UN’IDEA DI MARE. An International Exhibition of Sculptures Installations and Paintings - Venice/Venezia (Italy), 3rd June - 27th November 2011
UN’IDEA DI MARE
International Exhibition of Sculptures Installations and Paintings
Dialogs between art and science
6 interpretazioni libere
An idea by
Anna Caterina Bellati and Fabio Trincardi
Riva degli Schiavoni
3rd JUNE > 27th NOVEMBER 2011
from Tuesday to Sunday
10.30 > 6 p.m.
closed on Mondays
Anna Caterina Bellati
Fabio Trincardi • Director ISMAR CNR
Roberto Zonta • Responsabile SEDE ISMAR CNR Venezia
Stefano Bombardieri (Italy) sculptor
Monica Marioni (Italy) painter
Ugo Riva (Italy) sculptor
Marialuisa Tadei Italia) sculptor
Fulvia Zambon (USA) painter
Dania Zanotto (Italia) sculptor
Mario La Mesa
A stone in the lagoon waters
The dominant color is blue. A colour that throughout the history of art has had enormous significance and given many a sleepless night to both artists and philosophers: from creators of the Byzantine mosaic, to Antonello from Messina, from Picasso to Klein, from Plato to Kant, Usserl to Wittgenstein. A colour that is a veritable metaphor evident to us through the blue sky and sea. And it’s notably the sea and all its tones that occupy this particular exhibition, a theme which brings together the work of a range of scholars committed to the investigation of seas and oceans, problems and secrets, disasters and promises. Because we are born in water and it attracts us, but we understand little of what it is that this compelling marvel - the sea itself - represents. And even though we are regularly reminded that for decades we have been polluting and destroying it, ordinary people continue to regard it in a picture postcard sense, sent back casually from a holiday resort. Whereas the sea is so much more, and indeed represents an undiscovered continent. And this exhibition is an attempt to communicate to the general public a rather different vision of the sea. Through raising consciousness and knowledge, but also via wonder and potential. Because after all dreamers are forever straining to find that elusive island on which, one fine day, they might land. And with luck they’d like to discover it both luxuriant and sundrenched.
I considered it for a while. I had encountered the sea in stories my mother told me, having grown up with the memory of a sailor-father, he being unique in the whole of the province of Sondrio in the early years of the last century. It was clearly because of all those stories into which my mother entwined her own fantasy, that even though I was born in the mountains and my bones are practically fashioned from birch logs¸ the sea has always been a fascination to me.
Last Autumn, early one morning in Riva dei Sette Martiri in Venice, with a jewel of a light over the lagoon and San Giorgio immediately in front of me resembling a veritable nest of seagulls, I realised that the thrill of all this magnificent beauty deserved some form of exhibition.
A few days later at around the same hour and in the same area I was walking with one of my dogs in front of the headquarters of ISMAR CNR, a building inlaid with terracotta and with ample, lush gardens. I tried the bell but there was singularly no response. I tried again in the afternoon and this time they let me in. It was here and then that the notion of An Idea of the Sea was born, whilst taking my young hound for a walk at dawn.
When the following week I discussed the project with two very special people, Fabio Trincardi, Director of ISMAR and Roberto Zonta, directly responsible for the Venice Headquarters, they immediately saw the potential.
ISMAR conducts research in polar, oceanic and Mediterranean regions, focusing on the following themes the evolution of oceans, the influence of climate change, submarine habitats and ecology, and the increasing pollution of coastal and deep-sea environments, natural and anthropogenic factors impacting economically and socially on coastal systems from pre-history to the industrial epoch, and fisheries science.
To breathe life into the issues we are raising through an exhibition of sculptures, installations and paintings has by no means been easy. Any dialogue between fields of an art/science nature must first of all establish which arguments to take on, how to address them and make them accessible by way of an exhibition. Among the many artist friends with whom I’ve worked over the years, as I contemplated them on my regular strolls between Sant’Elena, Via Garibaldi and the Riva facing the Grand Canal, I identified six chosen for their daring, their flexibility and their imagination, all appropriate attributes for a work of this nature.
