"INSTABILE REVERSIBILE "
The Body in the Machine
Donato Piccolo’s Hurricanes, which have earned him international recognition in recent years,
create profoundly physical feelings of disassociation in the observer. Raging inside of these mansized glass cases is a storm of water vapor created by an ultrasonic fog machine and propelled by ventilators. A halogen spotlight attached to the top side of the glass case effectively illuminates the scene, focusing attention on the whirl of steam. By means of two microphones on the outer sides, the sound from the inside is transmitted to loudspeakers. The sounds, with the exception of the soft splashing on the surface of the water, emanate from ventilators that are amplified into a powerful hissing noise. The simple increase in volume creates a surreal, macroscopic effect that links the observer to the dynamic processes inside the installation. On the one hand, he is physically separated from the wetness circulating inside by the glass panes, yet at the same time, he is spatially surrounded by the unnaturally trenchant sounds that convey immediate proximity.
The element of a somewhat domesticated natural phenomenon staged under laboratory
conditions cannot be concealed in Donato Piccolo’s sculptures. Their aesthetic is not nurtured by the drama of seemingly unleashed forces of nature. It is a beguiling, quiet scenario composed of the dance-like movements of air that oscillate between the order of a steady, circular rotation and cloudlike chaos, and the flickering light, filtered through the water fog, which, together with the noise of the wind confined inside the chamber, fills the entire space. In this constellation, the water vapor, i.e., fog, shows itself to be a material formed by the artist, a material that does not deny its ephemeral quality, but rather, brings precisely this to expression.
Donato Piccolo’s aesthetic-technical occupation with natural phenomena invokes a tradition
that came to full fruition in the evocative nature painting of the Romantics and which celebrates the
sublime beauty of physical phenomena. In this sense, an artist such as Olafur Eliasson, who thrilled an audience of millions in 2003 with his installation The Weather Project in the turbine hall of the Tate Modern in London, is also a Romantic. In the same way that Caspar David Friedrich places his Monk by the Sea from 1808-10 (Alte Nationalgalerie, Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin) before a stormy wall of clouds so that viewed from behind, he functions as a substitute for the observer, today’saudience with its sensorium is the real focus of Olafur Eliasson’s installations. Donato Piccolo, too, aims for the transformation of a natural phenomenon into an aesthetic event that ultimately takes place in the brain of the observer.
The fundamentally interactive approach of Donato Piccolo’s art also finds expression in his
new sound sculptures, Reversible Sound I-III. These function according to the principle of acoustic
feedback and can be controlled by visitors with the aid of a microphone held at a certain distance, like an instrument used to generate spherical sounds. In so doing, one’s own body comes into play, i.e., the movements of the hand and arms that shift around the box mounted on stilts to explore its sonic aura. Also in the sculpture Dream Machine from 2010, the observer plays an important role. The clumsy first impression of the object - which, with its cylinder supported by four legs on wheels, recalls a robot from a 1950s television series - is a contrast to the graceful clouds that rise from its blue illuminated center and occasionally take on the form of smoke rings. The size of these clouds are, meanwhile, determined by the size and silhouette of the spectators which the machine detects by means of a visual sensor. One can thus discern a metaphorical likeness of one’s own body formed from smoke which, after a short time, vanishes again.
The most elaborate work in the exhibition is an installation made out of seven glass vessels,
each of which contains its own circulating water cycle (Reversibility of 7 Unstable Elements, 2010).
The differently shaped glasses are attached by tubes to pumps that spray water at the inside of the
vessels at fixed intervals. This in turn creates a sound whose pitch results from the acoustic
resonance of the glass. Donato Piccolo has formed the vessels in such a way that they correspond to the seven-step scale of an octave. Two composers, Giacomo Del Colle Lauri Volpe and Marco Cucco have written a work for this curious instrument, which, by means of time switches that temporarily set the pumps in action, cause it to play autonomously. The forms of the vessels, elaborately hand crafted by a glass blower, were modulated with the aid of a computer program and in this process, have taken on more random and, as the artist emphasizes, organic forms that recall, for example, a heart or lungs. In fact, with the circulating water, the strong association with processes that have to do with human organs and various bodily fluids becomes apparent. In addition, the vessels that are outfitted with tubes, and the laboratory-standard glass sleeves that fix the containers to the steel stands, clearly present medicinal-biological references to the observer.
Apart from the sound that penetrates through to the outside, Piccolo’s kinetic sculptures deal
with closed systems that are propelled only by electricity. The moment of a return to the original state, something that is always possible – the reversibility – is a recurring motive in his creative work, as is also underscored in the titles of the pieces and the exhibition at Galerie Mario Mazzoli. This is what distinguishes machines from biological systems, whose path from life to death is not reversible, yet this is exactly where a revealing perspective on the development of Donato Piccolo’s works of recent years can be garnered, namely that it is informed by an intensive occupation with the human body. From this premise, what stands out, among other things, is the anthropomorphic form of the hurricane cases with their human size, and the light source at eye level. In addition, the water and its steam-formed circulation acquires a different field of association if one turns his point of view from meteorology to visceral domains where bodily fluids are subjected to chemical-biological processes.
The new dimension that has been added to Piccolo’s works since last year, that of transmitting
sounds from the inside, underlines this way of reading the sculptures. Not only does it address a
larger number of human senses, it’s also about the tendency of overcoming the transparent glass
membrane that separates the outside from the inside. Donato Piccolo’s kinetic sound sculptures are technical adaptations of the human body and informed by metaphors of its inner soulfulness.
Marc Wellmann, Berlin 2010
English translation: Laurie Schwartz