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Volume of Displaced Modules comprises two overlaid sheets of semi-transparent plastic stretched onto and separated by a white stretcher frame which is visible through the plastic. Small, round holes have been punched through the plastic at regular intervals. Dadamaino, whose real name was Eduarda Maino, made a series of such pieces around 1960. They have come to be regarded as among her most important works.
Dadamaino used unconventional, synthetic materials, such as plastic, often in overlapping layers in her works. She would first punch the plastic by hand with regular perforations and then stretch it onto a frame. She observed:
I wanted to create holes that were arranged in a perspective, translating volume through three or four layers of plastic. I found a semi-transparent material that is normally used for shower curtains which came closest to the idea of transparency. With a hand punch I perforated the sheets and then placed them on the frame. The warmth of my hand moved the holes, and this shift was the result of chance.
(Quoted in ‘Biografia’, no date, trans. by Tanya Barson, accessed 24 November 2010.)
The Italian word ‘sfasati’ – meaning ‘out of sync’ or ‘out of focus’ – in the title of this piece refers to the slight displacement between the sets of holes caused by the layering of the plastic sheets and the resulting effect of a slight optical vibration. Since the late 1950s, Dadamaino had been using the word ‘volume’ to title her works, alluding to their three dimensional, spatial quality.
Dadamaino was born and lived in Milan. In 1957 she met fellow Italian artist Piero Manzoni, becoming one of the founder members of his Gallery Azimuth in Milan in 1959. Her work of the late 1950s was typified by her series of ‘Volumes’ – monochromatic canvases dominated by large, elliptical or biomorphic holes. Several of these canvases featured only one hole which would take up the greater part of the work. While she sometimes used rough hessian in these works, rather than canvas, her aim was not to emphasise the material presence of the work but rather the opposite. Such explorations relate to the contemporary experimentations with the surface of the work and its penetration by the Italian artist Lucio Fontana, as Dadamaino openly acknowledged: ‘I always hated matter and sought immateriality. Of course, Fontana played a decisive role in the history of my painting ... if Fontana had not pierced the canvas, probably I would not have dared to do so either.’ She also described how ‘behind the large holes I could see a wall full of light and shadow that vibrated and moved’. (Quoted in ‘Biografia’, no date, trans. by Tanya Barson, accessed 24 November 2010.) This dynamic quality is explored further in works such as Volume of Displaced Modules.
‘Biografia’, Archivio Dadamaino, no date, http://www.archiviodadamaino.it/biografia.htm, accessed 24 November 2010.
Serge Lemoine, Dadamaino: Volumes 1958–1960, Mayor Gallery, London 2011.
Revised April 2012