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Monday, December 27, 2010

Coldigioco Geological Observatory: winter holidays special issue

Mountains, traditional cuisine, natural landscapes, snow-covered trees: It’s Winter Holidays time!
Placed on a tiny hilltop, the Geological Observatory of Coldigioco is the ideal place to celebrate this very special moment of the year with a touch of GeoArt. In fact the Geological Observatory of Coldigioco is an independent center for research and education in geology, art, and cuisine.
Founded by Alessandro Montanari (geologist and “geo-musician”) and Paula Metallo (artist), the Observatory provides an unique cultural and natural scenario which inspired scientists and artists worldwide.
In a recent issue of this webzine, I interviewed Alessandro and Paula. Many questions remained unanswered, among which the possible existence of a 'Coldigioco School' of GeoArt. In order to explore Coldigioco’s geoartistic environment, I talked with Paula.

How important do you think it is for artists to know about geology, and why?
I thought it was more important for Geologists to know about art. When I started teaching drawing to our Carleton university  geology students I had to first think about how to approach scientific thinkers in a way that they could learn how to draw more accurately. So I started out with the two halves of the brain and our two eyes and looking for relationships in general. Counting and measuring lines and angles, and observing with a devoted attention. I ended up realizing that this is exactly what Geologists do already in order to draw (conclusions). From then on the teaching became a complete give and take experience.
I think the most important thing Geology has made me aware of is deep time. Actually grasping millions of years instead of just hundreds or thousands gives me a lot more data to compare with and the possibility to visualize cyclicity. The other thing I really like is the "slow motion" of mountain growth. A big reason why the handmade is still important in my work is to make space for "slow" in my life. Geology helps me to cope with the idea that everything is in constant change, it brings together impermanent and enduring elements right before my eyes.

What are your experiences in “expressing geology with art”?
My work has always taken inspiration from the wish to decipher and “fix” complicated situations by searching for the underlying symmetry, harmony, and natural beauty in things. I think it was inevitable that the work would pass from investigating people to relating to the planet that hosts them. Because I consider remaining contemporary an important consideration in my work, it was inevitable that environmental issues, having now become the most pressing of situations for all life on the planet, would eek their way into my research.
For example I started out making mock thin sections like those scientists utilize for microscopic analysis. Then collaged the thin section images to other objects like the tree pies and the copper sieves.
A series titled, MIMBRES BOWLS; MAN MADE HOLES, started when I read about the Mimbres culture, which was centered near the southwest region of New Mexico. Their pottery has a hole punctured in the center indicating that the bowl was ceremoniously “killed” allowing for the spirit of the image to be free, and so symbolically replenishing the “hole” left behind in nature. This struck me as such a just and romantic idea.
I have made a series of bowls with images of some of the largest and deepest manmade holes on earth, and so classifying the damage. I accompany them with their own Mimbres bowl in an attempt to remedy the damage done.
Mimbres Bowls (picture from Paula's Saatchi page).

A particular of Mimbres Bowls.
The work was shown in conjunction with a Penrose Conference, “The Late Eocene Earth: Icehouse, Hothouse, and Impacts in Italy in 2007. And at the Rieskrater-Museum in Nördlingen, Germany until March 2010. These avenues were in some way connected to the concept of holes in the earth.
In Waiting for the next one, Paula Metallo compares geologic hazard and the moment of recognition in Italian filmmaking. Can't you recognize the scene? Watch the video below!

The trailer of Fellini's masterpiece La Strada, which inspired Paula Metallo.

I am now working on a body of work title, WAITING FOR THE NEXT ONE; (ASPETTANDO IL PROSSIMO). The history of Italian filmmaking documents and confirms the great Italian ability to re-present the real. It is stereotypical that in the face of natural and human tragedies Italians tend to dramatize. But is passively waiting, and not preparing for earthquakes, particularly Italian? And can this be explained through the story of Italian cinema?  It seems that an honest and efficient reply to the geographical and geological reality of living on shakey ground is a response not inherent to the Italian people. Are Italians somehow attached to the drama connected with tragedy? The images in this body of work ask these questions. I have chosen frames from Italian movies that seemingly catch famous Italians in the exact moment of recognition that something is about to happen. I place these images alongside more abstract images of seismic activity, interacting as a riddle.

