Piero Gilardi was born in Turin in 1942 and studied at the Art School and at the Accademia Albertina in Turin. A pioneer of the Arte Povera movement which saw Italian artists taking radical stances against institutions and systems of government, Gilardi’s artistic practice evolved around experiments with synthetic materials and forms that diverged from the avant-garde mainstream. His Tappeto-Natura, or “nature carpets” were both the realization of a fantasy of an idealized and uncontaminated nature but “recreated” through artificial means as well as an attempt to merge contemporary technologies with ecology. Rather than seeing them as oppositional forces, Gilardi insisted that industrial processes and materials could actually help focus society on the then nascent ecological movement.
Gilardi was one of the most politically engaged artists of the Arte Povera scene. In the late 60s, at a time of great political and social turmoil in Italy, Gilardi turned his back on the art world, becoming instead a “creative facilitator” of street theatre and demonstrations for a range of radical causes – workers’ revolution, the antipsychiatry movement, radical youth groups, and the rights of indigenous people around the world. Fired up by the potential of civil upheaval, Gilardi travelled widely, researching and taking part in actions and pedagogic practices in places as varied as Nicaragua and Kenya as well as in the US, on the Akwesanse Reservation of the Mohawk Nation in northern New York State, along the Canadian border. Often his work took the form of sculptural props and choreographed street actions based on satirical cartoons. Gilardi’s agit prop objects, like his sculptures, were molded in his favourite medium: carved and painted foam.
Presented at the Thessaloniki biennial aν agit prop costume, carnivalesque in form previously worn in demonstrations, that reveal both the political intent as well as the humor and out right joy involved in anti-systemic street protests. Using popular imagery and linguistic tropes, Gilardi’s sculptural props riff on the visuals of demonstrations but with an extra edge. In parallel, archival (photographic and filmic) material that highlights the depth and breadth of Gilardi’s ongoing involvement and commitment to social and environmental causes are displayed, such as his participation in recent anti-austerity and environmental campaigns in Italy. This intersectional approach and the blurring of boundaries of activism and art practices reveal Gilardi as an important precursor of participatory and socially-engaged art practices today. He considered his work as relational art projects that encompassed political activism and community work, thinking always about the fragile line connecting nature and society with the possibility of artistic agency as a motivator for change.
In 2008 Piero Gilardi conceived of an arts space and ensuing park, PAV (Park of Living Art in Turin), in his home city Turin as an extension of his artistic practice and writing, whose mission is to continue his life work’s dialogue between art and nature.