I therefore invited Stefano Bombardieri to cross the lagoon with his three colossal whales hung upside down. A striking work of extraordinary size and impact which depicts well the disgrace of man’s conviction of his supremacy on this planet, right up to the point until nature will yield no longer. Monica Marioni was happy to release one of her wholly blonde northern Nymphs, from within of the icy waters of the northern pole. The result is a marine installation which forms a splendid introduction for visitors to the ensuing exhibition.
To Ugo Riva, a classically-trained sculptor yet who you can rely on for reckless art forays too, I explained that ideally I’d like two sea gods created in a Hellenistic style to be exhibited amongst the other works, almost as if to give a blessing to the entire project. To Marialuisa Tadei in her poetic/religious vein I suggested that she create some enormous sea animals, and she responded immediately with her inimitable warm smile. Her contribution involves some extraordinary results in mosaic and astonishing drawings. Meanwhile friend Fulvia Zambon has brought her Carrozzine (baby carriages) to the seabed. Her often-wild mothers have turned into angelic sirens, and the babies, whilst still adopting the smiling human face have become transparent little fish swimming around happily. Finally I managed to convince Dania Zanotto to involve herself with things of the sea and its inhabitants and to incorporate the shamanic clothing that the Venetian artist weaves with her own hands, embroidering every tiny part. In this way the very preciosity of the deep comes calling within our own courtyard.
An exhibition focusing on the sea in order to remind a Public of differing ages and cultures of its enormous importance within our daily lives, and contrast its age-old presence within the context of man’s short history; and where better to start perhaps than with that most magical and legendary inhabitant of the deep waters, which has featured over many an era within literature - the whale. Stefano Bombardieri has chosen the courtyard of the Caserma Cornoldi in which to mount his enormous fibreglass installation, composed of three huge whales caught and hung upside down. Almost as if crucified on a thousand year-old Golgotha where the Human Race has sacrificed each and every breed of animal to his own sole advantage. The whales created by the sculptor from Brescia sum up all the rare qualities that over the centuries we have attributed to them. They appear monsters to battle with, personifying our fears of all things huge and unknown, recounting stories and tales etched into the collective memory. From those of a biblical nature, to that of Jonah or Pinocchio: from tales of Melville and the embattled Captain Ahab to those within the Physiologus, regarded as the first major book dedicated to the Natural World. But they also demonstrate the way in which over the years an aspect, a particular fringe of humanity has had such an anthropic impact on the planet that the survival of almost all living things has been endangered.
The young painter and performer from Vicenza Monica Marioni explores feelings and emotions of the individual composing them painstakingly in photo sets in which they take on an new life within an almost dreamlike scenario. For the exhibition Marioni is presenting an installation on the ground, photographic collage - Lambda printed on Dibond, which reconstruct the idea of a ‘water world’ within which female figures like nymphs glide effortlessly and inquisitively in the midst of objects, animals and unidentified minerals. Marioni’s probing introduces the idea of a voyage through the mind all along the bottom of the sea where you might encounter forests of algae and coral woodland, or indeed in a jungle occupied by azure-blue beings who tell of ghosts described in ancient legends and tales from Northern Europe.
There was a time when the gods had control of the Universe. Nothing was allowed to happen that they, the all-powerful, had not decreed. And men could only stand by and watch in terror the ensuing catastrophes. Tsunami and other overwhelming events could wipe out whole empires and cities in an instant. For some years now Ugo Riva has been sculpting figures plucked from mythology and history, epic tales and legends. His headless Angels and other hieratic figures resurrect the splendour of a time-honoured art dating back to that of the most ancient religions. In the courtyard of the Caserma Cornoldi the impassive gods created for the exhibition are returning the sea and its very physical nature back to a distant age, when the caprice of fortune coupled with the great courage of ancient heroes plotted the fate of Man himself. The very basis of the sculpture, produced using boxes may contain seashells, discoveries, wreckage which the sea has transformed into a depository in the form of collective memory.
