London-based Italian artist Salvatore Arancio presents a ground-breaking new outdoor ceramic sculptural installation at this year’s Venice Biennale curated by Christine Macel (on until 26th November 2017). Situated in the Giardino delle Vergini, at the end of what Macel calls the “Pavilion of Time and Infinity”, Arancio’s contribution to the 57th Venice Biennale takes the form of a sort of therapeutic sculpture garden, where visitors are confronted by these mysterious, primeval totemic formations inspired by the petrified trees that were formed in Hawaii when a lava flow swept through a forest in 1790. Arancio works across a range of media such as ceramic sculpture, collage, etching, animation and video. Inspired by nature, science, psychedelia and popular mythology, his practice is driven by curiosity and the potential of images. Departing from their literal meaning or original function, Arancio makes artworks that blur the liminal space between fantasy and reality, leaving the viewer with a growing sense of unease and ambiguity. In addition to this new installation in Venice, Arancio's work will be the subject of a new solo exhibition titled And These Crystals Are Just Like Globes of Light at Federica Schiavo Gallery in Milan (19 May - 15 July 2017).
Congratulations on your inclusion in Viva Arte Viva, the curated section of the 2017 Venice Biennale! Please tell me a little bit more about your new sculptural installation in Venice. I understand that it takes its inspiration from an earlier performance commissioned by the Whitechapel Gallery relating to hypnotherapy.
Thanks Marcelle! Yes, you are right, the new pieces take as a starting point a performance originally commissioned by the Whitechapel Gallery in 2015 entitled: “MIND AND BODY BODY AND MIND”. The performance, which coexists as a video that I am also presenting at this year’s Venice Biennale, was a live re-enactment of a hypnotherapy session that I found on the Internet. Its goal was to turn the listener into a better artist.
The idea that a hypnotherapy session could enhance somebody’s artistic skills immediately struck me as a rather humorous, tongue-in-cheek interpretation of what it means to be an artist and the function of art education, but also potentially a great and simple way to improve the world. I decided then to use the original script and to create a live re-enactment of the session, extrapolating the text and having an actor recite it against the background of very psychedelic, trance-inducing footage and sound. For this footage, I used images overlapped with continuous flashes of lights, the frequency of which is identical to the one reproduced by the Dream Machine created by Brion Gysin, William S. Burroughs and Ian Sommerville in the late 50s, together with binaural beats, which are meant to stimulate Alpha brainwave levels. These brainwaves are connected with higher levels of creativity that typically are found in artists, musicians and creative thinkers, whilst the flashing lights of the Dream Machine are meant to induce a hypnagogic state.
So going back to the sculpture installation in Venice entitled It Was Only a Matter of Time Before We Found the Pyramid and Forced It Open, the pieces were produced under the influence of this hypnotherapy session and the results of this artistic enhancement, directly putting in practice its effects. Following the slightly tongue-in-cheek tone of the video, I see the space as a sort of therapeutic “healing area”, where visitors are confronted by enigmatic primordial or possibly science fictional totemic formations, whilst being able to absorb this artistic enhancing aura before leaving the Biennale.
The sculptural pieces are shaped by forms informed by the petrified trees of the Lava Trees State Park on Hawaii Island. This park preserves lava moulds of the tree trunks that were formed when a lava flow swept through a forested area in 1790.
How do you feel your work responds to Macel’s overall curatorial theme for Viva Arte Viva, an exhibition focusing on art and artists via a story told in nine chapters ending in the Pavilion of Time and Infinity where your work sits? I find the following statement by Macel especially poignant of your practice: “Art is the realm for dreams and utopias, a catalyst for human connections that roots us both to nature and the cosmos, that elevates us to a spiritual dimension.”
Christine mentions my work in the press release, whist talking about ideas and questions related to our relationship with time: ‘In face of the lagoon, the artist disappears or reinvents himself as “improved”, through the power of hypnosis.’ I suppose questions about time and the lapse of it in my work are always present; it is a time that is never defined, always having a diffused, temporal presence. As a viewer, you are always faced with that question, confronted with a present that could be a beginning or an end or even an obsolete future that is now almost nostalgic.
