Germano Celant
Perpetuum mobile
Excerpted from "Babetto", published by "Skira"




Every jewel, though it only adorns, becomes familiar thanks to certain projective mechanisms or narcissistic transactions. It speaks of the other - ideal or social, material or immaterial, near or far, precious or poor, permanent or ephemeral - in which we can identify ourselves to the point of finding our reflection in it. It is an outward sign of a desire or a gesture of connecting with the self as well as with the other. As a projection of a monologue or a dialogue, a jewel is a declaration of identity or of difference, subject to the subtle play of transactions which can be noticed at different levels: of the language of the unconscious, of eros, and of meditation on the world of desires and dreams. The personal ornament, chosen out of distinction or vanity, besides being a reflection, becomes a mask of the self, which makes evident the relationship between being and appearances, between revelation and the hidden. As a mask of impulses and drives, conscious or unconscious, the jewel is a face we wear on our finger, arm, ankle and ear. It reveals at a glance something human and something imaginary which is the essence of a person.
Seen from this point of view, the jewel-mask is therefore a privileged signifier that takes on a range of significances, ephemeral or aleatory, profound or intrinsic, virtually infinite, because it relies on imaginary transactions linked to the cultural and fantastic sensibility of an era. It captures the nomadic intensity of a personal inside and a social outside and it does it so through images, volumes, and materials which form a corporeal setting. Such a micro-landscape, trace of a faint and fleeting continent, however intuitable, is one possible site for the manifestation and display of the wonderful, ever in relationship with humour and love.
In each jewel we run the risk of finding ourselves or of colliding with an other, made of beliefs and myths, of rites and ceremonies. Its changing role of individuation and revelation of the pleasure and the power of the self gives to the wearer and the spectator two vehicles of interpretation that remain complementary: the jewel encloses the circularity of narcissistic contemplation represented by the social myth.
Giampaolo Babetto's jewels are also subject to this dual interpretation: they are ornaments and distinctive elements in themselves that organize the visible and the invisible of a being who is a reflection of a mirror as much as of a mimesis. Babetto uses the duality between stillness and movement, between identification and regeneration, between being and appearance, as an emblem of his inquiry. He aspires to retie the knot between spirit and matter, by connecting, in the purifying vortex of gold, male and female, natural and artificial, past and present.
On the one hand the images conveyed by his jewels are always dynamic, always imply an active purpose that gives them motion and covers them in masks of iridescent skin.
On the other hand – on the plane of matter – gold, ebony, resin and precious stones struggle against the inertia and hardening of their respective roles, in order to reach osmosis and an unexpected and amazing fusion. Finally, in the territory of form and volume, of image and representation, his iconographic scenery swarms with moments, apparently dissociated, such as the rationality of mathematical processes and the irrationality of gesture, the historical sublime and the quotidian present, figuration and abstraction. It passes from the strategies of science, with which the forms are set, privileging elementary and minimal figures, to the strategies of expression, where the process of assembling unleashes buried, unique forces and tends to proceed with freedom, finally becoming a dynamic whole.
The theme of movement, as a buried force emerging at a glance and overcoming the inertia of the object, as much as of the design, basing itself on the organization of simple components such as the circle and organized into linear time sequences, has been treated by Babetto since his first works in 1968.
Even when adopting traditional materials such as gold, he made rings and brooches whose structural and rational patterns can be modified, so that we can almost consider them furniture.
Such initial experiences – which were influenced by the artistic climate of the Sixties revolving around the movements of kinetic and planned art, led by the New Trend and Nul groups, from Düsseldorf's Zero Group to Padua's N Group, going back to visual and concretist traditions from Làszlò Moholy-Nagy to Max Bill – represent for Babetto a first step in dealing with the subject of the jewel's iridescent and polymorphic rationality, somewhere between order and disorder, as well as its relationship with art and architecture. The kinetic experience serves to amplify the visual space of the jewel, allowing through its movement the experience of different points of view. This introduces the possibility of conceptualizing the construction, as much as the visual perception.
The works of this period try to grasp the shifting space between a geometrizing shape – the square and the cube, the cylinder and the circle – and the fluctuating and free composition created through movement. These seem to approach a verification of an inquiry which believes in design and concept as basic functions of the aesthetic quest.
As a demonstration of this philosophical and theoretical awareness, his designs and preliminary photographic sketches, a sort of "written" exemplification of his vision of the ornamental object, might be placed alongside his continual references to art history, from De Stijl to Neoplasticism, from the Russian Suprematists to Bauhaus, from the Purevisibilism to Kinetism. In his short period at the Academy of Venice, however attentive he was to Viani's abstract-organic sculptures and however interested in the sensitive architecture, if not of Carlo Scarpa then certainly that of Louis Kahn, Babetto declared as early as 1968 his descent from the Rationalist-Constructivist movement that flourished in Padua in the works of artists such as Costa, Massironi, and Biasi, and in Milan in the works of Calderara, as well as in his own propensity to use the moderate, essential forms of Renaissance architecture.
The identification of a mode which unites ancient and modern became a major concern in 1970 when, after abandoning Kinetism, Babetto became interested in the repetitiveness of an element, circle or triangle, to create a jewel in continual transformation. Through these experiments, he came to make objects capable of being altered and elongated, forms elastic and mutable which, connected in a harmonic way, live in systematic mutation.
Such three-dimensional optico-dynamic effects became transformed into bidimensionality in 1974, when volumes began to buckle inwards and activate a mirror-like process. Even if the shapes remained the same, a triangle or a square, they came to be experienced and executed in a different manner, as line or volume, material surface or immaterial reflex. The use of the simple geometry served to avoid the decorative and expressionist gratuitousness in favour of an analytical logic of doing and making, which in 1977 shed even the effect of movement in favour of a reductiveness and mostly-Minimalist essence.
Attracted by Neoplastic synthesis, from Mondrian to Rietveld, which came about during his stay in Holland from 1972 to 1977, where he encountered Nordic Reductionism, from Schoonhoven to Struycken, he began to deepen his patterns of volumes and simple surfaces. He looked to the examples of Sol LeWitt, Carl Andre, Donald Judd, and Frank Stella in order reduce his language to a minimum of concrete elements: line, surface, volume, and matter.
At first, he began to work on simple volumes, then progressed on to the dialectic relationship between volume and material surface, in which the repetitive and diminishing arrangements of strips of ebony created a multivisual level.
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