The painter and performer from Rimini, Marialuisa Tadei has reconstructed a sea garden inhabited by magnificently coloured crustaceans and moluscs which in order to resist genetic mutation within the ecosystem are encrusted in a type of glittering mosaic produced in Murano and have also fortified their framework with fibreglass or wherever necessary with bronze. Some have taken refuge in transparent boxes where they swim in a protective oil, a type of amniotic fluid where they rebuild their lives and families. Marialuisa Tadei has, as ever, created fascinatingly soft and almost intangible scenarios, from gauze, feathers, lights and painted glass. Under the colonnade of the Caserma Cornoldi she’s constructed an installation which offers a beguiling vision of the seabed.
The American painter Fulvia Zambon takes up the challenge within this particular exhibition and adopts two themes she holds most dear, Save Domino and Baby carriages, employed here to afford some insight into the sea. It’s in this way that one of her feminine creatures, usually crying out against social injustice or the extreme boredom of our disenchanted world, this time tackles the problem of the pollution and the destruction of the oceans; whilst the distressing Baby carriages into which the artist generally places distorted babies deprived of arms or legs, or indeed the disturbing suggestion of missing babies not capable of being brought into the world, in An Idea of the Sea the prams will contain coral and seashells, algae and flowers from the seabed.
Hanging just under the porch vaults, three huge paintings indicate to any visitor that we are not simply talking about the sea.
Dania Zanotto’s shamatic garments saturated in things of a ‘profanely sacred’ nature piece together the history of mankind through their obsession with perpetuity. For this particular exhibition the performer from Treviso weaves material in sea-inspired colours making use of resins, glues, strands of wool, iron, copper, more seashells, broken piece of glass, stones, pebbles: objects all discovered along the beach; the end result is a bulky yet magical garment. It’s aiming to suggest a habitat unknown to man, whose knowledge of the sea is limited to the superficial and who knows little of the structure of its very life and challenges, the colours and sounds of an alien existence made up of subterranean lands and deserts. Dangling and waving in the porch and on the floor, shimmering in the shadow in their lightness - so painstakingly stitched together by the artist – are all the treasures uncovered along the shoreline.
The undertaking of these six artists form a mere starting point for further reflection. However, to sustain the subject matter and the ideas thrown up by the exhibition, we have the lagoon on our very doorstep. As is well-known when you throw a stone into water it produces a rippling effect, concentric and widening until it eventually disappears to the eye. And yet it’s quite possible that someone far, far away receives an intimation, perhaps one of Stefano’s whales whilst sailing the vast seas of the north.
Venice, April 2011
Anna Caterina Bellati
The sea: from myth to explanation to monitoring
Science and Art stem from a sense of wonder for all that exists and from the will to understand its origin or witness and celebrate its existence. Science and Art have therefore a common starting point of emotional nature. Also the sea, in all its ever changing aspects, offers inspiration to artists and provokes a desire of understanding to scientists. In the last few decades, however, the development of new technologies has sustained the dream of a new relation with the sea centred on the hope (or illusion?) of a thorough control. The desire of control seems justified by the evidence that the sea represents both the source of a huge amount of natural resources but also, and at the same time, a source of hazard. The activity of submarine volcanoes, faults and landslides can generate catastrophic events like tsunamis and pose a serious danger on coastal populations and on the multiplicity of infrastructures increasingly developed at sea.
Humans have long tried to foresee the behaviours of the sea and to escape from, or occasionally mitigate, its effects. For thousands of years the sea has been explored with fear, using coastal navigation, or crossed it boldly, using the sun and the stars for orientation. During this early time, several myths were elaborated - like that of Atlantis - that still accompany us today. By navigating the sea, the Vikings reached Greenland, Columbus discovered America - even if looking for India - and, just a century ago, humans reached Antarctica thanks to heroic expeditions that lasted for years. After a prolonged preparatory phase the scientific study of the seas has seen, starting in the XVI century, a transition to a modern scientific approach. During that phase, Ulisse Aldrovandi was able to classify fantastic animals that never existed along with species of fish, molluscs or corals described with the method and rigour of the modern scientist. In the same decades, Luigi Ferdinando Marsili formulated early hypotheses on the geology of the floor of the oceans and documented, with experiment of Galilean approach, the double-layer circulation between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea and fully explained the empirical observation of fishing nets pushed from stern toward the bow of the ship when dragged by the bottom currents. Through studies like these, the relation of humans with the sea was abandoning the mythological narrations to become acquainted with scientific explanations based on hypotheses that could be proved or confuted based on observations and experiments.
