High Gospel

Ilaria Bonacossa: I’d like to talk about your exhibition “High Gospel” at Villa Croce, in relation to the exhibition “Hyper”, presented at Monotono Contemporary Art in Vicenza, earlier in 2012. I’m interested in the fact that certain elements like centripetal geometric structure and centrifugal force, the presence of a “frustrated” power that seems unable to release itself, are present in both, while the physicality of the works is so different. Elektronskal (2011), Taraxacum (2012), and HYPER (2012) are baroque, complex and convoluted, almost decorative in the richness of their lights and cables; whereas Untitled (excavator belts) and Tarantolata, or Szabla (all 2012), presented in Genoa, are dry, spare, almost minimal. How do you explain these differences?

Alberto Tadiello: This brings to mind two different moments in 2012: two routes I climbed last summer on the south face of the Marmolada. One is the Schwalbenschwanz and the other is the combination of the Sudtirolesi and Messner. The Schwalbenschwanz was a quick climb, done very aggressively. Nine hundred meters, plus the descent on the glacier, all in one day. An exertion, an outburst. Compressed, concentrated, forceful, linear. With the Sudtirolesi-Messner, on the other hand, I breathed it in, thought it out. It was also more challenging. It involved an overnight on the wall with five hundred meters of emptiness below and five hundred above. “Hyper” and “High Gospel” correspond well to these two paths. “Hyper” was a project built and developed in three blocks. It had the immediacy, the power and perhaps also the aggressiveness of the lines it contained, repeated and insistent, the lines of screws, stays, cables, sinews arranged to follow the radii of curvature. An idea that was neat, orderly, clean. Extremely difficult to carry out. Precise. “High Gospel” is a more composed, meditated project. It has a different scope. It moves everything. It has a very broad impact and has managed in some ways to shift my work, my research. It’s like the blade of a bulldozer pushing a load forward, in a powerful, uniform way. I think that it raises a quantity and a quality of questions, of dust, that I may not yet be familiar with.

IB: “High Gospel” is your first solo show in a museum. Has the idea of having a public space at your disposal affected your way of working? We decided together that it made no sense to “historicize” your work, choosing not to present any pre-existing pieces. The challenge lay in the production of new works. Visiting the rooms at Villa Croce, one can’t help but notice the influence of an Arte Povera aesthetic on your work. Do you claim this inheritance? How so?

AT: “High Gospel” may be the first project I’ve done this demanding. I worked extremely hard, in part because I had limited time in which to pre- pare a show based on entirely new works. In an appendix to Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Calvino says that when we find ourselves writing or presenting something, we have an infinite number of possibilities before us. You can say anything, in a million different ways, but you have to manage to say just one thing. No more. You have to choose, and give yourself limits and rules. “High Gospel” was rapidly built and destroyed in my head three or four times. It came up against the boundaries I was giving myself. Some works were even physically destroyed.
For me it was important to know that the show would be presented in a public space. The paradoxical thing is that I can’t say exactly why. I only knew that it was not a gallery or a private venue. I wanted the project to have a broad scope, and also felt it needed to be well, conceived, calibrated thought out. I felt it was necessary for there to be a greater degree of attention.
As regards the influence of Arte Povera, I don’t feel like that’s a very important factor. As my good or bad luck would have it, I’m Italian… it would be absurd not to draw on a history, energy, geography and impact like the one Arte Povera had in Italy. But I wouldn’t talk about influence or inheritance. It’s something pretty much all of us have looked at, internalized and in part absorbed. For me they’re just points of contact. I also think that there are some questions a critic can tackle… I can’t, nor do I want to.

IB: When I asked you to explain the title of the exhibition “High Gospel”, you wrote: “High means intense, elevated, keen; Gospel, as a technical, musical term, hints at religious faith. It is a chorus of thoughts, influences, and registers that have thickened and condensed, clustering around clots of iron, tractions and rolling motions. High Gospel is a line that runs very far up, a Dolomitic skyline. It has something of celestial music to it, of a psalm, and plays dialectically with the telluric force that the works all share.” I’d like to talk about this spirituality.

AT: It’s really too hard to talk about spirituality. Maybe it borders on being possessed by spirits!

IB: You construct, technically execute and install all of the works yourself, something that’s become somewhat rare in an art scene where pieces are regularly commissioned from craftspeople or semi-industrial manufacturers. I don’t think that in the post-conceptual age this is a value in and of itself, but I think that in your case, it’s part of a conception of artmaking and a physical relation to it that doesn’t allow for delegating production to other people, I don’t think there is anything expressionistic in this, but a strong physical relationship with matter.