I also agree with your reading of the works; it is definitely something I suggest and especially with the pieces presented at this year’s Venice Biennale. Their strong relationship to nature is evident through the use of a natural material like clay manipulated in order to become nature again, but in this case nature has become fetishised as in the lava trees’ totemic presence. Also, by glazing the resulting shapes with impenetrable iridescent colours and giving this sculptural installation the title It Was Only a Matter of Time Before We Found the Pyramid and Forced It Open, I make a direct connection to my continuous obsession with the monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I like the idea that the unwary “worshippers” are confronted with these sentinels, the idea that their gaze is somehow reciprocated but these impenetrable totems, spouting out of a magmatic matter coming from a distant future or past, have found a home in the Biennale’s ground staring at the unwary art crowd...
As with the rest of my works, these new pieces are connected to my ongoing fascination with nature as a theatre for rituals, worship and self-induced trance states, employed to make a connection with something above us.
You created these new materially stunning sculptures at the highly respected Ceramica Gatti, founded in Faenza in 1928, joining a coterie of art and design world stars who have created their own ceramic masterpieces there (including Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Marc Camille Chaimowicz and Ettore Sottsass among others). Placing large glazed ceramic sculptures outdoors is a very brave proposition given the conservation issues and risk of cracking. What was this production process like?
Well to begin with, I decided that I did not want to sit down and show something I had already done; instead, I treated this invitation to the Biennale as a reason to push further my practice and to take some chances. Probably a bit crazy, but I felt it was the right attitude.
Ceramica Gatti has been a place of excellence since 1928 and they are in some ways unique... It was very special to be working in such an amazing place full of history! To start with, I suppose there would not be so many places that would have agreed to collaborate on such an adventurous project, especially with such a short production window. Imagine that we started these monumental pieces at the beginning of January…. And if you consider the nature of the material, drying times and possible failures, it has been complete lunacy! Among all of this frantic work, we had to consider their positioning outdoors for several months and several changes of weather, so we had to research some new protective materials, some of them so new in the market and advanced that these new works almost felt like they were arriving from the future. The research part of the work also took a lot of our energies. But deep down, I quite like the idea that some changes might occur; it somehow makes sense working with a material that originally comes from nature itself.
Your work is very much inspired by forms found in nature and science but why the obsession with the totem or phallic form? What does this shape or symbol represent to you?
I suppose it pertains to the presence of phallic forms in nature, but this shape, in several cultures, religions and mythology, often expresses connections to spiritual realms. I see it as a shape that in itself symbolizes a peak... an ascension to something above us.
In your artist video for the Venice Biennale, you state that you like to think about your work “functioning like the pages of an Atlas of confusion, a kind of hallucinated, meaningful nonsense.” Is the viewer’s emotional response to your work important to the success of each artwork you create?
Oh totally! I always aim to create a relation with the viewer to somehow create an experience for them. This is why my exhibitions always use a myriad of different mediums. I would like my works to engage with the viewer in different layers, initially through seduction and then slowly to entice the viewer into a territory that somehow might become unfamiliar or difficult to comprehend, whilst playing with symbols and meanings.
How important is the staging of your ceramic installations? You have created a myriad of different modes of display for your ceramic sculptures – traditional plinths of different shapes and sizes, floor-based displays and purpose-built tables, each of them responding to their architectural surroundings and producing a different texture and atmosphere to the exhibition.
I suppose I like to be playful with traditional modes of display. I somehow enjoy subverting them but also using them as a device in order to create or add to possible narratives, which the sculptures might suggest initially. I also like to be challenged by the architecture of where my work is displayed and to play with it. I remember once I had to explain to a curator, how excited I was about the space he proposed as he kept apologizing because it was far from a white cube... who needs a white cube!
Viva Arte Viva, 57th Venice Biennale, Venice (13th May – 26th November 2017): http://www.labiennale.org/en/art/exhibition/macel/index.html
Artist video for 57th Venice Biennale: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWNnxoZ8g6c
Artist’s website: http://www.salvatorearancio.com/index.html
Federica Schiavo Gallery, Milan: http://www.federicaschiavo.com/Artists/Salvatore-Arancio
All images courtesy of the artist and Federica Schiavo Gallery, Milan unless otherwise stated
Images 1, 3 and 4: Salvatore Arancio, It Was Only a Matter of Time Before We Found the Pyramid and Forced It Open, 2017, glazed and unglazed ceramic, epoxy resin, 160 x 90 x 270 cm, Photo: Andrea Rossetti.
