A CIELO APERTO: when contemporary art invades the public space

With four new commissions in the area of Cuneo, Fondazione CRC in collaboration with Castello di Rivoli aims at enhancing the relationship between territory and communities through art

‘A CIELO APERTO’ (Italian for ‘open-air’) is the public art project realised and promoted by the Fondazione CRC in collaboration with Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea to celebrate its 30th birthday. Four contemporary artworks and new commissions produced by four internationally renowned artists – Olafur Eliasson, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Susan Philipsz and Otobong Nkanga – are permanently located in four locations – the Piemontese towns of Alba, Bra, Cuneo and Mondovì – in the area of Cuneo where Fondazione CRC operates. Different in style, aesthetics and media, the artists are united by a firm social commitment which translates into meaningful works of strong emotional impact.

Olafur Eliasson The presence of absence pavilion, 2019-2022 Photo Luca Privitera Courtesy Studio Olafur Eliasson e/and Fondazione CRC

With the purpose of creating a bridge between the Cuneo area and the communities that inhabit it through the languages of art, the permanent installations are placed in four significant places in the province of Cuneo and are designed to be enjoyed by a vast and heterogeneous audience, such as university students, tourists or simple passers-by. The project inaugurated last June with the unveiling of ‘The presence of absence pavilion’ (2019-2022) by Olafur Eliasson in the park of Castello di Grinzane Cavour (Alba). The installation consists of a black parallelepiped dug inside to represent the melting of a block of ice detached from the coast of Greenland and found by the artist adrift in the northern seas. By making a precise cast of the ice block, Eliasson has created a play of solids and voids, that invites visitors to interact with it, enter it and look at the landscape through its imprecise outline. Surrounded by fields and vineyards with a spectacular view of the Cottian Alps, the sculpture creates a dialogue with the surrounding valley, the result of the eroding action of water on the hills, while the imposing mountain of Monviso seems to act as a warning and to remind us of our role in the fragile balance of nature.

Michelangelo Pistoletto Il Terzo Paradizo dei Talenti, 2022. Photo Loris Salussolia

‘The presence of absence pavilion’ was followed by a work designed by the master of Arte Povera, Michelangelo Pistoletto. ‘Il Terzo Paradiso dei Talenti’ (‘The Third Paradise of Talents’, 2022), more didactic than the previous one and with lower visual impact, is an ambassador of a clear and shareable message of hope. Drawing from the themes that have characterized the last decades of his artistic research, Pistoletto has created a large-scale installation that represents the famous symbol of the Third Paradise: an infinity symbol to which a third central element is added that symbolizes the union, the synergistic contact between artifice and nature. Among the four artistic projects of ‘A CIELO APERTO’, the work of the Italian artist is certainly the one that best interprets the concept of active participation and collaboration between the art world and society. The work was in fact created with the contribution of numerous children who submitted 122 drawings depicting their main talents. A clear reference to the place where the installation is located: right next to Rondò dei Talenti, an educational center promoted by the CRC Foundation in the city center of Cuneo.

In November it was Susan Philipsz‘s turn at Museo Civico della Stampa Ex Collegio delle Orfane – which is definitely worth a visit – in Mondovì, with ‘A Song A Part’ (2022), a strongly evocative sound installation. Unlike her colleagues, the Scottish artist has interpreted the theme of the relationship between territory and community by drawing on the historical heritage of the Cuneo area. ‘A Song A Part’ draws its inspiration from the ‘Primo Libro de Madrigali’ (1568) by Maddalena Casulana (1544-1590), the first female composer in history to have an entire book of her music printed. Philipsz chose to sing two songs from the Primo Libro de Madrigali recently found in the Cuneo library. The two recordings – in which the words are transformed into abstract sounds – are reproduced simultaneously by two loudspeakers, transforming the artist’s song – sometimes intoned, sometimes more uncertain – into a sort of lament that recalls at the same time the suffering of the orphan girls who lived in the former convent and the fatigue of the women who have struggled to establish themselves in the male-dominated world of art and culture.

Otobong Nkanga Of Ground Guts and Stones, 2022-2023. Photo Lavezzo Studios. Courtesy Fondazione CRC

‘A CIELO APERTO’ closed with the unveiling of ‘Of Grounds, Guts and Stones’ (2022-2023) designed by Otobong Nkanga in collaboration with Slow Food and the University of Gastronomic Sciences of Pollenzo, where the artwork is located. The installation comprises five heavy marble seats hosting autochthon herbs and plants. When asked about her decision to include not only edible plants, but also flowers, Nkanga said: «Flowers are the main sources of sustenance for bees and other insects. I wanted to address the topic of food not only from a human perspective, and to emphasize that nature and the soil provide food and resources for all living creatures». The metal pipes – resembling guts – that branch off from the sculpture and go back into the planters represent the infinite cycle of life and food that comes from the earth and always returns to it in a different form. Here the relationship with the territory is addressed through the role of food: how it is found, processed and consumed by human beings. Nkanga’s artistic research often revolves around the themes of sustainability and ecology that also constitute the fulcrum of the philosophy of Slow Food, the international non-profit association born in Bra in 1986 from the intuition of Carlo Petrini, whose intent was to restore the ancient value of food and the respect for those who produce it according to tradition and in harmony with the environment.

The project ‘A CIELO APERTO’ and its mission – rather successful especially thanks to the works of Philipsz and Nkanga – demonstrate how art, removed from its traditional places of consumption, can maintain its communicative power by tackling issues that would almost lose their urgency if confined within the walls of a museum. In addition to all the well-known benefits that public art has on communities and society in general, this open-air project also feels like a breath of fresh air in contrast to the limitations and long closure periods that have characterized cultural consumption in recent years.

Agnese Torres
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