Grazia Varisco has always reacted attentively and observantly to artistic stimulation, not limiting herself to the surface of things, but penetrating inner articulations and, in images of alternative mechanisms, exploring the potential for further development. Maurice Blanchot wrote in his extraordinary deft, poetic style that “the attention focuses on gathering that which escapes the attention… waiting for the unexpected.” It is precisely this, the unexpected, that attracts and stimulates Varisco, making it a challenge to resist considering even the most apparently stable and formalized situations definitive. A combination of analytical, intuitive and intentionally accidental components contributes to this stance on the creative animation of things. The image, the object and the observed phenomenon become an opportunity for an ideas-based process that revolves, with a series of variants, around the artistic stimuli, making them the threshold into a completely different dimension. Over the course of the years this constructive perception has increasingly become a way of being, a way of relating to the surrounding environment.
Enrolling at the Brera Academy in the late 1950s marked the beginning of a vicissitude for Varisco that went much further than higher education.
Under Funi’s tuition she met the companions who would join her to become champions of a new art, idealistically devoted to a form of communication that would one day be diversely known as alternative, programmata, kinetic and visual. Boriani and Colombo were also Funi’s students, and Anceschi and De Vecchi frequented the classroom, even though they were not enrolled.
Varisco has a positive memory of these academic years, not just because she met the future members of a group with which she entered the history of art, but also because of Funi’s instruction, in particular his emphasis on the continuity of method, and belief in research founded on constancy and tenacity.
Varisco’s first significant works were produced in 1958, often at the Academy outside class time. These clearly resist the contemporary bias towards the informale, a Pandora’s box from which numerous differently orientated experiences have been unleashed. Varisco’s intention was to reproduce, the mixture of materials that covers our cities – the walls, the surface of the road, etc. – within dimensions defined by a crude canvass of jute.
Yet in doing so, Varisco also wanted to control these sedimentary combinations and accidental, but nonetheless real, events. She therefore experimented with new materials without paying too much attention to a full knowledge of the object being referred to – random composition. The application of layers of sand, chalk, bitumen and mixed materials to jute or other supporting structures, such as Masonite or corrugate cardboard, expressed a desire to reclaim and isolate part of those walls and roads, with their temporary nature of scraped, corroded images. In this reconstruction of a complexity of shape that can be defined as shapeless, the areas and signals that distinguish the work regulate the extent of its extreme ephemerality and mutability – this is because of the nature of the materials used and the phenomena they aim to reproduce. This bias towards the investigations and assessment of the events, present in a context removed from the informale, in an early indication of a line of research that would be pursued more fully successive works. The works that followed at the end of 1959, mark the beginning of an intensely experimental line of research into the dynamic relationship between space and time, perceptive stimulation, and the programming of outlines or sequences into the work.
It was also at the end of 1959 that Varisco worked on a theoretical and operational plan that Anceschi, Boriani, Colombo and De Vecchi were engaged in. The plan led to the formation of Group T in January 1960 and to a series of progressive exhibitions entitled Miriorama. The first six exhibitions, which can be considered to have established the group, were all held at the Galleria Pater in Milan over a month and a half, allowing the work of each group member to be introduced. Varisco exhibited in the sixth and conclusive exhibition in this cycle.
The group kept the name Miriorama and the related numbering of its exhibitions until the twelfth exhibition at Galleria del Cavallino in April 1962. Subsequent exhibitions referred to Group T, or were exhibitions of the work of individual artists.
In the exhibition Miriorama 6, Varissco introduced two Tavole magnetiche. These works, which are the result of research begun in 1959, are made up of magnetic elements attached to a metallic slab. Executed in several versions, with varying shapes, colours and a quantities of magnetic elements, the fundamental concept of the Tavole consists of the involvement of the onlooker, and of the compositional and variable freedom of the image. Although these principles were among the first to be proposed by Group T, Varisco has indicated that the Tavole magnetiche have their origins in childhood and childhood games.
One of these was a ‘magnetic landscape’ which was revisited by a memory rendered sensitive to certain problems, individualizing and emphasizing the meaning implicit in the game and its didactic function.
Variability of shape and the stimulation of the spectator’s interest coexist in the context of an aesthetic situation that contains a highly enjoyable element. The concept of games often emerges in Varisco’s work, not so much as simple pleasure, but as a free activity that is creative, has a lightness of touch and is a means of getting to know the wider margins of chance. And a chance observation is at the origin of one of the other developments of the Tavole magnetiche. In Trasparente (struttura lineare variabile) in 1960, the thin magnetic poles can be moved and positioned, manipulating the two faces of a net-like metallic surface. The net has a natural transparency, so the two configurations are visible at the same time. The strengthening of the structural element in this work, compared to that of the previous year, lends a transparency to the surface, adding an element of lightness, which plays a determining role in visual as well as in conceptual stimulation.
Grazia Varisco remembers that she sold her first work, Sferisterio semidoppio, during this period. She also remembers being bolstered by the importance of the purchaser – it was in fact Lucio Fontana who signed a cheque for 20,000 lira. It was a gesture of attention and esteem that Fontana reserved for young artists with whom he had an affinity, or in whose work he found a quality that he wanted to emphasise. Varisco used these earnings to buy the technology need for subsequent works. In 1961 research began into the Schemi luminosi variabili, which required small motors to produce real movement. The Schemi luminosi variabili take us to the heart of the concept of ‘programming’, which distinguishes the work of Group T, and this line of research, to such an extent that Munari came up with the definition arte programmata. This definition was used for the first time on the important occasion of an exhibition in 1962 to which Olivetti was attached – an event that has now acquired almost historical significance. Arte programmata is certainly the most suitable definition for this tendency. Indeed, ‘programming’ in the factor that sets apart the original contribution of this tendency, and its historical timeliness. The label ‘kinetic art’ is higly limiting, partly because it was not obligatorily for all the works to imply movement, and partly because of previous kinetic artists whose work dates back to the avant-garde. The definition ‘Gestaltic art’, which is often used by Argan, excessively links this research to the psychology of Gestalt, whom Argan considers a fount of knowledge.
Although a stimulating reference, Gestalt was not so incisive for everyone. It is only in the work of a certain number of artists that a significant emphasis is placed on the psychology of shape.
It is essential to understand the sometimes equivocal point that arte programmata did not aim to present works where every probability had been calculated, everything controlled. On the contrary, in addition to the refusal of everything that refers to the gestural and dramatic existentialism of the predominant informale, arte programmata had literally set in motion a process regulated in its basic elements, but variable in its possibilities.
The variability and mutability of the perceived image was one of the main understandings of arte programmata. Variability was connected to time, which was an equally determining factor and, probably, the reason why the Milanese group had chosen the letter T as its acronym.
The significance of Varisco’s Schemi luminosi variabili also lies in the frequency with which they are cited in texts dealing with arte programmata and kinetic art. This wealth of references, which seem to disregard the artist’s later works, is a result of issues raised by arte programmata. In addition to the aspect of ‘programming’ and its explicit and implicit consequences, the Schemi luminosi variabili relateto other issues debated at the time: the relationship between culture and industry, art and science, and art and technology. The first Spazi in variazione (1961) are made up of a container illuminated with a fixed light, often blue, where vertical blades rotate ate different speeds, generating continuous changes in the relationship between light and shadows. The variability of the image and its perceptive instability are further emphasized by a screen of ridged glass that, with a characteristic distorted effect, filters our perception of the images.
In Spazi in variazione and the successive Schemi luminosi variabili, for example R.Q. 44, R.R. 66 and the often reproduced R.VOD – all 1962 – the variations of the image remains the visually constant aspect. The many themes that make up this artistic tendency – some of which I have already referred to – can be found concentrated and closely connected in this mutability. The continuos transformation of spatial relationship that takes place in Schemi luminosi has its effective duration and is therefore part of the temporal dimension.
The mechanical programming of the rotation and superimposition of the small net-like elements was studied in order to “expand the spectrum of variation and the cycle of repetition of the image”.
This led to the occurrence of chance effects, effectively creating autonomous spaces. There is also an element of absolute unpredictability, especially if the different reactions of the spectator are considered.
In this type of work the perceptive reply assumes a role of particular importance. I have already mentioned how Argan emphasized the aspect of Gestalt, which certainly became pertinent later on in the research – the interpretation of mental processes of the organization of shape. The phenomena were, among other things, always transitory, susceptible to modification and tied to their evolution over time. The open nature of these works is particularly obvious to Varisco, who has constantly thought of her work and of ideas behind her work as on ongoing experience.
The kinetic aspect of these objects places them in relation to a model that is not so much spatial as temporal. The image and its palpable structure of shape have a dominant relationship with time rather than with the material. Time insinuates itself into the material, continuously modifying its characteristics, breathing life into a shape in ongoing formation. It should be added that the materials and technological components employed in the works predisposes them to reproduction in a series, and consequently to the possibility of a relationship with industry. In fact, ‘duplicable works’ is one of numerous definitions used at the time to refer to these kinetic objects.
Despite to exhibition organized by Munari for Olivetti, there was only occasional and sporadic contact with the world of industry. This was effectively a research-based relationship, aimed at production that contained the inspirational principles of arte programmata. Many artists worked with industry as designers, graphic artists and so on, and this can be explained by the experience of practical planning that is closely tied to the definition of their objects and the ideas they generated. It is relevant to note that a few months after leaving the Academy, Varisco began work as a graphic designer for the department store, Rinascente, where she met graphic artists and designers such as Munari, Lupi, Orefice, Bellini, Sapper and Noord who were, or were soon to become, highly respected. The office was run by Augusto Morello. This atmosphere not only broadened the artist’s horizons, but allowed her to acquire new skills relating to her studies at Brera. In particular, she was confronted with two problems rarely present in an academic context, visual communication and need for a concrete solution. This experience continued for several years, and in 1962-63 Varisco collaborated in the graphic design of the Piano Intercomunale Milanese, which was entrusted to a group of city planners and architects coordinated by Bernardo Secchi.
After the initial sequence of Miriorama exhibitions, Varisco and other members of the Group T continued to exhibit, often abroad. There were exhibitions in Berlin, Antwerp, London, Paris, New york, Amsterdam, Dusseldorf and Zagreb – a city which hosted several debates and exhibitions fundamental to arte programmata and kinetic art. The first exhibition, went under the name of New Tendency, which was proposed by Almir Mavigner. The exhibition was organized by Matko Maestrovic for the Gallery of Modern Art in Zagreb under the direction of Bozo Bek. The definition was used again in subsequent exhibitions held Zagreb, and in Venice and Paris.
Groups and individual artists considered themselves part of a wide and articulate movement. Affinity between the works, even those that were not always effective, was exchanged in an illusorily manner for a unity of intent and behaviour out of which contradictions emerged later on. Varisco partecipated in the second and the third New Tendency exhibitions in Zagreb in 1963 and 1965, the latter organized by Enzo Mari. She was also present in exhibitions in Venice, at the Fondazione Querini Stampalia and at the important Nouvelle Tendance exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs at the Louvre. It was during this period that Varisco was invited to the IV Biennale di San Marino (1963) and the XXXII Biennale di Venezia (1964). During these years Varisco concentrated on, and substantially exhausted, the limited experience of kinetic ‘programming’. From 1963 to 1965 Schemi luminosi variabili were followed by other objects that extend the investigation into variations of the image. One of these is Luminoso variabile + Q130, which is made up of a small chessboard-like net that revolves under common industrial glass. This sort of glass, which had already been used in previous works, has inconsistent, biconvex, distorted characteristics and plays a role in the deconstruction of the image. The simplicity of the chessboard outline heightens, rather than limits, the possibility of variation of the image. Like always the variability of the image, the act of looking relates to time, which is perceived as both visual and temporal. The onlooker is asked not only to follow a vicissitude of evolving shapes, but also to perceive the sense of mutability produced by the passing of the time.