Image 2: Salvatore Arancio, MIND AND BODY BODY AND MIND, 2015, video still, looped video with sound, 16 min 37 sec.
Image 5: Salvatore Arancio, (from left) Ai-Laau; Pele; Pii, 2013, glazed ceramic, installation view at Centre d’Art Contemporain La Halle des Bouchers, Vienne, France.
Image 6: Salvatore Arancio, installation view at The London Open exhibition, Whitechapel Gallery, 2015. Courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery Archive, the artist and Federica Schiavo Gallery. Photo: Stephen White
Image 7: Salvatore Arancio, And These Crystals Are Just Like Globes of Light, glazed ceramic, dimensions variable, installation view at Kunsthalle Winterthur, Switzerland.
Image 8: Salvatore Arancio, Fashioned to a Device behind a Tree, 2015, glazed ceramic, dimensions variable, installation view of performance at Camden Arts Center, London.
About the Artist
Salvatore Arancio (b.1974, Catania, Italy) lives and works in London. He received his MA in Photography from the Royal College of Art, London in 2005. Selected exhibitions include: Synthetic Landscape, Weston Park, Ludlow, UK (2017); And These Crystals Are Just like Globes of Light, Federica Schiavo Gallery, Milano, Italy (2017); In the EarthTime. Our generations of Italian ceramics and the Faenza Prize, Gyeonggi International Ceramic Biennale, Icheon, Korea (2017); Viva Arte Viva, 57th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy (2017); Tropical Hangover, Tenderpixel, London, UK (2017); Evolutionary Travels, Foundación Arte, Buenos Aires, Argentina (2016); Travelling Circular Labyrinths, Museo Civico di Castelbuono, Castelbuono, Palermo, Italy (2016); Oh Mexico! Kunsthalle Winterthur, Winterthur, Switzerland (2016); Fashioned to a Device Behind a Tree, Camden Arts Centre, London, UK (2015); Drawing Biennial, Drawing Room, London (2015); Cathedral, AV Festival, NGCA, Sunderland, UK (2013); PROJECT, Maureen Paley Gallery, London, UK, (2013); Curiosity: Art & the Pleasure of Knowing, Hayward Touring UK (2013); Alternating Layers of Contrasting Resistance, Rowing, London, UK (2013), Solo Presentation, Art Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands (2013), The Little Man of the Forest With the Big Hat, Federica Schiavo Gallery, Rome, Italy (2013); Cyclorama, Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City, Mexico (2013); Relatively Absolute, Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge; The Little Man of the Forest With the Big Hat, MCZ-Museo Carlo Zauli, Faenza, Italy (2012); An Arrangement of the Materials Ejected, Spacex, Exeter (2011); To See an Object to See a Light, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Guarene d’Alba, Italy, (2011);Vedere un oggetto, vedere la luce, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Guarene d’Alba, Italy (2011); Sentinel -PPS//Meetings#4, Palazzo Riso - Museo d’Arte Contemporanea della Sicilia, Palermo, Italy (2011); SI-Sindrome Italiana, Le MagasinCentre National d’Art contemporain de Grenoble, France (2010); Catastrophe? Quelle Catastrophe!, Manif d’Art 5, The Quebec City Biennial, Engramme, Quebec City, Canada (2010); Prague Biennale 4, Karlin Hall, Prague, Czech Republic, (2009); and I giovani che visitano le nostre rovine non vi vedono che uno stile, GAM-Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Turin, Italy (2009). Selected residencies include: Camden Arts Centre, Ceramics Fellowship, London, UK, 2014/15; Résidences Internationales aux Recollets, Paris, France, 2013; European Ceramic WorkCentre, SG ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands; Wysing Arts Center, Cambridge, UK; ISCP, New York, 2009; Art Omi, New York, 2011. Arancio is represented by Federica Schiavo Gallery, Milan, Italy.
