Interview by Alberto Fiore
Alberto Fiore – „In Defence of Free Forms“ is fundamentally a declaration of intent that encompasses the entire scope of your artistic work. The forms carry messages and the works in this exhibition are your answer to the question “what are free forms”? Here forms are freed from the rigid structure of the geometric system. As you yourself maintain, the eye has certain expectations with regards to form and it is only when we subvert these expectations – freeing them – that we can open up new interpretations. “The neater and more comprehensible a message, the more predictable it is”. 1
Esther Stocker – Yes, in some way I want forms to become free of our expectations. It’s as if we were “constrained” by the things we know and this condition can restrict the space we give to our imagination. I am looking for undefined, vacant, “open” and free points. My technique is to pursue detachment from order.
With the concept of free forms I also wanted to express a wish, an idea. There are structures that have an open, free character because the elements inside them are not combined in a logical way and therefore never create a coherent whole. For me, this is the potential of the free form: something incomplete that can be viewed as “trend”, but which will never come to completion.
AF – Despite using geometry and its possible subversions, your installations have a purpose that is anything but structured and designed. During a chat you once told me that spaces and environments create thoughts. Your installations do not stop at perception and appearance, they freely bring us to personal experiences. I think I would therefore be correct in saying that they are designed to create “imaginative systems”, individual interpretations, for those that venture inside them. “Each exterior vision also includes an interior vision”. 2
ES – Imagination plays the main role in all my works. This is why my structural systems are so expansive. There is no closed logic in them.
I think that a language with strong aesthetic marks can be used to describe a system’s ambiguity and uncertainty. We could talk about closed and perfect systems, but my systems are never perfect, they are instead expansive. They are based on a logic that expands and is never resolved.
Knowledge is not always gained by adding information, it can also be created by subtraction. The things we know should be challenged, they should be looked at from different perspectives.
I use the precision of a system mainly to question the system itself. I try to liberate and “let go of” certain ways of understanding and seeing connected with the recognisability of forms that distinguish each one of us, often unconsciously.
AF – The union between the perceptual approach and that linked to the individual’s existence – “ a ‘ formal’ experience is directly connected to an existential or social experience” 3 – is further stimulated by the titles you use in most of your environmental interventions, often taken from your reading. These are very eloquent phrases and not just simple progressive numerical codes.
ES – Yes, as part of my work I have also meditated on the question of numbers. We cannot free ourselves from numbers, especially if we have to deal with geometry. I live with numbers in my work, for example when I measure a space or when I use an adhesive tape of a certain size.
The numerical question is also involved in my work on a more philosophical level. Geometry has become an existential subject. The viewer is one unit. The same thing is true of any individual element in one of my installations.
I believe individual form is very important, also from an existential point of view. I cannot avoid the “solitude” of being a “one”, a single unit that does however relate with those that view my work. There are many relationships with others, but these can also be summarised into the individual units of our own points of view within a space.
With regards to the “formal” experience you quoted: I think that the “formal” is able to fascinate us only because it exists in conjunction with the “social”. The social needs the formal and thereby structured and logical things, otherwise, for example, justice could not exist. Justice is a very formal idea.
AF – I learnt something new about you during the setting up of “Destino Comune” (Common Destiny), the installation you created at the MACRO in Rome. 4 I’m referring to your passion for comics.
I find one example you spoke of then particularly interesting, “La linea” (The Line) created by Osvaldo Cavandoli. “La linea” manages to be fully communicative at the same time as being extremely succinct, as graphically simple as possible. In fact it manages to be so communicative exactly because of this structural economy. Once all the frills – finishing touches, elaborate backgrounds and colour shading – have been removed, what is left is a kind of “pure language”, which is completely direct.
These concepts can also be found in your work. In your graphic, chromatic and material conciseness and also in your writing, as when you were asked write a brief text on your work for the MACRO exhibition. It is an extremely eloquent and communicative summary further enhanced by the possibility of physically relating to the work itself, by walking inside it.
