Giuseppe Spagnulo: Material > < Body = Form > < Idea
This study aims to offer an insight into the role fragmentation plays in Giuseppe Spagnulo’s work.1 It will concentrate on some of the artist’s work in terracotta and grès from the 1960s and the 1980s in which the fragmentation of the body plays a central role in realizing the artist’s intentions. With the endorsement of Professor Spagnulo, this paper will also use the example of his work to present the concept of fragmentation in sculpture as a means to create new contexts through the reciprocal interaction of the parts and the whole.2
Although this contribution will focus on Spagnulo’s work executed in terracotta and grès, it is important to underline that the artist works alternatively with clay, iron, and mixed media such as volcanic sand on cardboard. In this paper I will refer to some of the works executed in other mediums, as the concept of fragmentation is integral to his idea in which he works all the materials he employs.
The title of the conference for which this paper has been prepared, ‘The Fragmented Figure in Ceramics’, has led to the questioning of the meaning both of the fragmented figure and of fragmentation in art itself. The idea of the figure as a subject in its own right plays no role in Spagnulo’s work. Hence, this contribution seeks to go beyond the three-dimensional visual perception of the figure and sets out to discuss the idea of the figure as a body that is understood as a material entity. It will suggest that a body’s fragmentation into parts is not an act of subtraction (similar to that of a surgeon) but of addition to create a new body that goes beyond three-dimensional visual perception through the reciprocal interaction of the parts and the whole. This is what I have termed ‘the complex body’. The idea of the complex body is inseparable from theories of the fourth dimension and the notion of intuitive duration. In order to explain the importance of the concept of the fourth dimension as applied to artistic theories and the artistic tradition to which Giuseppe Spagnulo’s works can be linked, it will be useful to briefly look at the futurists’ incorporation of aesthetic theories of time and space. The understanding of the complex body will illustrate that in Spagnulo’s work fragmentation is a means to create new contexts through the reciprocal interaction of the parts and the whole that serves to underline the importance and the power of the memory for our understanding of the real world and the Platonic dualism real life consists of.
Matter and space in movement
Giuseppe Spagnulo is interested neither in the idea of the figure as a subject nor in form itself. The artist, who does ‘not believe in any one form being more perfect than another’, however, is interested in the ‘Concept of Form’ and especially ‘in the quantity of space that a form manages to set into movement’.3 In other words he is interested in the energy that is created through both the suggestion of space in movement and the continuous reciprocal interaction of the single parts and the whole.
Whereas the suggestion of space in movement denotes space as a homogeneous medium without boundaries, the artist’s work also presupposes time as being homogeneous. This might be called Personal Time which, contrary to abstract, mathematical time of temporal character, is devoid of elements of succession and without boundaries as it is formed by various positions of intuitive and cognitive consciousnesses from the past and the present that are united into an organic whole. As the components are constantly reshuffled in our minds, Personal Time is never static but dynamic; it takes on a new dynamic beyond space. In the works we will examine how the act of fragmentation serves Spagnulo as a didactic tool to create new contexts through which it is possible to give a sense to the real world.
The fragmentation of a body as a means to set space into movement and to create new contexts through the reciprocal interaction of the parts and the whole presupposes the understanding of the body as a material entity. Therefore I have made a distinction between the concept of the figure and the body. The figure, being solely an image or idea of the body, I regard as being already an intellectual fragmentation of the body and hence not related to material. The understanding of a body, on the other hand, relates to a material entity that might be fragmented into parts but does not cease to exist when changing shape. In Spagnulo’s words, ‘a body is material: surface, skin, blood, flesh’.4 His understanding of the body as a material entity is clearly visible in his work Figura (1963) (fig.1).
Here, the body is both fragmented and encapsulated in space by a cage-like structure. Even though the body is cut into several pieces it does not cease to exist. On the contrary, the body’s fragmentation into parts is not an act of subtraction but of addition, creating a new unity of parts in their relationship in space and time as a memory so that the result becomes something more than the original whole. The resulting relationship between the single parts creates a ‘new, extended body’ that becomes one with space and time as a memory. I call this the concept of ‘the complex body’.
