With its crisp and elegant progression of slashes across the canvas, Concetto spaziale, Attese is the quintessential embodiment of Spatialism. The cuts are almost calligraphic, and they punctuate the surface with enough regularity to resemble the jots of some strange language or perhaps even sheet music. Indeed, there is a musical quality to the succession of cuts that is all the more apt when the viewer contemplates the ballet-like performance that the artist must have made in order to create Concetto spaziale, Attese. In its very simplicity, with the dark slashes standing out against the white background of the surface itself, this work appears almost iconic despite its lack of figurative elements. There is something so assured about these cuts that they almost leap from the canvas. This, then, is a poster for Spatialism, a simple, refined and yet immensely potent encapsulation of the movement's criteria. And as is only apt for art that is intended to cater for the post-War era, the era of the television, the age of space exploration, there is little that can be seen as obsolete. This is a blank, uncoloured canvas reminiscent of Manzoni's Achromes and intended to be equally universal. The avoidance of the figurative is an avoidance of anything overly specific, anything overly personal, anything that could become too readily obsolete-- it is an avoidance of subject matter itself.
These openings in the canvas have been created with surgical precision, Fontana carving through the picture surface, opening it up, sculpting in pure space. For it is not so much the canvas that comprises the work of art in Concetto spaziale, Attese, but rather the space that the canvas surrounds. Likewise, it is not so much the holes in the canvas as the making of them-- the irretractable act of penetrating the surface is key. What is done is done: 'Art is eternal,' the First Spatial Manifesto stated,
'but it cannot be immortal.
'It is eternal in that a gesture of art, like any other complete gesture, cannot fail to remain in the spirit of man as a perpetuated race... But being eternal does not mean that it is immortal. It might live one year or a thousand years, but the time of its material destruction will always come. It will remain eternal as a gesture, but it will die as matter. Now, we have come to the conclusion that up to now artists, whether knowingly or unknowingly, have always confused the terms eternity and immortality, consequently seeking in every art the material most suited to making it last longest; they were therefore victims, knowingly or unknowingly, of matter, they have made the pure, eternal gesture decay into a lasting gesture in the impossible hope of immortality. We plan to separate art from matter, to separate the sense of the eternal from the concern with the immortal. And it doesn't matter to us if a gesture, once accomplished, lives for a second or a millennium, for we are convinced that, having accomplished it, it is eternal' (First Spatial Manifesto signed by Fontana, G. Kaisserlian, B. Joppolo, M. Milani, Milan, 1947, reproduced in E. Crispolti & R. Sirigato (ed.), Lucio Fontana, exh.cat., Milan, 1998, pp. 117-18).
Just as Klein said that his paintings were the ashes of his art, so too his friend Fontana presents us with a canvas which is itself merely the perishable surroundings of the artwork itself. The canvas serves the purpose of a litmus test or a tracer chemical, merely revealing to the viewer the domain in which the artist's gestures have taken place. It is an indicator, the material evidence of the opening up of space, but as such is arguably secondary to the space itself, the invisible area that has been carved open by Fontana.
Fontana was interested in space and in energy as two supposedly invisible elements that were nonetheless crucial to all of life and all of art. These were the elements, if such they may be termed, that he sought to harness and portray in his art. This is clear in his use of light (and Wood's light) as a medium, especially in his architectural-scale projects. These are the equivalent of a conjuring or a séance, the artist creating the suitable circumstances for the manifestation of pure space or pure energy before his viewers. For light manages both to be energy and to define the space that it either illuminates or within which it travels. In his Attese, though, it is the spent energy of the artist that manifests itself in the slashes themselves, in the cutting that we know took place in order to bring this work into existence. The link between light, energy, space and Space is clear from Fontana's own words:
'...beyond perspective... the discovery of the cosmos is a new dimension, it is infinity, so I make a hole in this canvas, which was at the basis of all the arts and I have created an infinite dimension... the idea is precisely that, it is a new dimension corresponding to the cosmos... The hole is, precisely, creating this void behind there... Einstein's discovery of the cosmos is the infinite dimension, without end. And so here we have: foreground, middleground and background... to go further what do I have to do?... I make holes, infinity passes through them, light passes through them, there is no need to paint' (quoted in E. Crispolti, 'Spatialism and Informel. The Fifties', pp.144-150, in ibid., 1998, pp. 169-71).
In creating the spaces in the surface of Concetto spaziale, Attese, Fontana has hewn openings that would in theory allow light to pass through them (in theory only, as to heighten the dramatic effect and to lend the cuts a sense of infinity, they are each in fact backed with black tape). Light does not only bounce off the canvas, but passes through it; likewise, light from the realm on the other side of the painting might pass through to our own domain. And what is light, if not a form of energy? In this way, the energy that was such a concern for the artist of the Nuclear Age is made tangible, if not visible, through Fontana's work of art. Just as television signals can sail through the air invisibly and yet be transformed into something visible on a screen before us, so too, Fontana implies, invisible energy may be flowing through Concetto spaziale, Attese, making this blank white canvas a realm of endless potential energy.