As seen on FAD Magazine: http://fadmagazine.com/2017/05/18/marcelle-joseph-interviews-artist-salvatore-arancio/
Discovering the Estonian artist Kris Lemsalu initially at her durational performance at Frieze New York in 2015 and then again at CONDO (a collaborative exhibition by 36 galleries across 15 London spaces in January 2017), Marcelle Joseph is super excited to speak to Lemsalu to learn more about her multidisciplinary practice that melds ceramic sculptural installation with performance.
Her work can be seen across Europe in a travelling group exhibition titled Metamorphosis and curated by Zdenek Felix that starts at KAI 10 | Arthena Foundation, Düsseldorf (4 March – 20 May 2017) and Galerie Guido W. Baudach, Berlin (10 March – 22 April 2017) and then travels to SVIT, Prague (May – June 2017). For those in the UK, you will have to wait until the autumn when Glasgow gallery Koppe Astner hosts her first solo exhibition there.
Having studied ceramics at the Art Academy in Estonia, Lemsalu often mixes traditional materials (such as porcelain) with found natural materials (such as fur, leather and wool) to create humourous, ironic multilayered installations that flirt with notions of life and death. These uncanny installations often act as a stage for Lemsalu’s own performances with parts of the sculpture becoming a costume of sorts. A juxtaposition of high and low brow materials combined with a rough finish attribute a cynical element to her work that mocks art’s desirability in today’s overly moneyed global art market.
I initially spotted you at Frieze New York lying face-down on a waterbed under an enormous ceramic turtle shell sculpture for a four-hour long performance entitled Whole Alone 2 (2015). Do you often inhabit your own sculptural installations? Is their performativity important to the work? And on the flip side, is the presence of your body and its interaction with the viewer adding another element to the installation?
With some of my works, yes - they require my presence and contribution, a kind of baptism to continue their independent life and stay up late.
For CONDO in London at Southard Reid (January – February 2017), Koppe Astner presented a series of your Phantom Camp works, consisting of a porcelain dog’s head peeking out of a cheap polyester sleeping bag. These sleeping bags were dotted around the floor as well as hung at different heights on the wall with the sleeping bag trailing on the floor. The dog had his tongue hanging out and human hands covering his eyes. What captivated me the most about this installation was the combination of materials – refined porcelain with multi-coloured lustrous glazes and bargain basement sleeping bags. Can you talk about your approach to materials and their hierarchy?
There is a playful and very visual process going on in my head while thinking about a new work. Basically I need the materials to float on the same level and the value given to various materials does not exist in my head so I try to give the same consideration to each of them. I work very fast and have developed easy ways for casting and dealing with ceramics. I have come to terms with the fact that heat has its own plans -- what comes out of the kiln may it be broken or exploded. Mostly I don't want any of the materials to sit in the back of the bus.
The porcelain dog’s head with human hands and feet appears often in your sculptural installations going back to your work Father is in Town (2012). Who is this anthropomorphic dog and what does he or she represent?
It shifts in meaning; it can be your best friend, an omen of death and all things in-between.
When thinking about your work, the “cabinet of curiosities” and the “uncanny” often come to mind. What inspires your art production?
My life and works are very much intertwined, so as long as I'm alive, I don't particularly need to search for inspiration.
As a multidisciplinary artist, what comes first for you? The performance or the sculptural installation? The idea or the materials?
First of all, it's the desperate need to communicate that makes me do what I do, so it depends what needs to be said. Lately my work feels more like a lone man's smoke signal at sea, trying to find other humans.
Many young contemporary artists are breathing new life into the medium of clay. What inspires you most about the use of ceramics in your sculptural practice?
I've worked with clay since I was 12 when my mother took me to a ceramics workshop with all the other neighbourhood kids. I took a break when adolescence kicked in, but after high school, I missed the material and decided to study ceramics at the Art Academy of Estonia. After that, I made some more attempts to abandon the material, but never managed to for too long. Clay is my healthy addiction and a physical need that lures me back to the studio - my Paul Simon.
What shall we look forward to seeing in the travelling group exhibition, Metamorphosis in Dûsseldorf, Berlin and Prague this spring and summer? Do you identify with the show’s theme based around Ovid’s tales of transformations among gods, heroes, humans, plants and animals in your own practice?
