In the years after World War II the dominant mode of artistic expression in Europe was Tachisme and Art Informel, abstract styles that bore visual similarity to Abstract Expressionism in New York and attempted to capture the violence of the war through the traditional medium of painting. Beginning in the late 1950s, a new generation of artists wished to focus on more positive forms of expression, ones that pushed past tired traditions and embraced radically new approaches to making art. In 1957 Düsseldorf-based artists Heinz Mack and Otto Piene formed an artists’ group that they called ZERO, a name which Piene claimed represented “pure possibilities for a new beginning as at the countdown when rockets take off―zero is the incommensurable zone in which the old state turns into the new.” Mack and Piene established a global network of communication with other artists and became especially close to fellow European artists such as Yves Klein in Paris and Enrico Castellani and Piero Manzoni in Italy. All of these artists utilized innovative materials from outside of the fine art realm to create novel formats such as installations, kinetic art and live art actions. Nanda Vigo was one such artist who shared the vision of this international network and helped to promote it in Italy.
In 1959, after the seeds of the ZERO movement were planted in Germany, Vigo set up her own studio in Milan. She frequented the studio of Lucio Fontana, who had been expanding the possibilities of painting by slashing canvases and using neon since the late 1940s, and soon became close to Manzoni and Castellani who had founded the Azimut gallery in Milan, which was extremely important in spreading the ideas of ZERO to Italian viewers and artists. From 1964 to 1966 Vigo took part in at least thirteen ZERO exhibitions, including NUL 65 at the Stedelijk, Amsterdam, and ZERO: An Exhibition of European Experimental Art at the Gallery of Modern Art, Washington D.C. In 1965 the artist curated the ZERO avant-garde show in Lucio Fontana’s studio in Milan, in which twenty-eight artists took part.
Nanda Vigo at the exhibition of her work at Il Punto Gallery, Calice Ligure, 1970 (Photograph courtesy of Archivio Nanda Vigo)
Vigo created artwork that spoke to the contemporary moment. Like many artists of her time, she was very interested in the interaction of light and space. “Light, nature, and space were central concerns of the ZERO network. Light and its absence reflected the experience of World War II, specifically such memories as artillery explosions filling the night sky. After the war, the sky hosted primarily commercial rather than military aircraft. In this context, light and space came to signify peace and the unbridled freedom to explore the world and the universe”. Vigo’s Contropo series that she began in the early 1960s utilized transparent, opaque and reflective glass and neon to distort and enhance the viewer’s experience of the space around the piece. Concerned with the interaction of viewers and space, Vigo continued to experiment with the form of the Contropo series, creating diverse works form wall hangings to sculptures that were placed in central locations within galleries. By the early 1970s, Vigo expanded upon the Contropo series to create larger glass installations that further played with viewer’s perception of light and space.
Many artists in the ZERO network used materials outside of the fine art realm, so it makes sense that artists like Vigo would be interested in putting the artistic concepts explored with these materials back into a “real world” context. The Iceberg lamp is an excellent example of an object that visually communicates the ideas expressed by the Contropo works in the daily realm of the domestic space. Its wall-mounted square shape, neon, and polished stainless steel have an unmistakable dialogue with the Contropo works. The Iceberg lamp reflects Vigo’s dedication to both architectural and domestic spaces. Vigo created many interiors and structures throughout her career. Vigo never confined her research of light and space to a single methodology. Instead, she used architectural, design and artistic practices to explore the interplay of both from a variety of angles, allowing these interrelated disciplines to inform one another.