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by Rahul KumarPublished on : Feb 25, 2023
I can vouch, as a ceramist, that accidents in the studio play a far greater role in developing ideas than intentional gestures. Take for instance, 'Aventurine' that refers to both an ancient mineral and a mysterious process. It is believed that in the early 17th century, a glass worker in the Venetian-island of Murano, mistakenly dropped copper filings into a liquid glass mixture. This 'accident' created a fascinating new substance—the contents of which resembled a multitude of tiny glistening stars. Over time, artisans repeated the glass worker’s process, giving birth to the now-renowned glass-making technique, avventurina. Exploring this fascinating material, visual artist Lorenzo Vitturi delves into the histories and making-processes of aventurine. The Italian artist employs the mineral physically as an object, and metaphorically as a token that connects seemingly diverging cultures and geographies.
STIR speaks with Vitturi on his recently concluded show with Nature Morte in New Delhi, India, for which he fused the rug-making artisanal traditions of Peru with a three-year-long collaboration with artisans from the Jaipur Rug Foundation.
Rahul Kumar: What is the genesis of your discovery of the unique technique called avventurina? How do you layer your works with the metaphors of history, cultures and geographies?
Lorenzo Vitturi: My relationship with aventurine started in my childhood. My mother used to have a collection of Murano glass eggs and my favourite piece was a crystal egg with a fragment of aventurine suspended inside. I remember spending hours just staring at the magical reflections of the aventurine without knowing the mystery behind it. I had to wait until 2018, when I started Caminantes, a multidisciplinary project that explores my mixed heritage conducted between Venice and Peru. The research for the project brought me back to Murano where my father used to have a glass factory, and I rediscovered all the stories behind the materials. Among the several techniques developed in centuries of glass production, aventurine stands out for its uniqueness and beauty. The name means 'little adventure' and depicts the difficulties of the fabrication process and tells us how the final result can never be taken for granted. In this case, my connection with the material is deeply involved with my personal history. Just as my father brought fragments of aventurine to Peru, 50 years later I found myself retracing the same journey.
In my animistic approach towards the elements, I see beyond their material presence and reveal their symbolic potential. Through the process of transforming it while travelling, I gave the material a different meaning: while employing aventurine in my artworks for its interesting physical aspects, the glass became a travel companion and a central tool in a personal ritual that helped me explore my mixed heritage.
In the exhibition at Nature Morte, the aventurine becomes a bridge to link distant and apparently disconnected places: Jaipur and Venice. During the research for Caminantes, I randomly found out that in Jaipur there is a cave of aventurine, the mineral which takes its name from the glass, because of its similar appearance. Most green aventurine comes from India, where it is employed by prolific artisans near Mysore and Chennai. Its mutable nature and healing properties make it a remarkable substance and a ‘material agent’ that carries connections between worlds.
Rahul: You present photographic images of aventurine stone and yet create monumental sculptures that reference a microscopic image of it. One cannot help but observe dichotomies at play—the monumentality of a microscopic image, reference of stone, and the usage of threads. Could you talk about these juxtapositions in your works?
Lorenzo: I look for matric contradictions. I am interested in juxtaposing materials and elements of different natures, coming from different geographies. In doing this, I believe I get closer to one of my mantras—nothing is pure, everything is porous, meaning that every culture is the product of a previous encounter. Both in photographic and sculptural works, the subject is not only aventurine but a promiscuous mix of a wide range of materials and objects, like—ceramics, photos taken during my journey in Peru, architectural details of Venetian palaces, Cotisso (raw glass), vegetables, ordinary objects. All these different elements are connected to either Peru or Venice and I simultaneously use the mediums of sculpture and photography as a poetic space to create an anatomical connection between them. Conceptually, my work refuses a dichotomous approach. I am interested in telling stories that reflect the complexity of different cultures merging and my hybrid bodies want to reveal multi-layered meanings. This conceptual position is reflected on a formal level, where I apply a fractal order to the artwork's final composition—the same organic pattern is used recursively in different scales and positions, from the micro to the macro. And in this seemingly chaotic process, the pattern is transformed.
