Interview: Gianmarco Donaggio
Written by Liv Fallberg
Photos by Norunn Marie Nese
Perfection is not what Gianmarco Donaggio is aiming for in his current exhibitions called Spazio at Gallery Neuf. Usually working with film, the Italian artist now wanted to explore perception and the meaning of emptiness in making his sculptures.
The walls of the gallery are covered in black fabric, the lighting is dimmed, and six white sculptures seemingly float in the air. Hanging from invisible fish-lines, illuminated from above, the sculptures present various cubical forms. One cube is whole, the others miss a side, a corner - containing only the bare necessity for them to still be called a cube. What they all have in common, is a game of perception and space.
Donaggio was inspired by the book Le regole dell’infinito by Giacovazzi when he started working with space. “At the limits of Absence lies the Essence,” it says. Like in the book, Donaggio want us to focus on what is not there, more than what is there. When you start to take notice of what is not there, as much as what is there, the way you live your life will change, explains Donaggio. You are here and now.
– Can you tell me about the title of the exhibition – Spazio?
- I like the etymology of the word itself. Spazio meaning a tension towards something or somewhere. That is amazing, because into the meaning of the word, I found my work. The word itself is really simple – Spazio – it’s space. The work is about communicating. It is not about the object, as much as the space, what is not there. Space creates this whole extension of the mind, where it operates by filling in the gaps.
– You mentioned that you were inspired by phenomenology in the Artist Talk you held at Gallery Neuf. In relation to this, what are your thoughts behind the sculptures you are exhibiting at the gallery?
- That is interesting. I started working with space – and life is a lot about chances – somehow I started reading about Husserl. Even though I knew about him, I never went through his works properly. And I realised that this is really connected to my work. I sort of found the soul, that glued together the layer that’s behind the surface of my experiment. It is the experience between the subject and the object that’s the focus of this philosophy, and that’s the focus in my work. It is not the work itself, but the experience that happens. So that’s the first real connection between my works and phenomenology as such.
One other cool thing about Husserl’s work is that basically it says that if you have a chair, let’s say, what happens is that you can break it into pieces, but there is going be a limit to how much you can break it, and still understand that it is a chair. So there is a limit, and I use that with my cubes. How far can I deconstruct the cube, and still let people understand that it is a cube?
– Can you tell me about your decision to use chalk in your sculptures?
- Using chalk has not been a conscious decision from the beginning. It came to me as a revelation. I needed to find a material that could express my work in the work, because this is really conceptual art. The artist’s work - the actual labour, the process of making - is as important as the process of the experience. To do that I needed to find a way to make something so perfect as a cube, and transform it into an organic process in making the art. I’ve been through a lot of experiments. I tried wood, iron and plastic, but I wasn’t happy with the result. When you have such a perfect form (a cube) and you make it with a machine, all of a sudden it becomes too perfect. And I was looking for imperfection.
I created a structure with wire and plastic that was stable. And over that, I started with the chalk. So that is the soul of the sculpture itself, the imperfection of the chalk is only the surface. There is a kind of bone underneath, which is holding it together. Chalk was an extremely difficult material to work with, especially with such a precise surface. You really need to craft it, and then it’s going to change. Every time you move it, it changes. Because of the chalk, you can never replicate the works. Even if I had tried to make two exactly alike, it would have come out different. So the sculptures came to life through my mistakes, and the making of the cubes became a meditative process itself.
– So the characteristics of the chalk are an important factor in these sculptures.
- The sculptures haven’t been painted, I left the bare chalk. You can touch it and still get white on your fingers. They are able to decompose in a way, by themselves, because I didn’t put any treatment or glue, nothing on top of the chalk. When you look at it from up-close, you can see some scratches and some imperfections. You can see the texture, and it gives the cubes a bone-looking structure. That was a surprise, when that happened.
– And also it is time consuming?
- It is extremely time consuming. And that is why it is a meditative process. The last cube I managed to make in 3-4 days, before that it could take a week. It is a learning process, and I challenged myself in an activity I don’t usually do. The whole process was a growing process for me, I was learning. That was really part of the reason I chose chalk over metal, or wood.
– Can you elaborate on what you mean with ‘emptiness’ in your sculptures?
- It has to do with searching for the void. When you walk in the street, there are different ways of seeing life. One is taking it for granted that things are happening, and the other one is more like: ok, this is actually here, this is actually what I see, as a person. It matters that I actually look. I want the viewer to find this consciousness about what is actually around you. The exhibition is about the emptiness, or by taking something out of what is there. Like now we’re sitting in a bar. If I were to make a hole into one of the tables, my brain would focus on the hole, and the table, instead of taking it for granted. My sculptures have been a medium to express this sort of consciousness, to ask the others to decide upon a better life. In order to look at the hole, to look at the table. In what is not there, you find the essence. By putting emptiness into an object, you find the object itself. It is about what is not there, and not what is there. That is the connection with emptiness.
– Do you think your background from Italy influences your art? Or the fact that you have moved to Norway?
- Absolutely, my background from Italy influences my art, at least my approach. It has a lot to do with my education I think. I studied in an art institution when I was really young. That education shaped my identity, because by being in that sort of creative field when you are so young, you learn really quickly that you cannot copy from your classmates. In art you don’t simply copy, it is not the same as having a test in math, where you can copy the answer. You have to create something that comes out of yourself. I think that influence my life today a lot.
The fact that I am living in Norway, abroad, also influences my art, because when I was in Italy I couldn’t really process a lot of the things I learnt. By being in Norway, I started looking at myself from the outside. I realised what I am by leaving what I was in Italy, by looking at myself from afar.
– You are used to making films and doing photography in your work. Why did you want to make sculptures this time?
The sculptures I make now are about communicating something. And that’s what connects them to film, because film is communication. You can really inspire people with film. For me the real aim is to give people an experience, to communicate. If I could do that with film, pictures, painting - it would be the same. It’s not about the aesthetic of something, or to master a craft. It’s about thinking, and communicating.
– Do you think you will make more sculptures in the future?
Well, I hope so. But more than sculptures, I’m interested in installation. I see this exhibition now at Chateau Neuf, as a place to go and experience something. You have to take a conscious decision to come here, because you want to see the exhibition, instead of me trying to reach out for you. It is a decision that comes from the audience. I think my future work also will be based on something material, like sculptures, but have a lot to do with the space. It is the context that matters, not the objects. I want to give an experience.