Another artwork from Waiting for the Next one (picture from Paula's Saatchi page). With the artist's words: "I have chosen frames from Italian movies that seemingly catch famous Italians in the exact moment of recognition that something is about to happen. I place these images alongside more abstract images of geological and seismic information. Through the images, I literally put the italians face to face with a tectonic reality".

Together with Dona Jalufka, you realized a crater themed show for the Penrose geological conference (Ancona). Please, explain your emotional journey in creating “Rimanare Colpiti | Awestruck”.

We were searching for a balance between the privileges we wanted from the art world and what we were actually able to achieve. So we asked ourselves what we really had to offer, what made us particular after looking over all our life experiences, in order to apply ourselves to those places that may be looking for those particularities so that we could manage to show our work annually in less ‘invisible’ places. We thought if we took our passion for art and mixed it with our life experiences with science we would find a solid originality.
Invitation to Rimanere Colpiti / Awestruck.

This was the beginning of an art/science collaboration, which seems to me now as a challenging approach to a new kind of comparison.
The show at the Humboldt Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin titled, (un)Measuring The World, was inspired by Daniel Kehlmann's 2005 book, Measuring the World, a story of how Alexander Von Humboldt hoped to measure everything on the planet: “Whenever things were frightening,” Humboldt wrote, “it was a good idea to measure them”. The show was a meditation on the idea that there is more than one way to measure the world. This was an exhibition concentrating on integrating the artwork into the  science museum in unusual ways.

Crater themed show for the Penrose geological conference in Ancona, Italy, 2008

Paula’s words are very inspiring, but I have still many questions in my mind: How Coldigioco inspire visual arts? What is the role of geology in this process? Who are the artists revolving around Coldigioco?

The best way to answer these questions is to follow “Rimanare Colpiti | Awestruck” and chronicle the collaboration of Paula Metallo and Dona Jalufka. For this reason, I interviewed Dona Jalufka herself.

Dona, you and Paula realized Awestruck / Rimanere colpiti. Please give me some insight on your journey in making this artistic project.
 “Awestruck/Rimanere Colpiti” was a bit of a signpost for both of us. The exhibit was held in conjunction with an international conference entitled “The Late Eocene Earth: Icehouse, Hothouse, and Impacts” – organized as a Penrose Conference by the Geological Society of America and held in Monte Conero, Italy, in October 2007, and was to be the first of our art/science collaborations. The show was an expression of how we where struck by the knowledge of natural phenomena, and how we sought to provide an artistic response to the ever-increasing flood of scientific information.  We set out to generate a dialogue using art to examine new and prevailing ideas concerning science and the order they impose on our lives. Specifically focusing on geology, astronomy, climate change, and evolution, we began a comprehensive dissection of various concepts and perceptions. In essance, we became “scholars” in our studios, studying images, material, and concepts borrowed from the scientific community.
There were a significant amount of opportunities here for us to explore. For example, an imaginary crater was created by collaging two palindrome images of a postcard of the Bay of Monte Conero, in the Marche region of Italy. A small photograph of the Earth was preserved in a keepsake locket, and arranged on a table, together with other art objects, presented in a way that recalled a display case in a classic natural history museum. This image of the Earth represents the first time man saw himself far from his usual geocentric position, and constitutes an important historical moment in human visual perception. Other objects in the exhibit utilized scientific props, such as laboratory sieves, thin sections, slides, and steroscopes. Our goal: To show that imagination and reflection are common denominators between art and science.

