Levia Gravia. An encounter

curated by Francesco Tedeschi

Fondazione Sabe per l’Arte Ravenna

from 15 April to 24 June 2023

Heavy things that appear to be or become light and light things that have a certain weight or “gravity.” This oxymoron, of Latin origin and Carduccian inspiration, is employed here to understand the work of two artists, Valerio Anceschi and Luca Scarabelli, both of whom have for some time been active within a scene in which they are still considered “young,” although they have decades of work behind them. They are presented side by side, even if, despite having crossed paths various times, they had probably never met (at least not knowingly) prior to this show. The word “things” deserves to be underscored here as it arises from the use of the neuter in the Latin title, and also in order to remove it from the passe-partout meaning with which we use it in common parlance. “Things” are not to be considered as subjects of an uncertain linguistic, objective definition; “things,” rather, should be understood in this case as they are in philosophy, that is, as physical presences that interrogate us; as “things,” especially in the way they materially define themselves in a sculptural realm, namely as elaborations or manufactured entities that distinguish themselves in and through their existence as objects.
In their status as works, Anceschi and Scarabelli’s creations bear meanings that hearken back to the history of modern sculpture from which they draw, though naturally with their own mark of originality. In particular, we can consider Anceschi’s way of working to be connected to a sculptural tradition that focused on the connection and welding of iron elements, recovered from unknown processes, according to centuries-old methods.
Rooted in the inventions of Julio Gonzales and then Picasso, in Paris between the wars, this tradition later enjoyed—especially in American sculpture of the postwar period, and therefore in a European lineage tied to the “informal”—a period of great expansion, with respect to which its many later elaborations inevitably confronted themselves. In a different sense, Scarabelli’s operations—which, for contingent reasons, but not only, are included here specifically in the sculptural realm, though this delimitation is a rather reductive one, considering his work’s complexity—follow from another, modern or modernist sculptural tradition, one that corresponds most immediately to the readymade and the objet trouvé, as well as what derives from these forms in terms of the relationship between object and meaning and the conceptual value this relationship entails. In his case, in fact, the “things” in question are translated “things,” in which their specific condition, their proposed juxtaposition, and their title constitute a single path, where the work, even in its physical form, is the outcome of a mental process. Considering this basic distinction, one could describe Anceschi’s way of understanding sculpture as primarily formal, while for Scarabelli a mental component perforce comes into play, albeit with aspects that can be defined lyrical, poetic, or “romantic.”
This gap, between an art form that is oriented toward formal values and one that is more oriented toward the conceptual—which, for at least one generation, has been a crucial split and has produced incommunicability between two different and distant ways of understanding not only sculpture, but the very idea of artwork as an artifact or as a linguistic exercise—has decreased over time, leaving new space and greater attention to individual qualities, to positions that do not oppose each other, but instead interpenetrate each other, against a horizon that, as always, absorbs paradigms into daily practice. For this reason they have not had, for some time, an aesthetic or critical value. One could, using critical language that has other elements of comparison, speak of the relationship between “form” and “image,” to indicate how Anceschi’s work, working primarily at the level of construction and formal realization, departs from self-sufficient principles to then define itself as an “image,” as a tool to solicit visual associations and figural suggestions.
On the other hand, the objects employed by Scarabelli, which immediately take shape at the level of the image as found objects of different origins, which we immediately recognize as such— random materials that are, often improperly, called “poor,” due to their state of extrapolation from the context of their use and of mental association, subordinated in their condition to certain stylistic factors, recognizable in the way Scarabelli reiterates the use of certain materials and forms—tend to reattain a formal status within a new condition of the object as a material that becomes fully inscribed within a constructive process of a “sculptural” nature. In this, even their participation in a tradition descending from Duchamp’s readymades is problematic, since originally that type of procedure rejected any stylistic connotation, defining itself through the individual, irreducible trait of each action defined as such, not comparable to a repetitive principle, except in successive formulation of multiples, opening up new interpretations for the genre and showing that the exception always becomes a model in one way or another.
This overcoming of barriers, the contamination of methods of elaboration, and the critical reading of different types of sculpture are part of a change that has occurred over time, especially within the generation of which Anceschi and Scarabelli are exponents.
Both Anceschi and Scarabelli, though separated in years by about a decade, in fact grew up in a climate (the 1980s and 1990s) that places itself beyond modernity, in which positions became more nuanced and less partisan. It was a period in which everything seemed to have already happened. In this sense, “postmodernity” can be understood as a moment following a phase of tension regarding “the new,” absorbed in the folds of everyday life. In different ways, both artists, participating in forms of poetics that were immediately translated into idea, action, and image, share a context that seems devoid of specific connotations and of boundaries within which to place a work determined by techniques, materials, or processes. An era in which, following the different ways the avant-gardes of the 1960s and 1970s led to the overcoming of specific connotations, the definition of sculptural language seemed to no longer have a raison d’etre, at least as a specific sphere of activity. Object, shape, body, space, image, and idea became interactive qualifications, combined differently in the fluid way of working of figures for whom the processes introduced by the art of previous decades were equally valid, against a horizon that came alive in relation to the intentions and sensibilities of each one. With this, it is not sufficient to say that everything has the same value or non-value, that there is total indifference to the sphere of forms and meanings, that one can operate with absolute levity and indifference. “Lightness” can in fact be an excellent companion in escaping prejudices, ideologies, and the most rigid positions, but it is not a sign of superficiality. Within a way of acting that is affected by a climate in which it is no longer necessary to recognize oneself as standing on a defined front, lightness (of ideas as well as “things”) at once contains the relationship with the gravity of thoughts, the way of feeling, the need to respond to a sense of emptiness with energy, severity, even radicality.
We can consider valid as the root of this condition what derives from that union that was so acutely interpreted by Italo Calvino in the encounter between the two “vocations” recognized as being proper to literature (and to art, one could say, by extension): “one tries to make language into a weightless element that hovers above things like a cloud or better, perhaps, the finest dust or, better still, a field of magnetic impulses. The other tries to give language the weight, density, and concreteness of things, bodies, and sensations” (Six Memos for the New Millennium, trans. Patrick Creagh). A union that can, in a certain sense, be recognized as characterizing the encounter between the works collected here.
In the work of Scarabelli and Anceschi, who have known each other well for a long time, the coexistence of lightness and gravity, therefore, is not merely an external datum, one concerning the way their creations take shape and consistency, but a basic attitude, in which the relationship is played out with the will to affirm, through the works, a way of feeling, a contact between play and reality, between comedy and tragedy, which passes through the threads of everyday life.
The works, arranged in the rooms of the exhibition hall as a dialogue for two voices, express what can today be considered the result of their respective personal journeys. The modalities of their artistic meeting on this occasion ensure that the combination between their respective languages takes place on a level of possible harmony, even on the basis of the marked differences that distinguish them.

