Pistoletto carried out several collective actions outside galleries:
on March 6, The End of Pistoletto, at the Piper discotheque
in Turin; on December 4, in conjunction with the group show Con-temp-l’azione,
he took the Newspaper Sphere, one of the Minus Objects,
for a ‘walk’ through the city streets that joined the
three galleries (Sperone, Stein, Il Punto) where the show was held,
involving other artists and passers-by.
In December he emptied his studio and, in a manifesto, announced he
would open it to others in conjunction with his show at Sperone, which
featured a single work, Mile Stone, a stone waymarker with
“1967” etched in the top. In the same month he wrote and
independently published an important theoretical reflection on the
meaning and evolution of his work, Famous Last Words. During
the last days of the Sperone show he executed a group of works in
the gallery to which he referred in a later note as a “phenomenon
of the cube and of light: [the] first creative act after the Mile
Stone.” Maria Pioppi, Pistoletto’s life companion
and an essential co-worker in his artistic activity, first came to
Turin at this time. From 1957 to 1960 she had attended the Fine Arts
Academy in Rome, together with Jannis Kounellis and Pino Pascali (who
Pistoletto met toward the end of 1965), afterwards working in Rome
at the galleries La Tartaruga and Arco D’Alibert.
“Opening up my studio was a “technical”
thing. I had almost always had a relationship with young artists
in Turin. As I had ‘opened’ paintings to the presence
and participation of all, why not ‘open’ a physical
space instead?” (Michelangelo Pistoletto, interview with M.
Bandini, in NAC, Bari, November 1973).
“Many people who had read the manifesto came
to the studio and this space really became something wonderful.
Everyday relations with people who had things to show, to do. They
started screening their films, reciting poems, and the public came
to listen, so there were these continuous encounters” (Michelangelo
Pistoletto, interview with Germano Celant, cit., 68).
In February 1968 Pistoletto had a one-person show
at L’Attico in Rome; with ten young directors from Turin,
he made ten films that were shown on the last day of the show. Offered
a room of his own at the Venice Biennale, in April he published
an invitation to others to work with him there. The operation was
not completed because of the political protest that cropped up in
the mean time—which, he felt, would have made the nature of
the project equivocal.
“With this manifesto I invite all those who
would like to do so, to collaborate with me at the 34th Venice Biennale.
By collaboration I mean a non-competitive human relationship based
on shared values of sense and perception. To give a part of myself
to those who wish to give a part of themselves is the work that
interests me” (Michelagelo Pistoletto, manifesto, 2 April
A group crystallized around the first collective
actions and the open studio. The Zoo was made up of people from
different artistic disciplines (music, literature, theater, visual
arts); with them, between 1968 and 1970, Pistoletto carried out
a series of theater pieces, conceived as creative collaborations
and as a form of communication not mediated by objects. The Zoo
performed, in Italy and in Europe, in all kinds of spaces—streets,
squares, discotheques, beer halls, theaters and galleries—and
collaborated on several occasions with Musica Elettronica Viva,
a group formed by musicians from the United States who had settled
in Rome. The Zoo’s first show, The Trained Man, took
place in the streets of Vernazza, a small village on the Ligurian
Riviera, near Corniglia, where Pistoletto bought a house in 1968.
Area residents participated in several of Pistoletto’s theater
pieces over the next few decades.
“The Zoo grew out of a quip made by Carlo Colnaghi:
‘I’m in the same position as a caged lion.’ So-called
civilization had relegated every animal to its cage. The less dangerous,
more docile and submissive had been placed in large commonfenced-in
areas: factories, housing projects, sport stadiums…. Artists
were isolated in the Venice Biennali, in theaters, museums, and
organized events…. Now we know we are The Zoo. We no longer
work for viewers; we ourselves are actors and viewers, makers and
consumers. Among those of us who are able to work together there
is a direct, clear, perceptive and instantaneous relationship….
When you see, hear and smell a piece we play out together, like
that of The Zoo and Musica Elettronica Viva, what you think you
understand will be just the skin, the envelope, but you will never
know what happened until you become actors and viewers on this side
of the bars” (Michelangelo Pistoletto, “Lo Zoo,”
in Teatro, no. 1, Milan 1969, 16).
“The mirror paintings could not live
without an audience. They were created and re-created according
to the movement and to the interventions they reproduced. The step
from the mirror paintings to theater—everything is theater—seems
simply natural…. It is less a matter of involving the audience,
of letting it participate, as to act on its freedom and on its imagination,
to trigger similar liberation mechanisms in people. For this reason
I was interested in the people who followed us in a parade from
Porta Palazzo to Porta Nuova in Turin, when we did Baldachin
Theater, a sort of procession with crazy costumes; just as
people that stopped to look in the Vicolo dell’Atleta in Trastevere
(Rome) at a sort of melodrama on how one ‘tames’ man,
with placards and a narrator, a sort of ballad singer, but all freer,
not didactic, fanciful. And the ones that responded were mainly
children, or the simplest audience, the less conditioned one, that
still knows how to let its jaw drop” (Michelangelo Pistoletto,
interview with G. Boursier, in Sipario, Milan, April 1969,