Constructing with chance. Fold upon fold. 1965 – 1984
With Grazia Varisco’s work it is not easy, in fact it is often misleading, to attempt to confine areas of research to periods with precise dates. During the execution phase, themes relating to previously encountered problems often reemerge and combine with other, more recent concerns. This derives from Varisco’ s habit of taking and elaborating notes, paying more attention to the ideas-based aspect than the productive one. The concrete actuality of an object is often dependent on opportunities for exhibition or other commitments. This is why works are sometimes completed at a remarkable distance from the date of their conception. The first examples of Mercuriali and Reticoli frangibili date back to 1965. Although they both focus on the fundamental theme of variability, the latter dose so more evidently. With Mercuriale + 151 Q the use of mercury, added to small glass orbs, pushes the concept of the “programming” of a phenomenon whose behaviour is uncontrollable to an extreme. The precise combination of components renders the constant undeterminability of shape in the volubility of the perceptive processes even more evident. The shape is one of an infinite number of perceptible shapes. In this case, the consistency of the material and mutability of the images leads to the acutely emphasized involvement of our receptive structures. The concept of a constant “becoming” found its way from the research into work outside the more specifically kinetic period, such as the Mercuriali and the Reticoli frangibili. The idea of behavior is inextricably linked to Varisco’ s work, a remains long after the demise of Group T. Although the grown ever officially disbanded, it is clear from catalogues prior to 1965 that group activity diminished, largely due to the participation of individual artist in personal exhibitions. The dissipation of the group spirit together with the events of1968 led Varisco to cease work for some years. This should not be thought of as surprising. As De Vecchi said: “Personally… my 1968 began in 1965 and ended around 1970”. The period was certainly one of the most trouble since the war and marked a slowing down or suspension of the activity of many artist. Some were directly involved in the political and cultural upheaval. Others, probably including Varisco, were compelled to examine their own motivation and reflect on the meaning of their work and one on the role this could play in the face of the obvious contradiction thrown up by the date of those year. Campo urbano, held at Como in 1969, was typical of this period. The main aim of the artists’ various works was to lead the public, the citizens of Como, to a different vision of urban space, and consequently to a differently to a different realisation of this space. The artists thus took their function as a critical conscience to an extreme, as did Varisco with the “spatial-temporal dilatation of a route”, introducing barriers made from large cardboard boxes to disrupt circulation in a road, forcing passers-by to participate in a labyrinth-like walk. In October1969 an environment of distorted dimensions was created using artificial light at Galleria Schwarz in Milan. In 1972 Varisco learnt of the existence of certain numbers used in statistical mathematics, which fascinated her because of its relationship to research on the nature of chance and general aleatory operations. In 1974 she presented five serigraphic tables at Galleria del Naviglio, Random walks by random numbers, the result of her research into this field. In these works, random numbers find an original declination. As Dorfles explains in the catalogue: “Every table is created from the starting point of a group of random numbers that make up a determined ‘figure’, a pattern faithful to the numerical group as far as the exercise is concerned, yet without color or the dimension of the outline being tied to mathematical parameters. In other word the color chosen for each number is entirely arbitrary, as is the size of the individual sections”. As Dorfles goes on to note, we should not be deceived by the scientific matrix of the work. The artist is not simply executing a progression of numerical sequences, in fact she could have arrived an analogous result without recourse to random numbers. The point lies in the appeal made by the ‘random’ concept of chance, and in the free use of this idea, rather than in the strict workings of mathematical calculation. This is, in fact, the exchange that can take place between science and art. Not the application of the methodology of one discipline to another, but the amplification of what lies beyond, hypotheses, utopias perhaps, in different fields of experience that, precisely because of their difference, can be stimulated to vicissitude. Around 1974, following the observation of the common anomaly of a folded corner of a page in a book or magazine, Varisco began to pursue an idea that was to lead her, not only to one of her most interesting series of works, but also to develop a group of interlinked observations that connect with the more recent sculptural works. This stimulation of the artist’ s interest meant it was once again necessary for her to become involved in “programming”. Folded corners are a printing error that should not happen, are not predicted, but nonetheless occur. Irregular folds that disrupt the order on the page, and often that of the text itself, become a window on unexpressed potential. “Its complexity is not that it is made up many part, but that it is folded in many ways”. It is chance that emphasises the multiplicity of possible pages – an even that cannot be foreseen. This was the starting point for a sequence of works that were called Extrapagine because they have the effects that relate to pages and other that do not. In her exploration of what lies beyond the rules, Varisco’ s discovered how the multiplicity of possible pages is, quite literally, a result of different ways of making folds. The movement induced by the fold is amplified, lending the page a level of symbolism that exceeds its physical dimeson. It is a place where things happen, a place affected by mental projections that are perhaps stronger than the massage contained in the text. The page becomes a space loaded with energy. If one looks at Studi per extrapagine (1975/76), it is immediately evident that the initial two-dimension are carried by the fold into a three-dimensional realm. The fold intervenes at a three-dimensional level. The process that carries part, or all, of a flat surface to the three-dimensional is one of the fundamental aspects of contemporary sculpture. The potential for developing this line of research can be seen in the two levels of Studi per extrapagine. In the upper part, the folds are formed on a grid-like surface, and are enlivened with alterations that only differ from one another in their angle, or along the lateral edge. The relief increases the original dimension of the square until it is doubled. The folds are always singular here, like the surface they start from, and consist of just one movement, an immediately effective primary action. In the lower part, there is a complex interaction of pages and folds, creating more interference and elaborating the graphical characteristics in the pages themselves. The use and distortion of the design on the pages, which could in itself form the basis of other logic-based projects, is at the center of the most consistent part of this series of works. The first, such as Extrapagina – reticolo nero or Extrapagina – reticolo rosso (both 1975), make use of slight movements, concentrating the reading of the work on the imperfection of the design: the mismatching, the subtle detachment that fractures the grid, the appearance of a light line of shadows. These are all consequences of the fold, transformations brought about by the slightest of movements. In subsequent works, three-dimensional articulation is more evident. The color of the relief can also match, which is what happens in Quadricromia (1977/84), where three metal extrapagine unequivocally indicate the work’s aspiration towards a sculptural quality- This aspiration is confirmed by sequential elements that run for more than four meters in length in Grande dèpliant, exhibited at Studio Marconi in 1984. A graphical element in present here. This is made up of horizontal and vertical lines that, in addition to emphasising the three-dimensional, are effective in revealing the modification of both the trajectory and the relationship carried out by the fold. This aspect also appears in a single relief work from 1983 entitled Piega permanente. This metal Extrapagina is a grid-like surface marked with horizontal bands, that folds its right edge towards the inside, raising and refolding itself into a triangular shape, which moves towards the flat surface again. Here, the fold is clearly an opening more towards the outside than the inside, an opening that has a hidden, secluded depth. In this sense, the fold becomes a spatial and temporal threshold. Inside and outside, before and after, are phases through which the movement generated by the fold passes. The movement of this work is reduced and essential, so that the chance of its origin, the observation that captured it, and the constructive ideas that elaborated its development can be perceive in a single solution.
Structures in the act of becoming 1984 – 2000
At the beginning of the 1980s Grazia Varisco began to teach at the Umanitaria and at the European Institute of Design. She then won the chair in Theory of Perception at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brera, where she became a permanent member of staff in 1982. During these years the experience of the Extrapagine, and in particular the idea of the fold and its infinite modulations in contexts beyond the initial observation, directed her work towards the special behavior of space and time. Behavior where, as I have already pointed out, one cannot fail to notice a reference to the original experience of the folds. Although the primary motivation of Meridiana, a significant work from 1975, is the temporal factor that can be found in the movement of the shadow under the shifting light, there is also the idea of the fold. From a wooden surface, a section of the perimeter detaches itself, raising and refolding itself on the same surface, provoking the projection of shadows and their virtual constructions.
The series entitled Implicazioni (1984) was directly inspired by the experiences of Meridiana and the Extrapagine. In this case, though, we participate in the definite emancipation of the fold as it follows its spatial aspirations. The work consists of a variable quantity of quadrangular elements made from painted metal and arranged along the walls of a room and in one, or more, corners. The metallic strips are irregularly folded so that they protrude from the wall and project a shadow. On one hand, this means that the figure doubles itself, magnifying individual distortions. on the other, it makes perceptive involvement more complex. Real and virtual quadrilaterals become part of a singular shape, which is made lighter by the aspect of expansion lent by the shadows. elements seem to dance on the walls, moving in a space that is both physical and perceptual – a space that is, above all, like emptiness to be crossed, or temporarily captured. In this space the constant alternation of opposites – a theme that attracts the artist – can be clearly perceived. The personal exhibition that Varisco held at Studio Grossetti in 1986 featured Implicazioni in both the version described and in a larger, floor-standing version.
It was an extraordinary evocative and convincing exhibition precisely because of elements, which literally unfolded, releasing their spatial, virtual and kinetic potential. Other Implicazioni and Gnom-one, two, three belong to the same cycle of work carried out between 1984 and 1986. These, however, abandon the wall and become structures with a true sculptural quality. The open-air position naturally places new demands on these works. They are made up of single metallic quadrilaterals, usually in groups of three. Although the scale of these work is larger, the hypothesis is transitory and the idea of the occupation of a space is absent.
The structures, which is created by folds in the metallic strips, raises the concept of original geometry. the initial squares fold and refold, raising one corner to the other, expanding their range of action and projecting their dynamics beyond the space concerned.
Immediately following these works, we find a series of plans. Plans, as I have mentioned, invariably remain on the drawing board for a long time, if not forever. The plans to which I am referring were published in the catalogue of a retrospective exhibition put together by Alviani at the Centro Iniziative Culturali di Pordenone in 1987. They concern problems that derive from folding surfaces – the tension that can develop on flat surfaces and in corners. The Angolazioni (1986/87) are among the more thoroughly developed of these plans. This series of works has a strongly experimental character, were the visual aspect often appears to answer to mysterious scientific dictates. In actual fact, Varisco uses her capacity to see things from a different perspective to freely interpret descriptive geometry, the projection of figures, and the representation of the three-dimensional.
In notes written to accompany the Angolazioni, Varisco identified this distinctive ability to be astonished, and to investigate the previously unthought of development of customary things: “It is like the corners of rooms, which I am often surprised to find myself observing with constant curiosity. An angle, a connection, an encounter between two or three orthogonal planes. Do those planes converge there, or is the corner their point of origin?” It is precisely by taking these corners as a starting point that mature works like Scambio di tensione, Tensione angolare, Tensione trasparente, and so on, come into being.
From angular tensions, that intentionally allude to the work of artists such as Malevic and Tatlin, one arrives at works where the experimental aspects of the Angolazioni give way to solutions with a more clearly defined sculptural quality.
Tri-angolo and the Duetti series (1989) confirm Varisco’s progressive approach to sculpture. Tri-angolo as the title suggests, is made of three elements of painted metal, folded and mounted on the wall so as to form an empty triangular space of with wall in the center.
The lively chromatic solution – red, yellow and blue – applied to the three metals, and the positioning of the vertical folds on inner sides, emphasized the effect of the presence-absence of space in the center. The triangle turns out to be an induced shape, a captured space. It too is placed in relief, folded on the folds that encircle it.
The series of sculptures entitled Duetto is essentially the same in that it deals with the same themes in a different way.
For example, these works are positioned in the center of the space without contact with the wall, which to some extent always represent a connection with the idea of surface from which all the work based on the fold is derived. The sculpture consists of two irregularly folded vertical units in iron that, variously approached, give raise to multiple hypothesis of space.
It is the location of space, rather the occupation of space, that interests the artist. Even though the sculptural quality of the Duetti is expressed in a relief that could not be considered negligible, the meaning of the work does not lie in its appropriation of a place. It reminds me of Rothko when he said that with is painting he wanted to express his ‘not-I’.
