Pinot Gallizio and the Bauhaus Imaginiste

from the international ceramics meetings in Albisola
to the congress of free artists in Alba (1954 - 1956)

Giorgina Bertolino and Francesca Comisso

Pinot Gallizio. Ceramic design (never completed by the artist), 1957

Asger Jorn chose Albisola and ceramics for the Première expérience of the Mouvement International pour un Bauhaus Imaginiste (M.I.B.I.). It was the summer of 1954 and the M.I.B.I. had only recently been established as a reaction against Max Bill’s Hochschule für Gestaltung. Since its very inception, the Mouvement would reflect the nomadic nature of its founder; establishing itself as an a-topical network of contacts and relations with  no  center and no periphery, only a series of temporary “operative platforms”. During its brief life, from 1953 to 1957, the M.I.B.I. would take in the Italian towns of Albisola and Alba as two such platforms. In 1954 in Albisola, Danish artist Jorn organized, together with Sergio Dangelo, the International Ceramics Meetings, which would be followed up the next summer by the Deuxième expérience of the M.I.B.I., focusing on the “free decoration (libre décoration) of some hundred ceramic plates by a group of children”1. Free, along with the terms imagination and special, would become the key words not only in the development of Jorn’s theoretic thought but in the series of events and meetings which, from 1955, featured Pinot Gallizio.
At the invitation of artists Siri, Sciutto and Caldanzano2, Pinot Gallizio arrived in Albisola in August 1955 where, along with Simondo, he would exhibit his first and very recent artistic “experiments” at the bar Lalla. Gallizio’s meeting with Jorn, which the former called “a turning point in the freedom of research”3, would go down in the annals as a bona fide event. The meeting took place in “an unusual outdoor setting, as Jorn played music with his friends. Pinot tried everything to get Jorn’s attention, eventually managing a break-through when the conversation turned to archeology”4. Gallizio’s interest in archeology can be traced back to his adolescence when he inherited a book collection which had once belonged to the engineer Giovan Battista Traverso, promoter of various significant archeological digs around Alba during the late 1800s. The 1940s saw Gallizio resume his archeological studies, during which time he would bring to light various finds from the Neolithic period. “What motivated his research,” commented Maria Teresa Roberto, “was the hope that he would one day identify an original spatial unity, the archetype of the cave dwellings that functioned as shelter, habitation and burial place”5. During a conference held at the Famija Albeisa, Turin, in 1958, he would compare findings from the Alba area with those from the Ligurian caves at Arene Candide, hypothesizing a link between them and the prehistoric settlements of the Mediterranean area. With his We are still Ligurian, Gallizio was postulating a root of identity, proposing the very notion of circular time which underscored his Caverna dell’antimateria (Anti-matter Cave) of the same year. Prompted by similar motivations, Jorn, had been collaborating ever since the first issues of Cobra with the archeologist Glob, in his search to identify recurrent iconographic motifs in Scandinavia, from its Viking origins to its popular art.
While Jorn, in Pour la forme, essayed that man’s “capacity for invention” is expressed through “inventions from which he expects to derive pleasure”6, Gallizio, in a documentary about himself7, emphasizes certain details from a group of Neolithic ceramic finds which he alleges are decorative: “Here, the unknown craftsman was refining his tastes. He was attempting to fill a void. He certainly wanted to play, play for the sake of playing. Perhaps that is the most important thing… and this is what made me feel, in a sense, involved”.
And ceramics would lead Gallizio’s to his first artistic “experiments” towards the end of 1954. Together with Piero Simondo, his friendship with whom would be his introduction into art, Gallizio produced a series of objects that have been lost along the way though which do live on in a series of photographs taken in 1955 at Siri’s studio in Albisola. In the photographs we see, among the objects Simondo and Gallizio are showing to their ceramist friend, vases with square necks and a mask that call to mind Roman artifacts and Etruscan plastics. While his passion for archeology shines through in the forms of the objects, the true interest of these pieces lies in the material used: cooper’s pitch (a material used in the manufacture of Bertelli plasters, part of the Dr. G. Gallizio “Vegetal Chemicals” range prepared in the workshop on the lower floors of the artist’s house in Alba) poured into plaster casts. As journalist and critic Nalda Mura states, as early as summer 1955, Gallizio was touting pitch as the new substitute for ceramics8, blatantly overlooking the technical shortcomings of using such an highly fragile material and the ephemeral character of any object made from it. In Gallizio’s promotion of these “revolutionary” anti-ceramic experiments, we detect the first steps in a change of direction for the product away from production-line logic. Despite the availability of instruments that would have made serial production possible — the plaster casts — the result would invariably end in failure. Here, the “useless and anti-economical” gesture that Gallizio and Jorn would demand of art was being formulated for the first time, reflecting the aversion towards serial logic that was one of the motivations behind the M.I.B.I. This practice would be variously applied in Gallizio’s work between 1957 and 1958, starting with the painting by “parthenogenesis”, and on to the more well-known “industrial painting”. In the former, the term, borrowed from biology, refers to “a painting which develops itself” and which is achieved by superimposing sheets of paper onto freshly painted canvas. The specular reproduction of the image is a prelude to true serial production, simultaneously obstructing any potentially infinite production. Industrial painting, meanwhile is unlimited, the painting coming on long rolls of canvas destined to be cut up and sold by the meter. Here, a paradoxical “machine”, “programmed” for quantity but also capable of preserving the uniqueness and freedom of the creative gesture, is being put into place. Gallizio’s aversion to “disciplined” interpretations of artistic technique and his marked predilection for the “heretical” contamination of instruments and materials, found in Jorn the ideal interlocutor. The route from the early anti-ceramics through to industrial painting (partially rooted in anti-functionalist theory) served also as a critique of the concept of standardization. In response to Max Bill’s comments at the 1st Congress of Industrial Design at the Triennale di Milano in 1954, Jorn branded the “program of standardization” as “anti-aesthetic”, claiming that the functionalists had managed to create a world that was “increasingly regulated, orderly, rationalized and stabilized”. Jorn would counter such an ordered and ordering universe by positing an aesthetics capable of “producing strange, chaotic objects”, the expressions of “a human desire”9. It was amidst this climate of polemic that the first links  between the Danish artist and the International Lettrist group (I.L.) was forged10. If Jorn’s main aim was functionalism and Max Bill’s industrial design, the critical energies of the I.L. concentrated on architectonic rationalism as championed by the ‘general’ “neo-medieval” Le Corbusier.  The underlying theoretical and political affinity — aimed at staving off the creation of a normalized, “boring” universe11, — lay in a common recognition of the role of technology. Any radical change of reality is seen as taking place at application level. For example, if, as far as the rationalist architects were concerned, the “favored material” was reinforced concrete (“capable of lending itself to the most elastic forms though only ever used to build square houses”), the publication titled “Potlatch” would augur the arrival of “cement art”, and “a new architecture” capable of discovering “overwhelming climates”12. The theoretical research of Jorn, Gallizio and the Lettrists centered all practical applications on protocols that aspired to scientific status. The first fruits of the meeting at Albisola between Jorn, Gallizio and Simondo was, significantly, the establishment in Alba of the experimental M.I.B.I. Workshop (29 September, 1955). Gallizio, who had previously attempted to take Tullio d’Albisola’s theater play Le Streghe (The Witches)13 to farther afield than Liguria, found himself providing a roof for the new operatives of Jorn’s Mouvement in his own home.