Some external and immediate aspects reveal a relationship of continuity between the juxtaposed works, starting with their direct contact with the ground. In fact, none of the works presented is placed on a pedestal. This fact, which denies one of the characteristics that has distinguished sculpture over time as a form separated from reality, inserted in a physical, rather than visual, “frame,” contributes to reclaiming “gravity” in its perceived state of relationship with the ground, even when, as in Anceschi’s work levitating in the void, entitled Aeriforme, it seems to reveal a condition detached from it. At the same time, the more “horizontal” of the creations presented here, Scarabelli’s Passi sparsi, made up of an indefinite number of rolled-up black stockings, recalls the link with the ground as a place of journeys made without a complete awareness of their necessity. This, too, like many other creations by Scarabelli, is based on the observation from above of things placed on the ground, which almost occasionally fall under our gaze.
Another aspect that modifies the materiality of the creations is their being subjected to monochrome forms, a process that produces a kind of neutrality or neutralization of their visual and formal effect. Although characterized by different kinds and aims, these colors increase expressiveness, but also reduce the physical character of “things,” bearers of an autonomous connotation detaching them from the environment. In this way, the coloring thus constitutes a qualifying element, which makes them visual notes and gives them a strong individuality. In fact, each work has its own specific presence, it is a sign of a dialogue made up of counterpoints, one in which balances, asymmetries and materials respond to each other, in a path that seems to spring from a logic born from the casual correspondence of ways of feeling.
Beyond the external assonances, which are essential to measuring
the relationship that is established between the works of one and the other artist, it is necessary to mention the specific characteristics of the two figures, to specify the meaning of this encounter.
Scarabelli;s work springs from a great fecundity of motifs, which together denote a continuity of work carried out over more than thirty years. His is a poetics of small things, scattered fragments, which contain allusions, cross-references, imperceptible signs of an almost metaphysical character. His is a suspended time, where in silence some elements reveal their own discreet voice in which one recognizes some of the presences or ghosts that accompany the author as he moves through the territories of art and ideas. Images pass through his practice from which he draws secret or hidden forms, pieces casually removed from reality, but also evidence of the links he tends to weave with a community of real or imaginary figures populating his daily actions. In this sense, in addition to objects of a sculptural nature, the creation of collages, the elaboration of videos with a “happening” character, as well as the creation of artist books, derived from the activity carried out with the magazine Vegetali Ignoti in the 1990s and early 2000s, an activity shared in particular with Riccardo Paracchini, and again, more recently, the acoustic- sound-musical performances created with Michele Lombardelli

