Interview with Marialuisa Tadei
Ever since culture has become separate from religion and has itself become a religion, it is none other than apostasy.
Thomas Mann, Doktor Faustus, 1947
No culture has appeared or developed except together with a religion.
T.S. Eliot, Notes towards the definition of culture, 1948
You made your debut as an artist in the late 1980s with works in wire that are sculptural but also lines endowed with great lightness at the same time. Why did you choose sculpture for your first autonomous artistic creations after studying at the academy and university?
Because I love synthesis and line. Wire was therefore an excellent vehicle for my ideas in that period. And then, I started out as a painter in the sense that I studied painting at the Bologna Academy of Fine Arts and had used signs and drawing as forms of expression ever since I was very little.
Which artists and masters do you feel closest to?
Giotto, Cimabue, Beato Angelico, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Simone Martini and Piero della Francesca, for the sense of the absolute they succeed in expressing and the spiritual quality of the faces they depict. I also feel close to Giorgio De Chirico, Max Ernst, Antoni Gaudí, Olafur Eliasson, Anish Kapoor and many others. I cannot name them all here for reasons of space but they are in any case artists in whose work the symbolic and spiritual element is present.
t is also true that “lightness” plays a crucial role in your art, as in Equilibri (1995-96) and La grande ciglia (The Big Eyelash, 1997), which is practically a Neo-Pop version of a Calder-type mobile as well as an installation at the same time, a work that entirely absorbs the viewer’s attention.
I seek to create a new version of space in my works. People usually feel astonishment in a re-shaped form of space. It is not something they really expect.
The act of looking also appears to be fundamental for you. The eye and then in particular the iris of your eye came to play the leading role in the Oculus Dei (1998-2008) series. Very strong symbolic importance attaches to the eye, not least as a primal representation of God. At the same time, however, it is not only the source of vision but also a gateway making it possible to get inside people and approach their world. What value do you attribute to it?
Sculpture and installation are forms of art that belong to the visual series and the eye is thus the organ enabling us to see the world and art. It was back at the time of the Academy around 1983-84 that I first became interested in the connections between microcosm and macrocosm, nature and the human body, as can be seen from my earliest prints and paintings. I then had a terrible accident in 1994 and spent a long time in hospital, an awful experience that did, however, introduce me to the fluorangiogram of my iris. I began to work on this image, rediscovering that the eye is like a small microcosm. This was how I started to work on the series of Oculus Dei, Divini Vultus (2000) and Intra me (2000), all works connected with the eye, including the huge glass cross entitled + (2000-2001).
In a certain sense, you then expanded these ideas and acquisitions and turned them into something different, an authentic macrocosm. It is these works that gave rise to the celestial bodies of Pianeti oculari (Ocular Planets, 2002)?
I am interested in the relations between astronomy and biology and the human body. It seemed natural to me to broaden this personal experience, which had become a cycle of works, and project it into the infinite.
I would locate your work in the post-conceptual sphere of the 1990s, where artists like Giovanni Rizzoli and Gianni Caravaggio sought not only a form of linguistic nomadism but also a focus on content dispelling the idea of art as ephemeral and assigning an important role to the artwork and the wonder aroused by its form. At the same time, I would describe your formal investigations as returning also to an intensity of artistic practice that once again involves fundamental values of Italian culture. Is this so?
I hope to be close in terms of working methods and choices to the artists of my generation and others who seek to give strength and depth to the artist’s role and the creation of works of art. I see art as a search for new languages and also as a way to relate mankind to God.
In your use of different techniques, you always seem to be seeking the right form and materials to express your concepts. Would you agree?
Yes, it is usually after an idea emerges that I look for the most suitable material to give it shape, but idea and material sometimes keep pace with one another, in the sense that I have often had to modify the form of the work slightly in relation to the characteristics of the material. My way of creating has no precise rules. An idea is usually born out of a meeting between my inner self and a stimulus from the outside world, out of what Donald Kuspit in speaking about my work calls the “ecstasy of vision”.