I look forward to seeing the other artists - Habima Fuchs, Thomas Helbig, Renaud Jerez and Mary-Audrey Ramirez again and for the rest … we shall see.
Artist website: LINK
Koppe Astner, Glasgow website: LINK
Temnikova & Kasela, Tallinn, Estonia website: LINK
Metamorphosis at KAI 10 | Arthena Foundation, Düsseldorf: LINK
Metamorphosis at Galerie Guido W. Baudach, Berlin: LINK
Courtesy of the artist, Koppe Astner, Glasgow and Temnikova & Kasela, Tallinn.
- Kris Lemsalu, Car2Go, 2016, metal glass, plastic, brick ceramic and fabric, dimensions variable, installation view at Galerie Guido W. Baudach, Berlin, 2017.
- Kris Lemsalu, Whole Alone 2, 2015, porcelain, eggs and egg crates, waterbed, metal, hair, dimensions variable, installation view at Frieze New York, 2015.
- Kris Lemsalu, Phantom Camp, 2016, porcelain and fabric, dimensions variable, installation view at CONDO 2017, Koppe Astner at Southard Reid, London, 2017.
- Kris Lemsalu, Father is in Town, 2012 ceramic, lamb fur, wild pig fur, foam, dimensions variable, installation view at Galerie Tanja Wagner, Berlin, 2012.
- Kris Lemsalu, Samsonite, 2012, autoportrait.
- Kris Lemsalu, Phantom Camp (detail), 2016, porcelain and fabric, dimensions variable, installation view at CONDO 2017, Koppe Astner at Southard Reid, London, 2017.
About the Artist
Kris Lemsalu (b. 1985) is an Estonian artist based in Tallinn, Vienna and Berlin. She studied ceramics at the Estonian Academy of Arts in Tallinn and sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Lemsalu has shown widely both in Estonia and abroad. Her recent and upcoming solo and duo exhibitions include: upcoming solo show, Koppe Astner, Glasgow (2017); upcoming duo exhibition together with Merike Estna, curated by Thomas Cuckle, Tallinn, Vienna and Berlin (2017); CONDO collaborative exhibition, Kendall Koppe at Southard Reid, London (2017); "Afternoon Tear Drinker", curated by Hemma Schmutz, Kunstraum Lakeside, Klagenfurt (2016); "Beauty and the Beast", (together with Tiit Pääsuke), curated by Tamara Luuk, Tallinn Art Hall, Tallinn (2016); “Blood Knot Step By Step”, Bunshitu Gallery, Tokyo (2015); “Fine With Afterlife”, Ferdinand Bauman Gallery, Prague (2015); “Lord Got To Keep On Groovin”, Temnikova & Kasela gallery, Tallinn (2013); “Top Sinner”, Pro Choice, Vienna (2012); “Evian Desert”, Tanja Wagner gallery, Berlin (2012); and “Being Together” (together with Edith Karlson), Temnikova & Kasela gallery, Tallinn (2012). Selection of Kris Lemsalu's recent and upcoming group exhibitions and performances: "Metamorphosis", curated by Zdenek Felix, KAI 10 / Arthena Foundation, Düsseldorf; Galerie Guido W. Baudach, Berlin; and Galerie SVIT, Prague (2017); "Les Urbaines - 20th edition", curated by Elise Lammer, Les Urbaines, Lausanne (2016); "Winter Is Coming (Homage to the Future)", curated by Maria Arusoo, Georg Kargl gallery, Vienna (2016); Performance together with Gelatin, Manifesta 11, Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich (2016); "On Disappearing & For Vanishing", curated by Sten Ojavee, Tartu Art Museum, Tartu (2016); "Jumanji", Soft Focus Institute, Ghent (2016); "The Ultimate Vessel", gallery Koppe Astner, Glasgow (2015); "Sequences", real time art festival, Reykjavik (2015); “I’m A Painting” curated by Merike Estna and Kati Ilves, KUMU art museum, Tallinn (2014); “Urschleim”, Fauna, Copenhagen (2013); “is my territory.” curated by Monica Bonvicini, Christine König Galerie, Vienna (2013); and “Jeden Tag Gelatin”, 21er Haus, Vienna (2013).
