domusweb   Art   02. Apr. 2007

The treasure map

from Domus 901 March 2007 

  • With Millemiglia (1997) Patrizia Giambi creates a shift of
  • intervention from the natural environment to  metropolitan fabric.
  • Her illicit painting of zebra crossings in the city is configured as
  • an act of modifying the urban landscape and places in crisis
  • bureaucratic circulation and the idea itself of functionality within
  • the shared code
  • A Sunday morning in October 1969, Robert Smithson, in occasion of his solo show at the L’Attico gallery in Rome, constructed Asphalt Rundown: a flow of asphalt into a shingle quarry. 38 years later, Sue Spaid and Patrizia Giambi went in search of what remains of this forgotten work.

 Text by Patrizia Giambi. 

the phenomenon for which the  

planet’s  surface is largely covered by matter that fills its interior,

its inside. The constant passing inside/outside assumes,

gradually, different forms and signs. In practice, cultures change,

but not the elements that go to make it up.

Asphalt, a material with a strong character that today has negative

connotations, is present in large quantities on the ground and

since ancient times has been used for building and fertilizing

as the Assyrians did it  for the famous hanging

gardens and  the Spaniards in South America; and we also find

it in painting definitely from the 18th century. On January 9, 2005,

with Sue Spaid, I found the exact place that was the setting for

Asphalt Rundown, made by Robert Smithson in 1969 in a

suburb of Rome. The place was a flint quarry. 

I would like to point out straight away that flint is an extracted

material used mostly for cladding streets and buildings.

Sue Spaid and I didn’t find the asphalt, obviously it had

disintegrated over the years but on the side

of the quarry on where it was poured we found plants growing

on the same surface and in the same shape of the poured

asphalt as is portrayed in the official  photograph, surrounded

by naked earth.

In absence of declarations of the artist, I guess that the work is

presented as something that orders or reorders the fabric of the

ground in the sequence stone-flint-hardness- asphalt-viscosity-

vegetation-air-light and please note that one of the

consequences is that the ground has been fertilized. 

Thirty years after that day in 1969, I myself succumbed to the

attraction of asphalt as an organic material.

In 1996 in my exhibition “Burning Colors” at the Lasca Gallery

in Los Angeles I showed  54 teddy bears soaked in

asphalt, with an eye to the strongly sweetened system of values

in American society. But for me it wasn’t enough.

The sense of close collapse that I feel in the western world

has compelled me to look for new passages,

to cross the street, towards Atlantis. 

I worked directly on the urban landscape, on the asphalt of the

city. I painted real zebra crossings, but secretly at night,

with other people or groups (Ravenna, Forlì, Bologna, Genova,

Milano, Nice, Amsterdam and Los Angeles).

“(Giambi) uses a convention to obtain a slowing down and a

new passage, effectively useable” wrote Giorgina Bertolino,

“the following morning someone will use the freshly painted

zebra crossing until they are identified as illicit...

The operation (...) is not aimed at an analytical recording of

the so called street  behavior  but to their alteration provoked

within a code.

The object of such provocation is the idea of functionality itself

and above all in its coinciding exclusively with regulations.

The illicit zebra crossings, those that in other words  don’t

belong to the geometry of bureaucratic circulation,

are then semantic traps because they put in crisis the

interpretation of the codified form, causing it to bump

into the function”.

(Zebra Crossing, a.titolo di edizione, Torino, 1998,

pages 45/46) 
The formless pouring of asphalt and the geometry of

the zebra crossing fatally vanish, act as a kind of archaeology

of the present, we may hunt for vestiges of Smithson in

the wild environment and one day we may hunt for

vestiges of illicit zebra crossings in urban cities. 


Patrizia Giambi