Curated by Marta Santacatterina in collaboration with the Chinese and Ethnographic Museum of Art
6. April – 19. May 2019
By guest author Clare Ann Matz
The Chinese and Ethnographic Museum of Art in Parma has opened its doors to the exhibition „La stratégie du camouflage“ by the artist Aqua Aura in occasion of the „PARMA 360 Festival of Contemporary Creativity“.
The museum itself is a wonderful space, brainchild of the Bishop of Parma, Guido Maria Conforti, the museum testifies the attention toward various cultures on behalf of the Xaverian priests who collected various Chinese artworks and objects made of ivory, wood, stone, jade; and a whole range of heterogeneous ethnographical material: prints, shoes, stamps, jewelry, ornaments, screens, everyday objects, etc. from all around the world.
The contemporary works of Aqua Aura, which include photographs and sculptures, as well as a huge video installation, establish a profound dialogue with the millenary memories of these distant civilizations and highlight the longevity included in natural, artistic and cultural expressions.
Emblematic in this sense is the video installation „Millennial Tears“, which opens with the immense scenarios of the Arctic glaciers, so essential for the planet Earth, and with their sounds, to then narrow the visual field from the infinitely large to the infinitely small, with drops of human tears seen through a microscope.
In the words of the artist Aqua Aura: An interview with Clare Ann Matz.
Clare: You work with video, photography, sculpture, do you find that, although multimedia art has existed for a long time (see Leonardo Da Vinci), the art world distrusts those who easily move from one specialization to another? Almost as if creative artists who work on multiple medias cannot be easily defined?
A.A.: I believe you went to the mark with this question. In fact, there is a mistrust in this sense, coming from large layers of the „art system“. It seems that the difficulty of defining and boxing a multi-language falls on a part of the system’s processes; first of all the marketing of the works and the recognition of the „brand-artist“. Although, I have the impression, the problem is felt especially in Italy, in other countries it has less weight. It is as if the „public of buyers“ and of certain insiders need a formula with which to pigeonhole and archive the product of an artist to make it more vehicular, in a sort of prêt-à-porter object that allows to bypass quickly the effort of studying and deepening his demands. The dilemma of „style“ is still rampant, it seems, in this third millennium. I, on the other hand, am convinced that style is now a secondary problem.
In my personal conception the work of art is the ultimate term, the synthetic reduction of a complex set of cues, intentions, arguments and goals, sometimes far from each other, that find their conclusion only after a tiring process of drying and filing find their space in the conclusion of the finished work. The advantage of art, in my opinion, is to keep in the small space of its manifestation and among the few selected „signs“ from which it is composed, the infinite variety of its „reasons“, in a sort of universality forced into its limitedness of object or in the banality of its aesthetic manifestation.
If it wants to be recognized as a sign of the contemporary, the work must be the mirror of the thought of its time. That peculiar form of thought that made it, in itself, possible; that put it, in some way, to the world.
Sociology defines our time as the era of COMPLEXITY. Every form of expression, every action, every form of relationship the time in which we live is interwoven, intertwined, they almost never seem univocal, unidirectional. On the contrary, they seem to be born of a series of purposes, of impulses, of needs that are different from each other, often in contrast in a sort of reciprocal negation, subjected to a centripetal-centrifugal force. The result is a set of dissonant tones of a non-linear reality.
Clare: How much does a fascination towards alchemy affect your artistic research? I seem to see a passage from the Nigredo of the first works and „The Hidden Project“, to the Rubedo in „The Purple Resonance“, to the Albedo in „Millennial Tears“.
A.A.: I am amazed (laughs, ed.), impressed and fascinated by this form of reading. It is the first time that someone mentions the alchemical stages to describe the relationships between my works (laughs, ed.).
