18 May–17 June 2011
Royal British Society Of Sculptors
108 Old Brompton Road London, SW7 3RA T
+44 (0)20 7373 8615
Photography by Anne Purkiss
As the President of the Royal British Society of Sculptors I am both delighted and honoured to be able to present the first UK exhibition by Paolo Cavinato ARBS. The works for this show are extraordinary. They clearly illustrate the Society’s commitment to the pursuit of excellence in sculpture and its aims to inspire, inform and engage people of all ages and backgrounds. Paolo’s work is a multi-sensory exploration of space and reality. He invites us the viewer, to interact, exchange and reflect deeply upon our experience. Working with composer Stefano Trevisi for the installation, ‘Constellation’ in the studio gallery brings yet another dimension to the show. He is regarded as one of Italy’s emerging contemporary artists having recently exhibited alongside Anish Kapoor and Richard Long in an exhibition at the Galleria Civica di Modena in 2011. I hope that you will share our enjoyment in the work of this thoughtful and innovative artist.
Johannes von Stumm PRBS
Contemporary art seems, for the most part, little concerned with the metaphysical. It likes to present itself as thoroughly involved with social questions – though it offers, all too frequently, only a formal pledge of an interest in society, rather than a fully convincing engagement with it. Paolo Cavinato’s work, in contrast, is unashamedly preoccupied by a metaphysical dimension, which he discovers within space, using illusion and the simplest of materials: paper and paint. His sculptures, installations and models – even large-scale works seem to have the status of models, of hypotheses about the world – are made with real ingenuity, and can leave you with the feeling that you have seen something from another dimension, dislocated from ordinary social experience. An interest in a metaphysical realm has been a strong feature of Italian art, even for the generation of artists associated with Arte Povera, many of whom succeeded in making work that was both strongly material and also head-expanding in its effects. Cavinato continues such possibilities through his exploration of perspective, a special concern of painting, relief and scenography, which he makes a concern of sculpture. ‘Constellation’, conceived specially for the gallery of the Royal British Society of Sculptors, is the latest of a series of works using one- point perspective to make representations of mental spaces. One view here is of an ideal, white space. The other is an ‘earthly’ space, which is signalled by the grime and earth that marks the white forms. Each room shows representations of a bed, a table and two chairs, in the same positions. The two views are joined by a corridor in perspective, which appears to lead on through a dividing wall of varied square panels. From the white, ideal space you have a view into the earthly space, where you glimpse a star hanging in the room (in fact a drawing of a star). From the earthly side, you see the drawn silhouette of a spectator, in the place you have just been standing. And you also see the star; not as a drawing, but as itself: a fascinating geometrical solid. The viewing positions are marked by two stands, through which you look. From these points only – if you use one eye – the forms hanging from the metal frame appear arranged into coherent perspectival illusions. But you do not only look at ‘Constellation’ from the correct points. The hanging forms are also part of a dynamically ordered abstraction. They hang like musical notes on a stave. Walking around the installation you find that they are in fact arranged symmetrically; each one has a counterpart on the opposite side of the work, as though it is reflected in a mirror. Looking at the mechanism of the illusion is as important as the illusion itself; it is only when you look from the side that you understand how strange the star is in its status as a non- illusory, three-dimensional form, among these hanging flats. ‘Constellation’ encourages you to circumnavigate, to attempt to put the two views together. The allegorical scheme seems to show one ideal world that is badly copied by another, earthly world, or two similar, separate worlds that coexist and interpenetrate each other without touching. But you also have to put these ‘worlds’ together with the non-allegorical, abstract and physical stuff of which they are made. Sculpture depends on circumambient space, on our ability to approach the object from all sides. A smaller work, ‘Beehive’, strongly invites this, while also demonstrating with particular intensity what it means to look through an object, to perforate it with our gaze. The form is contradictory. It is constructed in a familiar way, using the dominant principle of building: the creation of rectilinear space. However, ‘Beehive’ also appears to be a conglomeration of improvised interior spaces, a shanty town not an act of architectural planning. Each individual passageway or chamber, fitted close by its neighbours, is made without regard to the others, and the effect is of a labyrinthine city, delicately packed but allowing each imagined occupant a tiny amount of privacy. Some views in and through are made with false perspective, which makes you feel that the sculpture manages to contain more space on the inside than it takes up on the outside. The rectilinear construction means that it does have four ‘sides’, four implied views – but you are required to circumnavigate it to attempt to understand the paradoxical, manifold spaces it appears to contain, the many piercings through. Although on a square base, the form tends towards the spherical, and the way these two basic forms of the cube and the sphere seem to be co-present generates intense fascination. Despite its title, ‘Beehive’ reflects not on social insects but on human habitations. Cramped social space coexists with Borgesian, baroque, paradoxical space. As an object it has a sense of weight, of mass, even though it is made only of paper and paint. Its presence among the other works by Cavinato which more closely resemble models of rooms is a reminder of a strong tradition in sculpture: the single form, revealed by daylight. Returning to the room in which the complications of ‘Constellation’ are suspended, you find that he has also positioned in it a very simple relief work, ‘Via #3’, a stepped road that appears to keep climbing to its vanishing point. Although he likes complication and elaboration, and even adds an acoustic dimension to ‘Constellation’ in collaboration with the composer Stefano Trevisi, he also explores complication in the simplest of forms. I asked Paolo Cavinato about the star that forms part of ‘Constellation’. There had to be some story here. The triangular and square prisms that make up the points of the star make it seem both regular and irregular at the same time. I had become mystified trying to work out its geometrical basis. ‘It’s an Aleph,’ he replied, without hesitation, ‘the form in the story by Borges which contains infinite space.’ There was the answer: I had been looking at a form that contains infinite space. Of course I had! It is also a stellated rhombicuboctahedron. Cavinato explained that octagonal symmetry is also the basis for the design of many mosques. This geometrical form has an established place in many cultural and spiritual contexts. But what fascinates about Cavinato’s Aleph, as I learned to call it, is that something visual and physical has been made use of as a perceptual demonstration of infinity, not merely a symbol for it. It is something in this world that truly seems to belong to another one. In the story by Borges, the Aleph, ‘the only place on earth where all places are – seen from every angle, each standing clear’, is discovered in a cellar under a dining room. The narrator, having seen everything in it, including ‘a splintered labyrinth (it was London)’ and all the mirrors on earth, none of which reflect him, feels ‘infinite wonder, infinite pity’. Looking at Cavinato’s Aleph, something that can be made with a ruler, card and scissors, I felt, if not quite that, certainly a sense of something remarkable: a star brought down to earth in a room on the Old Brompton Road.