We Are Two Abysses – a Well Staring at the Sky: an Interview with Ignazio Mortellaro

by Mara Sartore
February 7, 2018
Mara Sartore
Mortellaro Ignazio

On the occasion of his solo show currently on view at Francesco Pantaleone Gallery in Palermo, we interviewed artist Ignazio Mortellaro. Curated by Agata Polizzi, the exhibition brings together two series of works and an installation. The works give body to a dynamic vision describing landscapes and contexts as though they were experiences “in transit.”

Ignazio Mortellaro (Palermo, 1978) is an artist, architect, and engineer. His background brings him to investigate, with an experimental approach, the various settings of knowledge. His work is open and looks at possibility as method.

Mara Sartore:  Where do the roots of your artistic production lie and what does your research tend towards?

Ignazio Mortellaro: My work is nothing other than the reflection of thorough research, which identifies itself in the syncretistic processes, typical to the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern area, the foundations of a melting pot culture where knowledge and visions fuse. The Mediterranean has always been a place of exchange in different forms, a space where dialogue is inevitable due to the fluidity of this liminal space, its liquid borders and the osmotic surface, which stretches out between three continents, Europe, Asia and Africa.
The path is long and tiring, the interdisciplinary nature of my research requires intense study, but this is the price you should be prepared to pay when one ventures into unknown territory, into the others space and when we go beyond our familiar ground. But it is a small price to pay when the rewards reaped are so rich, that of freedom, the freedom to lose oneself, the freedom to move, not only from country to country but also from culture to culture. It is in the depths of our freedom we find the power of thought. 

M.S.:We are two abysses – a well staring at the sky” explain the origins and the meaning of the title to your most recent exhibition at FPAC in Palermo…

I.M.: The title, which in its original language reads “Somos dois abismos – um poço fitando o céu”, is a quote taken from the “Book of Disquiet” by Fernando Pessoa, a Portuguese writer who has always been greatly influential in my work, his concepts of limits and distances, in geographic and existential terms, are central to this reflection, the problem of our positioning within space, the orientation of our gaze, and of measurement. Within this quote, which in truth comes from two, we find ourselves between two infinitely distant and opposing spaces, one that verges on the centre of the earth and the other somewhere in deep space. We can move to the depths of these wells and look up at the sky, as the main character in Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” did, or otherwise look back at the earth from a lonely spaceship as Tarkovskji suggests in his film “Solaris”. I consider these two places the undefined extremes of an internal hiatus in which we can really perpetrate the meaning of our existence, a space of freedom in which not only can we radically invert our positions but also the way in which we turn our gaze.

M.S.: Luca Mortellaro has titled his essay “A New Sisyphus”, which he has dedicated to you in the exhibition catalogue. Luca, other than being a musician and producer is also your brother, so he knows you well. In your opinion what parallels does he find between you and Sisyphus, he who was condemned by the gods to eternally climb a mountain carrying an immense boulder? 

I.M.: Reality is manifold and open-ended, the victim of disorientating blur, a sea in which we have been immersed since birth. Despite this we go about our daily lives engaged in operations of measurement, delimitation, definition, coordination and our ongoing relationship with things. This all feels like an immense effort which is forced upon us everyday, always measuring where we are, to understand where we might end up and others may begin. Perhaps this is human nature, to live in context, feeding ourselves via contamination, a continuous state of adaptation to new conditions. Even our thoughts, which appear to be so volatile and abstract, belong to place, and by belonging become concretised, they are not stable but dynamic forms, which move and it is this mobility, which constructs geometries and spatial architecture. I am fascinated by this dual nature of ours, of being both concrete and abstract, I find comfort in this inseparability which nullifies the distance between things, bringing them together and interpenetrating each other. This sharing of matter and particles confuses me; a word, which leaves our mouth, is embrangled with a breath we take in. We often talk about things we can’t see as though they don’t have body, but when things get serious they endure the forces of physics, it makes me think of the wind which surrounds us and whose presence can be revealed by a simple fist of sand thrown into the air. 

M.S.: The island where you live and its surrounding seas often infiltrate your work, tell us about your relationship with Sicily and Palermo?

I.M.: Sicily is the Island where I was born, my roots are here. It is an Island like myself, but also part of an archipelago. It’s earth made of from hard and pungent black rock destined to erode until it becomes dust, as I will do too. My relationship with Sicily is based on a natural identity, not only a cultural one. 

Ignazio Mortellaro: We are two abysses – a well staring at the sky“, curated by Agata Polizzi, is on view at Francesco Pantaleone gallery, Palermo until February 17, 2018

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