If contemporary art is the mirror of our time, the image we see in the reflection is anything but reassuring. Because we live in a precarious era, where footholds are few and uncertainties lurk in every corner. It is difficult for installations, sculptures, paintings and performances to express this constant state of tension: political, social, financial and, of course, internal. The risk of falling into the maelstrom of banality is always just around the corner. Yet, there is an artist who has made this tension, this constant awareness of impending doom, the central nucleus of his work. Arcangelo Sassolino was born in 1967 in Montecchio Maggiore, a small town in the heart of the province of Vicenza, and has been creating sculptures and installations that investigate the physical properties of force for over twenty years. Kinetic sculptures where materials are pushed beyond their physical limits to examine the harrowing and destructive consequences of contemporary society. Constant tension, pushed to its furthest limit, but permeated by a powerful aesthetic component, as though to render the anguish even more lyrical. Few artists today are able to communicate so concisely these precarious times of ours, defined by wars, social tensions and pandemics.
Germano D’Acquisto: Almost everything in your art plays on the theme of tension. Physics and chemistry as well as politics and morality. How do you talk about the war in Ukraine or the assault on Capitol Hill through your installations?
Arcangelo Sassolino: I like to think of the artist as a sort of filter of their own time. A psychic filter that captures the moods of society. A broad aesthetic. I have always viewed art history as a logbook in which artists interpret and transform the present through images and forms. However, I don’t think we can make a direct, rational connection between the conflicts of our age and my work. Rather, I would say that it is a relationship that occurs more by osmosis, following a moment of enlightenment, almost.
G.D’A.: Speaking of the unconscious, your work often stimulates almost ancestral emotional states in the audience, as though you wanted to exorcise themes such as fear, anxiety and expectation. Is that the case?
A.S.: Yes, that’s right. For some strange reason, my art always manifests itself this way. I work by synthesis. I tend to constantly move towards the origin of things. It is as though I were seeking that very first link in the chain, a kind of primary truth. With my installations, I produce actions that seek contact with the hidden realities. Falls, breakages, fusion, explosions, impossible speeds: Sometimes, looking inside can be a far from peaceful experience. But, art does not necessarily have to be consolatory.
G.D’A.: In your opinion, do we live in the best of all possible worlds?
A.S.: We live in a world that is complex to decipher and navigate, and which could definitely be improved. But complaining, recriminating or feeling sorry for yourself is meaningless. I would rather distinguish between lament and anger. The former is always passive and produces nothing, whereas the latter is essential.
G.D’A.: Which tension scares you the most in the contemporary world?
A.S.: The causes scare me more than any tension itself. The abysmal levels of ignorance, the widespread diffusion of fake and unverified news aimed at fomenting resentment among the people. Not to mention the maniacal narcissistic egos, especially of certain male figures, and a total absence of imagination. All evils that are difficult to eradicate and fight.
G.D’A.: Heraclitus, who you have often quoted during your career, said that “war is the father of all things.” What is conflict?
A.S.: Unfortunately, conflict leaves behind it only a trail of disaster. War is like a thermometer that for millennia has revealed the extent to which humanity, when seen from afar, is still fully immersed in a primordial soup. It is an uncontrollable atavistic regurgitation planted inside humanity that is vomited out in shock waves that from time to time overcome populations or entire continents. It’s all so stupid, yet it just loops over and over and over again. War unequivocally represents our total inability to manage conflicts as physiological elements of our lives. It is often precisely the oblivion of the conflict that produces the greatest horrors. I was never interested in conflict as such. Instead, I attempt to bring out the fragility present in every reality, in every matter. I try to highlight the concrete action that occurs between one thing that imposes a force and another that is subjected to and resists it. From this phenomenon arise situations of suspension, conditions of danger and instability, dynamics that necessarily open up to the possibility of failure. All inescapable conditions of existence.
G.D’A.: Is there a difference between the conflicts of the past and those of today?
A.S.: Hard to say. I often ask myself whether there is a difference between being pierced by an arrow and pierced by a bullet. However, I can say without any fear of contradiction that in the past, there was no war that ever had destruction not only of the enemy but of the entire world as a plausible outcome. Today, there is.
G.D’A.: And how does this inspire your work?
A.S.: It constantly drives it. We live in an age where we are interconnected thanks to billions of invisible waves travelling at the speed of light. The world seems to be immersed in this imperceptible, intangible, yet ultra-rapid network. I cannot disregard all this. I cannot be unaffected by it. That is why I try to implement my research with new technologies, supersonic speeds, magnetic fields, vibrations, induction systems and fluids.
G.D’A.: You once said: “The sculptures I produce always depict some kind of failure.” Why is it so important to fail?
A.S.: Because it is life itself that is destined to fail. Just think of how our bodies evolve – there almost seems to be an inescapable countdown built into them. We are programmed to fail. Someone, I believe, said that life is nothing but the antechamber of death. However, it is precisely there – in this loss, in this rupture, in this failure – that we discover how alive we are. Failure serves to remind us how precious existence is.
G.D’A.: Yet, your work seems to pour salt on the wound by shining a light on our anxieties. Why have you chosen to rub our frailties in our faces? Why did you choose such an uncomfortable role?
A.S.: A friend of mine always says that everyone gets the obsessions they deserve. For me, the more I work, the more I am in touch with myself. There are aspects that continue to attract me. I can’t help it, I always return to the same spot, the same theme. Or, as you put it, the same wound. It is as though I am prevented from escaping, from turning away, for some reason. It is almost as though, as time goes by, you discover you have no alternatives: This is the road you must take, even if it is bumpy and uncomfortable.
G.D’A.: Tomorrow morning you wake up and find that all the world’s tensions are gone. Would you still be an artist?
A.S.: Without tension, there would be no life. Because where there is life, there is endurance and fatigue. Even joy, serenity and happiness would be meaningless without tension. Art has done nothing but give form to our anxieties. A world without tension would have no form or history. It would not be a world. And without a world, neither existence nor art would exist.