The enhancement of public art through conservation: Seme d’Arancia and Il Seme dell’Altissimo by Emilio Isgrò


The works of artist Emilio Isgrò arise from the ability to observe and analyze the society, seizing acutely features and changes, but also risks and negative trends. Although not having moralist intents, nor censoring attitudes, Emilio Isgrò gives to his work an ethical dimension,necessary as an assumption of responsibility in front of his work and of his public.[1] Using a communication primarily facing outward, the artist is able to engage emotionally and physically his users, becoming bearer of social messages. In 1972 the artist presented in Milan, at the Studio Sant’Andrea, the installation L’avventurosa vita di Emilio Isgrò nelle testimonianze di uomini di Stato, scrittori, artisti, parlamentari, attori, parenti, familiari, amici, anonimi cittadini. Sixty pieces structured the work, each illuminated by a flashlight, similar to those that the secret police of Hitler or Stalin used to confess the investigated. At the entrance of the public, some light begins to flash, someone else indulges a languid light, the more resistant retain unchanged their intensity. The effect, as unexpected as dramatic, is engaging for each guest and Isgrò decides to keep it for all the future installations. [2] In 1979, the artist occupies the Rotonda in Via Besan, Milan with fifteen pianos for the work Chopin. The public feels the installation as sacred, with signs of the cross and fascinated and enthusiastic faces.[3] It is the success of this work that makes the City of Gibellina rely to Emilio Isgrò the project and the composition of the Orestea. The work is a celebration of the re-establishment of the old city destroyed by the earthquake and quickly turned into a hymn to the strength and tenacity of the people of Sicily.[4] The participation of the city is absolute, the familiarity of drama and the will to rise again make the audience protagonist and participant. [5] In 1986, the artist is inspired by the tragic bombing of the Bologna train station, making the work L’ora italiana, installed at the Archaeological Museum of the city. The watch survived after the explosion is multiplied in twenty watches, all flying different hours. The sound of the ticking makes the environment suggestive and evocative, and the response of visitors is very strong, with weeping and emotional reactions. [6] Since 2000 Isgrò begins to include in his works ants and bees, as in Livorno, for the ancient Library Belforte, with the installation Le api della Torah (2001), and in Padula, in a cell of the Certosa di San Lorenzo, with Il Padrenostro delle formiche (2004). Hard and collective work, hope, are positive signs for the artist just as the erasures. The bees that are resistant to the pollution that man produces, bearers of age-old wisdom, sucking honey from the flowers of the great Mediterranean cultures, represent the potential “pollination” for human development, a sign of confidence in Europe which seems to crumble under the weight of its own history. [7] The invasion of ants is rather the invasion of those who want to take risks and engage in a world of the dead.[8] In 2011 Emilio Isgrò realizes La Costituzione cancellata, dry work, free from unnecessarily provocative tones. The artist, in his statement of clear, does not express the purpose of eliminating, in part or in its entirety, the civil pact signed with the people but, on the contrary, to report the risk that, at a time of severe crisis in the country , such a pact is brutally deleted. [9] Those described in this short excursus are works talking about the current issues of a complex society, often disoriented, works that can describe places, people, crucial moments in the history of humanity, installations that offer alternative realities, different points of view, spaces of hope. In the focus is the audience, the viewer is a child or an adult, a critic or a journalist, the citizen of a known land or an anonymous passerby. Emilio Isgrò chooses a committed art, capable of conveying social messages, in continuous dialogue with the old and new generations, an art that does not age and that continues uninterruptedly talking. With this approach, and with this critical eye, must be looked at and analyzed the two public works realized by the artist Seme d’Arancia first, installed in 1998 in Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto, homeland of Isgrò, and Il Seme dell’Altissimo recently made in Milan, his adopted city. Similar works, but built with different material and purposes, at different stages of the artistic career of the sculptor, both arising from his relationship with the land, from the study and knowledge of the traditions, natural features, and the excellence of the typical productions. Made of tufa, the stone of the temples of Ancient Greece, resin and volcanic scoria, Seme d’Arancia is a symbol of prosperity and an invitation to civil and social redemption for the people of Sicily and the Mediterranean peoples.

il seme dell'altissimo copia

Il Seme dell’Altissimo, 2015, marmo bianco Altissimo, dimensione ambientale © Archivio Emilio Isgrò (Foto A. Valentini).

Seme d'arancia

Seme d’arancia, 1998, fiberglass e scorie vulcaniche, dimensione ambientale © Archivio Emilio Isgrò.

una indivisibile minorata copia

Una indivisibile minorata, 2010, libro e tecnica mista, cm 77 x 103 © Archivio Emilio Isgrò.

