What I want to consider is the phenomenon for which the surface of the planet is largely covered from the 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 fertilising; the Assyrian-Babylonian civilisations for the famous hanging gardens; 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 the shape of the poured asphalt immortalised in a 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 note that one of the consequences is that the ground has been fertilised.
Thirty years after that day in 1969, I myself succumbed to the attraction of asphalt as an organic material and initially I used it in the negative sense projected by contemporary times. In 1996 in my exhibition “Burning Colours” at the Lasca Gallery in Los Angeles I presented 54 teddy bears soaked in asphalt, with an eye to social organisation and the strongly sweetened system of values in American society. But for me it wasn’t enough. The sense of immanent collapse that I sense in the western world has compelled me to look for new passages, to cross the street, towards Atlantis.
I intervened 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, Genoa, Milan, 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 so called street behaviours 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 that don’t belong to the geometry of bureaucratic circulation, are then semantic traps because they place the interpretation of the codified form in crisis, causing it to trip on 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, in the wild environment hunting out vestiges of works of Smithson and perhaps one day on the hunt for illicit zebra crossings in urban centres.