Structures for Progress: Pistoletto’s Participatory Art and the Emergence of Cittadellarte
Art at the CenterCittadellarte, Michelangelo Pistoletto’s multidisciplinary base in Biella, Italy, is a retroﬁtted complex of close-knit factory buildings in which an abundance of forward-thinking ideas is centralized around the common nucleus of art. Operating around the notion that "art [is] at the center of a responsible transformation of society,"1 Cittadellarte conceives of art as both a centrifugal and a centripetal force: it is at once a magnet for creative thinking and a propeller of action that reach beyond the forms of art, beyond the walls of Cittadellarte, and to the fabric of society. To this end, Cittadellarte—whose name loosely translates as "city of art" but also implies a citadel or fortress—was formally founded in 1998 and now houses a variety of Uffizi (Offices) dedicated to politics, education, ecology, economics, architecture, and fashion, among other disciplines. Cittadellarte is in many ways the offspring of Pistoletto’s own artistic investigations since the 1960s, but it was also conceived in a larger context of contemporary art, which in the 1990s witnessed the development of progressively inclusive structures that tapped into the power and possibilities of participation and collaboration.
Participation through Reﬂection, 1960sIt is in Pistoletto’s early work in which we ﬁnd a quickly developing interest in the participatory potential of art. As explored in Michelangelo Pistoletto: From One to Many, 1956–1974 (on view in the Dorrance Galleries), Pistoletto sought in this period to create art that was increasingly inclusive of the viewer, moving from paintings on canvas to his Quadri specchianti (mirror paintings) in 1962. This revelatory moment proved transformative: Pistoletto discovered that the mirroring generated by the surface of polished stainless steel was the perfect way to collapse the temporal and spatial distances between his depicted images (made at one point in time) and the reﬂection of their viewers (always in the present). The mirror paintings feature ﬁgures and objects arranged in neutral compositions that were suggestive of everyday narratives without divulging exact circumstance or meaning. The static nature of Pistoletto’s ﬁxed, life-size images, made with painted tissue paper, set up an automatic and instantaneous contrast with the kinetic world of the viewer, who, through reﬂection, becomes part and parcel of the art object. Since the image of the spectator becomes incorporated into the imagery found on the mirror, any passive presence is turned into active involvement in the experience of the work of art. The mirror paintings, therefore, essentially became Pistoletto’s ﬁrst artistic structure for participation.
Art Takes to the Streets, 1960s–1970sPursuing his growing interest in including viewers as well as doing away with the hierarchy between art object and participant, Pistoletto staged his ﬁrst performance, La ﬁne di Pistoletto (The End of Pistoletto) at the Piper nightclub in Turin, Italy, in the spring of 1967. Scultura da passeggio (Walking Sculpture) followed on December 4—the opening day of the exhibition Con-temp-l’azione, which took place in three sites in Turin—as a processional performance in which Pistoletto rolled a newspaper sphere through the streets. In January of 1968, Pistoletto restaged this performance along with his wife, Maria Pioppi; a ﬁlm by Ugo Nespolo, Buongiorno, Michelangelo (Good Morning, Michelangelo), captures footage from both instances of the performance (ﬁg. A). Constructed with a variety of newspapers, the sphere symbolically referenced and reﬂected the changing political and social tides of the city, the country of Italy, and the world at large, operating as a momentary time capsule rolling through the present2. Later that month, Pistoletto opened his studio to artists, ﬁlmmakers, and poets, turning the site for the production of art objects into a forum for dialogue and creative activity. Relating the act of opening his studio to his earlier investigation of participation through his mirror paintings, Pistoletto has commented, "As I had ‘opened’ paintings to the presence and participation of all, why not ‘open’ a physical space instead?" 3 Pistoletto’s Open Studio precipitated the formation of Lo Zoo (The Zoo), a motley street theater troupe composed of people involved in a variety of creative disciplines—art, theater, literature, music—who together staged actions and performances on the streets as well as in theaters, galleries, and other venues throughout Italy. Pistoletto has remarked that "the name ‘the Zoo’ referred to our differences and the various languages of art, just as animals are different from each other. Leaving the studio was like leaving the cage."4 Using the spontaneity and openness of collaboration as a kind of newfound freedom, Lo Zoo staged both premeditated performances and spur-of-the-moment actions. Performances such as L’Uomo ammaestrato (The Trained Man) operated around a speciﬁc narrative—the story of a man learning about the world for the ﬁrst time—while some actions were based on improvisations by the performers and musicians working in collaboration with the troupe. In Teatro baldacchino (Canopy Theater), a tented procession through the streets of Turin was a carnival incarnation of a civic parade (ﬁg. B).
