FABIO VIALE: “ART MUST SURPRISE, FIRST OF ALL, MYSELF”
Fabio Viale, your life was linked to marble when you were 16 years old. What are the challenges for an adolescent when sculpting such an apparently hostile material?
I believe that it is not so much a challenge, at least at the beginning, it was rather an inevitable approach. Something that later I discovered to be a talent, an inevitable inclination. A high school professor asked me to consciously handle a material. I found it intriguing, alchemical, and since then I have not stopped. Only later did the word ‘challenge’ preface my idea of sculpture and marble.
You shape marble to evoke famous classical sculptures, but the reference to Greek and Renaissance antiquity is not a tribute in the strictest sense. Is it a reinterpretation or a fracture?
Both. Often my works are close references to great, historic masterpieces. That is when they fall into the ‘Souvenir’ cycle, taking into account the will to entirely or partially own a masterpiece: Souvenir Gioconda, Souvenir David or Souvenir Pietà, among the others. Other times are works with a classical form with a less precise reference to existing sculptures with the same intent to create a shift in sense. A new semantic dimension. Made from polystyrene or covered with tattoos, the candor of marble, the classicism of the material, the purity, is linked to a perceptual displacement that associates a current language often linked to the world of violence. That is the case of Russian prisoner tattoos or the Japanese mafia, Yakuza: Yours will be our o Kouros, represented by fists or busts.
The surface of your statues is covered with madonna tattoos, skulls, pistols and other signs that make up the complex code the Russian criminal community. What does this symbolic meeting say?
The force of disorientation. It is a collusive compromise between the significance of marble-related meanings and the classicism of cruel violence. Ideally, art fulfills its great symbolic task of synthesis: through a single product, two worlds are condensed, manifested in a sculptural miracle and the harmony of design.
The philosophy of realism and contemporaneity defines the works of Viale, who segues from drawing on classical works to reproduction - strictly in marble of objects of little value, such as SUV tires, and turns them into works of art.
Does the juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane still generate disorientation?
In a metaphorical sense, the association of worlds apparently in contrast creates wonder: it is a part of the work. It is not so much the sacred and the profane, but rather classifications of the history of images, of universal iconoclasm and of their reinterpretation which, creating displacement, generate closeness and curiosity. The creative outcome of my works has an absolute character, sustained continuously drawing on well-known semantic basins, perpetually subject to misdirections. Tires for example, a familiar and commonly-used object, are not only ringed, embodying a visual short-circuit of the Infinite, but they are also designed to wear down so they remain true to their truth. Deconstructing the preciousness of marble to become low-value. In this case, it is metaphorically interesting to speak of sacred (marble) and profane (worn-out object) synthesized.
In the marble replica of Michelangelo’s La Pietà, a Nigerian boy replaces Christ. Who is Lucky Ehi?
I met Lucky Ehi in a reception center in Turin. He is a young Nigerian Catholic who escaped persecution in his country. His story of an escape and the welcoming of the Mother of God is symbolic. However, it is transversal to religions: a veiled woman with a bowed head is visible from behind the sculpture. It is a powerful and suggestive iconic plot that drives idealized connotations synthesizing Christianity to become even more universal. This is what fascinates me. I shared this idea with the Poggiali gallery and with the current director of the Museo Novecento in Florence Sergio Risaliti. We mapped out the project in the Milan office, and then launched the first exhibitions in Pietrasanta and Florence.
In another reinterpretation of the work, however, it was the body of the Virgin Mary that was missing: only Christ remained and fingerprints impressed on his right hand. What was the message of that sculpture?
This work is a synthesis of the Souvenir series, entitled Souvenir Pietà (Christ): Christ is ripped from the Mother. Made in 2007, the sculpture evokes the roar of a thundering absence of one living without
the other. The same for the 2018 Souvenir Pietà (Mother), where instead, stripped away Christ is imagined through the creative gap that I created. Souvenir Pietà (Christ) condenses what I said earlier: my personal challenge to create a maniacally perfect, suggestive 1:1 reproduction, without limiting myself to this threshold. The immediacy of a throbbing absence, that of Christ, nurtures this work’s conceptual dimension: the immediate reference to Michelangelo’s Pietà generates the same instantaneous identification of the absence of the Mother, Christ becomes a Souvenir ideally within everyone’s reach.
You have always been looking for new results, also experimenting with the laws of mechanics and physics, with which you gave life to the famous motorized marble boat, “Ahgalla”. Is poetical displacement exceeding the limits?
It is a challenge: a challenge to materials and a close encounter with myself. My temperament to generate and experiment with new possibilities is an inner necessity. No engineer was willing to ensure the success of the experiment so, albeit without any economic means at the time, I enjoyed the generosity and rare sensitivity of a quarry owner who gave me marble and space to make it, after which mounted an engine while docked at Carrara’s port and set sail with great trepidation. In my mind’s eye, I am still sailing. After Carrara, Venice during the Biennale, then Rome, Turin and Gorky Park in Moscow.
Which artists do you feel closest to?
There is something to learn from all of them, each talented in their own way.
Is your art classic, pop or punk?
I think classification is rather vague and inapplicable, but at the same time, all three adjectives are, in different ways and times, valid without being exhaustive. Perhaps my answer is that my art gives us back past meaning through coherent, rigorous artistic choices that surprise me first, drawing on the technical relevance of marble’s sophistication, and anthropological in how actuality is evaluated — this is why I think it is contemporary.