Marina Apollonio, Circular dynamics 6Z + H1968, diameter 100 cm Padua, artist’s collection
The exhibition takes up the famous exhibition in the title The Responsive Eye presented at the MoMA in New York in 1965, dedicated to the abstract tendencies of optical and perceptive art then in vogue (a short, original video shot by a young Brian De Palma and available on YouTube testifies to that event), and declines in a new, unprecedented key.
There are two tracks on which it travels “The eye at stake“. One with a historical style, entrusted to Luca Massimo Barbero, is dedicated to artistic research that has focused on color, optics, movement, perception, articulated from the thirteenth to the twentieth century. A path that embraces works ranging from Renaissance astrolabes to the contemporaneity of an Anish Kapoor.
The other path – by psychology teachers Giovanni Galfano, Andrea Bobbio and Massimo Grassi of the University of Padua together with Guido Bartorelli -, opens up a magical world between art and science that investigates the experiments conducted at the beginning of the Sixties by the artists of the Group N in collaboration with the perception psychology scholars of Padua.
The trigger for this great exhibition not to be missed is the 800th anniversary of the University of Padua, of which the school of psychology founded in 1919 is part. For the occasion, the psychology professors have opened a dialogue with their history colleagues. of art to investigate how in the Venetian city, starting from the end of the 1950s, artists have appeared who have put the process of seeing in oneself at the center of their research. At that time, works of art were created that had the aim of investigating and penetrating the act of seeing, as a problematic act in itself. A goal that coincided with the research carried out by the psychologists of the University of Padua.
The Sixties in Padua were a very fruitful period for art and scientific research …
“Group N was formed in 1960 and had a fairly short life until 1964. The perceptive interest from which the artists moved came from the internal tradition to international art. Among their points of reference was the Bauhaus which in the last part of its history was based in Berlin where there was a school from which the theory of Gestalt, or the psychology of perception, spread. Padua, like Berlin, like Graz was one of the great centers for the diffusion of these theories.
Well, the Paduans, very young (they were just over twenty), start at the beginning to be interested in seeing in themselves. Then in 1962 they realize that in Padua those themes are being studied with a recognized international authority.
The Paduan artists attend the psychology workshops and the psychologists begin to attend the exhibitions organized in the ateliers of the N Group. And from there they learn from each other, we witness a very interesting exchange. Artists become more aware of what they are doing, they refine their means of obtaining optical illusions or figure effects to a degree of great complexity. Psychologists find new fields of research in the work of artists.
An emblematic case is that of the “moiré” effect: a French term that indicates an optical effect that occurs in nature when we have two similar structures that overlap on different planes. Strange plays of shadows and recurrences of figures are created that in reality are not there, but are the effect of the fact that our eye is unable to instinctively focus on both planes. This is an effect that the artists of Group N exploit a lot. After that, the psychologists themselves realize that it is an effect worth studying. “
Base disc for zoetrope, Wheel of life, published by HG Clarke & Co., London 1870 Turin, National Cinema Museum © Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Turin | Photo: © Giorgio Tovo
What are the effects observed by artists and psychologists of perception?
“The section that has as its title”Group N in the psychology of perception”Begins with an example of the scientific studies that were carried out in Padua in those years. Vittorio Venussi and Cesare Musatti had studied the effect of stereokinesis, ie the fact that the relief, which art generally rendered using shadows, can also be obtained by rotating structures with concentric circles drawn. Having said this it seems difficult to explain, but it is a bit like the effect we have when we observe, for example, a spiral that turns. When we see it turn, the center seems to penetrate or come towards us depending on how we look. And it is a three-dimensional effect that is obtained thanks to movement: the circles seem flat when we see everything from a standstill and they begin to gain volume when they are set in motion. This is an example of a survey that was carried out in Padua.
And it is interesting how the scientist elaborates his figurations step by step also to submit them to the people on which to verify the effect, while the artist gives us extremely complex configurations of great symbolic, analogical charm. It is interesting to see the difference between laboratory materials and artist materials. “
There is also the contribution of a philosopher to the exhibition …
“The philosopher Elisa Caldarola wrote an article for our catalog addressing the problem head on. The question is: why do we perceive almost identical images from totally different fields such as the scientist’s plates used for her experiments, and the images produced by the artist? In truth, these are identical paintings which, however, have two different lives. If I can allow myself to summarize brutally, the difference is given by the gaze of the beholder. So the scientist is expected to solve some problem, they are works that look for their functional factor towards the formation of new knowledge. On the other hand, one does not go to the artist for the final solution but one is enchanted to notice the orchestration of forms that have ends in themselves and not in the solution of a problem. “
What approach did you have towards the visitor?
“It was very important to be friendly towards the visitor who may be starved of art: there are explanatory panels and a useful audio guide. It is an exhibition that requires some attention to record the vibrations that are created between shapes and colors. At the same time it is an exhibition that accompanies the visitor through history in defining certain situations of Paduan origin as Group N of international importance. It is a great exhibition, it would take a lot of time. It is capable of giving a lot to children because there is a level of reading of the works based on amusing perceptual effects, almost a game. One of the first days of the exhibition opening, I heard Edoardo Landi, one of the members of Group N (together with Alberto Biasi, Ennio Chiggio, Toni Costa and Manfredo Massironi), give an interview in which he said that their masters, such as Emilio Vedova, accused them of playing games. And Landi said: “very well because we want to talk to children, we want to show these works on seeing those who have an innocent eye open to perceive without preconceptions “. Art is a game that can also be very serious, that knows how to open up knowledge and take us to an unprecedented level of depth. ”