ES – “La linea” by Cavandoli is an absolute masterpiece. I particularly love the fact that it uses the minimum means and nevertheless manages to express so much. What it manages to create using this language is truly incredible.
In my work the line is an original, primitive mark. It is a sign of our need and desire to express ourselves and to imagine. Using a “pure language”, we realise how rich and complex a language can be.
Destino Comune is connected with this “original idea” of the line since the lines run along the visitor’s direction of movement, accompanying him or her, even if just for a few metres.
I can imagine the world being completely based on the line. Lines create structure, a skeleton that can be considered as the “everything” in which each one of us lives. All our movements, as with architecture, are based on lines and trajectories. This is something existential and formal that no one can escape from.
AF – One day, speaking about your installations, the gallerist of OREDARIA -Marina Covi- had an insight that I found interesting. Your environmental interventions don’t seem to have been created for a specific space. The existing architecture does not have a determining influence on the method and type of your approach to the space. In most instances your interventions adapt to the given environment. What are your thoughts about that?
ES – It’s true. Indeed, no one has ever discussed this subject in any depth. When I imagine my spatial interventions I think of a normal room, a kind of simple box. I sometimes find that I dedicate myself to a space and ignore it at the same time. I find it very difficult, however, to explain this attitude of mine. Architecture interests me in its generality, in its general marks. From different types of architecture and types of interventions in and on it, different “declarations” are obtained. I am trying to enter a structure, to pass through/ beyond its surface. From a physical point of view this is impossible, but mentally we are able to pass through many layers. We are not able logically to understand a complex structure in its entirety. This is a limitation of our perception that defines us as individuals. I’m convinced that this “weakness” or limitation creates potential.
AF – It is interesting to see how your interventions, in almost every case, do not force the limits of physical space but rather instead alter the ordinary understanding of it, employing interventions on the surface, on the skin. Interventions placed on and in the existing space.
ES – Yes, this is because I don’t feel physically strong enough to build things or use materials that are too heavy or difficult to use. My work is clearly a reflection of this way of thinking. I have my doubts, in fact, whether a real hole in the wall could lead to freedom; a new limit could appear behind it. Therefore this is not my path. My intention is to reach the surface through the surface itself, exploiting the weaknesses in our cognitive apparatus.
AF – With regards to your interest in geometrical experimentation connected with perception, environmental interventions and their practicability, it is interesting to notice several elements that could compare you with Gianni Colombo, an artist that you like very much. There are also, however, significant differences between his “spazi partecipati” 5 (participated spaces) and your works.
In your environments there are no kinetics. During the exhibition the physical connotations of the space do not change over time, in addition you look for simplicity in the materials and technology you use in your set ups. In your installations the visitor is not subjected to stimuli that challenge their ideas of balance and stillness (whereas we can recall Bariestesie and Topoestesie by Colombo).
Your environments are therefore participatory, and yet they are aimed at the transcendental rather than the performative.
ES – Quite simply I don’t like thinking about the passage of time. I could almost say that I have a desire for a static condition. The only thing that moves in my installations is the observer, with his or her perception, his or her thoughts and his or her body in the space.
I consider it a form of beauty that static objects are able to create emotional movement within us. A static object expresses a wish because it has something that I do not possess: immobility.
AF – In the work entitled „In Defence of Free Forms – part 2“ you spatialize the title of the exhibition in the room. You first created an intervention of this type in Genoa in 2010.6 Written language becomes spatial structure. You develop the two dimensional graphics of the letters into something architectural.
ES – Yes, the language is truly architectural. I noticed this for the first time in the installation in Genoa where, suddenly, I realised I could see the structural space of the letters. I felt I was truly inside the written language.
I often feel the desire to enter places that at first glance do not seem to provide access. I would like to be able to enter my pictures, inside the structures. The works using wire allow me to “enter” into language, to wander between the letters. I imagine this to be an endless walk.
AF – In your canvasses to date it seemed that the relationship between geometry and freedom from it stood, for the most part, halfway between an ordered grid and its complete destruction. In the new canvasses you are presenting in this exhibition at OREDARIA, however, despite still using the same expressive alphabet linked to geometry, I can recognise that you have gone beyond that “halfway point”.