Fig. D Gennero and Theatrical Outfit, “Double Mannequins” performance
Fig. E Enrico Rava (right) and students from Atlanta University in an outdoor jazz performance © 1979 Cary Cleaver
Fig. F Pistoletto, Maynard Jackson (Atlanta mayor, 1974-82 and 1990-94), and Shirley Franklin (Atlanta mayor, 2002-10) © 1979 Cary Cleaver
City as Studio, Late 1970s–Early 1980sBetween the moment of Lo Zoo (whose ﬁnal performance was in October of 1970) and today, Pistoletto has continually created art and staged exhibitions that possess social structures with profound participatory and audience-driven components. This approach—which is quintessentially against the notion that art is made and experienced in a vacuum—focuses on the process of creation and the potential for dialogue with the viewer based on the creative act. From the late 1970s into the ﬁrst years of the 1980s, Pistoletto’s art was presented in the United States in a series of exhibitions,7 including Creative Collaboration, which was organized in concert with the City of Atlanta and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. In many ways, the Atlanta project epitomized Pistoletto’s commitment to proving the fruits of collaboration for society at large. Through the project, which was directly supported and facilitated by Atlanta’s Bureau of Cultural Affairs, Pistoletto became an artist-in-residence not just of one institution but of Atlanta itself, so that the "the entire city [became] his studio."8 Pistoletto invited three principal collaborators to join in his efforts: theater director Lionello Gennero (who had participated in Lo Zoo), jazz musician Enrico Rava, and avant-garde composer Morton Feldman (ﬁg. C). Their projects took many forms. Pistoletto created works with local artists in public places, such as Peachtree Plaza; Gennero led the staging of mannequins in the street as a work of public theater (ﬁg. D); Rava worked with university jazz groups and held collaborative concerts (ﬁg. E); and Feldman wrote avant-garde music to which children performed at a local nursing home. Maria Pioppi was also an integral presence, leading workshops and participating in the realization of collaborations overall. The Honorable Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s ﬁrst African American mayor, recognized the civic value of Pistoletto’s collaborative attitude in his catalogue statement, noting that Pistoletto "demonstrated that he is as concerned as we are to breaking down the social, cultural, and generational barriers, which too often isolate the main products of cultural life in a city from the vast majority of the people"9 (ﬁg. F).
Art as Invitation: Pistoletto in Vienna and Relational Art of the 1990sTwelve years after Creative Collaboration, Pistoletto took a teaching job at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where he worked with students from 1992 to 2000. Imagining the dynamic between a teacher and a group of students as analogous to the relationship between a performer and an audience, Pistoletto immediately began thinking of ways to invert this hierarchy. Pistoletto’s solution to this problem was to live, work, and teach within the same space. By centralizing the activities of art, communication, and the fabric of daily life—from nourishment to clothing—Pistoletto’s experience in Vienna not only anticipated but underlined the development of the groundwork for Cittadellarte, a place where society, economy, politics, production, and consumer awareness would later come together. Pistoletto’s master class in sculpture in Vienna was marked by a participatory structure centered on a Begehungen, a committee-style meeting in which open dialogue fueled critiques and topical discussions among students (ﬁg. G). In addition to encouraging open communication, Pistoletto collaborated with students on a number of exhibitions and invited artists to run workshops on sculpture, performance, and exchange within the building near the Vienna Prater, Böcklinstrasse-Kurzbauergasse. Visiting artists eschewed the academic lecture format and opted to engage the minds, hands, and bodies of students as directly as possible through workshops in which objects were fabricated or actions were performed. Franz West, for example, led a sculpture workshop in 1994 (ﬁg. H), while Guillermo Horta encouraged students to put their bodies in motion during his visit in 1995 (ﬁg. I).
