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Giovanni Anselmo (b. 1934)
THE PROPERTY OF A EUROPEAN LADY
Giovanni Anselmo (b. 1934)

Trecento Millioni di anni (Three Hundred Million Years)

Details
Giovanni Anselmo (b. 1934)
Trecento Millioni di anni (Three Hundred Million Years)
anthracite, lamp, wire, sheet metal
11¾ x 22 x 9¾in. (30 x 56 x 25cm.)
Executed in 1969
Provenance
Galleria Eva Menzio, Turin.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1996.
Exhibited
Bornholms, Bornholms Museum, Arte Povera, 1999-2000, p. 8.

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Alice de Roquemaurel
Alice de Roquemaurel

Lot Essay

'Something that we see lifeless in a museum may well have been altogether 'different' in other times and places. As far as we know, the anthracite, the medium that this work is made of, was once vegetable or reptile, or at any rate something organic and animated, before the transformation of the earth's crust buried it, depriving it of oxygen, air and light, and turning it, after millions of years, into anthracite. Today it looks like a fragile and friable rock taken from the mines where it was extracted. I applied a small lamp to this block of anthracite to provide it with a little more light than that which it has had for so long, having been deprived of it for the last three hundred million years. It is now as if it is going back in time, so that the petrified fragment comes back to its life of three hundred million years before. A way to 'come back to the future' or 'project into the past' so to speak, an attempt to decline a cyclical notion of time as something that travels both forward and back.'

(Anselmo, 'Interview with Andrea Viliani', Bologna, GAM, 2006).

At dawn on the 16 August 1965 as the sun rose low over Mount Stromboli and dissolved Giovanni Anselmo's shadow into the apparent void of his surroundings, the artist - recognising in this event the apparent dissolution also of his own individualised presence into the four elements of air, earth, smoke and the water of the sea beyond - underwent the profound and defining revelation. It was one that was to inform all his later work. Awakened to an understanding of his own insignificance amidst the vast elemental forces of the universe, Anselmo, from this moment onwards, set out to invoke and incorporate an understanding of these defining universal energies in all his work.

Indicative of the 'poor materials' from which the arte povera group with whom Anselmo is associated took its name Trecenti milioni di anni (Three-hundred million years), executed in 1969 is one of the very first of Anselmo's sculptures to invoke the enormous transformative power of Time. Executed soon after Anslemo's first solo exhibition and at the height of his involvement with the then burgeoning arte povera tendency in Italy, this work builds on his 1968 series of sculptures which had demonstrated the unseen forces of torsion, gravity and magnetism on simple elements such as stone, wire and glass. In what is perhaps his best-known work from this period, Struttura che mangia (Eating Structure) of 1968, Anselmo had interrupted the binding together of two granite blocks together with a fresh lettuce. As the lettuce decayed over time the support for the smaller of the two blocks disappeared so that, if the lettuce was not regularly replaced, the block would fall. In Trecenti milioni di anni created soon afterwards, Anselmo has effectively extended this concept into what scientists now refer to as 'deep' or cosmic time and in so doing addressed the ungraspable but nonetheless real prospect of the passage of 'three hundred million years' duration.

Reflecting on a Bergsonian notion of time or duration as an essentially fluid entity intrinsically related to human consciousness, Anselmo has in effect interrupted the apparent continuity of such an understanding of the fluid and transformative nature of 'deep time' by suspending it and turning the process back in on itself. Both an action and an interaction, it is, like many of his works from this period a fracture or hiatus that reveals the vast energetic and transformative potential lying inherent within everything.

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