ES – I’m still not exactly sure what is happening in the new works. In some way it’s as if the installations had returned to the canvas.
These works display an expressivity that was not present in the others. On these canvasses I tried to use “archetypal gestures” of painting such as raw brush marks, and yet still however confronting geometry. All this is a new adventure for me.
AF – „In Defence of Free Forms – part 2“ and the earlier „La Solitudine dell’Opera (Blanchot)“ (the solitude of the work) from 2010, visually bring me back to your new canvasses. I think with these works you have taken a very courageous step, you have completely freed the forms that were previously still “slaves” to the geometric order of a grid. In these new works there has been a kind of explosion of the surface that has sent fragments towards the search for space and volume.
ES – I ask myself if one can truly get past the surface, to be free of it. In truth all our lives we have to deal with the surface, even when we consider volume.
I think this new working process began when I tried using the diagonal in my paintings. I had been working with a very rigid orthogonal grid for some time, inserting diagonals only very rarely. I have only recently deepened this research.
The diagonal is “anarchic”; it holds all the possibilities, whereas the orthogonal has only two. In past years the insertion of a diagonal would have created too many possibilities for me. I preferred, therefore, to reduce and work on the complexity of the orthogonal grid. Subsequently I inserted the diagonal, which I consider to be pure liberation. I’m now interested in the combination between the orthogonal and the diagonal.
The diagonal is a very important element; it was no accident that it led to the split between Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg exactly when van Doesburg began using it in his work.
AF – I consider „In Defence of Free Forms – part 3“ to be a testimony to the passage between two and three dimensions, between the surface of the design, or the canvas, and the space. The white forms lean forwards, into the room. This image made me think of, by way of a formal analogy, the work of two artists: Henryk Stazewski in his reliefs and, once again, Gianni Colombo in his „Strutturazioni Pulsanti“ (pulsating structurings). Unlike Colombo, however, you don’t use kinetics, and you exceed the uniformity in height of the elements in Stazewski’s reliefs. Your forms overlap, they visually push from the outside to the centre of the work and vice versa.
ES – I think that many artists wish they could try and detach from the surface. „In Defence of Free Forms – part 3“ is perhaps a battle against it. In this work there is a will to detach from the surface, even if, generally speaking, this is never possible. Stazewski and Colombo were great champions of formal movement. They were both extremely interested in deviating forms.
The understanding of surfaces is always something that is linked to the understanding of space, I have tried to demonstrate this principal with part 3.
AF – All of your output is based on the study and use of forms. How do the formal structures that you have used in your work until now steer you towards new developments? What influence does what I could call “a personal memory of forms” have on your work?
ES – By now I think I have formal structures and sequences memorised within me. In my mind, when I enter a room, I feel able to create various structures on its surfaces.
Over the years a kind of friendship has developed between geometric forms, such as rectangles for example, and myself. With some things I feel like we don’t need to argue anymore, we can just sit side by side in silence, understanding each other.
It is like the relationship between two old friends: nevertheless, as with real friendships, however much you think you know someone completely they can still surprise you.
1 U. Eco, Opera aperta, Bompiani, Milan 2006, p. 107
2 R. Arnheim, Arte e percezione visiva, Feltrinelli, Milan 2011, p. 59
3 E. Stocker, interview with E. Muneghina, in „MACROZINE“, issue 01, summer 2011, MACRO, Rome, p. 6
4 Destino Comune, solo exhibition at MACRO, Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome curated by E. Forin, June-October 2011, exhibition created in collaboration with OREDARIA Arti Contemporanee, Rome
5 C. C. Bakargiev, Lo spazio partecipato, in C. C. Bakargiev (curated by), Gianni Colombo, Skira, Milan 2009
6 La solitudine dell’opera (Blanchot), solo exhibition in the no-profit space Galleria Studio 44, Genoa, curated by the Associazione Ko.Ji.Ku – Consorzio