Grazia Varisco is not interested in occupying space, she is interested in its location. Fullness is created in order to reveal emptiness. Varisco said: “in the work I prefer to think of space as ‘accommodated’, which stresses a different point of view to that sculpture, which really interacts with space…”.
In 1991 Varisco worked on Disarticolazioni, which were exhibited at Galleria Milano at the beginning of 1992. Immediately after this she produced a group of works entitled Fraktur (1992/93) in wall and floor-standing versions.
This take the idea of approaching space in a diagonal, transitory and interrogative way further. A rectangle, cut in an irregular way, generates two irregular and irregularly folded elements, that are arranged, whether on the wall or floor, one in front of the other, so that one of the parts protrudes into space more than the other. The idea of torsion and the construction that the object transmits, its chance yet defined nature, is reflected in an extremely open relationship with space, which allows a feeling of mobility in the structure and the idea that lies behind it.
Remaining with this concept, other works with the title Fraktur appeared in 1995. This emphasized the aspect of distortion of imperfection between the two hypothetical planes defined by the iron structure. However is, it was probably at an exhibition in 1995 at the Galleria Vismara in Milan that the concept of space was most thoroughly explored by a sculpture in this series. In this case, the large open shape that lifted itself from the floor to the wall, suggested a space within the enclosed the space of the room. Thus modifying our perception Varisco unleash an image of a new spatial entity. With the use of open wooden Jamb between the walls and the floor, the artist suggested an appropriation of space coming from the observer as a result of reading the work. In particular, the space revealed its quality of emptiness as the artist has said: “I believe that my interest in emphasizing emptiness, which has become the main motivation of some recent works, is almost oriental…”.
It is widely held that in oriental culture the conception, and therefore the method of perceiving and interpreting, that which in the west is incorrectly considered poor and empty is significantly different, recognizing instead a presence and not an indeterminate absence. If this is true, it is indeed with an oriental mentality that Varisco attempts to reveal and value all possible hypothesis of space.
A significant sculpture from 1996 is exuberantly entitled OH!
This work executed in box-shielded iron and three meters high, sums up nearly all the themes of recent years and
re-projects them into the artist’s current work. The movement of the fold and the detection of an unknown space to guide the sense of the work are highly individual. Two of the three elements that make up the work are large circles, one on the wall and the other, which is free-standing, dominating the room. Both are marked by a consistent folding which allows the circle on the wall to lean around the corner and connect with the other wall and provides the other element with a valid support for its vertical position. The third piece is made up of a semicircle positioned on the floor, and following the wall along the line of its diameter. The lively spaces suggested by the work are connected, one creating its ‘raison d’etre’ with the other. There is an invitation to inhabit the space, if no other perceptively, but also to develop conceptually further possible perspectives. The artist recently did in an installation at Studio Tommaseo in Trieste from December 1999 to January 2000, where the shapes that make up the number 2000 were constructed in iron, vertically folded and arranged along the corner of the gallery. The space to which Varisco increasingly refers in recent years is space does not have, and does not want to have, a center anymore, that comes into being the moment the work itself is in place. The idea of permanence, the idea of the fixed nature of an object with a sculptural quality, is replace by the concept of an incessant ‘becoming’, an uninterrupted movement that can be traced to its own first appearance. In a less radical way then Manzoni, an less rationally pursued than Gianni Colombo, freedom of thought, which raises the issue of the function of art and the artist, is also relevant to Varisco and the action she performs with a strongly experimental and subtly skeptical character.
Her system of continuous verification, constant investigation and unproclaimed definitions expresses the notion of the work of art in a constant state of transformation, so that that which it appears is a premonition of how differently it could appear.
With extraordinary wisdom, Merleau-Ponty wrote that “The onlooker is not in control of what he sees: He only approaches with a look”. I believe these words are perfectly suited to a stance that has always distinguished Varisco’s work: a way of observing and intervening, when something stimulate her curiosity, that never sets the objective of confronting a problem asking for a solution.
There is a desire to know, not to take control; to open to further interrogation, rather to resolve. This means considering the phenomena transitory, incessantly variable, so that its manifestations can only be understood in their continual fluctuation. The desire to stop this fluctuation, to narrow the problem down to a stable solution, would be to misunderstand it, which Varisco clearly does not, as the Tavole magnetiche, Schemi luminosi variabili, Extrapagine, Implicazioni and the latest cycles of the Duetti and Fraktur confirm.
Approaching with the look as Merleau-Ponty says, is perceptual intelligence and corresponds to the diagonal path that this artist takes through the things that surround her. Conceiving shapes Knowing that she herself is a shape that moves together with others, aware of being part of a formative process that includes both the observed and the observer.
Giovanni Maria Accame - 'Opening up the unexpected' in Giovanni Maria Accame, Grazia Varisco 1958/2000, Maredarte, Bergamo 2001
Grazia Varisco has always reacted attentively and observantly to artistic stimulation, not limiting herself to the surface of things, but penetrating inner articulations and, in images of alternative mechanisms, exploring the potential for further development. Maurice Blanchot wrote in his extraordinary deft, poetic style that “the attention focuses on gathering that which escapes the attention… waiting for the unexpected.” It is precisely this, the unexpected, that attracts and stimulates Varisco, making it a challenge to resist considering even the most apparently stable and formalized situations definitive. A combination of analytical, intuitive and intentionally accidental components contributes to this stance on the creative animation of things. The image, the object and the observed phenomenon become an opportunity for an ideas-based process that revolves, with a series of variants, around the artistic stimuli, making them the threshold into a completely different dimension. Over the course of the years this constructive perception has increasingly become a way of being, a way of relating to the surrounding environment.
Frederik Schikowski - Interview with Grazia Varisco, Milan, 6th of May, 2013
FS= Frederik Schikowski
GV= Grazia Varisco
FS: Miss Varisco, what made you produce between 1959-62 artworks like the „Tavole magnetiche“, where the spectator is allowed to interact and to rearrange manually the constellation of the picture? Did you already know other comparable artworks?
GV: No. Back then I started to work with the other members of gruppo T on the condition of something that puts in relation time and space. And to realise that, we used movement, because in movement there is a relation from time to space. And with the movement you can try to resolve to play on a surface with opposite conditions like order and disorder, up and down or all other conditions. You can also understand better the relation between random and programm. The space is changing because the time that you need to handle the element on the surface is real time. This is another dimension in this work. Normally we are thinking about three dimensions: height, width and depth. But in this case, there is a fourth one, which is time.
FS: So your main idea was to introduce the aspects of time via movement in your artwork. But why didn’t you use a motor for this purpose, like other artists such as Jean Tinguely did?
GV: Back then, we didn’t know other artists working in this field. It just happened shortly after, within a few months or even days, that we met Bruno Munari and some other people who did similar attempts and to whom we than had relations. We didn’t even know, that they were interested in our work before.Though sometimes we got some help from the employes of my fathers boiler-company when we had to work f. ex. with iron, the background for the „Tavole magnetiche“ is the following: I remember a physics lesson at liceo artistico, that by moving a magnet under a page, on which are spread nails or other magnetic elements, you can change the surface by working under the surface. And by doing so you have movement. So using the manuel movement of the spectaotr had also to do with being students without any money and the need to work under simple conditions. In the beginning the question was just like „What can I do with a string like that?“ [points on „Tavola magnetica – lineare variabile“]. The very first works I did, where made out of poor things, with a square of cardboard or something like this. And the squares in the first „Tavole magnetiche“ were just cut-outs of Formica with a very colourful pattern. As I did not like to use this colour-patterns, I just covered them with black and yellow or black and red paint, to build simple situations with magnets. Like this the production was not expensive. And I was also able to make artworks based on co-involvement, on the participation of the spectator.
In fact there were several important things. First of all: not so much money. Than: something where you can put in relation time and space, and then to realise simple things in which the people were co-involved. These were the real interests.
FS: But all this political ideas – the participation of the spectator as an instrument to eliminate the hierarchy between artist and spectator f. ex. – were they also an aim for you in the beginning?
GV: No, not so much. But I remember, that it was close to the time, when everyone paid attention to this. And it was related to the period of the unsigned multiples, to the fact, that you don’t have to sign the artwork with a brush. In fact we worked with something not so much related to „romantic inspiration“. This was also the case for the titles, that were just descriptiv and without a personal sign, like f. ex. „Tavole magnetiche“ or „Schemi luminosi variabili“. And this was also something political: to try to levell the relationship to the spectator. Also in the „Tavole magnetiche“ there is something of this mind: I am not the artist of an already fixed artwork. I call you „Fruitore“ (Benutzer/Verbraucher) and I ask you as spectator to do as I do. And the simple shapes that I have chosen, like squares, bars or demispheres are just line, form and volume. There is nothing emotional about them. It’s just related with something that I like to give to you and you have to play and to decide, exactly as I do. I think that is the precondition to this political condition.
FS: Your use of universals shapes like squares and the objectiv-descriptiv titles – all this is a parallel to concrete art. Was there any influence from italian Movimento Arte Concreta (MAC) or from Swiss „Konkrete Kunst“, like from Max Bill f. ex.?
GV: Yeah, sure. But all this, knowing the work of Munari f. ex., started to affect me just from our first exhibitions on, certainly not before. Because before we were not well informed about it, you know. We came from the Academia di Brera and there we had a real traditional teacher: Achille Funi. Just later on I appreciated him a lot, because he educated us to work with discipline, which is something you have to learn. Together with Funi, we had a very good teacher in history of art, Guido Ballo. We were mainly studying classical art history, but he opened our mind. He animated us to walk and look around in our city and to be open to other experiences like music and cinema. He was a good teacher for this reason. And I remember that I saw works of Paul Klee and of Suprematism because of him – something, that was unknown to us. There existed no publications about it, and the few were poorly made. There was a text by Sigfried Giedion that I consulted at the end of Accademia for my thesis on “The Value of Sign in Kandinsky, Klee and Wols” but it was quite difficult to get further information about the historical avantguard.
FS: Do you remember, how people reacted in front of your „Tavole magnetiche“? Where they irritated, because they had to do something actively? Or did they refuse to accept it as art because of the fact, that they were allowed to change something?
GV: Yes, sure, this is normaly the case. But in the beginning it was different. First we had to put a cardboard that said „Si prega di toccare“ on the wall. But the people who were used to visit exhibitions in gallerys read automatically „Si prega di non toccare“, although it was not written there! And so they were doing nothing. So we had to explain them personally that they have to touch the artworks. But after some months and some exhibitions, their attitude had changed completly and suddenly they tried to find out, how the magnets were fixed on the elements. So often after the exhibtions all the works came back broken [laughing]. To oblige not to touch and to oblige to touch – both can have negative effects on the artwork [laughing]. The serious and well known critics that we appreciated, like Gillo Dorfles, Guido Ballo, Umbro Apollonio or Carlo Belloli and some others, they were attentiv and really carefull and also encouraging us. But the normal critics said, that this was just „giochetti“ (Spielerei). Not „PLAY!“ in a good sense, like it is for me. For them it was „just play“. They called us „Quelli delle macchinete“ or „Quelli del giochini“ with a light tone of disrespect.
FS: How came that you replaced in the early 60s the spectator-participant through a motor in your „Schemi luminosi variabili“? And why did you come back to the variable artworks via manual spectator-participation with your „Spazi potenziali“ in 1973-75?
GV: The participation in the „Tavole magnetiche“ is especially a participation of the body, you have to touch. In the motorised kinetic works, I realised, that it was another kind of participation: it’s a minds participation. While you watch them, you are feeling something. I remember that my sister said, that in some of the „Schemi luminosi variabili“ she was a little bit in trouble, while in some others she felt more relaxed. Also you are always waiting a minute or a half for the repetition of the pattern. So in this case the participation of the spectator is more related to his mind and to his feeling. This is the difference.
FS: But why did you come back to the body-participation with the „Spazi potenziali“?
