• Agents of Change

    • The work of Alberto Giacometti is an opportunity to see the world that surrounds us with new eyes.

    Alberto Giacometti: art as the apprehension of reality / 

    The year is 1945. In a café in Montparnasse, Alberto Giacometti is resting after a long day in his workshop. The waiter comes over and asks him what he would like to order:

    That movement of his mouth seemed to me like a sequence of unmoving movements, discontinuous, completely discontinuous. The man was becoming some sort of absolute stranger, mechanical.

    This was not the first time that the Swiss sculptor experienced this type of trance. In one of the projections of the Actualités cinema in Montparnasse, Giacometti realized that he could no longer differentiate clearly what was going on on-screen: it was all blurry black and white stains moving on a surface. Later on, this vision would extend to the outdoor world.

    I would see my neighbors becoming a completely unknown spectacle to me. The unknown was the reality that surrounded me and not what happened on screen.

    In a flash of lucidity, Alberto Giacometti had realized that we perceive everything through a screen. He would never see things and beings in the same way again. His gaze had been emancipated from concepts, from common places, from the consented illusion of space. A figure in the distance acquired real and tiny proportions and a head that resembled a still object, with a disturbing and powerful compactness.

    It had been some time since Giacometti had moved away from the Surrealist movement. His close friendship with André Breton had been fruitful, and within a short period of time he became one of the most important sculptors in the movement. His Suspended Ball, which belongs to this period, condenses in the geometric simplicity of its shape, all the violence and sexual desire; and his sublime Palace at Four in the Morning, where daydreams and experience are fused as in the oneiric theatre of skeleton scenery, gives us an early example of his unique conception of space.

    But soon, Giacometti would lose interest in this type of sculpture. The abstraction of shapes, in everything that was planned and finished beforehand, appeared before him as an impasse. Working from his memory was to him an exit from the impossibility of precisely capturing the reality of an object. After his surrealist period however, Giacometti embarked on the biggest adventure of his life: returning to the model as a reference, he isolated himself in his workshop to explore his impressions.

    I imagined that by taking the model I would work for eight days, I would see everything clearly… I would get enough material to make compositions and create works.

    But what was meant to last eight days lasted five years: Giacometti worked restlessly with the same model from 1935 to 1940.

    Considering it impossible to encompass the entire body, the sculptor decided to limit himself to the head. This is where the true path begins for the master, which would lead him to contemplate the world with new eyes and to consider a head as something unattainable, impossible to grasp, definitively endless. His intensive work with his model led him to become aware of the limitations of conventional vision. Between the model and him stood centuries, millenniums of formal conceptions that worked as a screen: Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece… the vision felt full of a priori concepts that interrupted his search for the direct capturing of the object. Giacometti wondered: How do I see? What is a head?

    When we developed, we mentally changed vision for knowledge. I can make a life-size head because I know that is its size. Then I am not seeing directly, I see it through my knowledge.

    And thus, in his resolve to strip the gaze, to make it independent from any screen that could lie between him and the object, he reached the visual conclusions that we all know: bronze busts scratched empty, heads compressed by the invisible matter of their existence, filiformes bodies that walk in an independent and entirely real space. The rugged surfaces of his sculptures seem to adhere to time and space, and their heads, apparently impossible, impose themselves upon the viewers of this undeniable reality.

    With his born-again eyes, Giacometti captured the reality of things and how we perceive it. He would never part with his model; his wife, Annette, or his brother, Diego, among others, would be points of reference for his eye seeking reality. Beside his sculptures, innumerable drawings and paintings complete the traces of his enigmatic conception of things.

    Let us return to the Actualités cinema, Giacometti exits the nocturnal session and encounters a new world, marvelously ornamented by lights and colors, full of moving bodies whose heads are moving as if they were objects in a void. Reality has become more real than ever, the figures in the distance dissolve before his eyes; the screen has disappeared, Giacometti’s eye wanders thrilled with his surroundings, the world shows him the apparitions that his sculptor’s hands will fight to capture in a definite and impossible expression. The adventure is now infinite.

    The adventure, the great adventure, is to see something unknown emerge every day from the same face. It is greater than all the trips around the world. 

    Tagged: Alberto Giacometti, Agents of Change, art, artists, inspiration