Degree zero art: Piero Manzoni and Hélio Oiticica
This thesis seeks to unfold the concept of the ‘degree zero art’ as an artistic and cultural project as manifested in the practices of two very different artists, Milan-based Piero Manzoni (Soncino 1933- Milan 1963) and Rio-born Hélio Oiticica (Rio de Janeiro 1937-1980), during the second half of the twentieth century. Despite the clear contrasts between their works and their very different cultural formations, the thesis focuses on these artists in order to show how their practices align around the challenge to aesthetic categories, stylistic labels and political frameworks employed by much recent critical literature. In order to discuss intellectual and critical structures developed to narrate varieties of North American conceptual practices, this thesis proposes a new interpretative frame: a ‘degree zero aesthetics’, creating a transnational dialogue between the work of Manzoni and Oiticica. Borrowing from the understanding of zero proposed by the German Zero group at the beginning of the sixties, I argue that the idea of zero denotes a fresh start and constructive will; it therefore explains the process of erasing and rebuilding from scratch that has characterised the post-war generation. Alongside the process of construing an aesthetic around the notion of ‘zero’, this thesis aims to deconstruct popular sites of discourse around the tropes of ‘participation’ and ‘politics’, critically readdressing the historiography surrounding these themes. Lastly, this project attempts to discuss the literature on both artists, who have become paradigmatic of certain key movements and moments in Latin American and European art respectively, and in recent elaborations of global art histories.