The object with puffs of air. The experience of the form earlier the form

Alice Devecchi

A concave, black, smooth surface. Let’s imagine it fixed to a wall, where artworks are usually hung. All in all, we could also put it on a table, because it has its own structure, a base – black too- which houses nine long cylinders, all identical, in a regular row.
Please touch.
Not knowing where to begin, we begin exploring the cylinders, they stretch out from the base. We discover they are buttons. They must be pressed firmly. Randomly, we push one out of the nine.
A puff of air coming from an indefinite point of that apparently inert surface surprises us. We close our eyes; we are annoyed and move our heads. Who knows what will happen pressing another button?
Again, a spiteful puff of air surprises us; however, this time, it comes from another point.
Again, a little less annoyed, we move our heads in reaction to the breath.
We’re starting to like the game, we’re curious to guess where the next puff will come from. Let’s guess the connection between buttons and puffs of air.
We discover that the black surface is full of many invisible small holes. Unpredictably from those holes, the air comes when we press a button. Let’s keep playing. Meanwhile, the puffs of air trace intangible and evanescent trajectories. Our gestures of approach and escape intersect them, creating a temporary space, entirely included between the concave screen and our body.
This is the object with puffs of air by Gabriele Devecchi, and the year is 1961.

In a historical moment of ferment for Arts, of protest towards the commodification of art triumphing with the Pop Art, of intolerance towards the stereotype of the genius artist and his prerogative of giving shape to interiority, an alternative path was traced conceiving art as a maximally democratic, inclusive device – we would say today – capable of making the aesthetic experience accessible no longer only through contemplation but increasingly through interaction, participation, up to co-production.
Our own abstract expressionism – the Informal – had tried to implement an escape from the form, understanding how much it generated constraints and compositional boundaries inadequate to the imperative of free gesture. However, the trust in the freedom of the gesture had had its bill: the work had become inaccessible, closed, comprehensible only to the author, and therefore perceivable in an exclusively contemplative, intimate and individual dimension. Incommunicability, clear separation between artist and public, between the space of the artwork and the space of fruition constitute the context in which Lucio Fontana feels the need to go beyond the canvas, crossing – not only symbolically – the border of tradition and tracing numerous trajectories of rethinking the function of art.
Among these different trajectories, one adopts an attitude, an intellectual posture attributable to design disciplines with the intention of producing a change through art.
We know, art does not have a utilitarian function or, at least, does not have the obligation to have it. It is not the artist’s job to produce something with an immediate usefulness. However, art can facilitate the change, it can act on human behavior and pave the way for transformations.
Once you have crossed the threshold of the canvas, you can cross the threshold of contemplation, touching the artwork, playing with it, manipulating it, co-creating it, as if it were a gym to exercise our possibilities of acting in the World.
The Object with puffs of air follows this trajectory. Here, the experience of form is built with the movements of the hands, head, and trunk in response to the surprise of an unexpected puff.
Here, form does not precede experience. The form gives itself – in an ephemeral, transitory way – together with the experience itself on which the form itself depends. The form makes and unmakes itself in the interaction between the body and the ‘generator’ object, which is silent, inert, irrelevant if no one activates it. The form cannot be touched here; it clutters a variable volume, shaped by the movement of the body playing with space.
The Object with puffs of air presents itself as a ‘prosthesis’ for the apprehension of the world, an amplifier of experience, a spotlight on the clarification of the interdependence among object, space, and person.
The year is 1961 and Gabriele Devecchi managed the classic tools of drawing, painting and sculpture, engraving and silversmithing. With a background as a craftsman, from his father’s goldsmith activity, he manipulated the material with ease. With ability, he produced interface objects, prostheses – exactly – leaning out towards the space surrounding us, stumbling devices that tickle our less used senses, inviting us to develop a more acute awareness of our place in the world.

Now we are in 2023. And we need even more than then to feel space, shape, objects, and people. To play, too.