From Progetto Arte to Cittadellarte
In the midst of his experiences in Vienna, Pistoletto wrote a statement in 1994 titled "Progetto Arte" (Project Art) that called for action within a rapidly changing contemporary culture, stating, "the time has come for artists to take on the responsibility of establishing ties among all other human activities, from economics to politics, science to religion, education to behavior—in a word, among the threads that make up the fabric of society."13
Cittadellarte Today: Sustaining Collaborative ProductionThe roadmap from Pistoletto’s participatory practices of the 1960s through collaborations of the 1970s and relational art of the 1990s leads until today as Cittadellarte continues to operate in Biella. Working to identify and create structures that apply (not just imply) progressive thought and real-world action, Cittadellarte engages a new kind of community that transcends the interstice of relational aesthetics proposed by Bourriaud nor readily adheres to the model of antagonism suggested by Bishop. As we enter into the second decade of the twenty-ﬁrst century, the limitations of such an ephemeral and nonpolitically engaged model have been cited by art historians, curators, and thinkers who have continued to offer additional deﬁnitions for participatory practices as they are increasingly designed to become more involved than a situational reﬂection of social bonds. One such proposal is "experimental communities," as put forth by Carlos Basualdo and Reinaldo Laddaga,14 which operate around collaboration and an interdisciplinary structure for art-based projects that, in their complexity, reach beyond themselves through either a lasting temporal or identiﬁably material impact. Cittadellarte achieves an impact that revolves around the demands of our contemporary moment. The projects of its sundry but purposeful Uffizi engage the public and partner to take on issues of sustainable development, "green" architecture, responsible production of goods, consumer awareness, and the global economy through initiatives and conferences that use dialogue and exchange to arrive at proactive structures in which concerns for social and artistic progress coalesce. However, Cittadellarte’s status as a pioneering experiment in regard to relational art practices is embodied not exclusively in its individual projects, but also in the maintenance of its totality as a functional community based on perhaps a new model—that of sustained collaborative production. In this way, Cittadellarte both reﬂects upon Pistoletto’s participatory sensibilities that ignited a passion for including the spectator in the 1960s and evolves in the continually changing context of the arts and the world at large.
1. This phrase has become the working motto for Cittadellarte, and Arte al centro (Art at the Center) is now the name of an annual conference hosted by Cittadellarte on different topics. 2. Scultura da passeggio (Walking Sculpture) originally took place on December 4, 1967, and will be restaged in Philadelphia on Saturday, October 30, 2010. 3. Michelangelo Pistoletto, interview with Mirella Bandini, in NAC, Bari, November 1973. 4. Pistoletto, quoted in Andrea Bellini, Facing Pistoletto (Zurich: JRP|Ringier, 2009), p. 53. 5. Kaprow’s deﬁnition of a Happening ﬁrst appeared in his Great Bear Pamphlet Some Recent Happenings (New York: Something Else Press, Inc, 1966), p. 3. 6. See www.livingtheatre.org/history.html. 7. Additionally, Mirror-Works was exhibited at the Institute for the Arts, Rice University in Houston, and Furniture Environments was featured at the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia in Athens. 8. Gail Centini. "Michelangelo Pistoletto in Atlanta." January 25, 1979. City of Atlanta Bureau of Cultural and International Affairs. (Press Release). 9. The Honorable Maynard Jackson, "Creative Collaboration with the City of Atlanta," in Michelangelo Pistoletto (The Meriden Gravure Company: Meriden, CT, 1983), p. 21. 10. Pistoletto in Dave Hickey, "A Voice in the Mirror: Critical Reﬂections in the I/Eye of the Artist," Michelangelo Pistoletto (The Meriden Gravure Company: Meriden, CT, 1983), p. 9. 11. Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics (Les Presse Du Reel, Franc: Dijon, France, 1998), p. 18. 12. See Claire Bishop, "Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics," October, Vol. 110 (Autumn, 2004), pp. 51–79, and "The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents," Artforum, February 2006, pp. 179–185. 13. Michelangelo Pistoletto, "Incontro-manifesto. Progetto Arte," artist’s statement published in the invitation card to the meeting at the Communal Palace of Pistoia for October 22, 1994. The full "Progetto Arte" text was later published in German in the Austrian newspaper Der Standard (May 30, 1995) and then in the catalogue for Le porte di Palazzo Fabroni, an exhibition in Pistoia, on November 18, 1995. 14. Carlos Basualdo and Reinaldo Laddaga, "Experimental Communities," in Communities of Sense (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2009), pp. 199–214.