Sebastian Stöhrer, Ceramic, 2016, fired clay, glaze, 72 x 116 x 48 cm, courtesy of Carl Freedman Gallery, London.
On the occasion of Sebastian Stöhrer’s second solo show at the Carl Freedman Gallery in London, opening on 1st February 2017, Marcelle Joseph interviews the German artist to find out what drives his ceramic sculpture practice featuring vases of all shapes and sizes that resemble either corals from the deep underwater reaches of the sea or peculiar creatures from an alien planet.
Almost every one of your alluring ceramic sculptures contains a well or trough of some sort but I would not describe these objects as vases or water vessels. They look more like creatures from a science fiction film with bodily orifices. What inspires the form of your artworks? Do you work with any source material in the studio?
It's a division of work. I have a vision of how the work should look, and then I get help from the clay. It tries to give itself a shape, it leads me. I try to create something alive. It’s important, no matter if it is abstract or figurative, that I create new creatures that populate the world. I don’t work from source material. I only work with the forms as they are shaped in the moulding process - I use a personal language of form that I have developed over a long period of time.
Let’s talk about your glazing techniques. You use an exquisite mix of colours for each sculpture, with one lustrous hue bleeding into another to create the most sumptuous striations or mottled bands of colour. How do you achieve this effect?
The first time I mixed my own glaze, I was making one for low temperature. I burned it by accident at an extremely high temperature and have kept using that mistake up until now. Because of this mistake, the glazes are very brilliant and flow very strongly into one another; they have the character of high burned stoneware. The glazes have their own mind. I decide the colours and give a direction, but I cannot predict the exact finished picture. If working with clay is more of an intuitive process, then working with glazes is a more scientific one. It is a productive experimentation with a lot of accidents. All the glazes are developed by lots of series of tests.
Your creations have been described as surreal, eccentric and humourous and Daniel Birnbaum, Director of Moderna Museet, Stockholm, has compared the genius of your works to that of the American science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Do your own perceptions of your work align with those of your viewers?
I do not have anything like that in mind whilst I am making the sculptures. However, if the viewer finds a nice, appropriate link to a theme or idea I like, I am happy with that.
Sebastian Stöhrer, Ceramic, 2016, fired clay, glaze, 70 x 60 x 40 cm, courtesy of Carl Freedman Gallery, London.
You often incorporate bits of wood or twigs into your sculptures that resemble legs of an animal or insect. What attracts you to this material and are you interested in their zoomorphic qualities?
I have always been fascinated by the simplicity and beauty of the bent willow furniture from the south of the USA. There was a lucky opportunity to bring these ideas into my work - when a sculpture needs help because of an unstable base, I support it with a stick. Also, the ash of the willow tree makes a perfect glaze. Wood and clay are nearly the same, just in a different physical condition. They fit together.
Having studied at the Städelschule Frankfurt in the 90’s and later under the tutelage of Professor Thomas Bayrle, were you the only student breaking ground and working with clay as a sculptural material back then? Or did ceramics come later for you?
I have worked with other materials in the past, but the focused use of ceramic began three years ago. I still like mixing materials: stone, metal, wood and clay.
About the Artist
Sebastian Stöhrer (b. Freiburg, 1968) studied at Städelschule Frankfurt (1993-1999). He lives and works in Frankfurt. Recent solo exhibitions include those at Carl Freedman Gallery, London (2017 and 2014); Hallerstabe 6, Hamburg, Germany (2016) and Kunsthalle Lingen, Lingen, Germany (2015). Selected group exhibitions include: Lift Itself, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden (2016); Sublime Bastards, Avlskarl Gallery, Copenhagen, Denmark (2016); Hamburger Bahnhof Power Gallery, Hamburg, Germany (2013); and Abendlandadieuvorkommnissen times a fugue entgehalten, Kunstverein Offenburg, Offenburg, Germany (2013).
As seen on FAD Magazine: http://fadmagazine.com/2017/02/02/marcelle-joseph-interviews-ceramic-artist-sebastian-stohrer/