A conversation with Paolo Cavinato
by Paola Artoni
(Catalog text for the exhibition Aleph, Modern Art Museum, Gazoldo degli Ippoliti)
August - September 2009


I can’t hide the thrill of bringing together in this exhibition the results of more than ten years of your work. Before concentrating on your most recent work I’d like you to take me through some of the steps in the development of your architecture of the imaginary. I like to think that there is a link here with the recurrent themes of  encrusted and layered walls, the subject of your first photographs later recreated in your room installations……
I began from a deep crisis I had in painting. The main question for young people is how to free yourself of certain ideas and constraints and to shake off other peoples opinions. I think that the right road is that of trying and making mistakes. In those years I painted a lot but it wasn’t enough; I simply couldn’t find my own voice. If I think of artists like Malevich, Mondrian, Fontana, Burri, Pollock and Bacon, I’m sure they constructed and then de-constructed their work back to the blank canvas. From the meditation that goes beyond the canvas, to the act of renting it open that then becomes performance, the medium of “painting” has been examined in depth, so what is left for artist in the new millennium? This was the starting point for a journey that eventually brought me to break with canvas –literally – to throw it away, and start my experiments with life spaces. Abandoned spaces were my greatest interest; houses, warehouses, farm buildings, stations, ex-hospitals, ex-hotels, disused rooms. Objects and materials which gave me new insights and visions, together with the idea of static time, separate, detached from daily life. An idea was maturing in me; the idea of waiting, of a pause in a dimension of “absence”, but along with this the idea of life and death, of a certain sense of melancholy in time. My first photos (between 1995 and 1999) became real studies of space where I began to order and organise objects with a certain reciprocity and spatial relationship, using natural light as energy to infuse a sense of suspension.  And so, although I had abandoned all types of traditional pictorial tools, I was able – instinctively - to create order and proportion, light and shadows, rules, a timeless dimension but with a new time given by this new order. The walls, for a time, took the place of that idea of painting which I didn’t know how to resolve. The wall is the historical stratification of our country, difficult to ignore, lighten or replace, because it was built by our ancestors. Even today the wall appears in my work in the form of thresholds or mirrors. It is the space of human experience, taking place day by day, whether it is possible to pass beyond this or not.
I’m fascinated by these stratifications, a mark that you still carry with you; a strong connotation that identifies you. Perhaps the choice of the material you use should be read in this way…? Or are we dealing with the attraction of the material or the wish to find a staging of symbols and real situations?
I initially used material that came from spaces I had already visited, so the first Scatole (Boxes) and then the first Libri (Books) – 1996/1999 – were made out of paper which I found lying around, on which I described situations by collecting designs and photographs from those same places. So we’re talking of a real topographic work. These abandoned houses in reality took on the dimensions of  living spaces. I still remember the sensation of finding myself in front of people who had lived in the past and of whose existence there were still traces of in the things they left abandoned. I remember a certain sense of fear or dread in stepping over the threshold and entering to look around; a sensation of fear at the idea of violating “intimate” space.
From here I began to work with material which could be considered “poor” or humble, such as paper and wax. For example, I sketched some places on paper using a pencil and immersed these in melted wax, as though they were images impressed on the memory, as if they were about to resurface or vanish. Then I kept them in a box made of fragments of paper and just a little larger than the sketches themselves. This process gave the idea of fragility, the fickleness of memory, together with the idea of time, movement and the fact that nothing in reality is static, that everything continues like a constant, uninterrupted flow.
From these reflections my first models – in the sense of living sculptures – were born. One rainy day in autumn I found myself in the middle of a room in a large house in the Emilian countryside. The room was bare and mouldy, with peeling wallpaper, the tiled floor muddy and covered with pages and pages of a chemistry notebook. Water dripped from the rotten, wooden ceiling, soaking the pages of chemical formulas.  In those papers I felt the crumbling substance of the house. These strong, striking images need to be interpreted from your own personal view point. In my first living sculptures, such as in Casa (House) or in Gocce (Drops) I wanted to communicate the sense of mutability an organism has, its precariousness and the process of transformation. In the same way too the place we live in is a living organism that embraces and cares for us, with its own time and life cycle. My rooms are synesthetic spaces in which the senses are solicited, mixed or magnified. For example, at that time I was studying Kafka a lot, and in Metamorphosis I read about the intelligent intuition of vision substituted by the senses of hearing and touch. What we’re dealing with then, is “seeing” which is supplemented and enhanced by the other senses, losing its usual view point to take on a new vision or a new perspective.
If we had to summarise  one example from your personal vision it would be impossible to forget the experience of the video... I'm thinking of your series of short films Oerte and your work as a set designer in the theatre...
If we talk of the viewing points of these two languages – video and theatre - the author decides the moment of and position of the observation. There is the risk of being a little dictatorial in the way of looking at something. I must say that the video is an interesting media in that it is very close to the musical aspect; just think of the presence of rhythm and timing in the editing.  It’s not only therefore a question of positioning the viewing point but also of intensifying or amplifying the moment. And so, like the theatre, (an excellent meeting place for the many different expressive languages), the viewing points are always questioned and discussed and then decided, as they are subordinate to what we want to recount and, above all, the way in which we want to lead the  viewer. 
Let’s continue on the theme of a new vision, a new perspective. It seems to me that even then there was the embryo of the concept of anamorphosis, the subtle play between reality and illusion, between mathematic discipline and the dizziness of emotions. This, in my view, could be the link with the work that you presented at the Biennale d’Arte Giovane Postumia in 2006 with Camerae Pictae.*  Together with Antonella Gandini we had invited you to interpret the relevance of Mantegna and first you surprised us curators and  then  the public with a large, fragmented, anamorphic room…..
I love Piero della Francesca and through him I discovered the political importance of presenting the dominating profile of Federico II of Montefeltro in the foreground with his lands at Urbino behind him. Just as when Andrea Mantegna portrayed his Cristo morto (Dead Christ) in an unusual position, it’s God becoming man, alongside humble people. With the discovery of perspective not only can we give form and structure to a virtual world or a mirror of a real world, but we construct a world that is decidedly hierarchical. We can assert that Brunelleschi started a revolution equal to the discovery of dynamism in late 19th century art.
In general I have always tried to lead the viewer to observe and react in a new, dynamic way with the work. CamerAptica was a decisive step in my artistic output. It raises new questions on the conceptual meaning of the objects we have around us in our daily life, and, generally speaking, raises doubts about our way of viewing the world. Is, therefore, what we see true, or could a new position unveil new meanings? These objects seen from a point established by our daily life are chairs, tables, beds ... but looking away, shifting our gaze only slightly, appear very different, showing us nothingness and from this void, new beginnings.
And here we have other key-words of your work: emptiness and fragment. On the occasion of CamerAptica you initiated, along with the composer Stefano Trevisi, this concept of un-composing and re-composing … and the Soglia installation also became an experience of a search for a single, intangible composition…
Yes, all the Spazio Visivo (Visual Space) project came from an idea of a laboratory where new ideas, languages and instruments from people in different fields could be channelled and marshalled.
Soglia (Threshold) is a project in which the spectator (who, I realise, is becoming more and more important in my work) can become a part of.  Conceptually Soglia is a sort of limbo, a beginning I should say, a space of demarcation and/or unification between the finite and infinite. Man leaves all that which is material (including himself) behind to dissolve in this continuous transformation, this nothingness. I believe Soglia is the most recent fruit of a long reflection, and with this installation I am returning – unconsciously - to the painting of several years ago. On this level it’s like rethinking the canvas, a way of going beyond the canvas.

