The “Exoteric Gate” in Milan. Interview with Nanda Vigo

Nanda Vigo has been on a journey of art her whole life. “I’ve always walked along this pathway,” she told “Italian Ways” the day before “Exoteric Gate (through a cosmic dream)” opened in Milan. Her grand “light-project” is made up of nine separate elements (a central totem, surrounded by eight pyramids in various sizes) and will be on display for over four months, staring on Tuesday, November 15th.

In its monumental 10 by 10 by 12 meters, Vigo’s installation will be at the Ca’ Granda Courtyard of Milan’s State University for the second event in “La Statale Arte”, which will transform the wonderful 17th-century spaces of the university into an open-air contemporary art museum.

Walking along the pathway of art, Vigo has ventured into diverse territories, exploring with the constant awareness that art and architecture could never completely encompass her work, and that she therefore requires a trans-disciplinary language.

This has motivated her for years to merge art, architecture and design in her creative work, with worldwide success.

Her life has intertwined with those of 20th-century artists such as Lucio Fontana, whose studio she started collaborating with in 1959; Gio Ponti, with whom she co-created Malo’s “House Under the Leaf”; Yves Klein; Piero Manzoni; and Remo Brindisi, with whom she designed the House-Museum in Lido di Spina. And the list could go on…

Vigo was also part of Group Zero, which she prefers to describe as a “movement” because the word better describes the dynamic nature of the group, founded in Germany between the 1950s and 1960s to break with traditional art’s dogmas and axioms.

Vigo’s artistic and existential story stemmed from a youthful “enlightenment” of sorts: while looking at architecture, she felt the sharp and clear perception that beauty is inextricably associated with light and its movement in space.

We start our interview from that episode.

Nanda Vigo con Piero Manzoni, 1962, foto ©Uliano Lucas
Nanda Vigo con Piero Manzoni, 1962, foto ©Uliano Lucas

One could say that your work has always been about the conflict and harmony between light and space: where did you get that intuition?
It was while admiring and discovering the beautiful “Casa del Fascio” by Giuseppe Terragni, in Como. I was seven years old, and light divided the dust into aerial particles, through the glass block walls, blinding me to the point that to this day I can still travel into its continual and impalpable beam – in time and space: chronotopically.

Was it hard for you, as a woman, to start on the pathway of art after such an intuition?
This has been the pathway I have always walked along, so in the beginning I did not realize what difference my gender could make. Actually, social acceptance was very had to achieve. And today, despite much talk about “female quotas”, the situation does not seem to have improved much.

The 1950s and 1960s were a time of great creativity and freedom. Do you miss them?
No, I don’t, but I have fond memories of them. Especially today, as I see the dreamlike desire of physical and ideological research so dried up that artistic stasis might become chronic.

You were a friend and collaborator to many famous 20th-century artists. Can you tell us more?
I could talk forever if I had to tell about all the experiences I shared with them and all the episodes in completely different contexts, and in the most diverse circumstances. I can say my friendship with Gio Ponti was sunny: he was always smiling, in the relaxed way of a man who knows and does not make his knowledge a burden on others. Talking with him always was like living art and architecture at “390 degrees”.

Nanda Vigo con Gio Ponti, 1971, foto ©Fabrizio Garghetti
Nanda Vigo con Gio Ponti, 1971, foto ©Fabrizio Garghetti

What about your friendship with Remo Brindisi?
My relationship with Remo Brindisi was cultural: we talked a lot about 20th-century art. He loved embellishing our debates with anecdotes about his own experiences in the 1930s, when he lived in Paris and shared his days with Fernand Léger, Max Ernst and the Dadaists. His stories flashed before my eyes: I hungered for them, and they could never be written in art history books.

What are your memories of Lucio Fontana?
Fontana was a master, the master par excellence. The young artists of his time unanimously gave him the title. He was likeable, elegant, flexible and generous. He taught me the strength of art as the highest possible expression of human thought.