AT: I could never think of a work as mine if I didn’t handle every step of the process myself. Producing something from start to finish makes me feel more responsible, somehow. I’m the one assuming full responsibility for what the works are and how they appear. From another standpoint, my attachment to making things undoubtedly has to do with my background and the fact that I worked for ten years as a builder. And so even though I’m fascinated by industrial production and the possibilities of replicating a product innumerable times, I remain anchored to what’s hand-made. I always find some kind of beauty in things that have been traditionally crafted. I am particularly interested in a certain manual skill which I think is important and closely connected to artmaking, and which has the power achieve a complexity of execution and an expertise that comes across visually and conceptually. I think that a thing made by hand in some sense implies a process of nature, because you inevitably run into the limitations of each material and the relation of man to material. It’s something that has great potential, and allows me to always maintain a human scale and a singular imprecision, an imperfection, a tactile quality.
Francesco Stocchi: When I think of the physical, almost tangible nature of sound/noise, I think of Luigi Russolo, and later on, of Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry, who became interested in exploring music in terms that were no longer exclusively abstract. Musique concrète. What is your relationship today with this line of musical experimentation? I’m referring to Pan Sonic, for instance, or the musical experiments that derived from it. Could you imagine the sound of your works (and their effect) separately from the physical component that generates them?

AT: Over the years I’ve developed an intense passion for music that has expanded to include many genres. I’ve become omnivorous. I’ve become curious about pretty much everything: from classical to metal, from opera to Alpini choirs, from the studies of John Cage, Giacinto Scelsi and Iannis Xenakis to outtakes, slip-ups, low-fi approaches immersed in everyday life. My most recent infatuation is post-rock, especially the Canadian scene in Montréal, and I’ve practically “internalized” artists such as Colin Stetson or Zoë Keating, and groups like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Silver Mt. Zion. Listening to this music has been very important to me and has had an impact on the way I look at things, it’s a full-fledged visual code. I think that the sound installations, as such, could never be separated from the visual aspect of the work, and the two aspects should not move away from each other. They make up a single body. It’s obvious that when a work is turned off, it generates no sound and has no function, and it’s essential for the visual component to be capable of autonomously occupying the exhibition space. It’s very important to me that it contain the potential, or at least preserve a trace, of what the work is when it’s on. Then there are projects that emerge as pure audio works and remain such. I’m thinking for instance of the project I presented for “SOUNDWORKS” at the ICA – Institute of Contemporary Arts in London (2012), where I used a frantic track by Colin Stetson, overlapping it with itself again and again by staggering the starting point by a few tenths of a second. The effect was similar to a stack of identical drawings traced on transparencies, then slightly fanned out. The mass of sound was full and forceful. An infernal circularity, hypnotic and grainy. A murky, tormented whirlpool. There seemed to be a perennial, insoluble delay within the track itself.

IB: In “High Gospel” the presence of the audio works is almost monumental. They are full-fledged sculptures, capable of unconsciously influencing how all the other works are interpreted, becoming the cornerstones of the show.

AT: The exhibition contains three audio pieces. Szabla is a sample that has been literally tortured, raising the echo, reverb and dirty sound to the maximum allowed by the software I employed. The graph of the track was subjected to a stretching process. I stopped only when I saw the sample take on a paradoxical deformation, and realized that the alteration was extremely physical in nature. This is precisely what comes across. Szabla is a mixture, a mingling of saber cuts, of blows. It’s like a metal blade whipping through in the air. It dominates the space with the sound of trashes and slashes that on the one hand, seem to verge on something mystical, and on the other, open up vortexes, cavities, wounds. It is as if a belly were suddenly slashed open and the entrails of sound unexpectedly poured out. It makes me think of the movements of Asian masters whose skilled gestures slice open the bodies of goats or cows, following their anatomy with the blade. They seem to lay open the bodies perfectly, traveling through them by memory. They don’t even really need a sharpened knife in their hands. They just know. And again, this is almost like drawing, embroidery. Doppler (2012) occupies the main room of the museum, the frescoed one. It shows two sound systems, black, stony, powerful. They present only their rugged speakers, protected by metal grates. They face each other, staring each other down, like the poles of a magnet. They play with each other in equilibrium. They’re caught there in concentration. They seem like two fighters sizing each other up before the fight.
The same track is running on both systems, though off by a few seconds. The tower system pulses it out in an extremely clean, crisp way. The Leslie, on the other side, scorches it up, amplifying it and struggling against it at the same time. It has an incredible capacity to project sound in almost every direction at once: the low frequencies are emitted by the cones down toward the floor, spreading out under the visitors’ feet like a carpet of sound, while the high ones are emitted by two physically rotating trumpets. The final effect achieved in the room is a full immersion in sound, which seems to clog up the whole space. There’s a sort of apnea. It’s like having your head underwater.

IB: The exhibition ends on a lighter note with Wile E. Coyote (2012), as if to balance out the physicality of the other works.

