The Dawn of Light in the Dark Matter by Paolo Cane...

The Dawn of Light in the Dark Matter by Paolo Canevari

In the more or less blurry memory of anyone who has entered St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican at least once, there is certainly a vivid image, perhaps the only one that is actually a memory. It is the huge black canopy under the dome, a ciborium almost thirty meters high. Not for the daring Baroque structure or for the dolphin-backed scrolls, we remember it for its twisted columns, four gigantic elements in black bronze, powerfully harmonious like the mind of their author. Tortili (1990) is the name of the installation by Paolo Canevari that best exemplifies Materia Oscura (Dark Matter), the artist’s solo exhibition in the noble apartment of Palazzo Collicola in Spoleto – inaugurated on July 4th and open to visitors until September 13th – which contains a large spectrum of Canevari’s work, from the early works of the nineties to the more recent ones realized in 2020. Tortili is made up of four large rubber air chamber sculptures which, instead of rising from the ground, hang from the ceiling of the corridor frescoed in pastel colors. Illuminated by the light that filters from glass windows, they are motionless but dynamic, sculpted by the air that supports them. In fact, the inner tube, a rubber envelope inside the tire or car tire, is, together with the latter, a vital element, a noble material for Canevari, a favorite medium since the first exhibition in Rome. «Soul without a body, subtle and expandable […] captures the moment of passing and falling» – this is how Germano Celant * describes it – luminous material that reveals life beyond the black that distinguishes it. The Tortili are floating organisms that autonomously animate themselves in space, they feel the weight of gravity only in the space that separates them from the ground, modeling them, otherwise free from any physical constraint, independent and primordial organic forms.

At the base of Materia Oscura there is not only the imaginary that the title of the exhibition can evoke, there is also the abstraction of symbolism in form, its sacredness, the transformative process of matter in the passage from spirit to flesh, the balance between the exhibition space and the works. In Canevari’s language, the symbol comes from matter that is abstracted into minimal and evocative forms. At first glance they are extremely connoted, in a second time the value of the form already prevails over its signification. The example is Mamma (2000), a gigantic female sex in an inner tube from which the Virgin Mary can be seen, or Black Stone (2004), a parallelepiped of tire treads or Colonna (2005), a totemic monolith reminiscent of that of Kubrick, or the Colossei (2001), hybridized with the solid rubber of tractor and truck tires. Symbols that are abstracted from and in the black matter return cyclically in Paolo Canevari’s work: from the female organ, to the primary geometries, to the figure of the wolf, Canevari’s footprint and trademark (on display Lupe Romane, 1994). Inevitably, the sacred also enters the artist’s poetic plots, expressly manifested in some cases such as in the J.M.B. (Jesus – Mohammed – Buddha) (2007) or brought to light by the reification process started by the use of the inner tube, a living spirit, and reached the material and carnal thickness of the tire. All the works on display live on the energy of the rooms of the former eighteenth-century noble residence, fully restoring the sense of temporal sedimentation surpassed by the over-time of the sculptures-installations. It is no coincidence that the most recent works, in the series Monumenti della Memoria (2020), made on antique printing paper with exhausted car engine oil, are geographies, black landscapes of an ego that naturally degrades into the white background horizon, trapped in the flourishing seventeenth-century frames that take up the motif of black combined with gold. In Materia Oscura, Paolo Canevari’s work opens up to a multitude of interpretations that are impossible to exhaust. In addition to the more spiritual and introspective aspects, the critique of the consumerist system on which capitalism feeds emerges (nothing more paradigmatic than the tire), the degeneration of the ecosystem caused by man’s abuse of nature, the exasperation of anthropocentric control and power tool that ensued (exemplary is the whole series of large and small tanks). But also pollution, the environmental as well as spiritual catastrophe at the center of which, now more than ever, is man. The reflection on current events then arises spontaneously and immediately: will it be possible “to find the dawn within the dusk?” From the dark matter of Paolo Canevari you can see a light.

Giulia Giambrone: In the recent interview with Robert Storr (R. Storr, Interviste sull’arte, Il Saggiatore, 2019) you said about the video and its radically changed character today, that “the medium has lost an artistic and political role by becoming mainstream.” Broadening the discussion, the same could be said of the image I believe. How can the value of the image be recovered today?
Paolo Canevari: The possibility for art and for artists lies in the poetic and metaphysical sense of the works. Neoliberal globalization and the rampant cultural hegemony of the West have led to an unreal reality and a superficiality of perception and absorption of images, whatever they may be. Our subversive task, as artists, is to bring an active and reflective thought dimension back into the work and not to yield to the passivity desired by the main stream.

G.G.: Can imagination in this sense still be important in your opinion? Or has art now lost its imaginative function? I wonder if the viewer can really still take action in the creation of mental and sensitive images starting from a work that does not represent – in the old sense of the word – but that simply presents itself … I think your Monumenti della Memoria can exemplify this …
P.C.: I Monumenti della Memoria were born as a reflection on the meaning of images in 2010 and my research is contained in the title itself. I have often said that the image is a limit but the imagination is not. I believe that our mnemonic heritage must be recovered, as an exercise of freedom, and therefore of imagination. Rebuilding morality and ethical rigor; the value of art must necessarily be opposed to the regime’s propaganda of the system, sometimes, unfortunately, also supported by many artists.

G.G.: Also in Storr’s interview you said that the work of art is a “cathedral of meaning”. I think it is an avant-garde description for the present times where it seems on the contrary that the character of meaning has been lost, perhaps replaced by the playful and spectacular one. Would you tell me more about your point of view?
P.C.: The spectacular is dangerously replacing the intimate and individual relationship with the work, to give space to a consumerist and entertainment use of art. There is a will on the part of the economic and political powers to impose a populist thought, falsely democratic, frivolous and which, if it were not there, no one would miss. All this is only the beginning of a subservience of the masses to a materialist logic where the values ​​of art are manipulated solely for the purpose of ideological conditioning, in view of maintaining the status quo and the introjection of particular interests. Art is, since it comes from an individual and not from an industry, a declaration of autonomy and independence. The sense of the work must be meta-historical, universal, that of enclosing a cathedral of meanings that jeopardize the common logic.

G.G.: Black. In your case I would say that it is not a non-color but a material. In Materia Oscura, your link with material and conceptual black clearly emerges, however in recent years you have also experimented with the use of monochromatic gold (I am thinking of the works at the Bangkok Biennale or those recently exhibited in the new MAXXI exhibition). Are these two materials only apparently polar opposites?
P.C.: I have used gold on other occasions, always as a presence, as a reference to material values ​​that become spiritual values ​​and reflect an absolute essence, without nuances. Gold is the material value that becomes spirituality, light with its multiple layers of meanings. Black is the metaphysical value, the dark and enigmatic part of the psyche. Two materials that represent not only themselves but the sense of art and its high, unfathomable values.

* Il pneuma del fare, from the Paolo Canevari monograph by Germano Celant, Electa 2010.


Paolo Canevari, Materia Oscura, 2020 Palazzo CollicolaPaolo Canevari, Materia Oscura, 2020, installation view at Palazzo Collicola, Spoleto

Paolo Canevari, Colonna, 2005, installation view at Palazzo Collicola, Spoleto

Paolo Canevari, _Mamma_ 2000, camera d'aria, Installazione Palazzo Collicola, Spoleto 2020Paolo Canevari, Mamma, 2000, installation view at Palazzo Collicola, Spoleto

Paolo Canevari, Tortili, 1990, installation view at Palazzo Collicola, Spoleto


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