The artistic career of Piero Gilardi (Turin, 1942) began in the early sixties in Turin, where at an early age he presented his Macchine del futuro (“Future Machines”, 1963), a pioneering work that announced the union between art and the new technologies.
From 1965 on the artist produced his first Tappeti natura (“Nature Carpets”), foam rubber compositions that mimicked fragments of nature in realistic ways, exposing the spread of industrialized society and its imagery to the detriment of the experience of nature itself. In choosing a material that would stimulate the sense of touch directly, Gilardi was also thinking of a new type of relationship with the body, with art becoming both a mental and physical experience. This type of work (presented in Naples, at the Galleria Il Centro in 1992), with its ambiguous proximity to pop art, was soon abandoned by Gilardi because of the commodity value that his Tappeti natura had acquired in the art world, being ever less suited to the matrix and evolution of his artistic practice.
In 1967 Gilardi began making a series of journeys in Europe and America that enabled him to extend his direct knowledge of the artistic tendencies of the neo-avant-garde. In 1968 he coined the definition of “Microemotive Art” that encompassed post-Minimalist experiences, broadening his activities from the practical to the theoretical. Promoting an idea of art that endorsed the new aesthetic and social developments with which it interacted, Gilardi became the driving force behind situations that proposed a model community in the arts, such as the Deposito d’Arte Presente in Turin and the exhibition Arte povera più azioni povere in Amalfi in October of 1968, which represented new models of exhibitions for an art that would increasingly enter into action andeveryday practice.
Involved a a few months later in the organization of the historic exhibitions of 1969 When Attitudes Become Form in Berne and Op Losse Schroeven in Amsterdam, Gilardi was compelled to realize that his idea of a self-managed community of artists, without implications of system and market, was in practice a partly utopian project. In his contribution to the catalog of the Dutch exhibition, Gilardi made his farewell to exhibitions with the intention of devoting himself actively to political militancy.
He returned to art only after 1981, supporting the idea of a “relational” art, not enclosed in the work/product, but in an active dialogue, a mutual involvement, with the viewer and the social context. Meanwhile, since 1968 and all through the seventies, Gilardi took part in the initiatives of militant collective of the extreme left. He was active in the preparation of an atelier populaire on the model of those in Paris, and collaborated on wall manifestos and brochures for the student movement and the first independent workers’ struggles, making use of a graphic language inspired by popular pre-Fascist graphics and those from the immediate postwar period.
In the same period he produced cartoons, often on commission, engaging in his first experiments with workers’ comics, while his political street theater combined aesthetic practices with demonstrations and protest marches, thanks to the appearance of masks and other foam rubber artifacts, worn as costumes to give sculptural prominence to relevant issues and mock political and economic figures.
All his activities, from involvement in the workers’ movement to his experience as a cultural operator in mental health institutions, responded to his need to make art an existential and political practice, as Gilardi related in his books Dall’arte alla vita, dalla vita all’arte (1981) and Not for Sale (2000), and as demonstrated by the establishment in Turin of the PAV – Parco d’Arte Vivente, a meeting place and a research center, an interactive museum that placed art at the center of a process of re-integration into active life, in the many daily challenges of contemporary communities.