Industry as a place of art
By Luca Beatrice
Bridges, ships and factories have an unconscious beauty of their own that reflect the spirit of their times.
What do an industrialist and an artist have in common? The same basic rule applies to both: be creative.
While it is practically taken for granted that creativity is a vital ingredient in art, it is harder to recognize in the world of industry. And yet history teaches us, with its series of “enlightened” men (such as Adriano Olivetti and Riccardo Gualino) who knew how to “see”, that being inventive and being a visionary represent value in the production process, just as it does in art.
Now more than ever, as wide spread economic crisis paralyses our wi|| and shared hopes, it is worth keeping Albert Einstein’s suggestion in mind: if problems cannot be solved using the same tools and approaches that caused them, we should then turn to creativity for a solution.
lt took literally, Bruno Guidi, entrepreneur and founder of the company that bears his name, Guidi srl, a Ieading manufacturer of ship components, opening the doors of his company to the curious eyes of two artists, photographer JiII Mathis and sculptor Chris Gilmour, who were invited to observe the reality of the factory from within, without filters or censorship, to revive the age-old partnership between industry and art.
After the lndustria exhibition in 2011, Bruno Guidi once again takes art “where most people don’t see it”. The result is a dual solo show representing labor, workmen, machinery, production, innovation and aesthetics in technology.
In the nineties, industry became the preferred subject of many artists fascinated by the poetics of non-spaces theorized by French philosopher Marc Augé in 1992. The bare architecture of the building was represented through the photographer’s Iens and on the painter’s canvas. The craze for industrial archaeology, which exploded in the last decade, Ied to a real proliferation of exhibitions and installations in abandoned factories all over Europe, setting the fashion on the contemporary art scene and breaking with the aseptic minimalism of the White Cube. Towards the end of the nineties Biennials and solo Shows were springing up everywhere in vacant containers rediscovered in the suburbs of bug cities. Developers rode the crest of the wave, restoring workshops and mills and converting them into artists’ residences, studios and galleries.
This approach to occupying abandoned areas is now beginning to seem overdone, even anachronistic, and a new relationship is emerging between art and industry. The crisis has done away with the charm of decadence and brought a more forward-Iooking, ethical, conscious attitude. The importance of industry, the value of work and of genius loci are seen and experienced as the basis of an active, competitive society which is tired of building on its ruins and reviving its ghosts. It is much better to have an industry made up of people of flesh and bone working to build a better future.
The beating heart of the economy and its encounter with art are the themes of this exhibition, in which today’s need for realism is met, without emotional filters but rather with a certain realist spirit.
Jill Mathis and Chris Gilmour worked in close contact with the workers at Guidi srl, discovering the aesthetics of technology, equipment and the people who use it. They encountered the workers’ hands, the products of their labor, the idea that becomes industrial design.
Different in origins, background and parlance — Gilmour is a British sculptor who lives in Udine; Jill Mathis is a photographer from Texas who also lives in Italy – the two artists came to the factory and Ieft it with two highly personal stories: the dynamism of manual and mechanical work, and the microscopic design of the p|ant’s technology.
On the basis of recently defined practice, the model of industrial patronage adopted by Bruno Guidi promoted their artistic work and established close contact with the client.
Just like the great masters of international photojournalism from Life magazine, Jiil Mathis embraces the aesthetic of work in her, ennobling portraits of gears, bolts, iron, water, sweat and hands. Mathis explores the soul of the productive space with images and closeups of characters who are unaware of the importance of their role, achieving peaks of Iyricism and abstraction like those of Laszlo Moholy Nagy (the first “surrealist” photographer, who accompanied Man Ray and his research into the potential inherent in the object itself).
The American photographer does not forget a rigorous, devoted respect tor the subjects of her photographs: high contrast, black and white close-ups of busy hands (as in John Loengards photographs) and images in strong colors with the same material power as black and white.
Mathis is familiar with the style of Margaret Bourke-White, the first woman reporter in history, and is capable of getting so close to her subjects that she almost touches their movements. Echoing the intention of nineteenth-century realism, that way of “seeing men in their workshops, their offices, their fields, with their sky, their earth, their homes, their clothes, their cultures, their foods” (Hippolyte Taine). T
he relationship between art and industry has deep roots and has always coincided with revolutions and even with the current crisis in our economic systems. Let us think of the nineteenth century in France, and then of Italian Futurism. Gustave Courbet’s realist paintings and the Second Empire that swept away bucolic eighteenth-century romanticism in favor of documenting gestures, tools and accessories.
Caillebotte and Zola, Léger and the model of the artist as builder. Early twentieth-century Futurism praised mechanical dynamism and the speed of a society at war, while after the Second World War, Pop Art in America and Nouveau Réalisme in France used the products of industry as an aesthetic object tout court, nude and raw.
Chris Gilmour also borrows a material used in industry, cardboard, and upgrading it to build his full-scale clones.
He becomes the builder-artist as proposed by Fernand Léger, whose goal is not to make an engine that actually works but to obey the plastic-aesthetic rules. Preparatory drawings, plates, sketches accompany his full-scale model of a small yacht, studies in which he includes a|| the mechanical microsystems he discovered in the work of Guidi’s skilled workers and designers. Unlike the reality, in his prototype of the historic yacht made in the Camuffo shipyard in the seventies, the components manufactured by the company are revealed through use of different colors of recycled cardboard complete with packing tape, print and adhesive labels.
The artist has already worked with Italian-made products (the llly coffeepot and the Olivetti typewriter) and automobile brands (the Fiat5OO and the Aston Martin DB5), bicycles and motorcycles (Lambretta) reproduced full scale; this time Gilmour attempts an even bigger sculpture, continuing his iconographic sequel concerned with the excellence and symbolism of industrial production. His assembly line, where even the nuts and bolts are recreated in great detail, invites us to approach the completed object again with a new spirit, curious, and as suggests Gilmour, to “observe what is around us with greater care”, as if to echo the words of Edouard Goerg in his contribution to the 1936 “querelle du réalisme”: today it is no longer only to look and see, but also to understand and communicate.