GV: You know: there were also no motors in the previous „Mercuriali“ and in the optical variations of the „Reticoli frangibili“. I arrived to the end of the 60s feeling, that all this was too much material. Really, I was feeling almost sick and it was necessary for me to rest. In this period I tried to reduce, to use less things, to take out, more and more. And during two years I started different experiences. One was: take out completly everything, the name was „Assenza“ (Abwesenheit). And then in the same period there was also „Spazi potenziali“. It started all around 1972/73. In the „Spazi potenziali“ I tried to have more emotions, trying to go with my mind. But I felt immidiatly, that my intention was still the perfect shape. But there was something that came out of the order, and this was „Random“. Random, that is going to disturb. And then I worked on this condition, because I was interested in understanding this phenomenon. And this is something that changed my mind. In the „Spazi potenziali“ f. ex. if you want you can have a well balanced, perfect right angled constellation. But just by hanging the frame on another nail of the wood-table you can change completly the ortogonal condition. With the weight of the frame even the wood-table itself can change its position, and the whole object hangs obliquly on the wall.
FS: Some „Tavole magnetiche“ have a grid, which leads to a semi- or whole transparency of the playing field. Are they just supposed to hang on the wall, or could they also stand freely in the room, to play with and look at them from both sides?
GV: Yeah, the latter! The idea to work with a grid came because of an exhibition in Lissone, that I did. The metall-back-boards of the normal „Tavole magnetiche“ are bevelled. So for the transport I put the elements on the backside to protect them. Doing so I noticed, that it would be nice to have a transparent surface, as the situation, where the elements from one side are related to the elements from the other side, was really interesting. So I began to use the grid. The one I prefere is the one which is the most transparent, but this material was really hard to find.
FS: Often in the „Tavole magnetiche“ with the grid, the frame is very special. It has two little feet which reminds a little bit the shape of a wash board. What’s the reason for that?
GV: You know why? Because of the grid I thought of a web („tela“), and so I thought of a loom as a – back then – typical feminine object. Although normally it was round, these special frames I made were related to that. One f. ex. is titled „Imparaticcio al telaio“. The word „Imparaticcio“, today almost obsolete, means a kind of exercise to sew or to embroider on a long piece of cloth. It is a diminutive for a small work of young girls in the school. I never liked the category of „female artists“, I was always trying to have an ironic position in this domain.
FS: You with gruppo T were working quite early in the field of multiples. Your first one was „Sferisterio semidoppio“: a little play object with divided ping-pong-balls, movable on a mirrored ground in a box made out of wood and perspex. It was presented together with other variable multiples by gruppo T in December 1960 in Danese-gallery in Milano. How came?
GV: Munari and Enzo Mari were already doing multiples for Danese. And I remember that Munari already knew what we were trying to do, like me with my „Tavole Magnetiche“. And so he told us, that if we were ready, we could do something for Christmas in Danese shop. And so we did it and we conglutinated all this Multiples ten times in a few days [laughing].
The important thing for us was to understand, that it doesn’t need paint, oil and brush for an artwork. Everything, every material can be used. And this awareness was really new and rich. Because then we found something. Every material, also industrially produced, was potentially welcome, like rubber-strip f. ex. I also used some other strange things [laughing]. In the company of my dad the employes worked with iron. If you cut iron, a little spiral of metall is a byproduct, in fact a really terrible thing, as you can cut yourself. But I put a lot of them on a magnet [laughing]. Now we don’t have them anymore, probably I threw them all away, but 1960 in Galleria S. Matteo in Genova they were shown. And I still have photos of others, that used the fabric from inside of a jacket or the hairnets of my mother and my grandmothers [laughing]. You know, I threw them away. It is so strange, because the later works seem so normal, while in the early days they were kind of weird.
FS: By producing multiples did you also pursue the social aim of making art affordable for everyone and not only for the rich elite?
GV: Illusion, illusion…
FS: So was the multiple-idea a big disapointment for you, the other artists of gruppo T and Nouvelle Tendance?
GV: Yes, in a way. Also because immediately after we realised this multiples, the art market was interested in the potential of them. Doing so they destroyed our ideals. Suddenly the first numbers of the multiples had more value than the later ones and so on. Within a few years we were dissapointed of that. Yes it was a disappointment, but in my life, and not only in art, it is not the only one. But you know, fortunately life constantly offers alternate situations, ups and downs. Just like the opposit conditions that you can create with my „Tavole magnetiche“ – which leads us back to the beginning of our talk.
Francesco Tedeschi - 'On Grazia Varisco’s dynamic construction, in ``Grazia Varisco. Mit rastlosem Blick``, catalogo della mostra personale, Museum Ritter, Waldenbuch, 2013
Since the early 1960s, Grazia Varisco has been a representative of a tendency that has devised new means of artistic expression by using forms and techniques based on the underlying factors of light and movement. The “interaction between picture and human organism”, in which the ensuing dynamics become a constitutional aspect of the work, contains in Udo Kultermann’s opinion the intrinsic features of a “new conception in painting”. .
This idea was reflected by the almost eponymous exhibition mounted by the Milanese Galleria Azimut in 1960: La nuova concezione artistica. A part from the two founders of the gallery, Enrico Castellani and Piero Manzoni the participants were Yves Klein, Killian Breier, Oskar Holweck, Heinz Mack and Almir Mavigner. This “new conception” was also exemplified by the series of exhibitions entitled Miriorama, likewise in Milan, which presented the activities of the members of Gruppo T, to which Grazia Varisco belonged. All of these initiatives were part of a “New Tendency” that swept across Europe, and which introduced a new relationship to technological means and new, scientifically backed ideas. Which is not to say that the artists restricted themselves purely to logical and rational principles; These approaches were based rather on illuminating the relation between law and chance in a critical manner, using open artistic experiments. To this end, the innovative if not revolutionary elements – as is always the case, even if this only becomes apparent with the distance of time – drew on the substrate and stimuli of the tradition that may also extend far back into the past.
Grazia Varisco’s creative output has developed in an intuitive an ongoing manner. The beginning was marked by a series of work designed to be altered by the viewer in question. These were followed by works based on simple mechanism that elicit astonishment and demonstrate the relationship between form and optical-perceptual motion. And finally she created compositions that employ various means to produce a host of visual impressions – form a small shift here, a tiny deflection there, an irregularity there, much as one would also perceived in the outside world.
From variations in the surface to her concrete tridimensional objects, since the 1960s and 1970s Grazia Varisco has enlisted a variety of materials and techniques to arrive a different design solutions that examine the fold, the shadow or temporary equilibrium. And this are all forms or representations of impermanence, the breeding ground for an open, active poetics in which giving and taking are integrated with one another. Both in the conception of her undertaking as well as in the realizations of her works produced in series, the fundamental factors in her oeuvre manifest in various combination: The necessity of employing both hand and intellect the creation of an artwork; the concept of form as an integral part of a never (en)closed, never fixed space that is always in a process of becoming; The inclusion of the relationship between abstract hypothesis and the possibilities of its concrete application. Among the “iconographic” elements that most frequently occur is the diagonal.
– a motif that involves various aspects related to a dynamic tension. Grazia Varisco interprets it in her own way, although it may be assumed that she takes inspiration of a figurative tradition that stretches back for a greater or lesser length of time. The diagonal does not stand however merely for dynamism, but may also be grasped as a symbol for the occupation of space. Settlements in the hilly country side in Italy, as are typical of large areas in the centres of Tuscany or Umbria, follow the line of the earth’s crust and thus adapt to the local topological conditions (and much the same may be said for many of the mediaeval towns in other areas). The buildings and urban structures form a whole whose harmony is based on these characteristic differences in level. Likewise other measures that been adopted aim at regulating nature while allowing for the formations in the landscape, and thus at creating and order that is imposed from without. The lances that Paolo Uccello highlights in his celebrated battled scenes have become symbols of an intervention that has a decisive affect in reshaping reality, much as is nowadays evoked by wind turbines when they are erected in the same countryside. Notwithstanding the blatant daring of this metaphorical image, diagonal line also suggests dynamism as such. A fact that as also been examined by theories of perception. .
The diagonal in Grazia Varisco’s work is intended to direct the viewer gazes, and moreover represents the energy and dynamism inherent in all open structures and in becoming. They are to be found in such visual presentations as the Tavole magnetiche, in isolated cases in the variations of the Schemi luminosi variabili, and more importantly, determine the sequences of the Spazio potenziale, the Extrapagine, the Gnomoni, the Angolazioni and the Disarticolazioni, and finally appear yet again in the Quadri comunicanti. It cannot always be distinguished as the principal element that creates the tension, and yet its presence is of crucial importance: as a line (but also as a shadow or indicator of volumes) it lays down the direction for a variation that is based in dynamic projection.
It is certainly not by chance that the Futurist’s “lines of force” generally prefer to run on the diagonal helps inject a poetry of dynamism into the work, one that may also have a symbolic valence.. As has been observed elsewhere Futurism is one of the cultural components that has been indirectly employed by artists of a kinetic and programmatic persuasion.. The futurist adopted representational means from outside the realms of painting and propagated a dynamist poetics that continued to have its effect in Italian art throughout the XXth century (Lucio Fontana for instance whose intent on overcoming the closure of the finished painting and on creating a spatial dimension in which motion is a phenomenon that generates form. But Grazia Varisco has gone beyond this; based on her premises dating from the period when she renounced the content of l’Art Informel, she has pursued a search for an inner (complementary) dynamism that is conveyed in her works by an unwavering “onward urge” and “tension towards” point. This stance is in certain ways dedicated by the diagonal line, above all when it passes from the left to the right (as in cultures like our own, in which script has the same alignment). In Russian constructivism as well as in further manifestations of abstractionism, the diagonal already held sway. In Grazia Varisco’s art, which essentially looks at the underpinnings of visual perception, the diagonal order of space leads to a merging of form and meaning.
 “This dynamism, which thanks to a number of approaches could be taken as the subject of the picture, has only now become the actual form of the picture itself (Heinz Mack).”, U. Kultermann, Eine neue Konzeption in der Malerei, “Azimuth”, eds E. Castellani and P. Manzoni, n. 2, 1960,
 Accame writes that “the artist takes a diagonal path through the things that surround her.”, GiovanniMaria Accame: “Grazia Varisco – Lapertura sull’inatteso”, in Accame, Grazia Varisco 1958/2000, Bergamo, 2001, p.34
 Rudolf Arheim has examined the dynamic aspect to the diagonal through the example of the wind mill in painting. Cf. Rudolf atheism, Art and Visual Perception. A Psychology of the Creative Eye, Berkeley and Los angeles, 1954, cheap. IX
Comparable here is the spiral; cf. Maurizio Calvesi, Un Boccioni ritrovato e il tema dialettico della spirale, “Paragone”, July-September 1976, pp. 236-265, and M. Calvesi, E. Coen, Umberto Boccioni. L’opera completa, Milano, 1982, pp. 79-87. From here ones arrives at the diagonal as a motional structure in works such as Umberto Boccioni’s Carica di lancieri or Gino Severini’s Lancieri italiani al galoppo, in which direct references is made to Paolo Uccello.
“The premises are Futurist, but develop further into a glorification of pure movement by colored light and in that way leave the picture, the painting behind”, G. Ballo, Grazia Varisco, exh. catalogue, Galleria del Naviglio, Milano, 1972.
Hsiaosung Kok - 'Through space and time, in ``Grazia Varisco. Mit rastlosem Blick``, exhibition catalogue, Museum Ritter, Waldenbuch, 2013
Among the fundamental innovations to be found in progressive sculpture, such as Umberto Boccioni formulated in his Technical Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture, published in 1920 in Milano, is the call to use a large number of heterogeneous materials that are not indigenous to art but are taken, instead, from the world immediately about us. Glass, wood, corrugated cardboard, metals, mirrors and electric lights are, according to Boccioni, suitable means for the “abstract reconstruction of planes and volumes”. .
