ARC OF KNOWLEDGE: ARTIST INTERVIEW / by Lizzie Glendinning

Italian artist Samuele Sinibaldi takes an in-depth look at the origins of contemporary sociological constructs. Through the historic exploration of areas such as language, religion, science and philosophy, his work encourages us to consider our history in order to better understand our future. 

The following interview sheds light on his thoughts and processes in preparation for his participation in Brocket Gallery’s takeover of Building 10 at the Royal Arsenal Riverside in Woolwich.

 Could you begin by explaining the title ‘Arc of Knowledge’? 

The Arc of Knowledge is a monument of gratitude to the collectors, translators and fabricators of knowledge. 'The Arc' references a story of salvation; Noah's tremendous effort in the safekeeping of God's creations mirrors the effort that humanity has taken in order pass on knowledge. 

Your work links contemporary social concerns with human history and its historic lineage, why do you think this is an important thing to do?

I find it fascinating to look at the origin of our modern social constructs that we perceive as essential to the functioning of society. For example democracy, or our legal systems in their most archaic forms give us an insight of the repercussions and evolutionary patterns caused by such ideas.  These ideas in time embed themselves into our subconscious becoming certainties.  In my practice I attempt to make work that allows the viewer to question these certainties.  Doubting the common belief is what has allowed science to evolve at such an incredible rate in the last 100 years, but our social systems are somewhat lagging behind.  Like Darwin’s theory of evolution that broke the common belief system and allowed us to free our self’s of the dogmas of creationism, we can also look at the evolutionary patterns of social constructs to reach a better and more informed future.

I guess I’m of the common belief that if we had a clearer understanding of our history, both its successes and failures, we would make better decisions in our present. We have no real capacity to see into the future. There is no foresight, only hindsight.

Why have you chosen to manifest your work in sculptural, installation and film form?

My sculptures are a physical manifestation of my ideas and I think it’s important to produce immersive work that allows the human body and mind to interact with a concept. I feel that sculpture and installation have more of an effect on the viewer, than say painting or drawing. With sculpture one is confronted with an entity in space, it has a physical presence. It’s real and you can touch it. It’s not an illusion and therefore it is more directly in tune with the world. This allows a sculptor to plan the experience of the work in an almost theatrical way; you can decide what the viewer will see first and slowly reveal the rest of the sculpture guiding the viewer’s imagination. You can make people feel small or dominant. You can make them interact with your work and this leads to a more eloquent and communicative experience.  This all makes for an extraordinarily complex and fun game.

Although, sculpture too has its limitations; sculpture is frozen in time like a still life or a photograph, its potential ends in a perpetuating present.  This was a complication for my practice as I began to research the movement of ideas in history and therefore in time. This is where film came in as a necessity to describe what I couldn’t with my static sculptures. In my mind’s eye these objects moved and I feel I could not have achieved this without film.  Although film is a fairly new addition to my practice I have always had a great attraction to it as it feels like pure imagination, they are the dreams of society. 

As a child, both my parents where aspiring actors and would make me watch Kubrick, Tarkovskij and classics from Italian Neo Realist Cinema. Later in life, like anyone else I consumed copious amounts of films and documentaries. Video is probably one of the most communicative art forms for the generation of the digital age. So I’m experimenting with short films and animations to give a new and different interpretation of my sculptural work. 

Can you tell me a bit more about the materials and processes used in your installation and sculptural works? 

Usually I try to restrict myself to materials that have a direct connotation to the construction of society, so; wood, cement, clay, metal etc. But of course sometimes I can’t resist using some unusual materials, for example in one of my earlier installations, “Redistribution of Wealth” I used chocolate coins to deliver the desired experience.

As to the processes that I adopt in my practice I enjoy working in a traditional sense where I model clay or carve wood or stone, but I also use casting and repetition as it has a close tie to our postindustrial age.