In the past, in my courses of study, I met and deepened the theme of alchemy and its relations with artistic production … even during the preparation of my degree thesis on Anselm Kiefer. But believe me, there is no intentionality of alchemical transfiguration in my various productions and in the passage from one work to another. If this is visible to your eyes, well … it is possible that it is the expression of a form of my hidden and deep thoughts, belonging more to my subconscious than to the „waking“ processes, and on which I have no faculty of lucid government.
„The Gift“ presents in gleaming cases enclosed by ribbons of tulle one of the greatest dangers that threaten human life: mad, crazy cells – disguised by a bewitching appearance – with which, directly or indirectly, almost everyone in the world must deal with either defeating them or facing their fatal outcome.
Clare: The fascination of science and illness. Your work „The Gift“ packs like a gift of pop virus sculptures, as if the disease were a gift. Why, where does this idea come from and how should the viewer interpret it?
A.A.: I have to go back to the past, to my studies at the Academy. I remember one of my teachers told me – „In an opera it is important to know where to stop in order not to invade the observer’s space. An art work, of whatever type it may be, moves on a feeble boundary between the intentions of the artist and the journey the viewer must make; it must unite your personal reasons together in a harmonious relationship with meanings that are as universal as possible. It is important that you manage to find that small space in which your work is no longer irrelevant or sterile, but neither intrusive, to the point of removing the possibility for the public to move in multiple directions. When you have found this virtuous point the work will be finished „.
Here, with regard to „The Gift“ my personal reasons were born following the death of a dear friend of mine. After almost a year of decay and agony, a bone cancer turned her off. Following that experience I realized that the disease, in its various forms, had been touching me for years. It affected loved ones, friends and relatives, and enveloped me like an invisible cloak but I felt all the consequences. Along with this awareness, I began to realize that all around me, confronting and listening to the stories of others, a population of „touched“ or even survivors moved around. Other people like me who lived or had lived the same experience as me, sometimes silently, in the company of death that consumes, so much as to take on the appearance of a real person, as if it were another member of the group. I had found that experience truly „universal“.
A sort of common language that modifies the relationships with things and the gaze on existence. At one point I thought I wanted to build a „monument“ to this dark and cursed gift, that you are not looking for … only that sometimes it happens to you. Existence leaves you this strange „package“ outside your front door, to start a journey you would not have wanted to make. Of these stories, mine and those of others, I was struck by the power with which they drag you into a dangerous form of „Sublime“. A sensory condition that terrifies but that fascinates like the aesthetics of a shipwreck seen from the shore. Within this territory you live a form of individual transcendence and uselessness. You meet something that transcends your own actions, your saying, your fussing around. It makes them useless and inappropriate.
Since then I have begun to collect and catalog images of cancer cells of various shapes and origins. I wanted to go to the lowest denominator of the experience, enter its infinitely small and represent that „unicum“ from which it all originates. One thing, a creature that, however small, contains in its form all the storm that will come, and I wanted to make it available to the eyes of others. I chose 5 of these archived entities. I set up vector mathematics and had it made by a computer in 3D sculpture or in 5-axis computerized prototyping. Once they became three-dimensional objects, I had them painted, choosing specific chromatic ranges used by car manufacturers. I wanted these objects to be distant from any subjectivity. I wanted them inhuman.
It was important that the public perceive this peculiarity at first glance. In the end I put them in museum display cases to turn them into objects of contemplation: dedicated only to the eye. They are nothing but what they are … enigmatic and foreign objects. I like that the work doesn’t immediately show up. At the beginning, unless you are an oncologist, the sculptures seem irrelevant, playfully aesthetic and seemingly useless. They can be exchanged for marine concretions or for deep sea creatures. Only after having revealed the nature of their origin does the public’s attitude change. At that point I stop. Up until that point I only staged the smallest and most concentrated point of a drama. The stories that are told later do not belong to me anymore. Each viewer has his own story to tell in front of the work, the fruit of his peculiar experience and his own personal history. If, on the other hand, he has never been touched by these events, work remains what it seems: a set of useless and vividly aesthetic objects.
