Interview Marcelo Salvioli

Photography: @ pauldecó / Show «Drawing and consequence» MNAD, 2016


Set designer, art director and visual artist, Marcelo Salvioli was born in La Plata in 1956. He lives and works as he thinks: The action of drawing, - he says - is his primary impulse, an integral act where the whole body participates; the drawing, a kind of dance. Regarding his work, the historical past refers to a common vision of the present. Roux defined it like this: a temperament that burns in the cultural conflict of our time.

interview by
Oscar carballo 

AL: For Mc Luhan, the environment is an inevitable relation of perception. What objects always surrounded you?   

MS: I was born in a very religious family but of an iconoclastic cult. There was never an object of worship. As a teenager I thought Catholic believers bowed to a combination of simple geometric shapes, beyond their interchangeable outward appearance. I think that my early taste for the work of Andrea Del Sarto is due to that, but I will never be sure. Early on I lost my parents' religion but somehow I always kept their attributes. In short, I move within the scope of the search for meaning, and in that I have moved away from the center of contemporary art in an almost suicidal way. 

AL: How is it possible to travel the discipline of art and move away at the same time? 

MS: Contemporary art questions meaning when it redefines. Precisely the resignification of the other, the permanent and sustained attempt for him to lose his 'sense of being', has been and is the basis for the reproduction of power. When contemporary art resignifies, it validates the mechanisms of power and legitimizes it. Power is the absolute emptiness of empathy (in some way the opposite of art); for him the other does not exist, it is a matter of use or transformation for his purposes, he is merchandise, but he is never Being. That is why he can only reproduce. He is essentially incapable of generating something in which the other can see himself reflected or feel identified; it is incapable of producing beauty, but it needs beauty to legitimize itself. Historically it has summoned the artist to generate representative images of their attributes and values. Since the middle of the XNUMXth century, the means with which power is reproduced and those used by art in its work have been confused, to the point that in many cases they are the same. My plastic action adds meaning to meaning. I consider that the questioning of meaning as an a priori act, starts from an elitist or directly ignorant position. That is the distance to which I refer, which on the other hand, occurs naturally.

"Somehow I confront the design of the habitat in fiction when, doing scenography, I look for the plastic combinations that best represent the dramaturgy"

AL: You relate to the arts from the stage device; It seems that there is a natural transmission of that discipline subject to his training as a set designer. 

MS: Relating to the arts from or from a scenic device should be a construction of dramatic sense from beginning to end, but there is a great dependence on production conditions for this to happen. Many times I become a simple solver of problems that do not belong to the field of space design but on which I must advance to make the latter possible. This historically sustained situation in the Argentine performing arts has been changing the profile of the art director from one that generates conflict and new questions that did not exist before his arrival, to a kind of visual manager that in principle assumes that he must solve problems that are not own the scope of its central task. Many times I find myself facing mainly budgetary or other problems, and somehow, in each production, you have to refound the limits of the profession. This essential wear conditions our art and redefines the relationship of fiction with the viewer.

AL: The truth is that every design depends on a superstructure called a production model. That defines design as technique and it is central, right?

MS: It happens that the art direction is very functional to the producers who, in the midst of the total deregulation of the labor market, are the ones who ultimately decide who and how many they are. 

«When contemporary art resignifies, it validates the mechanisms of power and legitimizes it. Power is the absolute emptiness of empathy »

AL: How does your objective history with art begin?

MS: It starts early and by discard, a discard as strong as my first intuitions were. In short, I found as a child and adolescent that I was inept for almost everything expected of me, with the exception of the geometric and symbolic reconstruction of my surroundings and, especially, of the wonderful possible combinations that the use of the plastic elements offered me, far beyond my possibilities at that time.

AL: Is there an existential memory where time and the experience of your complete work meet?

MS: Yes, there is a precise and foundational memory: In the fourth year of Fine Arts High School, at the age of 15, we were introduced to the principles of the shape and in particular of pregnant forms. At that time we were learning the pure use of plastic elements and I was surprised by the breadth of their applications. I was able to order a recurring plastic exercise looking for pregnancy as an objective fact. 

"As a teenager I thought that Catholic believers bowed to a combination of simple geometric shapes, beyond their interchangeable external appearance"

AL: What kind of exercise? He remembers? 

