FONDATION D’ENTREPRISE HERMÈS enveils “Forgiven by Nature” by Gianni Pettena

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FONDATION D’ENTREPRISE HERMÈS enveils “Forgiven by Nature” by Gianni Pettena

FONDATION D'ENTREPRISE HERMES For the sixth exhibition in the series “Matters of Concern | Matières à panser”, curator Guillaume Désanges presents “Forgiven by Nature”, a solo exhibition by Italian artist and architect Gianni Pettena
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“With his roots in the Florentine scene, Gianni Pettena is a leading member of the Radical Architecture movement (including groups such as Archizoom, Superstudio and UFO), founded in Italy in 1965 to rethink the foundational principles of architecture, and to critique their normalisation and dominance in practice. The movement sought to challenge the ‘imperative to build’, and to replace it with conceptual, artistic alternatives: free-thinking, imaginative new ways to live in the world. For Gianni Pettena, especially, this re-visioning of the principles of his discipline was expressed as a quest for the ‘primal roots’ of architecture, based on open and mindful observation of nature, both wild and tamed. At the beginning of the 1970s, his journeys through the deserts of the American south-west defined the bedrock of a personal output that was both concrete and reflective, material and ideal. This awareness of the ‘natural’ architectural potential of ecosystems untouched by Western industrialised culture gave rise to numerous solo and group projects, installations, actions, performances and designs, together with sculptures, films and texts, both theory-based and intuitive, some of which were realised, others not: the key elements of his uncategorisable, highly original work. As an architect who does not build, an artist who makes nothing, Pettena’s diverse practices are nonetheless underpinned by a coherent matrix of forms and concerns.”

Guillaume Désanges 


Portrait of Gianni Pettena© Studio Gianni Pettena

For the sixth exhibition in the series “Matters of Concern | Matières à panser”, curator Guillaume Désanges presents “Forgiven by Nature”, a solo exhibition by Italian artist and architect Gianni Pettena, to be held at La Verrière – the Brussels art space of the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès – and ISELP, from January 15 to March 13, 2021.

“Forgiven by Nature”

With his roots in the Florentine scene, Gianni Pettena is a leading member of the Radical Architecture movement (including groups such as Archizoom, Superstudio and UFO), founded in Italy in 1965 to rethink the foundational principles of architecture, and to critique their normalisation and dominance in practice. The movement sought to challenge the “imperative to build”, and to replace it with conceptual, artistic alternatives: free-thinking, imaginative new ways to live in the world. For Gianni Pettena, especially, this re-visioning of the principles of his discipline was expressed as a quest for the “primal roots” of architecture, based on open and mindful observation of nature, both wild and tamed. At the beginning of the 1970s, his journeys through the deserts of the American south-west defined the bedrock of a personal output that was both concrete and reflective, material and ideal.


Gianni Pettena, “Rumble” couch, 1967, courtesy of the artist and Salle Principale, Paris © Aurelio Amendola

This awareness of the “natural” architectural potential of ecosystems untouched by Western industrialised culture gave rise to numerous solo and group projects, installations, actions, performances and designs, together with sculptures, films and texts, both theory-based and intuitive, some of which were realised, others not: the key elements of his uncategorisable, highly original work. As an architect who does not build, an artist who makes nothing, Pettena’s diverse practices are nonetheless underpinned by a coherent matrix of forms and concerns. From the perpetual metamorphosis of houses cased entirely in ice or earth to a wooden structure designed to catch tumbleweed (bowled along by the wind in the American desert) and thus form a gigantic “plant-building”; photographs of the landscape and vernacular buildings, titled “Unconscious architectures”; the displacement of an interior wall to “allow it to breathe”; a water tower disappearing beneath a living mail-coat of flowers, or a gallery completely covered in branches and foliage: each piece offers an unprecedented sensory and conceptual experience. Simple interventions alter reality, undermine our standardised vision of the world and turn established orders on their head, to propose fleeting, critical, utopian imagery in their place. Pettena’s is an “expanded” or “augmented” architectural practice, liberated and (above all) liberating, as it plies the open waters between activism, art and poetry.


Gianni Pettena, Paper (Midwestern Ocean), 1971, performance-installation, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Minneapolis (United States), courtesy of the artist and Salle Principale, Paris © Studio Gianni Pettena

As the latest guest artist in the season “Matters of Concern | Matières à panser”– his first solo exhibition in Belgium – Gianni Pettena presents a project in two parts. Under the glass roof of La Verrière, a selection of objects, models, photographs, drawings, documents, films and installations narrates the artist’s generous, hybrid practice and captures the essence of his rebellious, idealistic, playful work, its perennially witty, subversive yet emotional register. Part sensory experience, part documentary retrospective, the exhibition reactivates a selection of past works at scale, including the Human Wall1 , a wall of clay imprinted with finger-marks that gradually disappear; and Paesaggi della memoria2 , an idealised reconstitution of the mountain landscapes of his childhood.

Just a few metres from La Verrière, on the same side of Boulevard de Waterloo, in Brussels, a large installation fills the show-space at ISELP (Institut Supérieur pour l’Etude du Langage Plastique). Paper (Midwestern Ocean)3 lines the galleries with strips of white paper to be cut with scissors by viewers, creating their own space and itinerary. Conceived as a shared experience for a US university conference in 1971, the immersive installation inverts our perception of architecture, making the interior of the building invisible, and facilitating its reappropriation by its anonymous users, independent of any external, predetermined concept. The piece is a critical examination of “architectural authority”, and a powerful, sensory encounter.


Gianni Pettena, Ice House I, 1971, installation, Minneapolis (United States), courtesy of the artist and Salle Principale, Paris © Studio Gianni Pettena

“Matters of concern | Matières à panser” is built around a conceptual ecology: the presentation of alternative practices that challenge dominant modes of production and explore the spiritual, political or therapeutic function of raw materials in art. From a curatorial standpoint, Gianni Pettena’s participation in the series quickly emerged as evident and necessary. Because there is properly an “ecology” of work and thought underpinning his emphasis on observation over production, attentive mindfulness over theory, gestures over objects, and precarity over immutability. Pettena’s relationship to the landscape – at the heart of his practice – is invariably furtive, discreet, expressed in projects that are often ephemeral, reversible, wholly documentary, or imagined. This cerebral architecture – though no less lacking in form, or seductiveness, or experienced physicality – offers an original way to rethink our need for new ways of relating to the living world, in art and elsewhere. Gianni Pettena’s work has close connections to a current of radical theory that sought to “liberate mankind from architectural construction” (Andrea Branzi).

Cover: Gianni Pettena, Architecture Forgiven by Nature, 2017, permanent installation, Brufa (Perugia, Italy), courtesy of the artist and Salle Principale, Paris © Studio Gianni Pettena

Exhibition open from January 15 to March 13, 2021
La Verrière
50, boulevard de Waterloo
1000 Brussels (Belgium)
Admission free, Tuesday to Saturday, noon to 6 p.m.
Guided visit, Saturdays at 3 p.m.

ISELP
31, boulevard de Waterloo
1000 Brussels (Belgium)
Admission free, Tuesday to Saturday,
11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

www.fondationdentreprisehermes.org

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