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Interview and studio visit #7

Alberto Gianfreda

The resilient sculpture

Ph. Jessica Soffiati & Francesca Iovene
Ed. Jessica Soffiati

J.S.: Hi Alberto, you’re our today’s artist and for the studio visit you invited us in this new space with a personal and lived-in look, though you bought it recently. Inside the studio we can see a small exhibition besides your workshop, a show that seems to be permanent, for the care with which the pieces live and deal with the space reserved and chosen for them. How does one choose a place to work, to reflect and for doing artistic research?

A.G.: I chose this laboratory because it sounded like a good deal! I was looking for a place fitted with windows and above-ground, to load and unload heavy materials. I didn’t look for a place with special characteristics; time prevails over space, the habit and settling will create the ambiance, at least until the there will be no more room.
What you saw through your camera a month ago looks completely different now. It’s all new and every single thing is still looking for its place.
I’m sending you an image of the studio as it is a month later!


J.S.: You said that “sculpture today is as contemporary as anachronistic". How does your sculpture and the "profession" of sculptor occur at this moment in history? What do they preserve from the past and how do they communicate with the present?

A.G.: Making sculptures often takes a long time, while the events that mark our time today take place at breakneck speed. Sculpture also has to be compared with the rapidity of the world, and when we’re doing it, it lead to a crisis. Sculpture for me fluctuates between stillness and being an event. I find it interesting that the event repeats itself at every meeting, it’s like it remains. I'm attracted to the ephemeral, but it's hard for me to work on uncertainty. Physical permanency is surely just a level of being, but I think it's an important topical issue. I try to maintain an attitude of the past, which is the desire for exploration.


J.S.: The system of art and galleries is just one of the many systems where sculpture can interact and be included. How, therefore, can sculpture connect today with systems that are different from the specific physical context where we're used to conceive it?  Do you think sculpture plays an active role in people’s lives?  How can the artist control the emotional sense and the educational role of a piece?

A.G.: This is the way I imagine the sculpture, right now :

Sculpture is a language that needs to be molded into different realities to stay alive. It doesn’t scare me to think that a sculpture could be at the service of different situations – that does not mean to subordinate it, but simply that it’s placed in contexts which are each time different, until it becomes an active part. The areas  where sculpture can find a place are many, the ones that I've faced so far go from public space to private galleries, from sacred space to the private company’s. The more I check the work in different situations, the more I learn that situations that were historically interpenetrating and mutually corroborative are now divergent enough to damage each other. However, I believe that all these areas need to be addressed in parallel, to keep from reduce even the most radical sculpting experiments to empty objects that have nothing to do with us and are justified solely by the protective environment of the system of art.


"Sculpture for me fluctuates between stillness and being an event. I find it interesting that the event repeats itself at every meeting, it’s like it remains. "

J.S.: A square is a collective space; could this studio be a collective space as well?

A.G.: If by collective you mean a space that we share due to a common identity, well, not even a square can’t do that anymore. If by collective you mean relational, then perhaps yes, but the relationship doesn’t necessarily build a society or a community. A collective space should be able to receive people, in terms of attraction, accommodation, to create a situation where the guest is both who is hosting and who is hosted at the same time, and where who is hosted plays an active role in the creation of the area, in other words, the PUBLIC SPACE. I don’t see many connections with the private study in this sense, apart from the inherent potential in the sculpture to work for society.  For the past few years, I’ve been developing, along with an interdisciplinary team, a few ways to engage sculpture in urban planning processes within public areas. Our aim is to implement the canonical planning with the sensitive and emotional aspect highlighted by sculpture, used as a seismograph in a preliminary stage. I think this way of proceeding will help to define a real collective space.


J.S.: You stated: “the material is the closest thing to body".
Pressure, tightness, scuffle... these are experiences that are shared by the material and the human body.
There is often a strong contrast in some of your works. You use heavier materials to produce soft shapes that seem to be floating and lightweight. How do you explore and pick the materials for the “skin of the work”?

The materials were the starting point of my research. It seemed to me like they represented the most effective communication level. Taking it all back to the senses, to experience, allowing the materials – or rather the matter – to experience just like the body does. The body is the original place of experimentation. There’s no limit to experimentation, although the most extreme risk is that of non-existence, getting ahead the usual working process. I frequently choose “traditional” materials for sculpture like marble, as well as earthenware. Other times I use artisanal materials that once were local, wood and fine textile materials. More recently, I also used objects that were strongly iconic, or very recognizable images. The one thing common to all the choices is the fragment’s ability to keep talking about the whole. In one of the great writings of Jole De Sanna, “Aptico, il senso della scultura” (Aptico, The Meaning of Sculpture”), Nagasawa reports approximately these words: if a pot falls from a cliff, it stops being a pot; if a sculpture falls off and breaks down, it is still a sculpture. This irreducible feature of sculpture really interests me.

"If a pot falls from a cliff, it stops being a pot; if a sculpture falls off and breaks down, it is still a sculpture. This irreducible feature of sculpture really interests me."

J.S.: You’re trying to make sculpture more dynamic in your last works. In “vaso cinese” (“Chinese vase”), the iconic image of the vase is presented by the reassembled pieces of the smashed object. The parts of the broken vase are lashed together by metal rings and, when touched, they can move. Two components are involved in this case: the sound and the way it looks in the end.
These two components are changing all the time, they make me think of atomic particles.
How would you distinguish between the energy that comes out of one of your potteries and that which results from the interaction with a mobile sculpture, using two words?

A.G.: I should tell you about a whole new research stage that means a lot to me, with regard to the icon’s adaptability, of which the “vase” forms part. But at this point, I‘ll choose the words you asked. I'd say icone resilienti (resilient icon) for mobile sculptures and forza attiva (active force) for the potteries of 2009. They are words that describe relations.

Translated by Silvia Niro
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