetrations” (1912-14), the colored triangles that occupy the surface are abstract compositions and simultaneously visual textures whose body is, like those of the “Armonici”, made from lines, colors and light, rich in energy and tension, almost in motion.

“I learned from Giacomo Balla that images do not exist without taking into account the light that penetrates them and makes them palpitate along with everything that surrounds them. Light and movement are the essence of reality, all the rest is illusion, appearance … “[3] wrote Piero Dorazio. In his early twenties, Dorazio had the fortune to meet the Master and frequent his house. In Dorazio’s paintings, we perceive the incurable desire to control light and colors through the structure, obtained with an impeccable technique and thanks to the sedimentation of color. Antonella’s “Armonici” are complex structures, also impeccable, where hundreds, perhaps thousands, of meters of copper wire find exact arrangement and form a body whose thickness is not given by intertwining, seams or welds but rather by a slow, mysterious and coherent accumulation of material that is combined in a ritual process of overlapping, thickening and sedimentation in space and time. It is not very far, after all, from that dictated by the use of oil color.

Medardo Rosso asserts that “light is the true essence of our existence, a work of art that has nothing to do with light has no reason to exist. Without light, the work is devoid of unity and spaciousness. It is reduced to being insignificant, of no value, mistakenly conceived, necessarily based on matter.”[4] Matter is therefore an instrument, a conductor (in the case of our artist more than ever), a substance to be molded and softened until exhaustion, at the service of idea and action. Copper is naturally affected by that phenomenon called color-change, so that some minerals vary in color as the light changes. Thanks to the use of this, in the works of Antonella, the light seems to come from within to generate inexplicable flashes and then radiate and run away as it was sliding loosely on a wax surface.

The copper works by Antonella Zazzera are forms of light made up of infinite luminous moments that do not repeat. They are born from the need to give three-dimensionality and body to the Segnotraccia present in Antonella’s photographs: pure and spontaneous forms of imperceptible colors, which are captured and only partially revealed through the sensitivity of the photographic film. And here we return again to the idea of a luminous moment, of revelation and of a single instant, fixed in the photographs but in the making in the sculptures. The “Armonici” vary continually or offer uninterrupted visions of themselves, proposing themselves also as ductile images of time, the individual time of the artist as well as that of the work, of its fulfillment and its existence.

“The work of art is the artist” is the conclusive comment of many of Antonella’s poetic compositions or theoretical writings. And, as if that were not enough, to better clarify her thought, Antonella confirms, “What is done is what which is. The act of creation of the artist is the existence”.[5] Again, she reiterates: “The Being and the harmonic research on matter are one single thing, which is realized through Uniqueness and Lyricism”.[6] Too much romance for today? Too much poetry in a historical moment such as ours, where the artist’s separation from the work has reached its maximum levels? Perhaps we should reconsider the concept of art (and work of art) and relate to these things as something different from what we are used to seeing. The actions that Zazzera makes to build her sculptures of light are somewhat arcane. The position that Zazzera assumes is that of a philosophic worker, almost a craftsman, who shapes matter, transforms it (even if he has not created it), gives it order and vivifies it with his own will, and inventing, as only very few others of the last generations have known how to do, a new language: a style.

Among the artists that we particularly love, who has been able to do the same? Who can create a style, a real method? The answer is clear. Since 1959, everyone’s eyes have been fixed on Enrico Castellani. In Castellani’s monochrome relief surfaces, space is conjugated with time. The structural rigor is broken by the light that grazes protrusions and hollows them, producing an uninterrupted sensual reverberation. However, it is not just this governing and playing with light that brings to mind the juxtaposition with Zazzera. Castellani and Zazzera are even more closely bound an intimate conception: the idea of working on a work as an experience rather than a definitive solution. “Because the work of art is not confined in a closed circulatory but lives in open situations. It is a vector, suitable for any place and is always contemporary”.[7]

From these lines of Castellani’s text which open the present catalogue, I inevitably pass to the question of the relationship between space and Antonella’s works. In the “Armonici”, there is no background and there is no figure. There is only a block from the apparent fiery monochrome, agitated by a series of breakaway colored lines that ease into one another, determining a system of directions, lights in movement and spaces. They are realized in a specific relationship with the place that will contain them. The “Armonici” can be placed on the ground or a wall, if inside, or, if placed en plein air, they can be arranged in a hug with a tree (or another natural element such as a thread of grass…) or left floating on a body of water competing with this for the primacy of refraction.

Just as Robert Morris’ felts, but without the same fascinating listlessness, Antonella Zazzera’s sculptures, taut, and, at times, splendidly erect, interact harmoniously with their container. This is due above all to the simplicity of their forms. They are presences that characterize and structure the space without modifying it; presences that are relaxed with discretion. Even if they resoundingly affirm their living presence, they are almost an apparition. The artist Nicola Carrino, whose results are very different from Zazzera’s, and who, like Morris, is inscribed in the field of absolute Minimalism, noted that the space for which a sculpture is designed is: ”an indeterminate place that becomes an ordered and decisive field, a place of happening and progress. The measure of space determines the number of plastic elements possible to qualify it and give it dynamic. From detection to revelation”.[8] Certain shapes of Zazzera reveal the same lightness as Carlo Lorenzetti’s work, as well as the artist herself demonstrating the same ability to treat metal as if it were light as a feather. Similar to Carrino’s thoughts, Lorenzetti himself explained that

“sculpture, which is not passively placed in the space of things, aspires to create a spatiality, as a place of its being. It is an open image that welcomes the light and atmosphere in the dynamic continuity of recesses and projections that activate its own stillness.”[9]

And, once again, I borrow the words from another artist to describe Antonella Zazzera’s creeds. In a book titled “Quello che ho imparato” (“That Which I Learned”), Piero Dorazio reminds us that “Artists learn from other artists, there is not so much to study. It is enough to just spend time with other artists and keep your eyes and ears alert”.[10]

[1]Mauro Salvi, Arte e ricerca, 2001, unedited.

[2]Federico Sardella, Armoniche tensioni. Intervista con Antonella Zazzera, exhibition catalogue, Extra Moenia, Todi (PG), 2008.

[3]Piero Dorazio, Quello che ho imparato, Maurizio Corraini Editore, Mantua, 1994.

[4]Medardo Rosso, L’Impressionismo in scultura, una spiegazione, in “The Daily Mail”, London (GB), October 17, 1907.

[5]Antonella Zazzera, Stile, 2000, unedited.

[6]Antonella Zazzera, Ho sempre vissuto l’Arte nella sua purezza…, 2005-06, unedited.

[7]Enrico Castellani, per Antonella Zazzera, exhibition catalogue, Antonella Cattani Contemporary Art, Bolzano, 2009.

[8]Nicola Carrino, Prima e dopo il progetto. Il tempo dell’essere, exhibition catalogue, Framart Studio, Naples and Milan, 1993.

[9]Carlo Lorenzetti, in “Quaderni di scultura contemporanea”, n. 3, Edizioni della Cometa, Rome 2000.

[10]Piero Dorazio, op. cit.