The incessant metamorphosis of life finds its aesthetic manifestation in the two new series „Sweet November“ and „Carnal Still Life“, in which the digital elaborations of photographic images combine the environment of nature and typically urban objects with microscopic enlargements of cells, human tissues, viruses and parasites, in order to restore both the complexity of organisms and of the environment in which man lives beyond the complexity of contemporary artistic reflection.
Clare: The „Sweet November“ series is an explosion of pop colors that attracts the eye only to then reveal a juxtaposition of micro / macro; junk / nature. It is very far from the meager ambiguous decay of your first works, how did you get there?
A.A.: To answer, I feel compelled to correct the premises implicit in your question. My work, as it appears today, has been like this since its inception. Actually, at the beginning of my journey, I had already decided to move in at least 3 different directions in terms of aesthetics and the languages that are the consequence. The fact that only recently these 3 directions have reached maturity and can be distinguished in all their differences is due only to the „incidents of the journey“ or to the external stimuli that led me, for certain periods, to deepen some images more and others less. All the works you have had the opportunity to observe are the product of that distant choice, whether it is „Sweet November“ or of the bare and almost monochrome landscapes.
Between 2009 and 2011 I stood in the mirror and I saw myself as a western artist of the late age of capitalism, shaped by the infinite layers of images that preceded it, those of the history of art. Their presence in my mind was almost physical. So I decided to become a „traditional“ artist. In particular I chose the 3 genres that, for the most part, constituted the history of art of the old continent – Portrait, Landscape and Still Life. This was my field of action. Imposing these narrow perimeters, I built a discipline that allowed me to shape a „portrait of the world“ through a new hyper-realism, which is the ultimate goal of all my work. The use of technological and sculptural languages, the use of video for example, are only natural consequences when the perimeter of a two-dimensional rectangle is no longer enough to make each of those fields of action evolve.
Although in many ways I have been defined as a multimedia artist, attentive to the contemporary, the path I have taken in the construction of my work is entirely focused on the history of images: in art, cinema and photography. Thus, together with the road that forges the „neo-Romantic“ and aseptic images of the landscapes, which first came to light, there is a parallel attention to Rubens‘ pictorial exuberance, in a sort of hyper-Baroque visual narration which, perhaps, offends the all-contemporary predilection for a drying and emptiness of the image.
Clare: Why „La strategies du camouflage“? What does this title mean with respect to the exhibition? Why in French?
„The strategies du camouflage“ has nothing to do with any of the themes that the exhibition conveys. It does not refer to works in their specificity but, rather, to the strategy that the works themselves assume when they enter into relation with the space that hosts them; especially when, as in this case, the place is full of other images, objects and another story. Depositing an exhibition of contemporary art in a museum designed for other forms of expression is a very delicate operation. The feeling that your intervention is irrelevant within such a place always accompanies you. The works, then, begin to take on the typical behavior of an animal with mimetic abilities, They adapt to the environment, they choose the angle in which to lie and enter into relationship with the context. They camouflage themselves as a new „sign“ between pre-existing signs.
The „Strategie du camouflage“ is a tribute to the arduous art of making sense of the signs of our contemporary life within the flow of history. The individual works, on the other hand, can tell a thousand other stories.
In French because, from time to time, I like to remember that Aqua Aura is an obsession that appeared to me in Belgium, for the first time, several years ago. That obsession spoke French.
The artist’s page: www.aquaaura.it
If you can’t make it to Italy to view this exhibit you might catch the artist’s solo exhibition AQUA AURA Landscape Flowers and Guts at the Galleria Kajaste in Helsinki (Finland) opening the 15 May 2019 or at the VOLTA ART FAIR in Basel (Switzerland) – Stand: Luisa Catucci Gallery – Berlin from 10. – 15. June 2019.
Photo Credits: Aqua Aura