The modern futurist sculpture was supposed to convey all the hallmarks of the technological age and conjure up through the rhythms of the machine the trinity of space, movement and progress.
Around the 1960, the aesthetic ideals of Italian Futurism in general, and the material culture of the early 20th century avant-gardes in particular, became important premises and points of reference for Grazia Varisco’s art. Right from the outset, the three-dimensional object and the use of various materials, including modern ones, have characterized her artistic output, which as developed over the course of five decades with various focuses. At the heart of her deliberations are, however, the parameters of space and time, which have remained to this day the central constants in her oeuvre and always been negotiated a new in each distinct phase of her carrier.
The beginning of Grazia Varisco creative work lie in an era marked by a sense of new departures when, in sixties Europe, a whole generation of artists turned its back on l’Art Informel painting, with all its expressivity and subjectiveness, and sought new means of capturing the dynamism of the contemporary life world and its industrial cast by employing matter-of-fact criteria that could be gauged in an objective manner..
In northern Italy, Milan established itself as one the foremost centers of this new culture. .
It was also home to Gruppo T, an association of young artists comprising Giovanni Anceschi, Davide Boriani, Gianni Colombo e Gabriele Devecchi, Grazia Varisco joined as its fifth member in 1960. The letter “T” stood for Tempo (time), because the group promulgated an art in which time was to be reflected by sequences of movement and variations in images. Up until 1964, the circle mount exhibitions at various locations in Italy and abroad under the title Miriorama.
In January 1966 Gruppo T published a declaration which also anticipated the main lineaments of Grazia Varisco’s forthcoming work.. Reality was not grasped here as hermetic and rigid, but as something constantly subject to change in space and time: “We consider reality to be a continual becoming of phenomena that we perceive in variations.”. This idea was to be mirrored through a dynamism in the art work that invests the image with a multitude of changing perspectives: “Thus by considering the work as a reality produced by the same elements that constitute the reality surrounding us, it is necessary that the work itself is in continual flux.” 
Grazia Varisco’s Tavole Magnetiche, which were presented at her first Miriorama exhibition in Galleria Pater, Milan in March 1960, pick up on the spatio-temporal aspect through the ‘before and after’ of the picture layout, because the viewer is invited to actively intervene in the composition and shift the position of the individual geometrical magnetic components on the panel.  In this way an unlimited number of visual constellations can be produced – each appearing as fleeting moments in a pictorial process delineated by a given situation – that have resulted directly from a playful interaction with the viewer.  Grazia Varisco realized her first motor-driven light box, 9x9xX – Spazi in variazione for the exhibition Arte programmata – arte cinetica, opere moltiplicate, opera aperta  in 1962, which was then followed by the extensive group of works titled Schemi luminosi varibili. The variable light set-up from 1963 is based from the interference created by two panes of plexiglass with identical grids, which, through the steady rotation of the circular pane that is illuminated from behind, produces a wide range of unexpected optical effects. The impression of motion wavers between continuity, acceleration and deceleration, and gives the sensation of pulsation – as if the infact even grid pattern was bulging out into space before then collapsing back. Starting with a simple grid structure, a cross shape, a lozenge and an arrangement of annular rings develop in smooth succession, each dissolving in turn into patterns of scattered dots. The creation of simultaneous forms in a work by means of exactly planned technology, along with the constant visual variations between rational order and planned chaos, squares with the demands of an unsteady an open picture. Object of this kind were referred to as “programmed art”. 
From around the middle of the 1970s, a reduction can be ascertained as regard the media employed in Grazia Varisco’s work to one sole material, as for instance when she restricted herself to cardboard, aluminum, or steel. This new concentration was accompanied by an increasing clarification of her visual grammar. Her Extrapagine, with the subtle modulation in its surface between light and shade, came at the beginning of a development towards greater lightness and an amended approach to spatio-temporality. The ‘fault’ yet strictly linear folds executed in the flat surface form a visual architecture that embraces the space about it, and that further treats front and verso, inside and outside as totally equivalent. With that, the impression arises of an extremely precarious tension in the configuration because, on viewing how the sections are staggered in space, the process of folding in inevitably brought to mind. and once again this has echoes of ambivalence of transition and temporality, if only on a virtual level.
In the likewise simple-looking Gnomoni, or indeed in the arrangement of its individual parts in space as Implicazione, Varisco leaves however the classical form of the visual object and moves on to include the walls and ceiling as surfaces that may be used. Here the incidental light helps constitute the work, continuing as its does the shapes of the angular metal pieces as shadow-drawings on the optical level, and with that projecting a second, immaterial image. The concrete work and its fleeting reproduction are pieced together in the eye of the beholder and constantly perceived as a uniform whole. In this way the boundary of objective space is crossed and extended quite markedly by a visual space. It is thus only logical that, given this direct interplay between light and shade, as well as between the object and the picture support, the Gnomoni interact freely and buoyantly with the dimensions of the exhibition gallery.
Characteristic of Grazia Varisco’s art is a constructive, reduced aesthetic that turns to pre-fabricated, industrial materials without, however, theming their intrinsic properties and expressive values. The principle of motion, the rhythmification of time and space, and interference phenomena serve to dissolve the corporeality of the object per se, to render the surfaces fluid and to make light visible. The artwork becomes a “field of events” that subverts the rigidity of preset patterns and principle of arrangement, disrupting the conventional perceptual space, and constantly aiming in its transitory manifestations at the viewer’s restless gaze.
 Umberto Boccioni, “Manifesto tecnico della scultura futurista”, Milano, 1912, English translation in Robert L. Herbert, Modern Artists on Art, Mineola, 1999, p. 50
 The growing interest in a constructive grammar of forms and optical-kinetic objects is to be seen above all in the works of the art groups GRAV, Gruppo N, Gruppo T, Nul, Zero, as well as New Tendencies.
 It was in Milan in 1949 and 1951 that Lucio Fontana erected his Ambienti spaziali, where Piero Manzoni honed a new concept of art with his Corpi d’aria (Bodies of Air) and actions, and likewise the artist and designer Bruno Munari is active here.
The statement was published for the first exhibition of Gruppo T, Miriorama 1, at the Milanese Galleria Pater and was signed by Anceschi, Boriani, Colombo and Devecchi. It was based essentially on a draft penned by the four artists in 15.10.1959.
Cited in Luciano Caramel, “Sign as painting”
Cited in Chris Salter, Entangled, Technology and the Transformation of Performance, Cambridge, 2010, p. 308. A reference in openly coveyed here to postulates of Futurism. In fact Miriorama 1 also included among other exhibits writings by the Futurists. Cf. Gruppo T, Anceschi, Boriani, Colombo, Devecchi, Varisco, Miriorama, le opere, i documenti, exh. cat., P420 Arte Contemporanea, Bologna, 2010, pp. 24-27
Cf. the interactive works of, for instance, Yaacov Agam in the influential exhibition Le Mouvement at Galeria Denise René in Paris, 1955
The participatory piece Tavola di possibilità liquide (1959) by Giovanni Anceschi lends, on the other hand, visibility to the physical properties of liquids.
English: Programmed art – kinetic art, multiples, open art-works; the sponsor was Olivetti company, which also placed its Milanese sales rooms at the artists’ disposal for the exhibition. Participants included Gruppo T, Gruppo N from Padua, along with other artists.
Cf. Umberto Eco’s text in the brochure accompanying the exhibition Arte programmata and the commentary by Bruno Munari, co-organiser of the exhibition in Luce, movimento & programmazione, Kinetische Kunst aus Italien1958 – 1968, eds. Volker W. Feierabend and Marco Meneguzzo, exh. cat., Ulmer Museum et al., Cinisello Balsamo, 2001, pp. 242-248 and pp. 214-216. See also Umberto Eco, The Open work, transl. Anna Cancogni, Harvard, 1989
Francesca Pola - 'Empathy and interference Archetypes of relation in the work of Grazia Varisco', exhibition catalog, A arte Invernizzi, Milan, 2014
From its outset the work by Grazia Varisco has always been characterised by creating the maximum possible involvement on the part of the observer, both in psychic and sensorial terms, by means of a visual language of extreme essentialness and simplicity. This communicative strength of her work has been based on an immediacy of perception that one is inclined to define as being empathic. As if the artist had in reality always looked for those forms and dynamics which belong to our original life – which we could define as being our relational archetypes – and had wanted to translate them into autonomous and dialoguing plastic/chromatic presences, aimed at establishing a direct and instantaneous relation with the person who observed them.
This is why each one of her works is presented to us as an extraordinary fusion – and yet also spontaneous and natural, rational and intuitive, exact and evocative, certain and allusive. By way of the artistic experience, Varisco invites us to continuously bring into play our conventions and certainties, our acquired relational models, in order to open ourselves to a possible space of primary involvement, a ‘talking’ syntony, proposing to us ‘new’ images of the world which are not its description or representation a posteriori but an active re-creation as space of action.
Starting out from the end of the 1950s Grazia Varisco is to be included among the protagonists of a generation that was crucial for the destinies of both Italian and European art, whose aim was moving beyond the subjective and individualistic vision that had characterised the period of the Informel. A generation to which one owes the conscious construction of a new relation between the artist and society, the creative object and the world. And this, following coordinates of formal and matteric reduction which were capable of cancelling whatever residue of negative emotivity and expressive solipsism. A fundamental passage in the reconstitution of a new European cultural identity, following the tragedy of World War II. And which – finally – during the last decades, to an increasing extent, had the affirmation of its centrality among international artistic research works, with a particular attention and growing public and scholarly interest for the Italian context. Attention and interest that are unequivocal indices of the extraordinary actuality of the creative investigations by these artists, as likewise it is the hope and signal of the opportunity to proceed towards detailed and documented monographic investigations aimed to an ever greater degree at evidencing and clarifying the specificity of the individual artists, at this point in time clearly no longer belonging to groups and movements (either documented or presumed). As was also true in the case of Varisco with respect to her historically fundamental participation in the vicissitudes of the “Gruppo T” together with Giovanni Anceschi, Davide Boriani, Gianni Colombo and Gabriele Devecchi: an experimental équipe made up of strong personalities who set in motion some of the most advanced creative productions of the period in the sphere of international programmed-kinetic research works of the opening years of the 1960s.
For some of the artists who belonged to this extraordinary period, who like Varisco were never content with exhausting their creative investigations in a collective ‘laboratory’ context, albeit acknowledging their contemporary dialogues, syntonies and parallelisms, but whose aim was instead always innovation within their own languages according to very individuated coordinates, the actuality of their research works today appear to be even more pronounced. In this context of elaborations the work by Varisco occupies a particular position, not only due to the richness of the ramifications which she developed following that initial pioneering and seminal phase, but also and above all as the result of the specificity that is both unique and decisive regarding certain investigations which with continuity characterised her production. Today the historical-artistic course of her work – retrospectively speaking – appears as a sort of “permanent revolution” that has unwound over the decades in the continuous attempt to clarify and more deeply investigate in always different ways the themes and questions that today repropose themselves as being central to artistic research. For example, we can cite the relation between the object, spatiality and time; or the dialectical composition of the rational and the intuitive, the material and the immaterial; or the inseparable nature between the sensorial and the mental as the peculiar connotation of artistic experience.
The exhibition ideated by Grazia Varisco for A arte Invernizzi, coordinated with attention paid to the ‘measure’ and ‘the exhibition course’ of the gallery spaces, is the tangible and concrete proof of this undeniable actuality of her work. Both in the surprising and significant persistence of her historical pieces, presented by way of introduction and counterpoint to her recent ones, as also regarding the chronologically closer productions (some of which presented here for the first time) which in their ‘sovereign’ and exact chromo-spatial ‘lightness’ are displayed in a freshness that is totally contemporary.
