REIMAGE THE MATERIAL WORLD
The radical concept of “reimagining the material world to reflect the unity of all the arts” , was key in the creation of the Bauhaus movement in 1919. The visionary proposal of the German architect Walter Gropious (1883-1969) supposed in certain way an utopic persuit —a century later “its place has not been found”—; but that does not mean it has been exhausted. Gropious also remarked that “architecture starts where engineering ends”, referring more to the contiguity between both fields than to the insurmountability of its borders. In fact, the Venezuelan artist Alberto Cavalieri, born in the very same year of Gropious’ death, initially formed in mechanical engineering and with a degree as industrial designer, offers in a way a response to his radical proposal. In his sculptures engineering does not end: it merges with art giving new life to that inconclusive search of the Bauhaus.
Marcel Duchamp presented as art the wheel of a bicycle over a chair, a metalic rack, or a signed porcelain urinal, in a gesture that dynamited the frontiers between artistic and unartistic objects; Morton Schamberg titled God a Dada artifact made with an inverted plumbing trap; and the minimalists appropriated themselves of industrial or construction materials in their abstract installations; however, none of them believed in the beauty of functional objects such as the pipelines systems, so much unnoticed. In the series that Alberto Cavalieri started in 2013, Irreverent Ducts, he pays tribute to the forms that in certain way evoke the history of Marcel Breuer, other Bauhaus artist, who, inspired in the tubes of his bicycle, created the first prototype of metal chairs massively produced. However, Cavalieri does not design anything functional: setting himself apart from the pure geometric form that characterized the kinetic art in his country, as well as from the unity between form and function of the construction industry, he retakes an industrial material such as the stainless steel —invented at the beginning of the twentieth century— and applies engineering to the task of reimagining the material world. Thus, by challenging the boundaries and the physical characteristics of pipeline systems or ventilation windows, he creates unique sculptures in which function and material are transformed until they reveal its beauty, undoubtedly surprising, of these functional objects usually unnoticed but essential in modern architecture. Each piece supersedes the pipeline prototype without denying the existence of this reference in the genealogy of its forms.
There is an aesthetic challenge in the act of appropriating the structures of ducts and grid windows and transforming them into sculptures designed to be created at a large scale with enormous mathematical perfection: his drawings of the internal structures prove the meticulous design that supports them. Just like the ducts systems, the sculptures of this unique series, are constructed by segments cut at perfect angles and function as models to assemble. They possess the constructive principle of the lego type puzzle, and, certainly, the heritage of the enormous public sculptures of the great introducer of modernity in Venezuela: Alejandro Otero. There is no a formal reminiscence between his series of ducts and a work such as El abra solar, with which Otero represented Venezuela —along with other works— at the Venice Biennial in 1982. This piece of public art with aluminum blades turning to the wind, was the first work in Venezuela that fused art and engineering. Due to this alliance, along with his creative ludic and his cosmic aspiration, Cavalieri recognizes in Otero a tutelary figure. “He marked my life: he made me see that a close relation between art and engineering was possible. Certainly, in the Barras roto-pendulantes created at the beginning of my career, challenging logic and providing movement, the shadow of Otero was present.”
But unlike Otero who was not an engineer, Cavalieri himself digitally designs every tiny fragment to form sculptures of aluminum or stainless steel cuts at 45 or 90 grades assembled with bolts, an industrial key item in the style of his works. The bolts are not decorative: they fit one fragment into another until formed sculptures in which the metal turns in unsuspected twists. Should his works be individually photographed in order to make an animation, they could create the dancing image of a sculpture that is at the same time a sort of drawing in the space. Each work has the lightness of an “stroke” that tangles around itself or turns on a vertical axis, or inscribes in the space figures, from reminiscent of geometry that break their confines, to images associated with the elements: the forms of Pipeline IX resemble the fire that rises.
The irreverence —or disobedience— of his ducts consists not only in disregard their functionality, but in the unusual way Cavalieri extends their forms. The sculptures appropriate the space playing with the traps of perception that in many cases make us believe that either supersede the physical laws or are subject to an imminent collapse, which is only apparent. Thus, thanks to his academic knowledge, the artist measures with absolute precision the exact internal engineering and the perfect balance of the pieces that support his artistic imagination. In his work Pipeline I, the artist manages to transfer lightness and harmony to a stainless steel constructed knot presenting an almost-floating loop, since the supporting point hardly exists. Using the same sophisticated technique he plans to place interactive sculptures in public spaces where people can sit or relax, or use them as recreational forms to maximize to a full extent their inherent luddism.
Certaintly, his series of Irreverent Ducts suggest infinite variations from an image of a pipeline system which scale and function have been transformed in such a way that not only emerge to the surface and to the gaze of the world, but also irradiates a vital and renovating relationship with the space. In this sense, Pipeline 7 seems to hang from the ceiling: it is a “duct” that turns around itself in an irresolvable knot and continues descending until it almost touches the floor, but it maintains its perfect verticality without other point of support. On the other hand, Pipeline 3, seems to emerge from the wall, like a duct that appears and descends taking possession of the place with unusual beauty.
Although these sculptures evoke referential construction elements such as water or air ducts, they only convey images and immaterial allusions. Beyond the referential connection with the pipes that gives them a ludic sense and the property of provoking that astonishment at the things from which philosophy is born, its great success is the way in which Cavalieri subsumes in its forms a series of paradoxes that challenge the imagination. Having gone from mechanical engineering to art –like Calder or Anish Kapoor, among others– with the additional experience of their industrial designs of tilting doors or architectural enclosures, he raised the first paradox.
Cavalieri asked himself: ¿What is the form that most challenges the properties of metal? “Metal,” —he thought—, “can bend, curve; but knotting it is the maximum expression of its folding,” and thus it led to the axes of its language: the Gordian knot, impossible to solve, and the twists that can originate a form without start or end, like the Möbius band. First he developed knots in a single piece of iron and later he created the series of ducts with precise geometric stainless steel modular pieces that, against all assumptions, perceptually induce the illusion that they twist. But the paradox of knotting with metal is also a way of introducing into the sculptures linked to construction engineering a metaphoric human image: our capacity of surpassing the laws of the material world and reinventing its forms.
When using the principle of the famous Möbius band in some pieces in such a way that the difference between the outer and the inner face is only an illusion since it is a single surface that by effect of the torsion appears to have an outside and an inside, Cavalieri turns sculpture into a paradox that is also philosophical. And that correlates with that part of mathematics that studies the spacial properties of geometric bodies that remain unchanged by continuous transformations. Thus his work reveals us that multiple logics exist.
So there is a delight in the construction of sculptures that slide from the image of the construction ducts to the paradoxes of physics and philosophy, and that are also always proposed as insurgent forms. An outstanding example of this insurgency is the series entitled Pipeline Frames, with four sculptures addressing the form “matrix of modernity” according to Lucy Lippard: the grid. This form, omnipresent in a particular way in all the abstract geometric Venezuelan art, frees itself, overflows in organic strokes, knots and unties itself, and opens and spreads itself in unusual ripples.
Another connection much further back in time is also found in Cavalieri’s work: he shares the fascination of alchemists with the relationship between elements and metal. Perhaps his biggest challenge is not to transform it into gold, but to breathe into the cold metal the organic voluptuousness of a knot. —I think of the knotted fabrics of Jorge Eduardo Eielson and his intense affective and vital charge—. Alberto Cavalieri talks about “bending” the metal, but in the challenge of making it create impossible shapes in principle, his great achievement is to provide it with the flight of the imagination and, ultimately, make us share the task of “reimagining the material world to reflect the unity of the arts. “