Your relationship with Piero Manzoni was also famous…
Manzoni was my partner. He always underestimated me as an artist. I became active only after his death.

You were part of Group Zero: what was the real innovation the movement brought, in your opinion?
In the “famous” 1960s – which now seem so glamorous, although at the time we were are all starving, including the great Lucio Fontana – galleries did not showcase emerging artists. So some artists in Düsseldorf started to show their work in their own workshops. They belonged to different movements, but in just a few months a natural skimming process led to “Zero”. Further selection brought to an exhibition held at the Galerija Suvremene Umjetnosti in Zagreb, in 1961, which included works by new movements – such as kinetic art, programmed art, and art visuelle. All in all, the relevance of the “Zero” movement was in opening the door to a fruitful decade of artistic evolution.

Do avant-garde movements still exist? Are there any examples of contemporary art that you consider truly innovative?
Absolutely not. But I like “façadist” artists, who paint entire urban surfaces and change their visual perspectives.

Which of your works do you hold dearest?
Obviously my 1959 “Chronotopes”, which always take me back to the original insight tied to Terragni.

You have a close and constant bond with Africa and the Orient: how did that come to be? What did you find there that you could not see in Europe?
My relationship with those parts of the world stems first of all from a curiosity about migrations and ancient civilizations, such as the people in Mohenjo-daro in Pakistan, or in the Rift Valley. I studied the culture of “pyramids” from Egypt to Mexico, from Guatemala to the Himalaya, where human life began after the Great Flood. Europe is very young in comparison… and living in close contact with local people it was easier for me to understand these different cultures.

One final question: how did “Exoteric Gate” start?
“Exoteric Gate” is a research project I started in 1976 about the retroactive vision on thought that generates objects in a formal size. The pyramid is an expression of that, in the geometrical perfection of 3.14, and as a container of knowledge.

Nanda Vigo
“Exoteric Gate (through a cosmic dream)”
in collaboration with Archivio Nanda Vigo.

An initiative promoted by University of Milan, in collaboration with the Ministry of Heritage and Cultural Activities, Regione Lombardia, Comune di Milano, Milan State University, Italian Institute of Culture in Paris.

Ca’ Granda Courtyard
University of Milan

via Festa del Perdono, 7

November 15th 2016 – end of March 2017

Opening on Tuesday, November 15th, 5.30pm

"Casa sotto la foglia" di Malo (Vicenza), con Gio Ponti, 1965-1968
“Casa sotto la foglia” di Malo (Vicenza), con Gio Ponti, 1965-1968

"Casa sotto la foglia" di Malo (Vicenza), con Gio Ponti, interno, 1965-1968
“Casa sotto la foglia” di Malo (Vicenza), con Gio Ponti, interno, 1965-1968

"Casa-Museo Remo Brindisi" a  Lido di Spina (Ferrara), con Remo Brindisi, 1971-1973
“Casa-Museo Remo Brindisi” a Lido di Spina (Ferrara), con Remo Brindisi, 1971-1973

Lampada "Golden Gate", 1969, foto di ©Ugo Mulas
Lampada “Golden Gate”, 1969, foto di ©Ugo Mulas

Tavolo "Block" per Acerbis, 1971
Tavolo “Block” per Acerbis, 1971

"Ambiente cronotopico", 1968, Eurodoumus, Torino
“Ambiente cronotopico”, 1968, Eurodoumus, Torino

"Mix Light", foto ©Aurelia Raffo
“Mix Light”, foto ©Aurelia Raffo

"Lights forever", 2013
“Lights forever”, 2013

"Spazio profondo", 2013
“Spazio profondo”, 2013

Deserto Tanezrouft, 1998
Deserto Tanezrouft, 1998

Nanda Vigo, 2006, foto ©Ruven Afanador
Nanda Vigo, 2006, foto ©Ruven Afanador

The “Exoteric Gate” in Milan. Interview with Nanda Vigo

Ca’ Granda Courtyard of Milan's University, Via Festa del Perdono, 7
+39 348 0638585


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