Arte e Critica interview by Alessandro Demma
Very distant from empty decoration and the carriers of a "sculpture without pretence", Paolo Grassino's works express the condition of existence and interpret the ghosts of history, in a dialectic relationship with the material and the dimension of installation.
AD: Six years after our encounter in a bar in Vittorio square, in Turin, we now pause to reflect on your artistic research. A childhood dedicated to drawing and painting, under your father's direction, an adolescence marked by the encounter with sculpture, in Luigi Mainolfi's studio, and with experiences such as Arte Povera, which characterised the course of museums and galleries in Turin, all of which represent a cultural background that has always been very visible in your sculptures. The two-dimensional approach, for instance, which you create in your mind at the moment of conception, is then transformed into a three-dimensional element during the realisation…
PG: Yes, you're right. The idea, the thought is two-dimensional. I'm obviously speaking only of the retinal aspect of the work. The image, the first one, doesn't have three dimensions, it's almost a mental photographic shot. Some say scenographic, but the set alone doesn't make theatre, it doesn't make the work. It is the thousand facets of the still unmade sculpture that create the work in its becoming. I rigorously follow the image that I've seen and imagined, it must be that one, with those materials, with those dimensions.
AD: In this sense, the materials represent in your work not only an aesthetic choice but also and above all a linguistic choice. It almost seems that they choose the work, take control of your vision of the work in order to give it a shape.
PG: Definitely. The material doesn't forgive. Like the sea, like the mountain. If you make a mistake you've had it. In sculpture you cannot pretend, you constantly risk being decorative.
AD: So, how far is the material real and to what extent is it "symbolic" for you?
PG: I look for an understanding. I ask some questions to the material or to the object. I receive some answers that obviously cannot always be translated into words. These answers are words or other images, sometimes illogical. The difficulty is precisely this: to leave the illogical reveal itself, thus respecting and maintaining what is not clear.
AD: Your research starts from the concepts of reality and dream, of possibility and impossibility of existence, of reflection and analysis of today's society, which you see as a muddled, uncertain and metamorphic territory…
PG: My research starts from reflections on the condition of existence, on the misleading separation between internal and external, on the analogy between our interior and exterior nature. The dream, or better, the irrational, the illogical, become interpreters to tackle themes of such an objectivity that should not exist, even though it's always linked to the believable, to known realities.
AD: The "ghost of history" is another of your themes, I'm thinking of your recent work Lavoro rende liberi, but also of Lode a t.t. What's the meaning of history in your work?
PG: History plays an important role, but especially certain events of history. I'm interested in some occurrences that protract until arriving at our time. Some parts of history are not concluded but only transformed into other events. I think history is a means of speaking of today's reality, to make everyday life more translatable.
AD: Since your debut, you have investigated, constructed and deconstructed the human body and the animals. What meanings do they have in your projects?
PG: For me, they have a meaning only if they encounter or clash with an object, with a foreign body. The dialogue between the human or animal figure and the object, the artefact, creates a sort of narrative. It's not a research into the body. What interests me most is the moment of the encounter. The first glance of two foreign parts that through their encounter become a single and inseparable body.
AD: You often use sculpture as a starting point to then move on to installation projects, often large-scale works, in which one finds experiences of synthesis, as in I topi ballano or in Armilla. Can you tell us about these experimentations?
PG: I don't really consider myself as a sculptor. Also when I make some figures in cast aluminium, which might recall the sculptural tradition, I always conceive them as installations linked to the context. Sharing the making of large scale installation projects with many people, involving buildings or stretches of road, removes the idea that the work belongs to the artist. Looking at these interventions I sometimes feel more a spectator than an artist…
AD: You recently refused the invitation to the 54th Venice Biennale. What happened and why did you make this decision?
PG: It was a difficult decision. I refused the invitation because of a total lack of professional competence and respect for the invited artists by the curator and the organisers. The Venice Biennale is still the queen of exhibitions and I think it is an event that should still be respected.
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