When the public first entered the newly opened Museum of Contemporary Art in Oslo in January 1990, they were greeted by a piercing shriek from Gilberto Zorio’s mechanical sculpture Untitled (Canoe). The work, which was specifically created for the opening, hung as a somewhat menacing, parabola-shaped arm in the museum’s stairway. At the same time, the work exuded the buoyant elegance that typifies many of Zorio’s sculptures, whether because they resist the pull of gravity by hanging on wires or because they are delicately frail – like Stella, a five-pointed star made of steel javelins that the museum also had acquired for the opening.
Zorio’s works frequently interact with their surroundings through sounds, lighting, and fluids. This is also the case with Canoe: in addition to pervading the museum with its ear-splitting screech, the piece is equipped with containers full of a cobalt-blue liquid that changes colour to white should the museum’s room temperature rise dramatically. Already as a student at the academy in Turin, Zorio worked with oxidation, electricity, and vaporization, kindled by his interest in chemical processes and alchemy. In 1967 he became a member of the arte povera group. He also took part in the curator Harald Szeemann’s famed “When Attitudes Become Form” exhibition in Bern in 1969 and at “9 at Castelli” in New York in 1968, where he and Giovanni Anselmo were hailed as European exponents of a new, process- based form of art. At the tail-end of the 1960s, Zorio set about working on his “Per purificare le parole” series, where he investigated questions of language. It was not until 1984 that the canoe turned up in Zorio’s oeuvre, a form he describes as “a javelin of water – it is desire and dream, forward motion, the idea of effort, conquest, new land falls”.
Text: Ingvild Krogvig
From "Highlights. Art from 1945 to the Present", Nasjonalmuseet 2016, ISBN 978-82-8154-116-0