PIET / LINE / NOSE is the studio òbelo tribute to Saul Steinberg

February 3 2022

“This is the workshop for making food and this would be the table where I eat, and here on the walls are paintings, something of a collection created through exchanges among friends. With the exception of this fake Mondrian, which I did myself, as a kind of homage to Mondrian: I tried to impersonate him, to see how I might feel if I were Mondrian. By way of example: whoever eats a chicken with great gusto pays homage to that chicken; that’s how I tried to take possession of Mondrian. I tried to digest him. And another thing too, in my opinion: the illusion that it’s not completely fake because I painted it.” 

After welcoming the TV crew to his Manhattan home/studio, Saul Steinberg says this to Sergio Zavoli in one of the opening scenes of the documentary L’essenza totemica (RAI, 1967). If for Steinberg drawing is a mimetic affair – line dropping into the lives of others to reveal their ways of doing and seeing the world – in his chicken/Mondrian homage, imitation becomes a performative experiment. 

“Mondrian, or How to Digest a Master” is the first installment of Reenacting Steinberg, a workshop assembled much like Zavoli’s documentary in which, through a sequence of graphic actions in space, participants are invited to appropriate some of Steinberg’s philosophical approaches to imitation, line and identity. Initially produced in 2016 for the “Signs. Grafica italiana contemporanea” exhibition curated by Francesco Dondina (BASE, Milan),the workshop has been replicated in whole or in part for a number of different groups, including students from ISIA Urbino, SUPSI Lugano, and ENSBA Lyon. Taken together, the photographic documentation collated over the years construes a collective “kind of homage” made up of authentic copies.

PIET/LINE/NOSE. Homage to Saul Steinberg, a set of three small-format prototypes to be used as a solitary or convivial pastime, emerges from this archive. 

PIET is a flip-book that combines copies of Piet Mondrian’s painting Composition in Black and White, with Double Lines (1934) into a multiple-author animation. 

LINE, modelled after the old Shake-a-face game, generates characters through random variations in a line’s path from A to B. 

NOSE, dedicated to the “theory of the nose”, is a memory game starring “the most primitive part of our body” and a manifestation of identity: the nose as signature feature.

Studio òbelo

studio òbelo (÷) is a graphic design practice founded by Claude Marzotto and Maia Sambonet, specializing in work for publishing, art, and culture.


All images: © studio òbelo

This article is part of the series of postcards commissioned by Triennale Milano to various artists and authors to pay homage to the figure of Saul Steinberg.

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