The fil rouge of all these works is what we could define as the crucial question of Varisco’s artistic research. In other words, the wish to capture and translate in both open and active presences that energy in movement which underlies every event in its taking place, every form in its becoming and every experience in its unfolding. In dialogue, her work has always looked for this engaging immediacy – understood as participation in the carrying out of the image – in order to give life to a ‘talking’ work, in the constant search for a syntony, for a relation. And precisely this participation – which is at one and the same time optical, more sensorial in an extended way, and equally psychological – is the key element in Varisco’s work. In fact, her production is never conceived as self-sufficient object, independent from its fruition, but is constantly elaborated as psychological and spatial challenge with regard to the conventions of our habitual relations.
The relational and interactive dimension of Varisco’s work was already evident from her first mature works, like Tavole magnetiche (Magnetic Panels) ideated in order to be reconfigured by the intervention of the observer. Her research was in a so-called ‘tactile’ perspective, one that was very particular within the ‘culture of the project’ that characterised Milan in the 1960s, which was generated by the dialogue between art, architecture, industry, town planning and design. For Varisco, in fact, the adoption of proto-technological and kinetic mechanisms – if not only marginally and by way of reflection – did not have the value of an attempt at the redefinition of the social statute of the artistic action. Rather, it was the instrument of a human involvement – both psychical and physical – which wanted to produce an active participation on the part of the spectator. Varisco’s work has in consequence always been a form of ‘project’ that has taken on an elementary, open and anomalous form liable to undergo unforeseen developments with the individual situations of expression. With respect to other so-called ‘programmed’ research works, Varisco’s production can certainly be considered as being a vision less closely and exclusively tied to the perspective of a ‘system’ underlying the physical construction and articulation of the work, notwithstanding the unexpected results in its moment of application. In fact, and as much as it was methodically rigorous, her work always knowingly and intentionally looked for the difference of casualness as the intrinsic and not accidental component, inherent in the same becoming work on the part of the idea, in the cognitive intuitiveness generated by sensitivity. This primacy of the experiential dimension has, over the course of decades, characterised Varisco’s entire work career and also explains her constant interest for simple and essential materials such as light (artificial or natural), different types of industrial glass, iron, aluminium and cardboard: a point that is fundamental for understanding the force of a language that has never entrusted itself to the allures of technics and matter but has always and exclusively been based on the vitality of its own situational articulation.
The Schemi luminosi variabili (Variable Luminous Schemes), exhibited at the historical itinerant exhibition of 1962 entitled “Arte programmata”, are objects that are electromagnetically animated in which the intermittent image is constituted by way of luminous tracks that alternatively appear and disappear on the surface, generated by the interference between rotating disks in which there are incised ‘weaves’ that let the light filter. In these, Varisco accentuates her interest focussed on the temporal scansion, for the momentary event that configures new possibilities for the image inside a course of events only in its power predetermined. This is an interest that was to return in her later work with attention progressively more underlined for the special dispensation of the system, for the contradiction and expressive potentialities for this element of difference with respect to expectations. In her Reticoli frangibili (Fragmentable Grids) developed after 1965, a surface of lenticular industrial glass is superimposed on a series of abstract geometrical elements painted on underlying panel (or else inserts of metal that simulate mercury in the analogous works entitled Mercuriali) that give rise to unforeseeable results in their interference, producing different images depending on orientation and viewpoint. In these works the artist tries to capture the moment from which there continuously emerge variations and permutations of an articulation of signs that is renewed at each encounter: “The meshes of the glass interfere with the signs by dilating, making them thinner and hiding them. I would like these signs to be vivacious, as darting as the goldfish in the glass bowl of Matisse’s painting”. This reference to a ‘lightness’ of doing and of experience is for Varisco existence itself, in the authentic and direct relationship with an artistic proposition which is interrogation and a questioning of apparently known categories – space and time – by way of the discovery of those minimal differences of the real that her works single out, acquire and offer to our possible experience. The Spazi potenziali (Potential Spaces), dating to the middle of the 1970s, are made up of monochrome wooden panels, freely combined with metal frames which duplicate their volume (entire or, as the fundamental component of the work, adding a further halved element); these further accentuate the dimension of interference, adding another element that was to be crucial for future works: emptiness.
The spatial fulcrum that connects the two floors of the exhibition is the sequence of the Gnomoni, articulated around the central staircase in which the artist materialises emptiness as space of thought and shadow as the passing of time (‘gnomone’ or ‘gnomon’ in English is the name of the pointer on a sundial). As the artist writes regarding this type of work begun in the middle of the 1980s: “The rigour of the conventions of geometry is altered, rendered almost indecipherable due to the effect of the simple operation of folding a portion of the sides along the perimeter of a quadrilateral. (…) One produces something unexpected, something which the play of the projected shadows unpredictably dilates: the effect of the ‘staggering’ of the space is multiplied, it ‘involves’ the spectator in his movements and shiftings. (…) For me this work is the occasion for an unusual experience of physical space, of mental space, of its existing, of its possible dilation, of its being made available for my breathing and for my eye, of its receiving and accepting my moving”. Geometrical and at the same time intentionally not decipherable in its orthogonal origin, this spatial intervention here takes on an ascensional dimension which accentuates its anomaly, in references and contrasts based upon the use of the “folding” of the matter (begun in 1974 with the Extrapagine), as the moment of opening towards the third dimension in divergent tensions and as the moment of sensorial bewilderment and perceptive unease.
In this and successive works one has the further clarification of how the themes of time and movement are declined in a totally personal way by Varisco: not in accordance with mechanical suggestions but as a kineticism of thought and of the mental sphere, following a perceptive variability and instability that is the anomaly of the form always activated by the idea. And at the same time this also confirms how her geometry is never ‘constructed’ at the table but is rather a geometrical vision of the situation, understood in the etymological and primary sense of intentionally not definitive collocation, in which folds and vibrations are an integrating part of the experience: “The person who looks with the fact of his moving provokes the continuous modification of the visual field, determining and living a situation in which considerable importance belongs to the same virtuality of the originated spaces, by the folding of the structure-elements and by their projection on the planes in an entirely topological reality that cannot exclude or disregard the flagrancy of the fruition which is not given abstractly, outside of the record of contingency. Varisco’s work proposes an experience of geometry as space of anomaly and difference, as form constantly immersed in situations: no matter how rigorous and careful, it is never ascetically measured and ‘drawn up’ but is always placed in relation to the place of its possible happening in human perception.
Interference and empathy, archetypes of relation in the work by Varisco to which reference must be made, concretely correspond to shadow and situation, anomaly and experience. And these are the coordinates which also characterise the artist’s most recent works presented in this Milanese exhibition, such as the Risonanza al tocco (Resonance to the Touch) of 2010. They invite the observer to take part in a ‘play’ of elementary interaction. They are surfaces of painted aluminium in which are incised orthogonal trajectories and geometrical forms which open space to the vibration of touch in a moment of sensorial experience that contemporaneously stimulates sight, touch and hearing. An extended relational basis of the contrasting dialogue of the full and the empty, not understood in purely formal terms but resolved in an active tension, in the creation of an intermediate and composite space of meeting (and which also reminds us of the Duetto – Tensioni sfasate of 1989 housed in the open-air Museo d’Arte Contemporanea all’Aperto in Morterone).
The Quadri comunicanti (Communicating Paintings), begun in 2008, repropose the theme of emptiness as the element for reading space by way of time. These works are a series of empty frames in iron, freely articulated in succession, and which are in part ‘filled’ by forms full of aluminium, cut according to an ideal line of the horizon. The suggestion is of a immobile ‘floating’ of a liquid ideally poured and solidified in these forms: a momentaneous event that configures new possibilities of the image. This suggestion is once again found and spatially ‘extended’ in the ‘negative’ of the residual empties, materialised in the forms of the Comunicanti in acciaio (Communicating in Steel) and the Comunicanti in azzurro (Communicating in Light Blue), these being characterised by being varied even more by the chromatic covering alluding to a further, diverse lightness. These works are on exhibit for the first time in this exhibition, as is also true for the new cycle entitled Ventilati (Ventilated) made of vegetal cardboard: the latter repropose in images the experience of alignment and perceptive unease of the variability of regular forms, as if the matter of the rectangular form were hung on a thread and moved by the wind. This is how the artist describes the genesis of these most recent works: “I once again see in a childish memory a line of washing hung up to dry, made rigid by the cold into crooked, frozen forms. I feel the disturbance of the contradictory orthogonality; rather, refuted in the alignment of the disarrayed elements perhaps just moved by a gust of gelid wind”. A fabric hung and frozen, rendered abstract and solid: Varisco’s creative thought distills the memory of reality in pure form. The artist translates the experience of the world into a geometry which for these works she has wanted to define as “jamming”, referring to “something that disturbs and always goes wrong, an interference that superimposes itself on normality”: communicative interference and thickening, badly controlled superimposition and compression where the rigour of rationality is as if upset and muddled by a gust of wind and, in the moment of its displacement and its confusion, is fixed by thought in these vibrant bichrome polarities. Values like ‘lightness’ and ‘exactness’ are among those that in his Lezioni americane (American Lectures) of 1985 Italo Calvino gave to the creativity of the Third Millennium as precious indications of continuity and renewed actuality. In these images the subtle and compelling thought of Grazia Varisco continues to run along the taught thread of that same future.
 Grazia Varisco, Reticoli frangibili – Mercuriali 1965/1971. I pesci rossi, 1970, in Giovanni Maria Accame, Grazia Varisco. 1958/2000, Maredarte, Bergamo 2001, p. 91.
 Grazia Varisco, Implicazioni, 1984, in Accame, op. cit., p. 136.
 Luciano Caramel, Grazia nel paese delle meraviglie, in Grazia Varisco 1988-1992, exhibition catalog, Galleria Milano, Milan, 1992, s.i.p.
 Grazia Varisco, testimony to the writer, 22 agosto 2014.
Michele Robecchi - ``Grazia Varisco, if..., 1960-2015``, exhibition catalog, Cortesi Gallery, London, 2015
If I give you probabilities, do not look for more.
Having emerged in the 1960s in response to the emotional dryness of Informalism, and gaining momentum from intermediate groups like Azimuth and Le Mouvement, the New Tendencies—the movement that eventually took shape in Zagreb as a gathering point of parallel forms of expression, such as kinetic art, concrete art and programmed art—turned out from the start to be something more than just a generational turnover. The desire to break with the rigid models of the past in favour of an art in movement where space and time are viewed as active forces to be dealt with, had unexpectedly taken root in culturally and geographically far-flung places. At a time when communication across the globe was hampered by obvious technological limitations, but also by a lingering diffidence left over from World War II, it was quite extraordinary that in places as distant as Latin America, Central Europe or the United States, artists would investigate similar concerns about the direction and motivation of art without each other’s knowledge. And yet the movement, which made the viewer an active participant in the perception and in some ways the definition of the work like none before, kindling a relationship of mutual understanding in the process that at least in theory should have made it universally popular, did not have an easy time.
