Mario Merz

Igloo, Do We Go Around Houses, or Do Houses Go Around Us?

1977, reconstructed 1985

Original title
Igloo, Noi giriamo intorno alle case o le case girano intorno a noi?
Medium
Steel, slate, glass, putty and lightbox
Dimensions
Displayed: 2667 x 5003 x 10261 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1990
Reference
T05755

Summary


Igloo, Do We Go Around Houses, or Do Houses Go Around Us? 1977, remade 1985
Igloo, Noi giriamo intorno alle case o le case girano intorno a noi?
Metal, stone, glass, putty and electric light
Displayed: 2667 x 5003 x 10261 mm
Sculpture
Purchased 1990
T05755

Igloo, Do We Go Around Houses, or Do Houses Go Around Us? is made of sixty-five slate slabs spiralling from the top of a semicircular steel frame, to which they are fastened with G-clamps and putty. Intersecting the frame is another steel structure which supports seventy-four vertical panes of broken glass, secured with putty. At the end of this structure is a light box positioned to shine electric light into the igloo through the glass 'tunnel'. The glass has irregular sharp edges and is dirty, occasionally covered by masking tape and smudged with putty in several places. In accordance with the artist's wishes, the glass must not be cleaned. Merz has said of the clustering of the glass panels in this and other works, 'they acquire a strange lightness and strange obsessiveness. They lose the sense of the fallen, the falling and the broken' (quoted in Celant, Mario Merz, 1989, p.55). Electric light, struggling to get through the dirty glass panes, underlines their 'strange lightness' while softening them. At the same time, it can be said to emphasise the distance between the first and the last pane of glass (Celant, p.186).

The work is a 1985 adaptation of a 1977 piece titled Igloo - Paving Stones and Broken Glass from the Destroyed House Reactivated by Art in a Gallery/in a Museum (reproduced in Celant, p.137). Reusing ideas or elements from earlier works and incorporating them into new works is not unusual for Merz; indeed, it is symptomatic of his interest in renewal. The main difference between the 1977 version and this igloo is that the former's steel structure was covered by a mix of slate slabs and glass panes. The title of the 1977 version suggests that the materials from a broken down or destroyed house were galvanised into significance again and thus returned to life through their use in an art work. Although some materials used in the construction of the igloo were reclaimed, they are not thought, however, to come from an actual destroyed house.

Mario Merz started constructing igloos in 1968 and developed the idea thereafter, creating increasingly bigger and often structurally more complicated igloos. He has created dozens of different versions, incorporating materials as diverse as metal, glass, slate, cloth, earth, neon lights, wood, putty, fruit, paint, wax and even an antelope's head. In 1971 the artist described the igloo as 'the ideal organic shape … both a world and a small house … a synthesis, a complex image', adding, 'I thoroughly torment the elementary image of an igloo, which I carry inside myself' (quoted in Celant, pp.25, 27). Merz's igloos are primitive forms of shelter and habitation. Both self-contained worlds and small houses, they attempt to answer the artist's own questions: 'is space straight or curved? Do houses move round you or do you move round houses? What does making a house mean?' (quoted in Marlis Grüterich, 'Mario Merz', Data, no.21, May-June 1976, pp.45-6).

A signature piece and an archetypal object for Merz, the igloo has been described by art historian Zdenek Felix as 'a clue to one of the oldest building forms of mankind - the house of nomads. One can consider it a mental living place and refuge, as a place of encounter and communication or as a cupola - and in that, as an archaic parable of the universe' (Zdenek Felix, 'Crocodiles, Owls and Numbers. Mario Merz's Painting', in Danilo Eccher, p.82).

Further reading:
Germano Celant, Mario Merz, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1989
Danilo Eccher (ed.), Mario Merz, exhibition catalogue, Galleria Civica d'Arte Contemporanea, Trento 1995 (reproduced pp.242-3 in colour)

Giorgia Bottinelli
October 2001

Display caption

'The igloo is the ideal organic form' according to Mario Merz, who equates it with the basic structures built by ancient nomadic cultures. This work addresses the theme of shelter and the relation of humans to their environment and community. Merz was part of the Arte Povera movement, which adopted a revolutionary stance against consumerist society, and deliberately made their work from humble materials. He began constructing igloos in 1968, in response to student and worker political demonstrations in Italy and France. The early igloos carried slogans linking them directly with the utopian ideals of the protesters.

Gallery label, August 2004