The desire of reuniting with the infinite that in  Annunciazione  (a prize-winning installation in the award for young sculptors announced by the Pomodoro Foundation of Milan) assumes another connotation, I would say spiritual.
Still playing on the anamorphic perspective, Annunciazione (Annunciation) takes up the trail laid down by CamerAptica facing the theme of the Sacred, as a meeting with the other, a meeting with an idea of the Absolute. But here, compared to CamerAptica, the spectator becomes an integral part of the work. There are two views the viewer can observe:  the two view points of the Angel (the body beyond this world, aerial, the other) and that of the Virgin Mary (the body in the world, concrete, human). They are two opposing and different view points and as a consequence are very diverse. 
In the spatial construction I wanted to mix three very distinct cultural components: the Japanese component of architecture and the relationship with nature, the Islamic component of the representation of the absolute, and the Occidental in the renaissance perspective.  
In architecture, painting and Japanese Zen culture, nature is in complete harmony with the geometry of space. The interior is the exterior and vice versa, the use of natural materials and stylised forms compliment the natural forms of the stones, plants and nature itself. Finite architectural material, infinite nature; the terrestrial and celestial in harmony. In Islamic architecture the representation of the divine is pure abstraction. The architecture of mosques has a numeric and abstract base, with hypnotic geometric repetitions inviting meditation, a detachment from the self, and prayer. The representation of the divine is a geometrically infinite mantra made up of geometric particles that together construct the whole: total abstraction. The renaissance perspective, as we have already said, is a basic grammar to represent a symbolic world. It anticipates photography, it is a mathematical rule. It is the window through which man depicts stories for religious or political purposes. I’m particularly interested in the vision of the absolute in these three cultures and the contrasts and doubts they bring. In conclusion the Angel is seen by Mary in a cosmic and geometrical vision which cannot be represented physically, only ideally; its view point appears as a dynamic, golden triangle in the multitudes of the heavens. Like Rembrandt’s Faust or in The Aleph by Borges, it is a disc, a point on the infinite horizons: “Each thing was infinite, since I distinctly saw it from every angle of the universe.”

* From Camera Picta (the Painted Room otherwise known as the Camera degli Sposi – Wedding Chamber ) by Mantegna, in St. George’s Castle, Mantua.