Massimo Bartolini: On Union and Presence

by Lara Morrell
Lara Morrell
Massimo Bartolini

To mark the 60th International Art Exhibition, we interviewed Massimo Bartolini, the artist behind the Italian Pavilion this year. The title Due qui / To Hear is an intentionally unfaithful translation, a conscious mistake. Playing on the homophones “two here” (in Italian, due qui) and “to hear”, it points to the relational nature of sound. Through sculptures, installations, sound works, and performances, with a range that is characteristic of the artist’s practice, the pavilion aims to create a context of experience. Choosing among more than one entrance and possible route, visitors move through three spaces built around different acoustic experiences and meeting points.

The Italian Pavilion is promoted by Directorate-General for Contemporary Creativity at the Italian Ministry of Culture. The exhibition project iscurated by Luca Cerizza.

LM Your track record includes four participations in the Venice Biennale, and this year, you’ll exclusively occupy the entire Italian Pavilion. How have you managed this immense responsibility, and what can visitors expect?

MB It’s not that I’m organising this responsibility, I’m overwhelmed by it. Representing Italy to me doesn’t just mean representing Italian culture, people, things… I also think about the mountains, the rocks, the sea, the animals. It seems like a lot, maybe too much, but that’s how it is for me… I still need to get used to it. Visitors will realise they need more than just two front eyes, they’ll need eyes that listen.

LM The title of the project is “Due qui / To Hear”, could you tell us about the choice of title, the importance of listening, and the specially created contributions by musicians and writers?

MB: The title is that of a work present in the exhibition which, like the other works, summons and combines different entities. Union and presence. “Due qui/To Hear” is not a translation but an assonance, something between a rhyme in literature and a harmonisation in music. The difference between sound and sight is that sight only sees what is in front of it, while listening perceives everything around… it’s a transcendence of dialectic… to listen, to hear, maybe to heal. Music has always fascinated me for its characteristic of existing only when performed, being pure actuality. For this reason, since the beginning, it seemed almost natural to me to combine the “present body” of the artwork with music. It’s important for me to connect things and times, and in this sense, the involvement of Caterina Barbieri and Kali Malone (the result of discussions with Luca Cerizza) and Gavin Bryars (with whom I have already worked in the past) was also revealing of a series of affinities between their works, which emerged only when they were placed side by side on this occasion. For me, what we can truly do in art is, by revealing, unite, and that’s what we have tried to do for this Pavilion.

LM Through your work, which delves into the perception of inhabited spaces, how do you navigate the delicate equilibrium between spiritual contemplation and detached observation?

MB Contemplation and detachment are not too far apart from each other. Contemplation is the path to detachment, and in detachment, perfect contemplation is achieved. Now, I am neither a mystic nor a practitioner; I aspire to these two conditions literarily. As Francesca Tarocco said about the Bodhisattva (the only figure in the exhibition): the taut rope between doing (of contemplation) and non-doing (of detachment). It’s an immobility that positions itself between the suspension of doing and the grace in being, which I consider to be the only activities to still envision a future with humans on this planet.

LM How has your degree in surveying and its inherent rationale influenced your artistic practice?

MB “Let none but geometers enter here.” – this is the saying attributed to Plato for his Academy. Geometry is a bridge between the concrete world and the world of abstraction. Geometry stretches the mind, always keeping it firmly anchored to the ground. At school, we designed roads, bridges, we traced polygons on the ground, all through geometry. Even today, I make my projects in parallel axonometry on the drawing table. It has been a very useful and, looking back, an exciting school for me.

LM Your projects are often inseparable from the place they occupy, they challenge the common perception of the environment through minimal interventions that alter the form and atmosphere of the original place, what role does the spectator play in this approach?

MB The spectator often becomes the body that triggers a reaction, revealing the artwork. William. S. Wilson had found a beautiful definition for the spectator: Partecipant-Observer. On this occasion, we did not want to interfere with the space, already so layered with meaning in itself, but rather engage in dialogue with le Tese. There will be no form of display, and the audience will perhaps see this place practically as it is for the first time, able to move within it without a predetermined path, but in absolute freedom. I am not able to tell others what to do or not to do, and I never think in advance about the experience the audience should have. What I would like to achieve is the construction of a place where anyone can calmly feel the things that usually accompany them and merge with the sensations inherent in the place itself.

LM In your work, that which usually lies in the background is often brought to the forefront – evident in works such as “Realizer”, could you elaborate on this and your interest in the moment when manual work surpasses intellectual pursuits?

MB The project you mentioned is an artist’s book dedicated to all the creators of my works from that time. I do a lot of planning, it’s true that I draw, so to speak, with the material in hand, but most of the time I don’t actually realise my works myself. At that point, the choice of the Realizer is the most important part of the project itself. No matter how much complexity one may think and plan, the work that “has been made” always has more information and complexity than a thought. The work that “has been made” always arouses wonder; it’s an apparition.

LM The use of water in your work embodies the concept of eternal transformation and the interconnectedness between water and the broader natural realm, could you expand on your relationship to the lagoon city of Venice and if you have any favourite haunts or habits here that you may like to share with our readers?

MB Water is a substance that vividly illustrates the forces at work in this world. It carves, undulates, breaks, and reassembles itself. Body and energy are immediately perceptible. In Venice, one wakes up, takes the vaporetto, and immediately sees water in action – a school of awareness. I particularly enjoy the Sant’ Elena neighbourhood and dining at Pampo’s. I like the area of San Pietro, Celestia, those places where you can walk for a minute among the houses alone. Venice is a fantastic world, full of stories, some of which have woven themselves into the work I will present. The other day, for example, I thought of it as a forest, and in actual fact – it is a forest. A place where the indoors and outdoors meet. Venice conceals and reveals at once.

Luca Cerizza and Massimo Bartolini © Matteo de Mayda
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