On the use of perspective and the role of emptiness:
a conversation with Paolo Cavinato
di Giulia Gelmini
Droste Effect Magazine
Nov 25, 2017

By using several artistic practices, Paolo Cavinato creates multisensorial spaces, where images of reality, mental and emotional projections merge. His research starts from the physical space to arrive to the absolute; a philosophical path followed with order and rigor, where the viewer is firsthand involved. This is translated into spaces that can be lived and crossed, where senses are solicited and mixed; and, in other cases, they represent an eternal limbo between finite and infinite. The space becomes a continuous flux, an Emptiness. Starting from something that is unstable, suspended, temporary, Paolo Cavinato reaches the representation of the absolute with an infinitesimal geometrical mantra, repetition of constant and hypnotic symbols that together form the Whole.


I’m looking at your work and I feel completely lost. I don’t know exactly where to look and where to find a hook to stop and find my place in your cosmos. Your linear structures demand the viewer to move around them, to explore them, to solve the enigma hidden behind their emptiness, but there’s apparently no answer to this mystery. In fact, at any position I choose to look at it from, Ill have a different perspective. Several points of view from the same pair of eyes. What is the reason for the choice of maintaining more points of view available? What happens when there’s a solitaire visitor looking at your works? What do you want him/her to think?

Over the years, my research has followed different directions, but these characteristic elements regarding perspective, points of view and the exchange of glances recur as principle cornerstones. I’m always attracted by the intrinsic possibilities of human beings and their gaze. Mankind is unique and its thought can be distinguished from that of a counterpart: contrasting many social structures and the strong powers that tend to uniform this gaze. This is its strength, the power to question different situations. That’s why I prefer to create a multiple, different gaze in my works. My installations often offer the possibility to be seen from several perspectives and they appear different, enigmatic, in a continuous dynamism between an inside and an outside. CamerAptica (2006), Annunciation (2008), Constellation (2011) are big anamorphic installations of perspective that study the relationship between an established and studied point of view, inside which everything is properly built and ordered, and a fleeting and precarious representation image seen by the outside, where the vision presents a pure chaotic and entropic space. CamerAptica, from Deleuze, is the haptic gaze, that is completed by the other senses, becoming olfactory and auditive.


Rosalind Krauss claims that the grid reveals the separation between the perceptive point of view and that of the real world. The adhesive that links the installation materials and the structure that divides the canvas. As in the Renaissance, perspective was used as a symbolic structure to represent the world, so the grid becomes the new reference system for the XX century. A method to describe the reality without describing it. Krauss underlines another fundamental aspect: the grid’s schizophrenic proceeding, that can be expressed as the contraposition between centrifugal and centripetal. Presenting itself as a small part picked up from a bigger whole, it is considered centrifugal, it pushes the spectator gaze to the outside, beyond that particular totality of fragments; whereas the centripetal movement derives from the separation that the grid carries out from everything that surrounds it. What kind of strength is hidden behind your architectures? Are they centrifugal or centripetal? Or are they both?

The perspective as a scientific and mathematic technique to reconstruct reality summarizes and represents a significant part of our Western culture in the way we interpret the vision, the representation. It’s our rational point of view. It’s part of us, of our history and society. It all began in the Middle Ages, to be then increasingly redefined. There are several books written by Renaissance artists, such as De prospectiva pingendi by Piero della Francesca, or De pictura by Leon Battista Alberti. In addition, I’ve always been really fascinated with the way the Venetian vedutisti used perspective, for example, Guardi or Canaletto. They had built real camera obscuras  –  precursors of future photo cameras – a process that can be compared to the act of shaping the image in their mind. In my works there’s everything. The dark, the image development, the perspective grid, but inside this grid people can choose to position themselves at any point where to move their gaze. Sometimes there can be a single point of view, two or it can even become a kaleidoscope. A certain movement is triggered – centripetal or centrifugal, it doesn’t matter. There are some points where everything converges or diverges. Euclid taught me that two parallel lines will only meet somewhere into infinity, and I used this theory in works such as Via(2010), Evoluzione (2009) or Hidden Steps (2016). I am just a point of a parallel line. The evolution is fractal, knowing where your position is isn’t compelling, the vision is again inside a kaleidoscope.


