With the emergence of important movements such as Arte Povera and Transavanguardia, the history of contemporary art would not be complete without full recognition of the contribution made by figures of the calibre of Piero Gilardi (1942). He is an artist who has always sought out forms of expression that provide an alternative to that of the artistic circles from which he has always been independent. Ever since he started his career, Piero Gilardi has been a key artistic figure in the social field, with his works standing out for their civic and political commitment. Profoundly influenced by the critical thoughts of intellectuals such as Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Herbert Marcuse, Félix Guattari and Ivan Illich, Gilardi has investigated a new approach to artistic practice in the field of biopolitics. He has done so with new artistic languages and compositions that encourage the public to adopt a critical view and to face up to the pressing issues of the ecological and environmental crisis. The exhibition illustrates the journey of a master for whom art and life are as one with militant commitment, helping bring about a creative approach within the masses and the community.
In 1966, Gilardi exhibited his TappetoNatura for the first time, and it was this work that brought him overnight fame at the international level. In these Nature-Carpets and in other works of this period, such as Igloo (1964), he presented an artificial form of nature while adopting the principles of realism. In the artist’s mind, the Tappeto-Natura was first and foremost a work to “experience”: the object is indeed not work to be contemplated passively, but rather an aesthetic device that involves an absorbing, participatory relational experience. This meant that the artistic object lost its aura and acquired a social mission that completed its value through its use and function. This was an inhabitable art — to paraphrase the title of the famous exhibition in which Gilardi took part — or even wearable art, as we see in some foam rubber costumes designed and made during this period, as well as the “masks” that Gilardi would soon start creating for the street protests.
Between 1967 and 1969, Gilardi stopped working on his famous Tappeti-Natura and also on his object-based approach to art. This was in line with the processes of dematerialisation of the work and of a criticism of the capitalist system, which were at the heart of much of the work being carried out by many artists in those years. From 1969, and for a long time after that, Gilardi worked mainly on his militant theoreticalpolitical activities, which at the time were the only ones that fully reflected his thoughts. In the late Sixties, Piero Gilardi moved away from the world of official art and worked on the only form of theoretical-political activity that reflected his thoughts at the time: the need to express the idea of an aesthetic action capable of entering real life without petering out in the field of art. In the 1970s, he was involved in social and political activities, creating cultural exchanges and events while his role as a political activist and militant came to the fore. Taking inspiration from the historic avant-gardes, the Turin-born artist concentrated on creating posters and masks for street protests. These were monumental but also satirical works, and they were loved by the people, for they transformed aggressiveness and anger into pride and cheerfulness. Sometimes, the street protests became popular festivals, and the streets — normally controlled by capitalistic regime — were temporarily taken over and transformed into autonomous free zones, where everyone had the right to express themselves. This led to the carnivalisation of the world that, for Gilardi — as also for the Russian philosopher and literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin — was an essential means for desecrating and overturning the temples of culture and consumption, as well as roles and social attributions.
In the 1980s, Piero Gilardi sensed that the collective and participatory aspect of the new technologies that were being developed could bring out the potential of his aesthetic devices. This led him to open a new chapter in his artistic career: one that he himself referred to as New Media Art. New technologies helped amplify the concepts he had been working on ever since he had first started. Relationships, participation and multisensory perception are his instruments for investigating the themes that have always been at the heart of his artistic research, and particularly that of the relationship between nature and scientific and technological progress.
From the end of the 1980s, anticipating the issues that were soon to take over the debate about the technological information society, Gilardi’s theoretical works and installations tackled the most controversial themes of the information age. Always presented as playful experiences, his works deal with virtual reality and interactivity, with the relationship between man and machine, and with the pervasiveness of the media and the consequences for direct democracy and social control. They adopt a vision in which relationships between individuals emerge in the form of a new collective, multiple Self, in favour of a new, more equitable ecological conscience and greater social justice.
Right from his debut in the Sixties, Gilardi distinguished himself from his generation as the person to turn to for knowledge about artists and international currents, for he travelled around Europe and the United. He started working with various art magazines — including the Italian Flash Art, the American Arts Magazine, the Swedish Konstrevy and the French Robho — which published not only his news articles but also his critical and theoretical reflections on the transition of society from the industrial to the post-industrial age. At the end of the Sixties, he was also a consultant to international curators such as Harald Szeemann and Wim Beeren for exhibition projects that made history, like the “When Attitudes Become Form” (Kunsthalle, Bern, 1969) and “Op Losse Schroeven” exhibitions (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1969).
He continued this activity also in later years, but with less reference to the world of art and more of an opening up to the political, militant dimension, and with theoretical reflections on environmental sustainability, biopolitics and the consequences of technological development.
The Park of Living Art (PAV) built in 2008, is his most recent artistic and cultural project: a collective work consisting of a large park in the suburbs of Turin, where artists are invited to create site-specific installations, and which has ecological awareness, aesthetic education and social inclusion at the heart of its activities.