Marco Lavagetto, The House of Asger Jorn in Albisola

Experimentation would make up the rest of the theoretical and practical legacy of the Workshop’s founders, while Jorn’s priority was the quality of artistic practice. Experimentation was, for Jorn, the “autonomous third part”, which is to say the element that removes art from the binomial of specialized critique that would have it either a form of “self-expression” or a form of “order”14. For Gallizio, experimentation was a territory, a truly operative place, one he had already sounded out during his time as an enologist and aromatist. Indeed, his first experimental workshop dates back to 1946 at the School of Enology of the Agricultural Institute in Alba15. The possibility of using the site for experimentation with art had already been essayed by Gallizio and Simondo between 1953 and 1954. And the fact that the two already had “results” at their disposal, however ephemeral (such as their paradoxical soft “ceramics”) is not lost on Canepa, a journalist with the newspaper “Unità”, who visited Jorn during a visit to Alba in 1955. Faced with the sight of Jorn melting colored pigments onto panels with the help of an electric soldering machine, Canepa observed: “What Pinot had been saying in Albisola turned out to be true. It struck me as bizarre that brushes and spatulas should no longer be necessary. I found Jorn using irons and soldering apparatus. And as he got on with his work, he complained that he still felt like a slave to the material. The plastic materials used have been the same for millennia: clay, wood, metal, stone, colors… We, on the other hand, are looking into the use of new materials. However, such materials will have to make the grade, like clay, as an elementary means of expression”16.
Between late 1955 and late 1956, Alba was the true albeit temporary “home” to the ideas that would eventually make way for the International Situationists (I.S.). In May 1956, the I.L., at the M.I.B.I.’s Experimental Workshop, laid down the direction “any current actions in architecture should take”. The Town Hall in Alba hosted the “I Congresso Mondiale degli Artisti Liberi” (First World Congress of Free Artists). This would be remembered as a “pocket” congress17, because of the small number of participants, and would act as a dry run in establishing the common positions of a new international movement. Organized by Gallizio and Jorn, the theme of the Congress was “Free art and industrial activity” and would bring together exponents from the M.I.B.I., Milanese Nuclear Group, Czech, German, Belgian and Dutch artists, as well as the I.L. delegation18. Judging by the speeches made and texts presented, there were two main tendencies vying for attention at the Congress. In his opening address, Jorn looked forward to the emergence of an “Institute of artistic experiments and theory that would enjoy the same status as the various scientific institutions”19, thus resolving any confusion regarding the relation between art and technology. Concentrating on the relation between artist and machine, Gallizio would coin the term “anti-patent” (antibrevetto), in a spirit of “common work” and a “pure solidarity of work”. Yet what would make the Congress at Alba into a forum for future programs was a text by Debord and Wolman, the latter part of the I.L. delegation to the Congress. It was his report that would represent the “final resolution” his “unitary urbanism… which must have recourse to all the arts and modern techniques” being met with the greatest degree of general consensus20. Thus, it was in Alba that Jorn’s critical project for art and its institutions would find itself within the broader context of social critique as promoted by Debord and the Lettrists. The existence of the I.S. bears witness to the results and frequent difficulties of this collaboration. Meanwhile, and still in Alba, ceramics and Albisola tradition would both have a part to play in confirming the possible union between art and technology. Following the Congress,  the Town Hall would inaugurate the “First Retrospective of Futurist Ceramics”, under the curatorship of Tullio Mazzotti.