The complex body
In order to explain and to illustrate this concept of ‘the complex body’ that seeks the fusion of time and space with notions of intuitive consciousness or memory, it is useful to briefly look at another work by Giuseppe Spagnulo entitled Archeologia (1979) (fig. 2).
This work, which consists of a plate of cast iron and a cast iron sphere that has been broken into seven pieces, represents the transition of a primordial, rational body, in this case the sphere, into a new ideal form that encapsulates the idea of duration of time or Personal Time, synonymous with memory (fig. 3).
Spagnulo had the sphere dropped from a height of about 32 metres onto the cast iron plate so that it broke into seven parts. The fragmentation of the sphere creates a new, extended body. Each of the seven segments carries a clue to the other segments forming together the sculptural whole. Every fragment forms part of the memory of the original body. Further, the imprint the weight of the sphere has left in the centre of the cast iron plate reminds us of the instant in which an ideal, rational form in movement has become a new real form that represents movement in form. It is this dualism of ideal and real form that presents the sculpture as changing, evolving, and thereby encapsulating consciousness of time and space, of the infinite. The action of fragmenting the body has created a new unity of parts in their relationship in space and time as a memory. It has freed the sphere from its rational three-dimensionality and suggests a spatial fourth dimension which in this case serves to represent the power of the memory. It is not accidental that Spagnulo has entitled this work Archeologia, for archaeology is concerned with the science of digging to excavate evidence of past times. To Spagnulo it is representative of the ‘digging in the soul, in one’s own memory’.5 Hence, the act of fragmenting the sphere into parts is not an act of subtraction but of addition to create a complex body that goes beyond three-dimensional visual perception.
The fourth dimension
The idea of the complex body is inseparable from what has been defined as the fourth dimension. Theories of the fourth dimension overturned the assumption that space, according to Euclidean geometry, is defined by three dimensions only. The origin of this concept applied to artistic theories and the artistic tradition to which Giuseppe Spagnulo’s works can be linked goes back to the futurists’ incorporation of aesthetic theories of time and space and in particular to the way Umberto Boccioni applied these to sculpture. It was in particular the theory of the fourth dimension developed by the French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941) in his work Matter and Memory, written in 1896, that inspired Boccioni to seek the fusion of a spatial fourth dimension with notions of temporality and intuitive consciousness.
Bergson, who conceived matter as energy in the constant flux of becoming, perceived time as the very foundation of reality. He is best known for his view of psychological time. In his view of time, he points out that what we experience is not the spatialized time of physical science but some kind of intuitive duration that cannot be described in spatial metaphors. Similarly, his theory of memory makes use of the notion of intuitive duration, rather than physical time, which is the medium in which we remember. Intuitive duration is the spatial fourth dimension that enables us to go beyond three-dimensional visual perception. This is what inspired Boccioni to seek the fusion of a spatial fourth dimension with notions of temporality and intuitive consciousness.
The way Boccioni used Bergsonian thought to revolutionize the way the figure can be interpreted has very often been illustrated through the classical comparison made between Pablo Picasso’s Head of a Woman (1909–10), which is concerned with giving the suggestion of a three-dimensional object by means of dissection and reassembly, and Umberto Boccioni’s Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio (1913).6 Picasso’s geometrization of the head serves to underline the formal structure of the represented subject, and it does not create a decisive break with the figurative tradition. Boccioni’s sculpture, on the other hand, extends the body so as to suggest the movement of a human figure walking towards space. Boccioni aimed to eliminate an object’s confines and intended to create a bridge between the infinite plastic exterior and the infinite plastic interior. Hence, the physical extension of Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio serves not only to suggest movement but also suggests the figure’s contemporaneity with time and space.
Whereas Boccioni took on Bergson’s concept of the fourth dimension to suggest space and time and dynamism, Spagnulo’s take on Bergson’s notion of intuitive duration as a spatial fourth dimension is employed to suggest the power of the memory through which it is possible to give sense to the real world. In Spagnulo’s Testa e triangolo (1964) the head, which is representative of intuition, breaks and destroys the primordial perfect form of the triangle, which is representative of intellect (fig. 4).