In surprising contrast with most debates surrounding contemporary art, where a return to manual skill is regularly called for in response to constructions of an overly conceptual nature, the New Tendencies were received in some circles as a shrewd ruse designed to entertain a public that was lazy, or at least reluctant to deal with the aesthetic upheaval brought about by the early twentieth-century avant-garde movements. William C. Seitz, the curator of ‘The Responsive Eye’, the first museum-scale exhibition on the New Tendencies in New York, recalls that a considerable portion of critics tried to write the show off as a decoction of too much technique and too little art. These were strange objections to a movement that aspired to rediscover art as an opportunity for knowledge, growth and visual education by drawing on historical models like Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian, and riding the era’s wave of scientific enthusiasm. If anything, like most movements and schools of thought, even New Tendencies were at fault for failing to elude a classic stumbling block—the desire to present themselves as a definitive answer to a set of problems whose fluidity instead demands constant questioning and broadening of perspectives. This absolutism, combined with the romantic vision of the artist as half demiurge, half explorer of unknown worlds that prevailed at the time, would be strong enough to lead even the most dazzling idea down a dead-end street, but it never touched Grazia Varisco, an artist who in over fifty years of work has always made of doubt her forte. To be more specific, doubt in this case does not mean indecision or hesitation, because Varisco’s work is characterized by a balance and power whose authority can be unmistakably felt in any context. What instead takes place is a serene, mature acceptance of doubt, hence of the unknown, as aspects of reality that it is useless to try to escape. Equations like order/disorder and chance/program become the buttresses of a research that even in its most fruitful moments never fails to remind us that any outcome is subject to the laws of unpredictability. These principles, which could be summed up as the ‘certainty of uncertainty’, and envelop her work in a captivating vulnerability, could already be felt in the early 1960s, when Varisco, fresh out of the Brera Academy where she studied under Achille Funi, and having left off her early explorations of polymaterialism, presented Schema luminoso variabile (Variable Luminous Scheme) (1961-2) at Atelier Olivetti in Milan. Composed of two parts set face to face, connected by a band of wood and illuminated from inside by a circular neon light, Schema luminoso variabile is one of the first examples of generative art, with the rotation of its overlapping screens used to produce constant variations and repetitions, capturing the viewer’s undivided attention. In the same period Varisco joined Giovanni Anceschi, Davide Boriani, Gianni Colombo and Gabriele De Vecchi in the adventure of Gruppo T, a collective that formed at the Brera around the idea of variability (T standing for ‘time’), taking part in their sixth exhibition/manifesto, which like all the others before, was titled ‘Miriorama’.
Varisco recalls that during those first experiments, to make the group’s intentions clear, the works on view were often accompanied by a sign saying ‘please touch’, a counterintuitive invitation that would often lead the audience to unexpected exuberance once their initial shyness was overcome, but which became necessary if one was to stay true to the concept of a multisensory form of art, geared to engaging all five senses. As noted earlier, this interactivity, especially in its most playful aspects, was occasionally regarded with suspicion by the more reactionary academic circles, but was immediately greeted with enthusiasm by the more receptive exponents of progressive criticism, including Guido Ballo, Gillo Dorfles, and above all, Augusto Morello, who a few years later, for Varisco’s first solo show at Vismara Arte in Milan, underscored the internal ambiguity of her work by emphasising how ‘lyrical value is found in the image and sought in the machine’. Ambiguity, like chance, is therefore acknowledged as an integral part of the work, becoming a fundamental aspect which cannot be overlooked, and whose mere existence is enough to call the next work into play.
Here we must jump forward to 2010, when Varisco made Risonanza al tocco (Resonance to the Touch), a piece that decades after those earliest experiments confirms that these principles have lived on, updated to reflect formal necessities and natural developments in the study of perception. Elegantly monochromatic, Risonanza al tocco is inspired by a portrait of Igor Stravinsky (one of Varisco’s heroes, and not coincidentally, another innovator working within the parameters of tradition) where the maestro, with an alert expression, cups his right hand to his ear in order to naturally amplify something that piques his curiosity. The mute, hence mysterious image refers to the transmission of audible information and to the moment in which it travels—a suspended state of time that the viewer is invited to explore through a work whose vibration seems to implicitly answer an eternal question about the visual qualities of sound. Varisco, who is notoriously reluctant to talk about the motivations and processes that inform her work, has called this continuity a ‘red thread’, the legendary link between body and soul in Eastern literature, and a metaphor that is spatially depicted in Quadri Comunicanti Filo Rosso (Communicating Paintings: Red Thread) (2008), where a red line keeps to its trajectory despite the risk of disruption from the random arrangement of the group of rectangles it joins together. Inspired by the physical principle of communicating vessels—according to which, in the presence of gravity, the conservative force field will maintain a constant potential level—the series Quadri Comunicanti perfectly sums up the spirit of Varisco’s work. Formally Minimalist, and standing out primarily for its emphasis on emptiness, it nevertheless succeeds in the aim of blocking the surface on which it takes place, providing a simultaneous vision of continuity and instability. This game of deviations and superimpositions, which is already visible in previous works such as Spazio potenziale (Potential Space) (1973) and above all the Gnomone series (1972-85) (a three-dimensional transposition of the same concept, based on the shadow of a sundial rod as an intangible yet essential element highlighting the movement), therefore composes a mental self-portrait, where art generates thought as intense as energy in perpetual motion, with all the variables and contradictions involved. The idea of deviation brings up a particular episode which serves to illustrate Varisco’s philosophy especially well, and has to do with books, those objects that once printed and bound present themselves to the world in an apparently fixed form, free from any sort of interference. Although nowadays this occurs ever less frequently, up until a few years ago it was not uncommon for professionally published products to encounter unexpected mishaps in the printing or cutting stage. As Varisco recalls, ‘In 1974, when I began exploring these things, I asked the experts what the technical name was for this occurrence, this accident. Answer: “Nothing, there is no name for it. It’s just not supposed to happen”. The discovery that there could be such state of denial over an undesired but plausible technical anomaly to the extent that it lacked even an official name, did not escape the artist, inspiring her to claim this existent/nonexistent entity and use it as another framework for examining the relationship between programming and chance in her outstanding series Extrapagine (Extrapages). Although the English public had already gotten the chance to see Grazia Varisco’s work in group shows such as ‘Art in Motion: The Random and the Planned’ (Royal College of Art, 1964), ‘Arte Italiana 1960/1982’ (Hayward Gallery, 1982, organized by Caroline Tisdall) or more recently, ‘Force Fields: Phases of the Kinetic’ (Hayward Gallery, 2000, curated by Guy Brett and Teresa Grandas), ‘If’ is her first solo exhibition in London. In one of those karmic coincidences that seems inexplicable—but that should perhaps be accepted without seeking explanations if we want to think along Varisco’s line—a similar surge of interest is happening to her former Gruppo T associate Gianni Colombo, concurrently and regrettably posthumously present at Galleria Robilant & Voena just a few blocks away with ‘The Body and the Space 1959-1980’. Seeing both exhibitions may not recreate the the early 1960s climate of experimentation and enthusiasm in Milan, but is still a unique opportunity to reflect on the parallel paths of two artists who have written key chapters in the history of Italian contemporary art. In this dance of certainties and uncertainties, one sure thing is that Grazia Varisco’s red thread, unlike the one in Quadri Comunicanti, has a beginning but no end. It is difficult to foresee what exactly it will lead to in the future, but there will be no shortage of new ideas to help us developing a better grasp the world around us.
 See William C. Seitz, The Responsive Eye (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1965). For the New Tendencies, see Matko Meštrović and Radoslav Putar, Nove Tendencije (Zagreb: Muzej Suvremene Umjetnosti, 1961).
 This is possibly a consequence of the post-Futurist climate established in the 1950s by Funi himself and by Enrico Prampolini, the father of polymaterialist art, who was a professor at the academy and for a brief time also its director.
 A rough translation of ‘endless vision’, from the Greek orao (to see) and myrio (an undefinable quantity).
 Augusto Morello, Grazia Varisco (Milan: Vismara Arte,1966).
 This is not to say that Varisco is not articulate about her work. Her writings, though succinct, often shed remarkable light on her work.
 Grazia Varisco, “Extrapagine 1974-1982”, in Grazia Varisco 58/2000, Edizioni Maredarte, Bergamo, 2001.
Claudio Cerritelli - 'Red thread and other links', in ``Grazia Varisco. Filo rosso 1960/2015``, exhibition catalog, Cortesi Gallery, Lugano, 2015
Filo rosso [red thread, guiding thread] is the title that Grazia Varisco chose to accompany the connected paths of inquiry presented in this exhibition, works distant from each other in time but linked together by the resonance between their different perceptual thresholds. Moving beyond a strictly chronological order, many operating factors enter into this spatial synthesis to recreate “in the present” a field that joins the foundations of the past to new horizons of the imagination. The spatial rhythm of the exhibition suggests potential interconnections between surface values and three-dimensional virtualities, measurable perimeters and unpredictable forces, structural anchors and shifts in perception, consistent methods and deviations from the rules of construction.
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. The selection of works presents a sampling of the artist’s different branches of investigation, from the magnetic games of her initial kinetic phase to the constant modification of the visual rules that have characterized her shifting identity from the Sixties to the present.
In every stage of her career, Grazia 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. The discipline of seeing implies a depth of feeling that breaks with any plausible meter, forswears all planning in favor of chance, seeks out new apparitions within the ambivalent presence of absence. The gaze is left hanging in the void, looking for points of ambivalence and contrast, achieving temporary solace when it is shaken from its habitual torpor and plunged into states of revelation, overlaps between the real and the virtual, borderlands where the possibility of the invisible lies in the ambiguity of the visible.
Varisco’s “Tavole magnetiche” (1959) play on the oppositions between mobile, magnetic elements arranged on metal surfaces, objects that can be moved around, based on elementary dialectic polarities: order/disorder, empty/full, open/closed, symmetrical/asymmetrical. The alternating movement of the geometric shapes and linear segments gives chromatic complexity to a perceptual field designed to directly involve the viewer, who takes part in the multidimensional back-and-forth of the work/operation.
While on her metal boards, Varisco arranges objects, segments, lines and color stimuli in reciprocal and interchangeable relationships, on her transparent and semitransparent grids the position of the elements is visibly suspended. It is concentrated, on the one hand, into overlapping geometric planes, and spun out, on the other, into thin bands and metal filaments that undulate between tactile values and virtual shadows, spatial currents driven by the unpredictable forces of chance. The kinetic objects are “Schemi luminosi variabili” (1962-) which are programmed to function endlessly; the key factor is the dynamic energy that alternates light and darkness in a seductive electrical hypnosis, constantly testing the viewer’s capacity to process input. The incidence of variation continues in other optical/kinetic objects (1963-64), with the perceptual evolution springing from the interference— at a due distance—between the background image and the structural mesh of the industrial glass. The transitory luminescent results are connected to the combinatory possibilities of the positive/negative effects, perceptual fluidities related to the primary patterns that guide the systematic unfolding of vibrations. The optical/kinetic movement grows stronger 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 of perception, no longer exclusive and constrained, but rather open to disturbance by waves of emotion, uncontrollable impulses, unforeseen variables, rhythms broken down in order to capture outcomes different from the programmed field. The marks cancel each other out, become grainy and faded, lose the perfection of their chromatic tone, seem like feeble echoes of rigorous Suprematism. The same provisionality that characterizes these chromatic pulsations is also found in the mercurial liquid densities of the steel fragments scattered across the surface in various groupings, transitory images of a perceptual truth linked to the differing weight of the morphological structures. 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 manifestation of the thought process involved in design.
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. The forms seem disrupted, but are actually calibrated by overlapping planes that are staggered in precise relation to each other, weightless depths of empty surfaces, perimeters reflected in shadow and suspended in sudden gaps within the field of vision. 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 possibile expansion of the sculpture/environment.
Within a similar dimension of inward and outward breath, the “Gnomoni” (1975-1982) are broken, altered geometric structures in which one portion of the sides is bent and raised up from the plane, a dynamic alternation of real and painted shadows, suspension points that hover on the lightest updraft. Varisco is interested in the implications of the gaze that floats aloft, its entanglement in bends of air, the uncontrolled effects that flow in amazement between the surface and the third dimension. The physical movement of the viewer is increasingly necessary to render manifest the dynamic variation of the elements scattered over the wooden boards, free sequences that flutter in the void like counterpoints and variations. Even more compellingly, in the installations directly on the wall, the gnomons whirl in a light, diverging dance that evokes the motions of the body, the astonishment of the mind, the flashes of the visible, but above all the unexpected surprises of the unknown. When the sculptural temptations encounter open spaces, the articulations become fullfledged sculptures with spread and alternating angles, with the overall vision becoming the sum of crosswise movements that rise up on the wings of geometry.