1. A. Jorn, Le dernier des métiers, in Pour la Forme, I.S., Paris, 1958, p.64.
2. Siri, Sciutto and Caldanzano had exhibited in the Fall of 1954 in Alba. The following summer they invited Gallizio and Simondo to exhibit at Albisola.
3. P. Gallizio, Diario-registro, 1953-1961, Archivio Gallizio, Alba.
4. Pinot Gallizio: una vita “industriale”, from a conversation between Martina Corgnati and Giorgio Gallizio, in the catalogue Pinot Gallizio nell'Europa dei dissimetrici, F. Poli and M. Corgnati, exhibition held at the Promotrice delle Belle Arti, Turin, 1992, (p. 109).
5 M.T. Roberto, Chimiste-Botaniste-Archéologue in the overview “Catalogo Generale delle opere di Pinot Gallizio”, 1953-64, Mazzotta, Milan 2001.
6. A. Jorn, Structure et changement. Sur le rôle de l'intelligence dans la création artistique, op. cit., 1958.
7. Pinot Gallizio, documentary on the RAI channel, by C. Lonzi, 1963, Archivi RAI, Rome.
8. N. Mura, inscription on the back of a photograph, Archivio N. Mura.
9. A. Jorn, Contre le Fonctionnalisme, 30 October, 1954, in A. Jorn, Pour la forme, I.S. Paris, now in M. Bandini, L’estetico il politico, 1st edition Rome, 1977, 2nd edition Genoa, 1999, p. 236.
10. The Lettriste Internationale was set up in June, 1952, following a split between G. Debord, S. Berna, J-L Brau and G. Wolman from I. Isou's Lettrisme. Its official publication was a bulletin titled Potlatch.
11. The terms “boredom”, “boring” and “bored” recurred frequently in the writings of Jorn, Gallizio, Ivain and the Lettrists, and were picked up on in the International Situationists' own bulletin. The sense of “boredom” sums up the horizons of a society whose life — both in terms of work and so-called loisir (free time) — is made monotonous and is controllable by the powers that be. This is countered by the revolutionary power of desire and a passionate/impassioned attitude to life.
12. A-F. Conord, Costruzione di topaie, in Potlatch n. 3, 6/07/54; J. Fillon, Sull’ambiente sonoro in una costruzione più vasta in Potlatch, n. 21, 30/06/55; now in Potlatch. Bolletino dell'Internazionale Lettrista, Nautilus, Turin, 1999.
13. N. Mura, “Le streghe” di Albisola emigrano in ottobre ad Alba, in the newspaper Gazzetta Sera, 15-16 September, 1955. Theatrical adaptation by C. Fabbri, B. M. Puccio and L. Luzzati of a poem by Tullio di Albisola. Le Streghe was performed at the Pozzo della Garitta in Albissola on 31/08/55. The cast featured A. Fabbri, A. Siri and L. Luzzati, the costume designer. Scenery by L. Fontana, A. Sassu and A. Jorn.
14. A. Jorn, Immagine e forma, 1954.
15. On the importance of this “lexical antecedence”, see M. T. Roberto, op. Cit., Milan,  2001.
16. G. B. Canepa, E' possibile dipingere con un saldatore elettrico?, in the national newspaper L'Unità, 4/10/1955.
17. S. A., Congresso tascabile di giovani artisti, in the newspaper Gazzetta del Popolo, 11/09/1956.
18. Participiants in the Congress included: A. Jorn, P. Gallizio, P. Simondo, E. Verrone, G. Garelli, E. Baj, E. Sottsass Jr., P. Rada, J. Kotik, C. Estienne, K. Fisher, J. Calonne, Constant, J. Wolman.
19. A. Jorn, Opening Speech. 1st Congress of Free Artists, 1956, now in M. Bandini, op. cit. p. 250.
20. G. Wolman, Speech to 1st Congress of Free Artists, 1956, now in M. Bandini, op. cit. pp. 251-254, and The Alba Platform, n. 27, 2/11/1956 in op. cit.,  pp. 81-82.

Text published in the catalogue of the 1st Biennial of Ceramics in Contemporary Art “The Happy Face of Globalization”, Attese, Albisola (Italy), 2001.