Rahul: Your attempts at creating large abstract sculptures seem carefully thought out, bringing forward evocative qualities through colours and textures. What parts are carefully calculated and what remains organic in the making of the sculptures? While you evade meaning making, what do you desire from your audience as they experience these works?
Lorenzo: I would not define them as abstract art sculptures. Their appearance is transcendental but each form, each texture, each shadow or trace belongs to a fragment of an existing object and place. The work becomes a hybrid body where all these fragments meet.
In the design and realisation phases, I always try to find a balance between calculated actions and more intuitive gestures. Only by finding harmony between these two opposite dimensions, the instinctive and the deliberate, I can reach the intensity I seek. The calculated actions are a sort of structure, a launch pad that allows my hands to let go of the intuitive drive without the control and limits of the rational mind.
My creations are always sustained by a fragile balance, it seems that they are always ready to fall and collapse and this is true both for their aesthetic and for their substance. They are the formal representation of stories of transformation and metamorphosis of colliding worlds and, for that, they carry an inherent instability.
In order to deeply connect to these stories and translate them on a physical level, I developed a process which is sensitive to fortunate events and to the power of chance. On a more practical level, this means that I am ready to accept and use all the unexpected that can happen during the production process. This is especially true in collaborative projects, where different minds and hands are participating for the purpose.
My artworks contain multiple strata and can be approached with different intentions—they can be experienced aesthetically, by facing their formal presence, emotionally, by listening to the dialogue between colours and shapes, and they can also be experienced more conceptually delving into the stories I tell. Every viewer is a different world and each of these worlds contains multitudes. The great revelation of visual art is its ability to stimulate and connect all of our complexities by the means of the universal alphabet of colours and shapes.
Rahul: Further, there is a wide spectrum of references in your works. Murano fused-glass and Indian rugs; rococo laces of Spanish colonial furniture and architecture of Venetian palaces; telluric powder from the ferrous earth of the Valle Sagrado and working with artisans in Jaipur. How are these varied themes merging in your recent solo presentation?
Lorenzo: The process that led to the creation of this corpus of works can be summarised in three phases. The first phase is one of research and photographic documentation of objects and places that are meaningful to my personal history. I then reduced these images to graphic silhouettes, creating stratifications in which the single element loses its recognisability.
In the studio I then manually retraced the outlines of these new compositions and added colour and textures, always using the photographic material as a source. At this stage, the elements start showing their intention of being a map of my emotional journey.
In the second phase, the moment of dialogue with the weavers began. Different weaving techniques have been assigned to each layer, level, and element of the composition, trying to mix all the technical wisdom and skills of the weavers in one single piece. In addition, to explore the sculptural potential of the tapestry, I combined low and high pile areas, thus creating an alternation in length, creating a sort of relief.
The third phase, in which the works finally took their final form, was carried out in Jaipur and New Delhi, where I sculpted the tapestries by removing and cutting the excess material and completed them by adding materials from my Venetian studio.
In this phase, the dialogue was between different materials, the shapes of the objects found during my nomadic travels interacted with the glass elements made in the Murano furnaces and with scraps of Peruvian fabric. The element of aventurine was of crucial importance as it allowed me to intertwine the geographies and histories of Venice and India.
In this promiscuity of materials and narratives, the works took their final form.
Rahul: What’s NEXT? How do you anticipate taking your practice forward?
Lorenzo: Right now, I am in Murano, where I have based my studio in the heart of the glass-making production area. I am completing the Caminantes project, which I have been working on for five years now. I am working on a publication and an itinerant project that will bring Caminantes back to the places where the research was carried out, through sharing events with the Andean and Venetian communities.
The material collected in oral, written and visual forms will be shared through the presentation of temporary exhibitions, public art installations and a production of sound design realised in the workplaces of both communities: the kilns, weaving centres and craft workshops. Finally, I will present the art installations in art museums and foundations between Italy, Peru and the UK.
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