MS: The exercise consisted of something more or less like this: I was working in a dark space freed from visual stimuli and sitting in front of an illuminated board prepared with interchangeable papers on which I drew geometric shapes by means of continuous and segmented lines barely evocative of figuration. He drew sketches with the same monochrome shapes in 3 to 20 minute exercises with a fine brush dipped in oil. After drawing 25 or XNUMX, every time I blinked I saw that shape inside me, but infinitely more complex and interesting than what I did on the board. At that moment he stopped repeating the drawing (which was never the same) and, keeping his eyes closed, he tried to see the inner shape carefully. Thus, he immediately opened his eyes to draw what he saw with his eyes closed, but on a slightly larger piece of paper.

AL: What happened in that change of scale?

MS: The inner shape was permanently mutating; I had to close my eyes to see it and open them to draw it and this forced me to work quickly trying to capture it. The exercise was always daunting at the time of its execution, but later, when I spread the drawings in my grandparents' long yard (there were never less than 30 for each session) I appreciated them with the understanding that was possible at that age. Somehow I consciously ordered myself to generate a form that I did not control.

AL: Could it be said that if you controlled that image, you would end up responding to a naturalistic, academic approach?

MS: More than anything, I was looking to find a certain artistic independence, but not exactly anti-academic since I never perceived academics as a limitation to expression, much less the search for meaning. This led me to broaden the circle of pure plastic arts towards the performing arts, but always founding the practice from the use of plastic elements, regardless of the field in which I developed.

AL: I also believe that the work is only one and that we finally work with a common structure of thought. But the rules of the design of a scenography do not technically coincide with those of Art; Or if? 

MS: The starting point is different and I would tell you that even the mental attitude is also different. In scenography, plastic is used as a medium. We could speak of pure plastic arts or fine arts to describe a field of action in which the use of tools and the laws of plastic are worth by themselves as an expressive object. When I drew figurines, the pleasure for the representation of the dressed human figure, the feeling of the underlying body, the different textures of the evoked materials, all this made me have to permanently return to the utilitarian sense of the figurine so as not to "get lost" in independence. plasticity of its representation.

AL: The magnet of Fine Arts it is relentless.

MS: The set designer, the art director and the costume designer must organize the visual and conceptual factors that come together in their task. Many professionals do it with plastic media and thinking from and towards images. Other professionals take references very directly and use them with formal functional adaptations to the dramaturgy to which they are engaged. Finally there are those who are left at the expense of the documentary and do not achieve their dramatic adaptation in a convincing way. All this depends on the media that the professional masters, that is, if his is a visual thought in which the idea is exposed as an image throughout the creative process or if he thinks "conceptually" through ideas and references like the rest of the team.

AL: Do you still consider the academic slogans as valid? 

MS: Some of the common questions I asked myself when I was studying and when I started working were more or less: "Is it a contrast or a passage of tone and / or value that defines this area?" or, "the character must be the accent within the tonal dominant of the space and therefore the chorus must be the subordinate of the second?". These are questions that I keep asking myself in another professional dimension and that remind me of who I am and what I should do in the midst of the production conditions that I described at the beginning.

"I never perceived the academic as a limitation to expression"

AL: Can you imagine a life watching time go by, observing the mere landscape? Doing nothing?  

MS: "I ate my bread between battle and battle, between murderers I slept, I made love without paying attention to it and contemplatedé nature eagerly. A) Yes happens the time that was granted to me on earth ". These lines from a Brecht poem are very representative of what I mean by contemplation.

AL: About disciplines –always disciplines– can it be said that an artist is the medium and art the question? 

MS: Art is ineffable and indefinable; its very nature makes it a question as you say and in that there is no doubt. Whether the artist is the medium depends on which artist we are talking about: if he is a constructor of senses or if he is a self-summoned resignifier. Art is a becoming that we cannot control and that is constituted as such when the work is accepted by others as representative of their wishes and intuitions. Art is a sociocultural construction. While working, we cannot propose to make art.

AL: How much solitude do you need to work? Listen to music? Are these transfers allowed?