under the name of Untitled Noise (some of which are also reported in vinyl records), make Scarabelli’s profile that of an artist difficult to capture except in his complexity, of which the three-dimensional works, due to their immediate physical character, are perhaps the most complete synthesis. In these we also find the reason for a form of painting that hides from the eyes of those who would like to grasp its aesthetic quality, the negation of any effect that is too easy to place in the juxtaposition between Paesaggio morto, a profile inserted in an expansive monochrome, and Antilight, with the color black, which ideally replaces light, but also a certain irony in the material and conceptual references, as well as the sense of a disturbing interrogation of the present and its significance in the at times threatening combinations that can be identified in some of his works. These characters, even taken individually, for their specific aspect, must be understood as part of a world and a way of looking at things that feeds on disenchantment, yet with great passion, to employ another oxymoron.

Among the exhibited works, the magical balance of Hysteria, with the scissors that wound the wall, supporting a black marble egg, becoming an image of danger, of precariousness and at the same time of vitality, finds a strange form of correspondence in the black lava placed above a car tire (L’affanno del giorno domina la notte in una forma vuota), traces of what remains within the flow of things. The internal motion of objects, shapes, and thought becomes a questioning motif, arriving at the most enigmatic of the works presented, Immobile limite del contenente, almost a demonstration of a physics exercise put in place, where the black marble sphere precipitated inside a black felt constitutes an image of space crossed by matter that defines and perhaps generates it.
Each of these realizations thus becomes a moment of uninterrupted tension to translate the ideas that come from things into a possible accomplished proposition.
For his part, Anceschi has over the years cultivated with determination the refinement of a way of working that progressively distinguishes itself from fidelity to a procedure, to obtain independent results with respect to their origin. The starting point is the choice of a way of acting, with the assembly of ferrous materials, through which to deny the same heavy, cumbersome nature of the sculptural body through the creation of potentially mobile structures. Always characterized by irregularities that modify geometries, in the forms they aspire in many cases to an induced motion, which makes them alive, endowed with instantaneousness. This slight movement, which is in some cases made evident by the location of the work or by its nature as a slender skeleton based on the emptying of the material, constitutes the principle of the challenge that Anceschi poses to a decidedly manual, material technique. His works become at the same time places or characters, physiognomies traced on the wall or in the space in which their three-dimensional nature is denied by their being semblances of objects, reduced to signs in which the artist plays with the repetition, interruption, and configuration of physiognomies with familiar, somewhat surreal features, and other tricks that make the work once again a trace of a comparison between the process and its result. From Riarmo della parola, the title chosen for the most recent of the exhibited works, consisting of a shape that gathers around itself, delimiting a space that we observe from above, to the choice of placing the shape of Simmetria/asimmetria (2016) on a diagonal that makes it rise, to move on to the volume reduced to the essentials of Sauro (2008), and finally to arrive at the apparently defined division of Troncare (2021), where even the imperfections and imprecisions make the geometry alive and active, in all his works we find an internal tension, which leads the form to be the expression of an inevitable and, one might say, unstoppable vitality. Each of his works is thus configured as a finished thing and at the same time as a subject in the making, a moment of a state of transformation that touches things.
For him, too, the artistic work responds to a need for connection with the world of experience, where the perception of the obstacles and contradictions that accompany life emerges. This was the case, for example, in a series of creations, including pictorial ones, which accompanied the period of Covid and the isolation it produced, as well as other anxieties one may incur today, of which Riarmo della parola aims to be a positive sign.
For both, therefore, artistic action constitutes a way not only of responding to an inner need, but also a practice in which there is a need for a concrete personalization of the relationship with reality, not to be understood as a form of representation, but of concentration, freezing, “fission” of a moment in a path that includes, in that point and in that instant, the multiple directions in which it could unravel.
It can be expected that the encounter between their respective elaborations could contribute to the subsequent developments of their work; it would be a sign of the validity of the initiatives that an event such as the one proposed by the Sabe Foundation proposes, in bringing attention, in a way that is anything but “untimely,” to the forms of artistic activity that gather around that hard-to-define nucleus in which we recognize an idea of sculpture, in and beyond the critical considerations that have questioned its reasons, while keeping its results alive.

Francesco Tedeschi