Unsurprisingly, for this installation of cobble-embedded neon, Italian artist Mario Merz chose the Fibonacci sequence, a ratio occurring naturally in objects such as the nautilus shell. Though defined by various Indian mathematicians as early as 200 BCE and onwards, the formula received its name from an Italian, who defined the equation (Fn = Fn-1 + Fn-2) in 1202. That means, starting from 0 and 1, you add the two previous numbers in the sequence to find the next, producing the sequence: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 …
This is another work in Configuraciones urbanes (Urban Configurations), which stretches the length of the Moll de la Barceloneta. Each neon number in the sequence is protected in its own cavity under shockproof glass, arranged at a distance from its neighbours that corresponds to its position in the sequence. Is the concept of laying out the dimensions of a shell an attempt to reflect Barceloneta’s close relationship to the sea? In fact, Merz used this sequence in much of his work, interpreting it to signify universal creation and growth. According to the Tate, which houses six of his pieces, he had “a fascination with the material and metaphorical qualities of natural objects with ideas regarding infinity and repetition”.
Mario Merz (1925–2003) is an interesting artist. His father, an architect, taught him a sensitivity to the “human, intimate and natural” occupation of space. Later, he sank his roots into the passionate post-war scene of 1950s Turin. Here, he mixed with influential writers like Elio Vittorini (the communist author of Conversations in Sicily, an oneiric and beguiling novel that is a coded criticism of fascism) and Ezra Pound (whose fascist and anti-semitic politics made him a controversial figure among English poets). Along with the sculptor Marisa Merz, who was also his wife, he was a key developer of Arte Povera (poor art): a movement that attacked the perceived establishment with an art using mundane and unconventional materials. Other international figures linked to this movement are the Greek artist Jannis Kounellis and the Catalan artists of the Dau al Set (seven-sided die) movement, whose founders included Joan Brossa and Antoni Tàpies.