Mario Merz

While studying medicine at Turin University, Mario Merz (born 1925, Milan) was arrested for his anti-Fascist activities. In prison, he began making ‘continuous’ drawings, without lifting pencil from paper. This idea of organic creation is central to Merz’s works, evident for example in his neon pieces – hand-written numbers or words – where electricity circulates in a continuous flow of energy. Unlike the other Arte Povera artists, who rarely referred directly to politics, Merz used political slogans in some of these metaphorical works. In 1968, he produced Giap’s Igloo, the first of the dome-shaped temporary constructions that have become his signature works. Made of dried mud, it bears in neon letters on its crown the famous statement of Vietcong General Vo Nguyen Giap: ‘If the Enemy Masses his Forces he Loses Ground, if he Scatters he Loses Strength’. Merz’s Igloos express his pre-occupation with the fundamentals of human existence: shelter, food and man’s relationship to nature. Each of these archetypal dwellings is built specifically for the exhibition in which it is shown, the materials - metal tubing, glass, sand bags, branches, stone, newspapers - often being indigenous to the location. Many of his works refer to the principles of the Fibonacci series, an exponential mathemat-ical sequence that underlies the growth patterns of natural life. In 1971, Merz began a series of photographs applying the Fibonacci series to social groupings. Fibonacci Naples, 1970, for example, consists of ten photographs of factory workers on their lunch break, building from a solitary person to a group of fifty-five.