AT: With Wile E. Coyote everything gets complicated. It’s a dilemma! A refrain that’s light, clever, slightly aspirated. Frivolous, cynical. It stands marking both the entrance and exit to the exhibition. It’s a megaphone, a carny-barker style of object. In a to and fro that’s sometimes softer, sometimes louder, it plays a looped refrain from the soundtrack of Road Runner cartoon. It portrays Wile E. as he tinkers, invents, thinks, builds and plots. Inevitably, he will always fail. The track is just a side note, an entr’acte that nevertheless has the power to shake everything up. It’s like those bundles of red dynamite that Wile E. uses. He realizes he’s holding them, and the next instant, he’s lost control. He barely has the time to look at them and they’ve already blown up in his hands. It’s like those little weights, just a few tenths of a gram, that you see watchmakers use on their precision scales. You just have to put the slightest weight on one plate of the scale to see an incredible shift. Almost out of all proportion.

IB: Getting back to the show, I think it’s important to look for a moment at the formal aspect of works like Untitled (excavator belts) and Tarantolata. Both combine a conceptual message with an imposing presence, almost classical in the way it occupies physical space and in the compositional harmony between parts. Untitled (excavator belts) looks like a fossil from the machine age, a found object installed on bases that turn it into an upside-down spinal column; Tarantolata is made up of iron bars and strips of MDF that are radially mounted around a cement mixer to become an omnivorous metal thistle, intent on sucking up the space around it. How are these works conceived? Is their “beauty” important to you?

AT: Untitled (excavator belts) is a work composed of three sculptures that were created by tearing apart these old excavator belts and winding them around backwards to create a new structure. They are held in precarious equilibrium by their own weight. They are rounded, crouching. They show metal teeth, a series of notches, a steel web immersed in their gum. They are an accumulation of worn rubber, dust, dirt, rust, grime, grease, strain, and the passage of time. They trace a mouth, an inner void, a cavity. They evoke curved backs, vertebrae, withered flowers, the scraps of skin left by a molting snake. The belts rest on three large MDF bases that furnish a neutral background while framing and containing them within a more rigid geometry that highlights their nature. The base itself, raised slightly off the ground, shows its full, clean volume. The viewer’s gaze is always led along its edges. As you look at them, you trace their imaginary profile. Tarantolata has laid out a different approach. It’s a large sculpture which has been completely constructed, piece by piece. Metal bars, rods and slices of MDF have been bolted, screwed, and grafted onto the body of a cement mixer to compose a radial, almost mirror-like structure. Visually, the work resembles a large mechanical flower, a dry, iron thistle. It stands open, powerful, bristling with thorns, spikes, insistently traced lines. It turns, rotates, ruminates, swallows space in a constant, dull, hypnotic murmur. It draws things into its center, it envelops the room in its irreversible traction, swallowing everything around it, in a constant, drunken, exhausting centrifuge. I’m also referring to the series of drawings in the same room, laid out in a single line, which create a horizon of reference for Szabla: six little scraps of paper, on which the patterns of doilies have been traced: circular, irregular and recurring motifs, fields arranged in rays, full and dense. They evoke decorative and natural elements like rosettes, flowers, cells, snowflakes, molecular clusters. They preserve the immediacy of studies, of preparatory sketches, but at the same time have a heavy, complex visual gravity which makes them autonomous and dubious. They’ve been created through the almost geological accumulation and sedimentation of repetitions and physical layerings, working with different materials such as pencil, charcoal, pen, marker, pastel, glue, spray fixative, lacquer, varnish. The pattern, drawn and redrawn innumerable times on top of itself, almost cancels itself out. It becomes thick, grainy, blurred. The chemical reaction of the materials makes the details rot and mildew, turning them into dark, tarry masses of asphalt. They become paradoxically liquid, deep, oily. Through persistence, the black of the pens takes on shades of bronze and the transparent sprays turn into silvery shades that recall mother-of-pearl. There’s the weight of a whole arm, not just the hand, coming down on those little pieces of paper.
I decided to present them against a wide, uniform background, framed by the orangey brown of untreated birocco wood. They let you see the warped paper, the uneven edges that have been torn and worn away, the thickness of the crust; they have a remarkably sculptural leaning, like bas-relief.
All the pieces that make up “High Gospel” visually manifest the consistency of the materials, the chromatic temperatures, the signs, the way the spaces are used. I think that redundancy, repetition, visual and audio loops open up my language to the idea of the works, to the references, the research, and the structure of the exhibition itself. The works are close to one other. Like in the principle of communicating vessels, they pour into each other in a constant, reciprocal flow of references and analogies. It is a closeness that I always disco- ver only at the end. I find it there in my hands. I never plan the atmosphere or content in advance. Every time I start over from scratch.


Ilaria Bonacossa, Francesco Stocchi, Alberto Tadiello, High Gospel, Mousse Publishing, Milano 2012. (excerpt)