These connections between structures and environments are further explored over the course of the Nineties, with new imaginative insights guiding the multiple “articulations” that Varisco dreams up in relation to the specific dimensions of a space, opportunities to filter the experience of the physical world by leading every choice back to her poetic body of sensibility.
In the series “Oh!” (1996-2006), the circular form makes its appearance, bent and in dialogue with its surroundings, flattened out on the floor or set in the corners to pick up suggestions of the void that evokes other voids, potential thresholds that expand to the wonderment of the senses.
The return to a frontal vision as virtual depth takes place in the “Silenzi” (2005), overlapping empty spaces that are variable in width; the viewer can adjust the structural extension of the forms and as a result, the primary weight of the color. They can be closed up to the point of eliminating any inner space or opened out with different apertures to create different situations within the succession of solid and empty spaces. After breaking through the constriction of the geometric unit and exploring the anomalous curves of space, Varisco rediscovers the virtues of two-dimensionality, transforming the image of the passe-partout into a place of infinite shifts. In keeping with this idea, there is a tribute to visual silence as a mute distance from reality, an absence and mental emptiness, the possibility of measuring the inside by the outside and vice-versa. This bivalence accompanies the entire set of surfaces placed along the flow of full and empty space, through sequences subject to modification, hence dictated by the artist and the unplanned intervention of the viewer. The latter also has the task of detecting “Risonanze al tocco” (2010), by lightly pressing a hand against the parts etched into the sheet, flexible forms that waver gently in the secret intonations of monochrome light.
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 invite 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, as in her most recent series of “Ventilati”, variable shapes hanging on the thread of memory. It is the same mental thread that runs through all the works of this show, a path that engenders a constant interplay between the deepest roots and the pressing demands of the present: an all-embracing experience that continues to surprise our gaze, awash in the oblique current of ambiguity. The analytic mind gradually surrenders to the interference of chance and the urging of doubt, the transparent uncertainty of everyday life, precisely because—as Grazia Varisco poetically writes—“the precarious is definitive”.
Francesca Pola - 'Knowing Time in Space Interview with Grazia Varisco, exhibition catalog, Fondazione Ghisla art collection, Locarno, 2016
FP: I would like to begin this conversation by asking you how and to what extent the space of the Ghisla Art Collection Foundation has determined the choices for this exhibition, in particular regarding your recent work which openly holds a dialogue with your older creations. For example, there are works like Gnomoni of 1984 which here constitute the central fulcrum of your personal room although they have been reinterpreted in a new way for this occasion. They are placed on the floor and their activation of space is forcefully determined by the longitudinal configuration of the room: it’s as if they guided us along a very clear route, both underlining and interpreting the coordinates and trajectories of the itinerary of the place.
GV: The Gnomoni, which in this exhibition I present placed on the floor, propose an alternative version to the ones originally hung on walls. I like finding new configurations and possibilities. Every situation can be solved with different proposals, also using their inclusion in places of connection and transit like staircases (as in the 2014 exhibition at the A arte Invernizzi gallery in Milan). In the Ghisla Art Collection Foundation the Gnomoni are placed on the floor, at the centre of the room, in such a way that it’s possible to go around them without interruption. They continue to be the elaboration of something that evidently has to do with shadow: the “gnomone” is the part of a sundial that casts the shadow which essentially speaking for me means knowledge of time in space (from the Greek gnósis meaning knowledge). They are based on a very rigorous geometry: a set of square forms. The iron square is repeated and is differently bent, sometimes at 90° and sometimes at 30° on the half of the side and at the opposite angle. Basically, the square is altered in an atypical way following a precise scheme. In geometrical terms it is all traceable, the coordinates are very definite, although I try to contradict them in order with surprise to observe something anomalous: in effect, the result is always a somewhat extravagant form that accentuates its own eccentricity in relation to the wall – in this case the floor – and more generally to the space in which it is placed. The part of regularity is a slight slope, a plane that is absent and which you only intuit by way of the depth of the perimeter that has been bent and raised.
FP: The element of shadow, or in any case of a dispensation from the expected physicalness of the form that becomes anomalous construction of space, is also present in your Ventilati [Ventilated]: both in those made of vegetal cardboard as in the new version – especially ideated for this exhibition – the RI-velati [RE-vealed]. Would you like to talk about these most recent works?
GV: These new RI-velati are very thin sheets of mesh in black and white. The guiding idea is a wire on which to hang them in such a way that they’re free in space although accompanied by the regular linearity of development. I’m interested that in this way the trajectory underlines the alignment which I investigated in the preceding cycle of the Quadri comunicanti [Communicating Paintings], not only in the Ventilati in vegetal cardboard but also in this grid version which is even lighter and more volatile. In those the “invention” of a sort of “liquid”, that ideally flows and pours itself from one element to another in the central part, creates a horizontality that is perceptively evidenced in an ambiguous way, notwithstanding the casual distribution of the square containers.
In the Ventilati and the RI-velati, instead, one has an aligned continuity in the upper part: a line which ideally bears the grid elements that are arranged in a light way and animated by evidencing the moiré effect.
I call them RI-velati because I like playing with words: its a reference to mysterious perceptive secrets that animate the space. For me they are in some way a tacit homage to François Morellet in my reproposal of the reticular element of his work.
It’s also an implicit reference to day-to-day activity, like hanging out the washing: everyday life solicits attention and considerations which are activated in the eye that pays attention to these experiences of iteration, variation and modification.
Here’s a banal but significative example: while I prepare risotto, turning the spoon in the pan, I’m aware of the circularity of my gesture, I control the more or less regular movement, clockwise and anti-clockwise. It’s something I’m aware of, that I perceive, and that I translate in my abstract formal experiences.
FP: On exhibit are works that explicitly dialogue with this idea of circularity. Certainly not because they’re inspired by it in a direct way but because they use the circle or rotation as an archetype of a possibility of relation with space. I’m thinking of your Schemi luminosi variabili [Variable Luminous Schemes] of the first years of the 1960s, or of the more recent “gnomoni” entitled Oh! sull’angolo [Oh! on the corner]. Notwithstanding the fact that they are decades apart, it appears to me that they share a sort of dialectic between orthogonality of the trajectory and circularity of the form in movement, physical or ideal.
GV: In the Schemi luminosi variabili I worked on the verification of the space-time binomial in relation to the use of a motor that determines the repetition of the work’s configurations. The study of the grid scheme tends to achieve the greatest variability of the image, adopting a luminous grid that foresees a progress, a rhythm deferred in time.
What interests me isn’t the result of a more or less resolved form but the variation underway, in this way placed under control. It’s a vision that opens and closes and which allows perceiving a cadence in time, a rhythm.
With regard to circularity, after many years I found myself thinking about this form that in its perfection and absoluteness is disturbed by a bending that conditions its reading and compromises it, arousing curiosity in the angled space in its projection or recess.
The title Oh! expresses my amazement, sudden and unexpected, for the vision of a thought that in being materialised is satisfied.
FP: This work of yours regarding the surface that becomes a passable/accessible trajectory, regarding form that becomes tangible space, is a constant factor of your career which even from the first years of your activity wanted to actively include in the work the so-called “spectator” who in contact with the work finds him or herself undergoing experiences that are both complex and elementary. This is one of the most recurrent coordinates of your work, but also one of the most decidedly revolutionary. How important is this aspect for you?
GV: In fact, already in my first Tavole magnetiche [Magnetic Panels] there is a sort of invitation to play in which I elaborated experiences tied to the concept of opposites, to the verification of order and disorder, before and after, above and below. A way of taking action on the surface and of involving it in a diversified way which brings into play space and time.
This is also true in the works entitled Reticoli frangibili [Fragmentable Grids] in the moving of the person who looks at them and also up to the Spazi potenziali [Potential Spaces] found in the Ghisla Art Collection Foundation. In these works the empty frame tries each time to adapt itself on the full panels: once again an invitation to move, to touch and shift on a surface with many nails on which to anchor these geometrical forms that are only the definition of the whole perimeter of the panel, or else only half of the supporting object.
The works entitled Extra pagine [Extra Pages] are normally of reduced size with respect to the usual format of a book. Instead the later ones in metal are large and transmit another physicalness and fixity.
The one exhibited in this exhibition is particularly dear to me because it’s one of the first large ones although it rests on various sheets of card: it’s a work which ideally you page through, turning page, close, in which you try to link the pages that pass from the horizontal and vertical plan to their intersection.
Also in this case, and in an evident way, the interference is expressed between chance and programme: an incomplete and flawed print is simulated in which the images are in part subtracted and in part run through by a shifting of the plan.
FP: In this work there is another extremely important factor to be found in your entire career which is what I like to define as a controlled fortuity or randomness. I think it is a very significant component of a new approach to living and relating to the work in a way that is continuously unexpected and yet recognisable.
GV: Yes, I’ve always been interested in verifying that chance can determine displacements and suspensions able to become familiar. For example, let us take Silenzi [Silences] which are extendible: also here time and space are subject to modification. Even if the plates that compose them are the same one has an infinite number of possible combinatory variations.
The variation is arbitrary. The title is Silenzi: silences are the empty parts which alter themselves and vary. It’s a little like seeing a photo frame without a photo.
In 1975 I worked on absences, with works that had the same title. It was like taking from the wall that painting or that object which left the surrounding mark of grey dust: this doesn’t thrill you as a factor of memory but as tension to carry out a new project.
A subtracted image, an empty field on which I invent to intervene in another way. It is the silence that spurs me on to imagine something that can substitute it. In part it leaves you with the nostalgia of what had been there or else it provokes the nostalgia of silence itself.
This dimension of fortuity or randomness is also to be found in the new version of the Quadri comunicanti exhibited in this exhibition and to which in the title I added the connotation of JAR – that is, strident, off-key and “disturbed”. I had prepared these Quadri comunicanti with a mirroring surface of polished steel because I was interested in trying out a version that differed from the former one. I had a sort of rejection in seeing the specular reflection thrown back in such a violent and inexorable way.
All of a sudden, and far too clearly, I saw myself mirrored – aged, unfortunately! So I then decided to brush the steel so as to tone down the image. But even more, to disturb it and in some way negate it by punching holes in it. A real act of rebellion on my part. For the spectator a way of avoiding concentration on his or her reflection in the work. Then, when the raptus has passed, I surprised myself by thinking of this new series as a sort of homage to Lucio Fontana
FP: This description of yours makes me think how during your career this mingling of regularity of forms and reference to the vibration of a real world is something constant while being always distilled and filtered – evoked but never illustrated. A crucial factor of your relationship with the real is certainly the tactile component of many of your works. In particular I would like you to say something about the works entitled Risonanze al tocco [Resonances to the Touch] in which the physical experience is mixed with the evocation of an aerial and resonant immateriality which, in my opinion, renders this meeting between concreteness and abstraction particularly evident, something that is so characteristic of your work.
GV: Precisely by means of a sensorial experience, in the Risonanze al tocco there’s the invitation to know the “fact of touching”, to feel the surface vibrate, not only optically. I call them “resonances” even if, effectively speaking, when they vibrate it’s only an almost dull or muffled sound. The basic idea lies in the expectation of something that is in arrival, a “perhaps”, a “I don’t know”: of always bringing my doubts into play, which in a sense are my hidden treasure.
I began to elaborate these forms which I called Risonanze al tocco because in the studio I had a playbill listing the performances of the Orchestra dei Pomeriggi Musicali in Milan with a photograph of Igor Stravinsky. In this photo the musician who was by this time elderly and perhaps hard of hearing, held his ear in his hand as if trying to hear, to better hear something. I enjoyed imagining him in a state of expectation, waiting for this sound event. To me it appeared to be an emblematic image of my work: the transitory factor, precariousness and the moment of suspension all lead to a continuous mixed state of surprise and waiting for something that then happens or that doesn’t happen… and it is here that I’m only aware if I know how to listen.
Milan, 18th December 2015