A monument to the late scientist Margherita Hack is set to be unveiled on Monday during an official ceremony. The work, titled “Sguardo Fisico” (Physical Gaze) and created by artist Sissi, has been selected during a consultation launched by Fondazione Deloitte as an attempt to overcome the scarcity of statues in Milan celebrating women.
The “bronze sculpture with a night-coloured patina accompanied by a milky path of golden stars,” as the artist describes it, portrays scientist Margherita Hack as immersed in a vortex of universe matter and will be located on Largo Richini, in front of the University of Milan.
“Placing the monument dedicated to Margherita Hack in front of the Università Statale increases the already high symbolic value,” said Tommaso Sacchi, the Councillor for Culture of the City of Milan, during the announcement of the winning proposal in January.
Sissi’s work depicts Hack as a metamorphosis, a person born of the elements of a galaxy and engaged in studying the stars that formed her. The sculpture represents an uninterrupted flow of life, starting and ending with the stars. As if the scientist looked at the cosmos from within it rather than from the outside.
First of all, congratulations. It is a significant achievement for an artist (probably the greatest?). At the same time, it is a meaningful moment in the history of the city of Milan of which you have rightfully become a part of. Do you feel the pressure?
No. I have had positive, emotional, weightless and evolutionary energy from the design stage to the ending. An absence of gravity gave me the space to work with her.
How did the idea for the work come about?
My research began trying to deepen my knowledge of her, by listening to her interviews on the internet and in books. In her words, I recognized a point of contact between us, the matter.
The pulsating energy, and the wrapping of inorganic masses that she studied, are metamorphic movements in my sculptures. And in the archetypal form of the spiral, I found the symbol of the galaxy. Astrophysics emerges from the galaxy to stretch towards the sky and look beyond one’s hand at the object of its study.
What would Ms. Hack think of the sculpture?
After winning [the commission], throughout the entire creation process, I had the opportunity to meet some friends of Margherita Hack. Thanks to their knowledge and support, I felt I was on the right path to knowing and understanding her and correctly portraying her. In my sculpture, you can find a strong and independent woman who asserts herself with her own hands: a metaphor that reflects her life and emancipation as a woman in science. In the sculpture, she raises her hands in an instinctive gesture that everyone does when looking at the sky, for me, it is an invitation to the fundamental imagination aiming at new perspectives. She has no tools because today, the technologies used to study the universe are outside human dimensions, so she looks beyond.
What was important to you to convey about the life and work of Ms. Hack to the audience that will meet the work?
The sculpture, Margherita Hack’s galaxy, is born from the earth. It has no foundation to affirm my idea of a monument without distances and elevations. I believe the sculpture must be a continuity of the location in which placed. It is a graft that must be part of society and has to make us reflect on a fundamental fact of our times, such as the concept of brotherhood, we are all part of this world. We need to re-establish the concept of a monument not on the ‘me’ but the ‘us’. Being installed in a green area, I like to think that the public will enliven the sculpture by getting closer to it, and sitting at the foot of the galaxy. I hope that its forms can trigger visions, its physicality must move the earth, and the material we are made of done with impulses of vitality and dynamism.
Could you share more about the process: from sketches to the installation in front of the university?
I tried several times to draw her, but the tactility of the surface and the matter escaped me, so I immediately started creating some small clay maquettes that continued to evolve one after the other. A metamorphosis showed me how her body could be born from my hands, from the earth as a sense of creation. The installation place was not known during the competition, so I made some watercolours to see it join the context, only at the end [of the process].
Your work has raised the debate about the under-representation of women among monuments as it is only the first public sculpture in Milan celebrating a female scientist, and the second in general portraying a woman (the first was patriot Cristina Trivulzio Belgiojoso). Who should be next?
There are so many women. But I believe that choosing who to dedicate a monument to is always a work of biographical research and investigation that must not only correspond to the desire of a single person but collective and universal recognition.