Piero Gilardi is probably best known for his tappetinatura: floor installations and wall reliefs made of polyurethane foam in the form of plants, fruits, rocks, etc., which are part of a distinct oeuvre with
a strong environmentalist position. Lesser known are his political works and idealistic endeavours to bridge art and society. His theoretical research in that field has been important for the application of art in society, and his contribution in that field is being re-examined today as being of particular significance. As one of the early practitioners of
Arte Povera, by the early 1970’s Gilardi felt that the revolutionary spirit and idealistic principles of Arte Povera were fading away; he felt uneasy with the growing commercialisation of the art world, and he withdrew abruptly from the art world. During the 1970’s, a decade of social unrest and protest, he wrote theoretical analyses of society and culture.
He organised actions and protests in factories, as well as street theatre, and participated in social projects and political initiatives. In 1983 he rejoined the art world again with interactive installations and
relational art projects, including political activism and community actions and outreach programmes, with the purpose to connect art, nature and society.
In the Biennale he presents Selected documentation about militant art, 1972-1981, a selection of protest posters, satirical cartoons and flyers from the 1970’s and 1980’s, the time of his intense political activity. This ensemble includes drawings, cartoons and photographs related to anti-industrial action, workers rights, and anti-capitalist slogans. Some of
it is directed at Fiat, the bastion of Turin’s industry.
The city itself has been the epicentre of the workers’ movement in Italy, and Gilardi was very much implicated in this. The posters, which are shown alongside the documentation in the vitrine, also relate to dissent and resistance, and the workers and students movements of the time. Similar to the aesthetics of May 1968, though sometimes more
colourful and psychedelic, they are a testimony to an important moment of collective social awareness in Southern Europe, which is worth re-visiting in the light of the current crisis. Today, Gilardi’s political engagement remains strong, convincing and relevant. His unequivocal artistic position, committed to social change, and his view of art as a tool in the fight against injustice and inequality, still has a lot to teach us.