Your projects are composed of empty spaces inside which we should feel protected. How can emptiness be a barrier to block all external attacks we might withstand? Is this in some way connected to the fear of boredom we are living, in this era marked by technological progress?

Emptiness can assume different meanings. When Malevich drew the sketch for Victory over the sun, later resumed as Black Square, he probably wanted to represent the big curtain that separates the stage before the performance starts. It was a significant intellectual and artistic revolution. A new opening for many possibilities, he exactly gave birth to the moment before a new beginning. Sometimes I prefer to feel the emptiness as a starting point, a moment of strong energy, concentration, and meditation. But emptiness also means living in the unknown. Protection, for example, was the expression of a feeling. It was realized in 2014, during a residency in Shanghai. At that time, I could feel my solitude, intimacy, and silence contrasting with what was the representation of the outside, so ample, quick and noisy. It was also the symbol of an invisible obstacle between me, my culture and something different and far. Maybe today, in my daily life, I understand more and more the danger of losing this essential emptiness: experiencing the world in silence, being elsewhere, positioning yourself distant from it and recognizing it better. Technological progress has led to a tremendous speed that impedes a deep thinking. There’s no space for waiting, absence, sacrifice. A few years ago I realized some photographs while thinking about probability and wait, as in wait there’s a potential and concentration.


As you empty something that was in origin full, where does all the waste go? What’s its place in your world?  

When I work through a process of selection, I discard the excess matter to arrive to the shape’s essence. ProtectionKaleidoscopeHidden Steps are pure lines designed in space. But there are certain occasions when works get definitely more abstract, visionary, oneiric. This is visible in Interior ProjectionsWings, and Wunderkammer. In my creative process, that mostly develops while writing suggestions, taking note of information, drawing and photographing my surrounding reality, many fragments take a new shape. Others wait in my archive for years before being used.


You always deal with spaces, architectures, places, containers. But when does a space start to communicate to you? What’s the relation you have while approaching a new space? What do think first while looking at it?

I have to take a step backward. I’ve had a quite broad education. I’ve studied scenography at Arts Academy but I was also influenced by my architecture studies. Painting, photography and video making where also my other interests. In particular, I took a workshop in photography held by Guido Guidi, and I studied cinema direction at the School of Cinema in Milan. I was curious and I frequented the art galleries. Probably, the fundamental aspect of my practice is the moment of planning as a crucial phase for the conception and realization process of a work of art, as well as the relation with the surrounding space. When I start a new project for a precise place, I look at the measures and characteristics of the space first: lights, shapes, materials, uses, historical elements. The set-up, the positioning of the works, but also their traits, come from the qualities of the place and the relationship with the viewers. This is really important to me. In certain occasions, the viewer becomes an active agent that is allowed to enter in my architectures or to walk around them. Studying scenography has enriched my articulated and complex studies. I’ve always intended my scenography not only as simple decoration or embellishment of a setting, even if, because of that, I was going against a certain cultural tradition – if we think of the French word for scenography, décor – but I thought it could be an ideal container where many languages could organize themselves. Working in a theater for some years – from 1995 till 2004 – gave me the possibility to experience the space in all its potentialities. I was able to see all the process of this complex machine. Planning, building, positioning the objects in the space, choosing the lights, and looking at choreographies are all activities that helped me to consider the stage as an ongoing process.


Which experience particularly influenced your artistic technique?

All the experiences I had have been very different and really enriching. But to mention a specific moment, in 2005 I was invited to realize some installations in Istanbul, during the Biennial, and I lived in Turkey for a few months. I was fascinated by the ancient decorations and the way the holy is represented. In Western culture, the sacred can be portrayed with several planes; we can position the figures following a hierarchy. In Islamic countries, this choice is not allowed and we won’t find a human figure in the sacred images, as it’s considered blasphemous. All the images flow on the same flat plane, as it was an old drawing on a parchment. The holy is illustrated through the writing, the graphic decoration. While visiting the mosques I’ve always looked at the countless mathematic weaves hidden in the architectural details. It was interesting to me to find close connections with our culture. Mimar Sinan, the architect of many mosques in Istanbul, was deeply influenced by Italian architecture from the Renaissance.