During the ‘20s, Alfred Wegener proposed the hypothesis of the continental drift, having observed that the geometry of the coasts of Africa and South America match each other almost perfectly indicating that the Atlantic ocean has grown after their rift and kept pushing them away by constructing slowly but steadily new oceanic crust in between. The hypothesis originally rejected and denied for decades, was eventually confirmed almost 50 years later, thanks to the recognition of magnetic properties of the oceanic crust (characterised by sub-parallel stripes of normally or inversely magnetized rocks disposed symmetrically with respect to mid-ocean ridges where the new crust is produced). These measurements, in reality, became available as a bycatch of the invention of magnetometers to be used during the cold war to detect enemy submarines.
We often say that Man, who conquered and “globalised” all the emergent portion of Planet Earth, knows better the surface of the Moon that the bottom of the seas. This fact is not only true but also worrying, particularly because several human activities have increasing impact on the bottom of the seas, the ocean water masses and the ecosystems in most cases in complete unawareness. In practice, human activities impact on a substantial portion of the planet that is yet virtually unknown. Pervasive trawl fishing is now common practice down to 1000 m of water depth, waste materials are thrown away, including ballast waters, hydrocarbons spills derived from illegal washing of oil tanks when not actual disasters from ship wrecking. Ordnance weapons and toxic industrial wastes exacerbate an already compromised situation. While the impact of human activities is readily visible on land (like in the case of rock queries that cut down entire mountains or gravel and sand mines dug in alluvial plains and often transformed in waste disposals), a similar impact on the floor of the oceans is increasing daily but is not seen and therefore not taken into account by policy and decision makers.
Forced by multiple human activities, the sea is undergoing major changes under many respects. Caused by the ever increasing concentration of CO2 and other “green-house” gasses in the atmosphere, sea-level is rising worldwide, the ocean water is warming and becoming more and therefore hostile to several living species we are acquainted with. The engineering of the coastal zone leads, very often, to a reduction of habitats and, consequently, their biodiversity. Furthermore, trash produces diffused littering of the sea floor, even at abyssal depths where we find cans, bottles, bags and paper cups, to say the least, when not toxic materials in containers or wrecked ships sunk on purpose. Man is incredibly unaware of all this impact, even if he is the direct cause of all.
Today, in the time of technique and velocity, new generations of students are prepared with increasing skills but ever more specialized. In the mean time, many of the agencies devoted to environmental management and protection try to tackle environmental problems adopting exclusively monitoring strategies. Monitoring means detect environmental parameters and keep track of their variations in time; this activity, in many cases, assumes a straightforward interpretation that does not require any critical thinking. It is worth noting that, beyond the un-doubtful practical advantage this approach limits drastically the opportunities of discussion on the data interpretation and denies the importance of the critical thinking that represented the very base of modern science as we have known it so far. In this phase, we produce new instrumentations, every day more sophisticated, and place them in the environment to monitor physical, chemical and biological parameters. The assumption is that these measurements are objective and readily interpretable, forgetting that any set of data requires an interpretation, in a cause-effect context characterised by complex interrelation mechanisms.
It is now necessary to go back to the original critical thinking, proper of modern Science, and to direct this thinking in all directions, including the very assumptions at the base of any scientific activity. This is a big effort. If we thought that this effort could be avoided, reducing Science just to a routine monitoring of environmental parameters, we would end up favouring the growth of new myths, like the convincement of controlling Nature in all its aspects. On the contrary, it is necessary to direct our view to the origin of modern Science that is, in essence, the ability to rising questions well before the ability to measure and observe. The dialogue with Arts can guide us in this direction bringing about the sense of wonder and showing us again the way towards an authentic wondering and questioning. Un’Idea di Mare is a stimulating contribution in this irection.
Director ISMAR CNR