The work keeps alive the relationship with the land where it is located, in every case a place dedicated to the production of universal culture. [10] The sculpture is made by enlarging an orange seed to reach 7 meters in height, turning a small element produced by the cycle of nature in a symbol of cultural revival, hope, trust in a world that can and will change. Intended, over time, to unsubscribe in a fruit, the seed is an allusion to the process of death and rebirth. [11] The work is placed in the square of the old station, which in the past were leaving trains full of essences, to Paris, London, Milan. Isgrò decides to dedicate the work to the rescue of that land, to the land of producers; to the story of a land of aromas and perfumers, of workers and traders, to the strength of the women who worked at night and meticulously quarried essences from the peel. [12]

Closely linked to the place for which it was conceived and designed, especially in its symbolic value, in 2011 Seme d’Arancia meets the hostility of the board of the center and the Mayor Nania, recently elected. The First Citizen starts dismantling the sculpture, proposing a new installation near the Zen garden designed by artist Idetoshi Nagasawa, describing the operation as a “concern”, a relocation to a site more valuable and of a deeper meaning. [13] Emilio Isgrò, made aware of the action of removing from friends and colleagues in protest, Ludovico Corrao first, unaware by the Mayor and his employees, accused the administration to destroy the message of faith and hope that the work aims to pass on to future generations, depriving the city of an intellectual and moral good. [14]  In defense of the work, Achille Bonito Oliva and Alfonso Leto, who with harsh words and sharp denounce the intolerable gesture. To hinder the operation and to terminate the project relocation, however, are the citizens, the people of Barcelona arise and get The seed to be restored where it was and how it was. In 2012, thanks to the new administration, the work is safe, in all its components, in its place and its meanings. Only in 2014, however, it opens a new chapter for the Seme d’Arancia, when the City Council and the Community Foundation of Messina announced the start of restoration, in collaboration with the Regional Museum of Contemporary Art Palace Rice. Since 1998, when the work was donated to the city, passed over fifteen years. The elapsed time is now manifested in the joints, in the glass-resin, in the surface layer of the sculpture, unable to perform its protective function and aesthetics, and in the many acts of vandalism in spray paint. [15] The project is entrusted to Francesco Mannuccia and performed by the specialist firm ISLAND. Marco Bazzini, director of the Centre for Contemporary Art Luigi Pecci, care instead the participated project, with the opening of the site to the public, the organization of guided tours and educational workshops, in order to involve the entire citizenry. The episode, albeit with a happy ending, made clear the fragility of public works and their dependence on disputes between political adverse factions. Now the survival of the work will be increasingly at risk from the decisions of mayors and joined, by changes of administration, demonstrations of force and alleged new redevelopment plans. The risk of demolition or resettling will increase with the onset of the problems of deterioration, caused by the complete lack of maintenance plans and conservation. Seme d’Arancia, over the years, before the restoration, gradually lost its ability to communicate, being its appearance and its material consistency the main vehicle through which transfer the message of the work to its users, a positive and social message, of redemption, rebirth and renewal, able to keep itself at the same time, the memory of the traditions of the past and the hope of the present and the future. Reset this ability, it becomes irreversible the deterioration, the sculpture would stop to dialogue with the environment and its citizens, communicating only the abandonment by the institutions that had commissioned and financed, going to become a wreck to dismantle. Fortunately, the restoration has returned the work to the city, allowing it to continue, as it has done over the years, to produce the desired redevelopment, becoming a propeller of a land able to germinate. Developed in 7 meters in height, larger one billion and five hundred million times its actual size, Il Seme dell’Altissimo has its origin in Seme d’Arancia, representing the choice of Emilio Isgrò to bring in Milan, in his adopted city, a symbolic work of his artistic career. Located at the main entrance of the Expo Center, the sculpture is designed to welcome visitors from all over the world, representing Italy and its typical excellence. Thanks to the contribution of Henraux SpA, the artist was able to realize his seed using the precious white marble Altissimo, discovered by Michelangelo but which he never used, extracted from the Cervaiole of Mount Altissimo in Seravezza. The work is based on a range of steps in Versilys, other precious marble, gray, also from the same mountain. Thanks to the contribution of the Milanese company Mapei, the work has been treated with products anti-efflorescence, water-repellent and resistant to mold, which will ensure a more lasting conservation. [16]