The destruction of intellect, which is matter in a static state, by intuition, representative of the mind and intuitive duration, hence memory, and their contemporaneous fusion is related to the Platonic dualism inherent in Greek tragedy. Platonic dualism is not only inherent in the rupture of intellect by intuition and vice versa but also in the contemporaneous fusion of both. Indeed, to Spagnulo, Greek tragedy and the dualism between Apollonian aspects of Greek life and Dionysian aspects of Greek life lie at the heart of this sculpture. As man, so Spagnulo says, is primary, it is through the dualism found in Greek tragedy that man is best represented: ‘Man makes mistakes, he loses most of the time, he tries and tries again and sometimes he wins. Everything else would be a bore.’ In contrast to the Roman perception of the world, Spagnulo maintains, ‘in Greek myth man is also passionate and erotic and it is only through tension and energy created through platonic dualism that art is able to convey this sense of man in a real world’.7 Whereas in Archeologia fragmentation serves mainly to underline the power of memory for our understanding of the real world, here fragmentation serves to emphasize the dualism that real life consists of. The same applies to the two sculptures by Giuseppe Spagnulo entitled Cubo e testa (1962) (fig. 5) and Ferro spezzato (1973) (fig. 6).
As in Testa e triangolo, Cubo e testa creates a dialogue between opposing, contradictory energies/entity such as the rational and the emotional that make the whole. Platonic dualism is created through the tension and energy suggested by continuous rupture, invasion, and fusion of the head and the cube. On the other hand, in the iron sculpture Ferro spezzato, executed eleven years after Cubo e testa, Spagnulo refrains from both figurative connotations and the use of two separate opposed bodies such as a head (emotions) and a geometric form (rational). Ferro spezzato, meaning broken iron, consists of a primordial rational form, an iron cube, that has been broken so that a smaller cube, connected only by a small fraction to the original, remaining body, is suspended in air/space. The sculpture shows traces of the fire used to break the iron, reminding us of both the human action and the participation of the material, fire, that led the ideal, rational form of the cube to become a new, real, extended body. While the traces tell of the transformation of the former and the becoming of the new body and encapsulate consciousness of time and space as a memory, the actual act of breaking the original iron cube also suggests the fallibility of rationality. Further, the smaller (yet very heavy) iron cube’s suspension in air takes on the Platonic dualism between weight and weightlessness representative of the human condition in a conceptual way. This sculpture shows that Spagnulo’s aim to convey the ‘sense of man in a real world’ through endowing his work with the tension and energy created through Platonic dualism and/or by means of fragmentation employed to create new contexts through the reciprocal interaction of the parts and the whole necessitates neither the interaction of two separate opposed bodies nor the entire breaking of one unit into two or more parts.
Another sculpture, in fact an installation, by Giuseppe Spagnulo, entitled quite poignantly Autoritratto (self-portrait) (1983), shows the artist’s searching for giving a ‘sense of man in a real world’ through the forced interaction of four elements dislocated within a confined space (fig. 7). The four elements, works in terracotta and charcoal on paper, are entitled individually as Testa nera (black head) (fig. 8), Tondo (circle) (fig. 9), Albero (tree) (fig. 10), and Testa rossa (red head) (fig. 11).
At the centre of the installation and freestanding in the middle of the room is the work Testa nera which to the artist represents man, the ego, and the dark soul. It is surrounded by Tondo, representative of geometry, space, and the potter’s wheel, Albero, representing an olive tree, symbol of life, peace, and prosperity but also signifying omnipotent nature, while Testa rossa is symbolic of genesis, the female, the vulva, and maternity.8 The connotations assigned to the individual parts of the installation turn them into narrative elements that represent the artist’s notion of intuitive consciousness, or memory. The subject of this complex body is in fact man himself, his ego and consciousness. Man, who is self-conscious, is not three-dimensional but a complex body that becomes real through the fusion of a spatial fourth dimension with notions of temporality and intuitive consciousness. This is represented through the continuous reciprocal interaction of the parts and the whole in their relationship with space and time as a memory. This installation shows once more that in Giuseppe Spagnulo’s work the body is understood as a material entity and that in his work fragmentation serves as an act of addition to create complex bodies that open new contexts that go beyond three-dimensional visual perception in order to underline the importance and the power of the memory for our understanding of the real world and the Platonic dualism real life consists of.
|Giuseppe Spagnulo Issue 8|