Often I like including found objects or ready-mades; be they from a street in London or a dilapidated farm in Italy, a market or even on eBay. Found objects have that incredible authenticity, which can often spark an idea or integrate in a project to add texture or meaning.

Italy obviously has an incredibly rich history. Do you think that your Italian nationality has affected or influenced your work? 

Italy is an incredible luxury for an artist, especially growing up here. My family runs an antiques business so from a young age I have been taught to look and appreciate the wonders of this beautiful country.  My hometown Rome and its surrounding rural areas give you that unmistakable feeling of walking through history; looking at the same landscape and architecture that you see in the paintings of the Renaissance.

But perhaps more importantly, Italy has an incredibly variegated past with all sorts of cultural influences absorbed from all the greatest civilizations. You will find this multicultural undertone in everything from genetics to food, the language, the architecture and of course, in the arts.  All of these cultures massed on top of one another and are distilled into what makes Italy. This is to say that once you know Italy you can travel the world, be it the UK, Turkey or even India, and you’ll start to find connections and comparisons with this little peninsula.

Perhaps more than anywhere else in the world Italy has gradually cultivated an incredible language of images allowing for an almost cinematographic experience of the past. This language of allegorical symbolism is a form of communication that fascinates me, and one that I adopt in my own practice. 

Just as important for my practice, is the fact that I have often lived abroad and therefore I must admit that my work can be driven by an element of nostalgia for ‘Il bel paese’.   

In Arc of Knowledge you seem to reference things such as modern science and the information exchange of the digital age. You reference the need to appreciate the history that has influenced society today. Could you explain why you have chosen to go as far back in history as you have?

Well yes it’s incredible that just one generation ago, I would have had to go to the library for every bit of information that I wanted to learn, now I can just pull out my phone and there it is. To tell you the truth I don’t even think I’d know how to use a library if it wasn’t for the librarian or those nifty little archive computers. What’s more you and I can be discussing these questions from two different countries, then you will write it up, post it online and potentially in a few seconds someone will start reading it.  That is an exchange of knowledge.

The speed is amazing, no? To think, this is all possible because humans became conscious of their death. This is why we have an irresistible impulse to pass on who we are, what we’ve done and what we know. Now it’s easier, Facebook takes care of this for most people, but we have been leaving a detailed description of our lives in every possible way for the better part of 30,000 years.

Cave painting gives an incredible insight to the world humans might have lived in, their belief systems, how humans interacted with in that world and often enough a signature saying, “I was here, it was me”.

The most amazing thing about recorded knowledge is that the accumulation of all these dreams, ideas and lives become our own personal achievement and a starting point for us to build upon. It’s beautiful; it’s the elixir of life, passed on from generation to generation. Humans tend to create alternative realities like heaven and hell or the Olympus in mythology, but we are more aw-inspiring and more terrifying than any God or creature we like to fantasise about because our collective imagination is God. That’s why I have made this monument of gratitude to the collectors of knowledge. 

 The reason I have chosen to recall aesthetics from the late medieval period is to gently remind us that just over one and a half thousand years ago after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Europe fell into the Dark ages and in just a few generations they lost their access to accumulated knowledge. People living in Rome in the dark ages thought that Giants had lived there before them because they could not fathom that a man could build such large buildings. So can you imagine if a civilization so closely comparable to our modern society can dissipate so quickly, does that not make you wonder if it could happen to us? 

We can kid ourselves that all the thousands of computer servers in the world will keep it all safe. The truth is that this new technology might just be our weakness. Therefore I guess “Arc of Knowledge” can also be a reminder of the fragility of our archives. We must all liberate the occult and shear knowledge to keep safe the organic growth of the human imagination.

What do you see yourself working on in the future?

My dream project is to defeat my laziness and keep filling up my ignorance with knowledge. As I said before I can’t see my future but I like to imagine that I will keep having new ideas to obsess over and turn into artwork as a statement of the passing of my time.