Mirrors represent the core of Michelangelo Pistoletto's work. Since the 1960s, he has used mirrors as surfaces that propose the idea of infinity and unreality. In the Arsenale for this current Biennale, Pistoletto did a performance in which he smashed all but two of his "intangible" mirrors filling a large gallery as a huge crowd watched adoringly and applauded. But the philosophical question remained of what these shattered mirrors signified.
In the Conversation series, Pistoletto spoke with Carlos Basualdo, the curator of modern and contemporary art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He began with the work at the Biennale, but quickly moved on to cover the whole range of his career. "Everything is calculated," Pistoletto noted. A mirror in itself can represent anything at all, so it's the equivalent of a zero--it is the ground zero of the world's reality. And given this idea, Pistoletto thought early in his career to offer the mirror something to reflect. He divided the mirror in two, reflecting each part mutually, and so he obtained an infinite multiplication, a mise en abime. He considered this duplication a way of sharing the world infinitely, or as he put it in Italian, "dividere per condividere."
Pistoletto focused on a second chapter of his career during which he printed his self-portrait on his mirrors' surfaces. This was not simply suggesting the multiplication and sharing he previously proposed in his work, but suggested a democratic spirit in that his image represented "everyman," each of us represented in the world by our images.
All this intense work made Pistoletto known internationally as one of the leading Italian artists, and one of the artists in the significant art movement of the 1960s in Italy, the Arte Povera group, which was born in part as a response to American Pop Art in the United States. While Pop Art was about material wealth, Art Povera was about starting from the reduction of materials to the essential). Pistoletto related this tendency to his own experience in Città dell'Arte, located in Biella.
His discussion of this essentialism made us think about the mirrors in the Biennale differently, marrying their philosophical character to their sheer physicality. And I wondered, "Can we ever reach the starting point of the infinite?"