But the eye is perhaps also the organ directly connected to thought. Gathered together in a filing cabinet or left free to roam in space, your brains of bronze or steel are, however, symbols of a society that denies thought, steamrollers everything and eliminates personality and diversity.
This is why I put them in oil in a glass container, just as this materialistic society tries to do with us. False and superficial proposals are used to level us down and keep us under control, and those who do not fit into the framework become outcasts. The same thing happens in the art system, which is now made up of banal fashions. I chose to be an artist not only because I was born by the grace of God with particular gifts and sensitivity but also because it is a profession that leaves me free, and I will let nobody rob me of this freedom.
The use of mosaic and what we might call the “translation” of a work through different techniques strikes me as a truly unique aspect of your art. Are you looking for a language of your own in this way or a specific form of expression as well as total communication with the public at the same time?
I am interested in mosaic because of its similarity with electronic pixels, the small squares being practically a prediction of a future or rather present-day method of communicating meaning. It is a very ancient technique and emanates extraordinary light that changes with the time of day and night. It is a technique that constitutes a bridge between the age-old and the contemporary.
You have also devoted a great deal of energy to the theme of woman, not of course as an erotic presence but as an ideal of creation and progress. What is the meaning of Donna dal futuro (Woman from the Future, 2006-2009), the major public work you created last year?
The sculpture was erected at the entrance to the town of Coral Springs in Florida after I won an international competition for public art in the USA. It is a pregnant woman symbolizing motherhood and hence a work in praise of procreation. The life is the most complete and absolute creation I know and the imagination the vehicle of my sensibility above and beyond time and space. The essence of my work lies in its attempt to capture the invisible, its search for the signs of a world that is not manifest but fills me with nostalgic longing.
Do you believe there can be a harmony of religion and spirituality in contemporary society?
Yes, if every religion is based on love and mutual respect and not on interests of power disguised under the name of religion.
The work you are presenting at the 53rd Venice Biennale is entitled La Sapienza Creatrice (Creative Wisdom, 2006-2009). While this is a Biblical reference to wisdom in creation, I see it at the same time as suggesting a form of knowledge that also has an anthropological value and is capable of regarding everyone, both believers and non-believers. Is this so?
What comes to mind when I think of this work is chapter 8 of the Book of Proverbs, verses 22, 23, 30 and 31:
The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old.
I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began.
[…] Then I was the craftsman at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.
These words so true and so sublime are addressed to all people. To those who have known the love of God and those who have not. God loves us and it is for this reason that He has left us free, also to make mistakes. The greatest architect and artist is and will always be God alone. As His child, I do nothing other than seek out and follow His traces in this galaxy and in particular on the planet earth. Because of time issues, I will present a maquette of the work Creative Wisdom in Venice. The full-scale version is still being constructed, after which it will go to the Cass Sculpture Foundation in London. I will also present an installation at the Biennial entitled Passaggio alla luce (Into the Light, 2009), which refers to the transition of mankind from the earthly condition governed by time to the timelessness of Eternal Light. There will also be a work called Waterfall (2009) made of unravelling strands of dazzlingly coloured plastic, which continues my exploration of the aesthetically intense and complex.
The symbol of the cross is very important for you. Have you no fear in addressing forms so heavily laden with symbolic meaning and importance?
I hope that my art can help to bring people closer to God and to the dimension of the absolute and the infinite beyond space and time. We are living in a period of spiritual confusion. This planet is spiritually ill. It is therefore best to be clear in this particular social climate. The communications of the mass media are largely false and ambiguous, and the art system is also ruled by the influence of political power. At the same time, we Italian artists are heirs to a great tradition, and this gives us added strength because, in my view, it is only by studying tradition and taking it as a starting point that we can create new languages. Art is a way of putting us in contact with our unconscious. When I was seven I wanted to invent a machine capable of reproducing the images we dream during the night. And so I began to draw them and to paint, using coloured pencils from a very early age. I love freedom, love and true art, and so I follow my own path, even though it is far from easy at times. As regards love, I believe that the only path to follow is the path of Jesus Christ, who loved us the most of all, being ready to die on the cross in order to save the whole of mankind. Why can we not return this love?