‘ I wanted to create an invisible work. However, if you want to verify the invisible, I can do it only through the agency of the visible. If I want to materialise the invisible, this becomes immediately visible. The invisible is the visible that one cannot see.’ (Giovanni Anselmo, quoted in Giovanni Anslemo exh. cat. Basel, 1979, p. 24)
A key exponent of arte povera when it first emerged in Italy in the late 1960s, Giovanni Anselmo’s work functions on a fascinating borderline between the visible and the invisible - between the world of our day-to-day reality and that of the ever-present but unseen elemental forces and energies that determine this reality and hold it in their sway. Both invoking and making use of unseen and universal energies such as torsion, gravity, magnetism and perhaps most of all, time - often in the sense of what physicists refer to as ‘deep time’- Anselmo creates works of art that both reflect and operate within this universal context, acting as a kind of bridge between our understanding of an infinite cosmos and our daily, individual, human experience of the specific and the here and now. In this way, Anselmo’s work presents both a poetic and enlightening view of the human experience of the world as a unique, tense and febrile balance constantly being renegotiated between these two differing poles of understanding, between the detail and the whole, the finite and the infinite, the visible and the invisible.
One of a major series of works invoking the vast, unseen, infinite realm of the forces that govern our universe, Invisible is a block of lead that Anselmo had stamped with the word ‘Invisible’. He then sawed out the part of the block that contained the prefix ‘In’ and in its place left an empty space. In this way only the word ‘visible’ remains, beginning directly next to the empty space between the two lead blocks. The implication becomes therefore, that the letters ‘I’ and ‘N’ of the word ‘invisible’ are in some way perceptive within the empty, invisible space around the lead block. As he was also doing with projections of light through the lens of a slide projector at this time, Anselmo is, in this way, making the all-important, infinite, invisible realm visible through the finite, material, everyday world of objective reality.
‘I, the world, things, life, we are situations of energy and the important thing is precisely not to crystallize these situations’ Anselmo said, ‘but keep them open and alive in terms of our living. Since all manners of thinking or being must correspond to a manner of behaving, my works are really the physification (sic) of the force behind an action, of the energy of a situation or event etc. and not its experience in terms of annotated signs, or just still life. (Giovanni Anselmo, ‘I, The World, Things, Life’ in G. Celant Arte Povera New York, 1969, p. 109)
Anselmo chose the solid, durable material of lead for this work because of its manifest materiality and because of its weight and apparent longevity. In the wider context of the universal, ‘deep time’ of physics however, such longevity, durability and solidity are, of course, infinitesimally small and insignificant. The existence of this lead block with its inscription is but a fleeting moment in this broader sense of infinite time and space and this precious sense of temporality is also something Anselmo wishes to make visible, for as he said in 1973,‘recently I have been making works using the idea that they are either time, in a broad sense, or infinity, or the invisible, or everything, perhaps simply because I am an earthling and for this reason limited in time, space and specifics.’ (Giovanni Anselmo, ‘Interview with Mirella Bandini’, NAC no 3, Bari, March 1973, p. 4.)