by Abbey Hopkins

FIAT Nuova 500
(image source: Wikimedia Commons)

As an artist working out of Turin, Italy, Lara Favaretto creates artwork that relates to the cultural history of Turin while maintaining global significance. This is due in part to her material reference to arte povera, an art Italian movement, and to her usage of industrial materials specifically found in Turin. Her artwork navigates a post-war world, where ideas of the global and local are constantly clashing, creating a specific need for local histories to be preserved while maintaining relevance on a global scale. As art historian Courtney J. Martin outlined in her public talk at the Wing Sang building in July 2015, while Favaretto’s Italian art historical importance may be easily skimmed over by those unfamiliar with its references, her work remains inherently Italian. The exhibited works at Lara Favaretto: Selected Works reveal the link between Italian art history and Favaretto’s use of materials. When talking about arte povera, a quick history of post World War II Turin is useful to contextualize the historical and cultural societal changes occurring at this time. Turin is located in northern Italy and has had a unique cultural history. Following World War II, Italy went through what is called the miracolo italiano, or the Italian miracle, a period of rapid industrialization and subsequent economic growth. The industrial north of the country saw mass migration from the poorer southern regions. Consumerism was promoted and accessible to all, as indicated by the introduction of the FIAT 500, an automobile considered universally affordable to the middle classes. Made in Turin, these automobiles provided a strong industry for the working class.

By the 1960s however, this economic boom began to cool down, and social tensions were rising. Student and worker uprisings around Europe at the end of the decade made for a sceptical atmosphere. General questioning of innovation and economic progress led to the critique of bourgeoisie lifestyles within capitalism and leftist social theory was circulating and spreading in academia. Artists who were familiar with social theory began to employ critical thought to their artistic practices, which resulted in the formulation of many conceptual art practices. At this point, Italian artists would have seen the preeminent art movements, namely pop art and minimalism, through art fairs and biennales. They critiqued the privilege that pop art gave to consumerist imagery, as well as the favouring of form by minimalism. Interested in more organic and humble materials, artists such as Pino Pascali, Alighiero Boetti, Jannis Kounellis and critic Germano Celant began exploring artistic ideologies that would eventually become classified as the arte povera movement. Arte povera directly translates to “poor art”. With our English associations and assumptions, ‘poor’ may denote a use of ‘poor’ materials—a sociological critique of consumer culture, but Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev defines it as, “the concept of impoverishing each person’s experience of the world; this implies gradually freeing one’s consciousness from layers of ideological and theoretical preconceptions as well as from the norms and the rules of the language of representation and fiction”*.

Lara Favaretto
Twistle, 2003

Arte povera’s mandate is often also attributed to Germano Celant’s 1968 manifesto in the then-newly developed FlashArt magazine, however, there was never a cohesive group operating self-consciously under the name “Arte Povera”. Arte povera was, in essence, a freeing from convention: working with post-structuralist thought, semiology and sociological theory while maintaining sensitivity to artistic practice. An historical survey of arte povera artworks reveals that the body of work is largely heterogeneous; there are no discernible traits that define an artwork as arte povera.

One can see the influence of arte povera on the works currently exhibited at the Wing Sang building, starting with the most awe-striking artwork Coppie Semplici/Simple Couples (2009). Installed in pairs, these bright and cheerful carwash brushes spin in a dance with each other, evoking personalities in each brush. Even the use of the word “couples” in the artwork’s title points to a humanistic characteristic in each of these upright brushes. As one visitor mentioned, their beauty and splendour distracts you from the filth upon the brushes’ edges. As they spin, the plume of each brush enlarges, conveying emotion and personality. Comparable to human couples, some spin with equality, while some seem to momentarily outshine the other, eventually balancing each other out while they dance in tandem. Besides their personalities, these carwash brushes are also indicative of Lara Favaretto’s Turin home base. Turin, as previously mentioned, is the home of FIAT automakers. FIAT remains an important cultural motif for Turin’s culture, especially during the period in which arte povera emerged. By utilizing such signifier and by evoking distinct personalities, Favaretto subtly acknowledges Turin’s artistic and industrial history.

Twistle (2003) is another example of a nod to arte povera, this time achieved through the scale and physicality of the work. Standing at the rear of the first floor gallery, Twistle is a compressed air tank that continually inflates a party favour between unpredictable intervals of time, until the air tank is depleted. The initial response of viewers indicates that they are startled by the sudden inflation. This response is usually followed by a cathartic giggle acknowledging the absurdity of the object. The tank stands at average human height, while the pressure gages, valve, and party favour make up an unmistakable face-form at the top of the object. Favaretto creates empathy towards this object: her lone partier, militantly celebrating onwards on our behalf. This object continues its designated gesture until the nitrogen in the tank runs out, literally exhausting itself from a mechanical process. It is easy to observe the link between the assembly line work that flourished during industrialization and this mechanical humanoid figure. Its humanoid appearance grounds the industrial object in a position of empathy.

Pino Pascali
1 Metro Cubo di Terra, 1967
(image source: MANYBITS on flickr)

The heterogeneity of the works associated with the arte povera movement is also present in Lara Favaretto: Collected Works. The stoic gray confetti cubes of Village of the Damned (2014) lack the empathy that Coppie Semplici/Simple Couples and Twistle evoke in their viewers. These cubes, however, are still linked to arte povera in terms of their material. Favaretto also indicates Italian cultural values by using the celebratory material of confetti: “confetti” is an Italian word. Favaretto pays homage to her heritage by importing the confetti used in most of her artworks from Turin. Furthermore, Village of the Damned can be understood better when compared to the work of Pino Pascali, an influential arte povera artist. Titled 1 Metro Cubo di Terra (1967), Pascali’s cubes are constructed from sod and earth. The work may be seen as a jab at minimalist artist Donald Judd’s polished metal cubes. Pascali and Favaretto’s cubes employ the same minimal language in the cubes, yet they differ in their materiality, which is a distinct arte povera characteristic. Their cubes are ephemeral in their nature; set to disintegrate and decompose. Although made from fragmented pieces, both 1 Metro Cubo di Terra and Village of the Damned are sturdier than they appear and hold their form through the duration of installation.

After months of experiencing Favaretto’s work, it is apparent that her artwork can be approached through many different readings. It is full of intricacies. With careful attention and consideration, a more personal understanding reveals itself. Her artwork demonstrates how materiality and context can come together to help viewers gain a better understanding of contemporary Italian culture, subtly telling us a story of a culture often overlooked by North American audiences.

*Christov-Bakargiev, Carolyn. “Introduction.” Arte Povera. 2nd ed. London: Phaidon, 1999. Page 26. Print.

For further reading:
Christov-Bakargiev, Carolyn. Arte Povera. 2nd ed. London: Phaidon, 1999. Print.