MS: I have been so exposed to the 'elements' that I have rarely been able to decide or did it occur to me to decide on working conditions. The need to do outweighed the historical discomfort in which I have worked. Somehow that made me resistant, but I have also become used to unnecessary suffering. Over time I learned that it is not good to suffer and that we should avoid it whenever possible. Although this seems basic, for a person of my generation to whom the training received is added, it is an important achievement. In short, few things bother me and I can work in whatever situation is. When I can decide I prefer to listen to the radio, which my mother used to me when I was a boy. I would prefer some solitude and a minimum of isolation, but when life interrupts me (a person who asks, a claim from my four-year-old grandson or previously from my children), I stop my task and I agree to a call that I do not consider an interruption and that I add to the construction of the image.

"Whether the artist is the medium depends on which artist we are talking about: if he is a constructor of senses or if he is a self-summoned resignifier"

AL: Do you surround yourself with readings?

MS: I read a lot before and I did it methodically; not so much now. I read little in the workshop except for texts referring to what I am doing. Certain recurring forms in my drawings incidentally remind me of poems that I know by heart and that I recite aloud when they arrive while I am working. In short, when I am confused, fatalism brings me back on track, reminds me of who I am and what to do regardless of the conditions in which the form is produced.

AL: Regarding the scales, as your student experience told us before, do you sketch directly in large sizes?

MS: The large sizes that I usually strive for require a plan consisting of a collage of drawings and clippings, a kind of small-scale 'sketch'. From this 'stimulus', I develop the final work in a large size but without as much care as I had in the small format, trying different ways of execution or modifying the general proportions to the point that sometimes I need to add more paper surface to the one originally planned, which I do with impunity when necessary.

"Art is a becoming that we cannot control and that is constituted as such when the work is accepted by others"

AL: Those sums consider a game, one that walks alongside the construction site to amuse it.

MS: I try to methodize a certain control over the image that allows me to stay a bit outside my own process to reach formal conclusions that at a certain point escape my decision.

AL: This happens in art, which is your direct domain, your emotions and your speeches. And in the field of scenography?

MS: As a set designer, many times I have worked under direct or indirect impositions, having to add elements to my work that were beyond my choice and that necessarily had to be incorporated. Most of the time it was a simple disease overcome professionally, but on some occasions I found colors or structures that enriched my work and that I would never have chosen as a starting point. In those cases my training and especially my taste turned out to be a limitation and even a prejudice.

AL: Once again the restrictions allowing the addition of aspects that would remain hidden forever.

MS: That aspect of the work in the scenography is the one that I try to replicate in the plastic arts, developing a method that leaves me a little outside the decisions that I make and allows me to take risks. Sometimes I am favorably surprised.

"I try to reach formal conclusions that at a certain point escape my decision"

AL: So maybe the invariable thing is the composition. What about the shapes? Are they finally independent from you?

MS: On many occasions I draw directly on the paper or start with a shape without really knowing what will become of the whole. It's nerve-wracking until the composition begins to appear. My compositions are complex and pose the paradox that although they cannot be developed without control, there is a risk that control will block their potential. That's why somehow I never really know where I'm going to end up even in the works that start from an elaborate sketch.

AL: You can see a lot of discipline in your drawings.

MS: My work discipline is not what it used to be, but the inner discipline is intact. I call inner discipline to that of the body. As my body grew, I drew and painted with a certain conscious method. Somehow I was trained in art as a dancer or an athlete incorporating exercise while the body developed. I would have liked a more intense exercise than that offered by the Baccalaureate of Fine Arts, at least at the level of the classmates who followed music as a specialization. I tried to make up for that deficiency on my own as best I could. I did not think at that time nor do I think now that training and discipline impede expression; I believe that, on the contrary, they give us tools to free ourselves from the cultural conditioning that ultimately are the social conditioning of each historical moment. To be precise, I was trained in the use of plastic elements and their combinations regardless of their figurative application.

AL: Learning the classical syntax.

MS: The first references that we had in the baccalaureate of Fine Arts were contemporary artists; we come to art history later. It was a surprise for me to see that certain combinations of plastic elements were very functional to the figurative representation that at that time was another option to be developed, a path to take among others. Somehow over time I ended up mixing all those paths.