I’m looking at a particular work that you exhibited at The Flat gallery in Milan in 2012. You hung your artifacts from the ground. They seemed to fluctuate in the air like clouds, waiting for something to happen. What were they waiting for?

In Behind the curtains I positioned several objects made of paper against an empty wall, where they remained suspended, sustaining the representation of an indefinite prospective space. Next to them, a real door with a step and a neon lamp. This white wall was a liminal space between the reality and the representation. Someone could have soon entered, making this misleading trace collapse. The artificial construction would have surely been called into question. In this theatrical space, almost comparable to a scenario by Samuel Beckett, we were pushed to ask ourselves: “What is reality?”


The equilibrium in these environments seems to be treading a fine line. All of a sudden I imagine a catastrophic event that would subvert all orders. What would be left on your theatrical stage? Imagine you are Giorgio De Chirico. Which fragments would survive the storm?

The order that characterizes my projects comes from my education, my studies. The classical construction is innate, but inside it, there’s a hidden movement: this is my way to ask myself about our origin and our future direction. On one side there’s order, mathematics knowledge, the rationality we use to build everything; on the other, there are the solitude and the doubts we carry with us. We need the rigor to clean our mind: an illusory cure to save ourselves from oblivion. Chaos is a recurrent situation. It comes from the outside or we create it, as it happens with pollution and the disruption of our natural habitat. We want to control and at the same time overcome nature. We both desire a perfect garden and a wild forest: as it is for Giorgio De Chirico when he portrays Italian squares in suspended and silent atmospheres, and still we can catch a glimpse of a puffing train beyond the tall city walls. A vibration flows through the landscape. In The Disquieting Muses, the artist depicts the castle in Ferrara in the background, calling Michelangelo Antonioni to mind, who in Zabriskie Point counterposed solitude with the wait for an unexpected explosion. My work lives with the same tension, it can be seen as the moment before the explosion or after a catastrophic event, when the fragments are put back in order. What is left are fragments that can be used to create new worlds, new images.


Sometimes visitors have expectations and, after a careful study of your production, I can’t stop myself from wondering, have you ever thought about using a mirror as a character of your plot made of inanimate subjects? Is a reflective surface a way you would consider to amplify the perceptions and multiply the points of view?

The mirror (as we’ve seen about perspective) has always accompanied my work. I started drawing and taking pictures of old abandoned houses; I intended these surfaces as historic and personal stratification of memories. The alchemic mirror, that is present in Annunciazione (2008), is a sensible layer where ideas and images take shape or in Threshold (2008), a big installation that can be crossed, where a doorstep overlooks a deep corridor, inside which a linear ordinate perspective leads to the infinite.

An important example of this sphere can be Reflections, installation realized on the occasion of the exhibition The space of the sacred at Galleria Civica in Modena in 2010. Some objects, partly extrapolated from reality (a chair, a door, a bed) and partly built on mathematic calculations (fractals, the golden section), are aligned alongside an axis, an imaginary reflecting surface that passes through and ideally separates the exhibition space for all its length. On one side objects appear aged, made of a temporary and mortal material, while on the other they’re a reflection of their own model, crystallized in an immutable time, immortal and eternal.

The experience of crossing that symmetrical axis is offered to the visitor, who becomes an actor and key factor for the operation of the mise-en-scène: we cross the threshold/mirror that divides the two symmetrical worlds, but our image is not reflected, it’s excluded from the mirror play and becomes only an incorporeal presence. The illusive perspectival trap is disclosed. The threshold, the limit between these two realities turn into an experience of the double and the imperfect reflection of the world and of ideas; but it’s also an experimentation on ambiguity – something between precariousness and the idea of the infinite – and the ambivalence that is intrinsic to human beings.


A special thanks to The Flat – Massimo Carasi gallery for introducing me to Paolo.

Giulia Gelmini