Gilberto Zorio exhibited his seminal work Pink-Blue-Pink in a Turin art gallery in 1967, just prior to his association with the Arte Povera group. Consisting of a concrete basin filled with cobalt chloride (which perpetually changes color in response to shifting levels of humidity in the room), the work reveals much about Zorio’s concerns as an artist as well as his place within the development of contemporary Italian art. In art-historical terms, Pink-Blue-Pink refers to the works of the Italian enfant terrible Piero Manzoni, who used cobalt chloride in some of his radical wall pieces (known as Achromes) in order to redefine painting and its traditional role as a conveyor of predetermined meanings. Pink-Blue-Pink marks a continuation of the attempt to reconfigure art’s role in society by demonstrating its essential malleability. The emphasis on instability and metamorphoses apparent in Pink-Blue-Pink would become the leitmotif of Zorio’s subsequent artistic undertakings. Drawing upon the ancient science of alchemy for both form and content, he has created an oeuvre in which materials associated with chemical conversions—vessels containing water, alcohol, acids, and copper sulfate connected by suspended copper conduits—have become symbols for psychic and social transmutation. Zorio’s belief in the potential for cultural change through art is apparent in the title Per purificare le parole (To Purify Words), which he has applied to numerous sculptures and performances since 1968.
Zorio’s notion that language can be emptied of all extraneous or corrupt facets finds a visual analogue in his work, which can be reduced to an essential symbolic typology that he combines and recombines. His fundamental aesthetic vocabulary consists of the star, which alludes to the metaphysical; the javelin, which represents mortal power; and the canoe, which suggests passage between the two realms. However utopian this project may seem, one remains aware that danger and violence constitute the underside of beauty and of harmony. Perhaps this is why Zorio pierced the broken terra-cotta star with a javelin in Star (To Purify Words).