Arte Programmata. The Role of Programming and Observer Engagement in 1960s Italian Programmed and Kinetic Art

Martina Borghi

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


The Arte Programmata movement developed in Italy between 1959 and 1965 and it can be considered the Italian response to the international debate developed in those years on the role of kinetics – real or apparent – in art history, as well as on the observer’s reaction to, and interaction with the artistic object. This Italian movement arose thanks to the active research of two different groups: Gruppo T in Milan and Gruppo N in Padua. These two groups had profound divergences about the different stylistic choices adopted, the influences received by the surrounding artistic context, and the methodological approach to the idea of kinetics. However, they both shared a sincere interest for an innovative type of art which directly acknowledged the role of the observer within the artistic experience. The two groups promoted a rational and scientific attitude to the artistic experimentation, embodying the concept of artists as ‘aesthetic operators’ whose research focusses on the study of the observer’s cognitive response, on the didactic role of their artworks, and on the communicative purpose of the artistic programming activity. They privileged the idea of art as a team effort rather than an exaltation of an individual artist’s style: the creation process and the mode of designing of the work of art were the real highlights of their artworks.
The programming activity is, indeed, the true cornerstone of this artistic avant-garde: the process of planning the physical, kinetic, and, above all, interactive features of the artwork becomes its primary, fundamental worth. Consequently, the artist’s focus is not the uniqueness of the object per se anymore – since almost every modern artwork is replicable thanks to modern industrial techniques – but rather the acknowledgement of its aesthetic and semiotic qualities that are included in the information that is conveyed to the observer by carefully programming one’s interaction with the artwork.
This dissertation aims to investigate this artistic movement with specific attention to the brief but intense display season that characterised its short lifespan. It will also investigate its origins, as well as dissect the role and influence of various national and international avant-garde movements in its evolution. The major spotlight of this study will be the dialogue between the artwork and its observer, and the role of programming in directing this complex relationship. This research will also scrutinize the concept of programming and its internal dichotomy between rationality and chance. Moreover, this study will delineate and define programming from an aesthetic standpoint, as well as highlight its purpose and role as a fundamental semiotic resource for the analysis of the interaction between the artwork and the observer. The open work theory by Umberto Eco and the idea of ‘correality’ theorized by philosopher Max Bense can be considered the two staple elements that give structure to this dissertation whilst also providing an innovative, modal approach that integrates and completes a pure historic-artistic methodology.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Pieri, Giuliana, Supervisor
  • Patti, Emanuela, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Dec 2022
Publication statusUnpublished - 2022


  • Programmed Art
  • Kinetic Art
  • Umberto Eco
  • Bruno Munari
  • Olivetti
  • Arte Programmata
  • Max Bense
  • Milano
  • Padova
  • Abraham Moles
  • Opera aperta
  • Gruppo T
  • Gruppo N
  • Biennale

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