The Measuring of Time, Laura Grisi

Laura Grisi
The Measuring of Time, 1969
Digital video transferred from 16mm film, black and white, 5 min 45 sec
Courtesy Laura Grisi Estate, Rome, and P420, Bologna

 

Laura Grisi’s curiosity with regards to different mediums was matched perhaps only by her restlessness that propelled her to explore the world at large. From photography and books to drawing and painting, from three-dimensional works to paintings involving mobile elements and electric light, from minimal interventions to large environments, the artist, born in 1939 in Rhodes, Greece and educated in Paris, divided her time between Rome and New York, with stays in Africa, South America and Polynesia. Now, after a series of posthumous presentations her practice just as her life comes full circle. Presented here is The Measuring of Time a film work that brings together a great many of her diverse interests.

Grisi’s relation to moving image was that of an avid cinephile as well as an unwitting accomplice. Her father owned a film production company, and through him she came in contact with the film industry. Her brother Fausto had a film and advertising company in Venezuela. Her son Brando launched a film production company shortly after graduating, working as writer and director of television films, later becoming an accomplished filmmaker. ‘In fact, I seem to be the only one in my family who is not a professional filmmaker’, she said in extensive interview with Germano Celant recorded in 1989. 1

For Grisi first came writings and photographs, published in books, or initially not published at all, either snapshots or meticulously arranged scenes from everyday life in the locations she visited. In the mid-1960s Grisi made her first paintings as well as drawings: studies in perception, examinations of how the optical lens captures and, at the same time, distorts the object it renders. Those were soon followed by three-dimensional works from the ‘Variable Painting’ series combining acrylic pigment with plexiglass and sliding panels that introduced an element of movement into the composition. Her multilayered works with neon employed employing new, artificial materials, that can be seen as glimpses of urban life. ‘My neon paintings reflect the impact of the nighttime environment of the city’ she said, ‘the constellations of hundreds of luminous signs, the striped and colored Plexiglas, the advertising, the fluorescent light, the steel and aluminum, the illuminated windows with backlit shadows through the glass. The figures in the works are closed off in that world of neon signs and lights. Representing the psychological oppression of the urban environment, they see landscape as an artificial universe in which reality is only an illusionary duplicate’. 2 Those, one could argue, were not so much painted as construed.

In May 1968, Grisi created what she would later refer to as The Wind Room: an installation that invited the visitor into a darkened space to be confronted with a steady jet of wind, allegedly at the speed of 40 knots, or some 75 kilometers per hour. This was also when she completed her first film: Wind Speed 40 Knots – a series of short black-and-white sequences: landscape shots of desert dunes, mountain ranges, swaying palm trees, rolling ocean waves, at times, human silhouettes pitching a tent in a middle of the desert, on one occasion, there is sequence from Florence, the city reeling from a massive flood. Some feature Grisi holding an anemometer, the instrument for measuring the speed of wind, or taking notes -though we are never allowed a glimpse of the results. Instead, each segment is preceded by an own title card, pertaining to the type (‘Trade wind. Constant Tropical Wind’, ‘Fohn. Hot Northern European Wind’, ‘Sirocco Hot Mediterranean Wind’), or the velocity (10, 20, 35, 40 knots). The last sequence is titled as ‘Wind. Artificially Produced with Wind-Machines in Rome’ and documents her installation.

While visually modest, Grisi’s film works are crucial for looking at her practice as meticulously calculated or conceived as an attempt to scientifically understand the mechanisms governing the world and the perception of it. Interestingly enough, the full title of Grisi’s first film is: Wind Speed 40 Knots. Experiments in Wind Measurement Carried Out in Various Countries between February and May 1968. Those are precisely experiments.

Despite its title, The Measuring of Time created the following year and presented now at the Black Box is likewise not a scientific record. Sitting at a beach, the artist appears to be counting grains of sand one by one. But the mound next to her seems to suggest that she has already counted a great number of them. More than anything it is a mockery of the measuring process – the task is impossible, and if there is any time to be measured it’s the one we are led to believe has been spent on this task – or the 5 minutes and 45 seconds in which it plays out in front of our eyes.

 

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1.Laura Grisi in conversation with Germano Celant, Laura Grisi, ed. Germano Celant, Rizzoli New York 1990, p. 11. Reprinted in Laura Grisi The Measuring of Time, Clément Dirié, Marco Scotini eds., JRP | Editions 2022.
2.Laura Grisi in conversation with Germano Celant, p. 23.

 

Krzysztof Kościuczuk

 

 

Laura Grisi (b. 1939 in Rhodes, Greece – d. 2017, in Rome, Italy) presented her work at the Galleria dell’Ariete, Milan (1965); Leo Castelli Gallery, New York (from 1973); the Van Abbemuseum Museum, Eindhoven (1976); Konrad Fischer Gallery, Düsseldorf (from 1978). Her work was exhibited included in the Venice Biennale (1966) as well as the group exhibitions Italy New Tendencies at Gallerie Bonino, New York (1966); Young Italians at the ICA, Boston (1968), and the Jewish Musem, New York (1968); Teatro delle Mostre at Galleria La Tartaruga, Rome (1968); Earth, Air, Fire, and Water: Elements of Art, Boston Museum of Fine Arts (1971). Her posthumous exhibitions include solo presentations at Muzeum Susch, Switzerland (2021), and MAMCO, Geneva, Switzerland (2022/23) as well as presence in the Technologies of Enchantment section of the Venice Biennale (2022).