Although similar in appearance and size, Il Seme dell’Altissimois is different from the Sicilian sculpture not only for the choice of the materials, poorest in the work of 1998, prized for that of 2015, but finds in the place where is located the purpose of its creation and its new multiple meanings. It is in fact the event itself, Milan Expo 2015, to mark the conceptual trajectory of the sculpture, through its well known payoff “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” No more a representation of the traditions of Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto, not only the image of the seed and the fruit of Sicily, not only the symbol of fertility, life, rich soil. At first glance one of those genetic manipulations, actually an art making that invites the man to reflect, urging him, albeit through imagination, to have more courage. We have to have the strength to turn something small into big idea into a concrete project, as well as a tiny seed can become the first tree, then fruit “And where an artist, just at the Expo, in the heart of a changing Italy, dare plant a seed seven meters tall, it is likely that sooner or later, there near or in a place not too far away, someone decides to set up a new factory, a company capable of producing something. For this serves the art: to give more courage to the brave.” [17]

[1] G. Bortolotti, A. Broggi, Intervista con Emilio Isgrò. 2008, in «GAMMM literature / criticism / installation(s) / research», 28 settembre 2008, alla pagina web (ultima consultazione: 28 settembre 2015).
[2] Autocurriculum, p. 15, consultabile alla pagina web (data del download: 17 giugno 2014).
[3] Ivi, p. 17.
[4] Ibidem.
[5] Isgrò. 1971 2007, catalogo della mostra (Roma, 14 maggio-16 settembre 2007), a cura di E. Ravenna Fiorentini, Roma, 2007.
[6] Autocurriculum, p. 19.
[7] La citazione è estratta dal comunicato stampa della mostra Emilio Isgrò – Epigrafi cancellate da api scatenate, a cura di Marco Bazzini, tenutasi presso il Museo Archeologico Regionale Eoliano “Luigi Bernabò Brea” di Lipari (Messina), dal 08 agosto 2013 al 06 ottobre 2015. Il CS è disponibile alla pagina web (ultima consultazione: 30 settembre 2015).
[8] C. Perer, “Sogno una nuova Italia” – L’artista commenta il panorama culturale italiano: desolante. Intervista a Emilio Isgrò, in «Giornale Sentire», 14 dicembre 2012, alla pagina web (ultima consultazione: 30 settembre 2015).
[9] Autocurriculum, p. 24.
[10] Isgrò. 1971 2007, catalogo della mostra (Roma, 14 maggio-16 settembre 2007), a cura di E. Ravenna Fiorentini, Roma, 2007.
[11] Emilio Isgrò. Disobbedisco. Sbarco a Marsala e altre Sicilie, catalogo della mostra (Marsala, 13 maggio-19 settembre 2010), Milano, Silvana Editoriale, 2010, pp. 19-20, consultabile alla pagina web (data del download: 29 gennaio 2014).
[12] M. Meneguzzo, Quarantanove aforismi su Isgrò e un’intervista con Emilio, Milano, Galleria Gruppo Credito Valtellinese, 2008, p. 55, consultabile alla pagina web (data del download: 29 gennaio 2014).
[13] Helga Marsala, Storia di un Seme d’Arancia. Lieto fine per la grande scultura di Emilio Isgrò a Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto. Scongiurato il trasferimento, partono i restauri. Con una mostra di Ferdinando Scianna, in «», 12 gennaio 2014, consultabile alla pagina web (ultima consultazione: 28 settembre 2015).
[14] G. Lo Bianco, Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto, il simbolo dell’antimafia nascosto nel giardino zen, in «Il Fatto Quotidiano», 27 agosto 2011, consultabile alla pagina web (ultima consultazione: 30 settembre 2015).
[15] SiciliaInformazioni, “Il cantiere del Seme d’Arancia”. Restauro partecipato dell’opera di Emilio Isgrò, in «», 15 marzo 2014, disponibile alla pagina web (ultima consultazione: 30 settembre 2015).
[16] Le informazioni sono state reperite alla pagina web (ultima consultazione: 4 ottobre 2015).
[17] E. Isgrò, L’opera che marcherà l’esposizione di Milano nelle parole dell’artista che l’ha concepita. Isgrò: «Il mio seme d’arancia di 7 metri porta il Mediterraneo all’Expo». L’artista: «Questa città è forse carica di vizi, ma trabocca di speranza e futuro», in «Corriere della Sera», 8 marzo 2015, alla pagina web (ultima consultazione: 5 ottobre 2015).

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Annalisa Ferraro

Storica dell'arte, specializzata nella valorizzazione e conservazione dell'arte contemporanea.

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