Contemporary art News Italy

Smoking sculpture unveiled at fashion designer’s foundation

Fondazione Zegna commissions Swiss artist Roman Signer to create permanent work for its Italian headquarters

Signer’s work, Horologe, 2012

The Swiss artist Roman Signer unveiled a permanent site-specific installation with a bang at the countryside headquarters of Ermenegildo Zegna, the Italian clothing brand, on 22 September. Standing in front of the entrance to the company’s historic mill in Trivero, Piedmont, Signer’s work, Horologe, 2012, was covered by a long white cloth, which the artist tore off with a controlled explosion. The event marked the fourth instalment of “All’Aperto” (“In the Open”), an annual site-specific arts programme run by Fondazione Zegna and organised by Andrea Zegna and Barbara Casavecchia.

Signer’s sculpture—which consists of a large clock with no hands, mounted on a four-metre pole—will emit short bursts of vapour from its centre-point at 15-minute intervals for as long as it stands. Signer, who worked in a factory when he was younger, says he was inspired by the vapour emitted by the mill’s towers but also wanted to make a tongue-in-cheek reference to the rigid concept of factory working hours.

“Site-specific public art is not easy to commission, especially away from big cities,” Zegna says, “but we wanted to collaborate with Roman because much of his previous work has taken place outdoors, in nature.” Zegna has collaborated with Casavecchia, an arts journalist and curator, on all the previous editions of “All’Aperto”, and they avoid commissioning monumental and visually aggressive public works that are at odds with their surroundings. “We don’t want to alienate or irritate the people who will be confronted with the work every day, so we prefer subtle and relevant interventions such as this one, which carries clear references to the company’s local history,” Casavecchia says.

The series began in 2007 with Daniel Buren’s intervention on the company roof—an installation titled The Coloured Weathervanes. Next up was Alberto Garutti, an Italian artist and professor of fine arts at the Accademia di Brera, Milan, whose sculpted benches—Dedicated to the people who will talk about it as they sit here, 2009—are dotted around communal spaces in the town of Trivero. The most recent work is Stefano Arienti’s The Telepathists, 2011, which combines a free wi-fi network with sculptures inspired by drawings made by children from the local primary school. “As far as possible, we want to commission works that are in some way relevant and even useful to the local community,” Zegna says.

The curators are already making plans for the fifth edition of “All’Aperto”, although they have yet to reveal which artist they will be working with. The open-air arts programme is one of many cultural initiatives undertaken by the Zegna foundation, including “Visible”, a €25,000 prize that aims to encourage socially engaged artist projects from around the world. The most recent edition of the prize was awarded in January to the Colombian collective Helena Producciones in a ceremony at the Serpentine Gallery, London.

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