"Somehow I never really know where I'm going to finish even in the works that start from an elaborate sketch"

AL: There is a recurrence in your themes: classicism, beginning with the tragic aspects of that world. Is the Greco-Latin world an excuse or is there an attraction to the classical world that exceeds the formal?

MS: Regarding Greece, classicism and the tragic, I must say that I always start from the complete form, not from the fragment. That allows what is seen to have a certain solidity since it is the emergence of an underlying structure. The tragic comes later, when I transform the spaces that were created for our happiness into places that have lost their reason for being. I try not to say it but to evoke it through plastic means.

AL: That is what I was referring to earlier regarding the meaning of forms and composition.

MS: Personally, I prepared myself in the visual arts as well as in politics for a future that was not, for a world that disappeared very quickly, even before my 20s. There is a lot of me that was pedaling in the air.

AL: Your works observe a very clear and powerful compositional architecture. A formal balance that, although it is expressed with very strong tensions, clearly responds to the forms of classicism. Can you ever allow yourself to break that balance in your works?

MS: There were times when I not only broke the composition but also broke the paper and the working materials. I had to revise that practice adding more resistant materials that again broke. I use papers and fabrics applied on boards because otherwise it would go through them.

AL: The body as an action of matter.

MS: The act of drawing is quite violent and gestural; the carbon stroke is almost permanent because I cannot correct it. Many times the errors are exposed next to the successes, hoping that the latter will be more intense, but in my drawings the success and the error dialogue as part of the composition. An Italian critic wrote about the "underlying violence" of my compositions: I do not see that this violence is underlying but totally exposed.

«I prepared myself in the plastic as in the politics for a future that was not, for a world that disappeared very quickly»

AL: In any case, is it a kind of vehemence, of formal exposition, rather than a symbolic action of violence?

MS: Violence does not cause disharmony, although it takes composition and balance to the limit. Balance and harmony make a work convincing and are achieved by the opposition between plastic elements. In the works that move us there is a certain vibration of our perception since our senses go back and forth between opposites that mutually exalt each other. Answering your first question, I hope I have the conscience and impunity to break the balance when it is functional to the drawing or painting that I am doing at that moment and for no other reason. I hope to be attentive to the request of the body when this happens, that I can open myself to any freedom that appears at the moment of execution. To achieve that, I shouldn't care about anything. It is something that I have experienced and will recognize when I return as a necessity.

AL: I'm interested as you said: "To achieve that, I shouldn't care about anything"; the true accord to art as a discipline without purpose.

MS: Since creativity cannot be taught or learned, we must concentrate on learning how to use the laws of plasticity, which will bring about creativity if there is any of it in us. Most of the Baroque painters, for example, were not creators in the strict sense, however their paintings and drawings are still fascinating.

"In the works that move us there is a certain vibration of our perception since our senses go back and forth between opposites that mutually exalt each other"

AL: Would you have liked to be an architect?

MS: Between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, scenography was called ephemeral architecture. I never thought of being an architect because I know and respect its complexity as an art and as a trade. In fact, my brother is an architect and a high school classmate is dean of the architecture faculty at UNLP, so it is an art that surrounds me as well as the interest that his study in art history aroused. I did think of studying sculpture because of the attraction exerted by structural management applied to the dynamization of the surrounding space. 

AL: Many contemporary works include humor and a constant formal rupture that distributes weights in apparent imbalance, conflicting materialities, distorted scales. How would you face the world of habitat design from your perspective? Would you try to develop a classical language to control this kind of perhaps limitless distortion?

MS: Something that I intuited in my formative period is that every conflict has a geometry that represents it. Taken to the extreme, we could say that even the conflict of the Nation can be geometrically represented in a dynamic, experimental and permanent exercise. Somehow I face the design of the habitat in fiction when, doing scenery, I look for the plastic combinations that best represent the dramaturgy. When I make films, this development of the dramatic space must also be functional to the language of the camera. I think that if I were an architect, I would set a 'theme' to develop as a habitat and let it decide for me whether or not to use a classical language. The habitat determines us; the more humor and joy the combinations between full and empty, between textures, materials and colors bring, the happier we will be or make the lives of others. As Rimbaud says: "You have to be absolutely modern."

Oscar Carballo, China Sea, October 2021