You and Paula displayed Unmeasuring the World at the Natural History Museum in Berlin. What do you mean exactly with Unmeasuring the World?
The connectedness to both science and the creative challenges it evokes are in many ways artistic in nature. Paula and I believe that our work reflects the never ending fascination of the arts with the wonders of science. Because the Natural History Museum is a home for many disciplines, it makes it a good base for art/science cross-pollination, and allows to present the artwork in a scientific context, providing a symbol of such an interdisciplinary approach. A major influence for this exhibit was Alexander von Humboldt (the famous German naturalist, 1769-1859). His research and discoveries in all fields (from mineralogy to volcanology to biology and glaciology), and especially his approach to unifying all the aspects of the physical world, spoke volumes to us as artists. The title of the exhibit pays homage to Humboldt as well as to Daniel Kehlmann’s thoughtful book on Humboldt entitled “Measuring the World” (a phrase referring to Humboldt’s desire to measure everything in the world). It also provided us with an opportunity to compare the concepts of measuring and unmeasuring as in contrasting science with art. The word “unmeasurable” relates to “unconstrained”, “infinite”, and “untold” --- a kind of poetic version of the scientific measuring of the world that Humboldt set out to do. The year 2009 was the 150th anniversary of his death, and considering his historical influence and association with the Berlin museum led us to invoke his creative insight in our title “Unmeasuring the World”.
(Un)measuring the world: an art show by Dona Jalufka and Paula Metallo

With Paula Metallo, you realized an exhibit inside a meteorite impact crater with 14 million years of Impact Art. What was the emotional path in creating this artwork?
First of all, we were excited by the opportunity to exhibit at the Ries Crator Musem and to be able to tailor the art in such a way as to compliment their collection. Paula and I set out to explore artistic interpretations, some playful and some serious, of geological and astronomical topics related to impact cratering. The impact process can be looked at artistically from a variety of perspectives, both in terms of the medium and in terms of the interpretation. So it was only natural that our emotional paths took slightly different approaches in creating the work for this show. For me, there was a familiarity to the project, and I felt at home with it. It was exciting to have one of my art works displayed next to a piece of Moon rock!

What is one of your favorite pieces in this show and why?

Lunataler: impact geology and cheese.
I don’t normally single out certain pieces as being a “favorite”, as there were many that I felt good about once I saw them in place in the museum. The piece that I feel had the strongest relationship with impact geology and the core of the museum would have to be “Lunataler”. This piece is a playful interpretation of an old saying that the moon is made of cheese. The wedge shape is universally recognized as that of cheese, and the craters, taken from the “Lunar Orbiter Photographic Atlas of the Moon”, have been painted onto the form. Placed under a glass dome, this sculpture serves as a literal allegory for Moon cheese. Displayed in proximity to large scale lunar photographs and other impact-related exhibits, I thought it was a humorous yet thoughtful way to get people to think about craters.

Impact geology has a consistent role in your art. Why?
Oh --- that’s easy! My husband is a very prominent researcher in the international impact cratering community. To say that he has not had an influence in directing my attention to impact geology is laughable! The evidence is everywhere: antique lunar maps and crater photographs hang on our walls, there are hundreds of relevant books around, I frequently accompany him on field trips and conferences, and of course there is my exposure to planetary geology from my NASA days.

In your website you quote Cicero: “Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature”. How do you express this idea in your art?
Boundaries: geological sections in art.
The whole idea that art is born of the observation and investigation of nature is a timeless and borderless concept. Nature, being the entire natural and physical world that we inhabit, is inseparable from the inspiration and approach I take with my art. Only in examining visually and intellectually, natural phenomena and processes (in essence, taking in all of nature), am I able to make art of any kind that is meaningful.

You realized many works focused on nature and science. Which of these works do you consider “geologic”? Why?
There are a few works that I might consider purely “geological” because they deal with the Earth (for example, “Geological Evidence”, which you  mention next, and works such as “A Day in the Life of Evolution”, or the computer-altered mixed media series– e.g., “Boundaries”, “Earth Stories”, and “Fire and Ash”). There are some that take a geological process (impact cratering) and interpret them from a technical viewpoint – i.e., a series of oil paintings of atomic bomb blasts, or in the purely minimalistic approach in the triptych, “Space, Sky, Earth”, which attempts to bridge the gap from the Earth (geology) to the sky (astronomy).

You named a triptych Geological Evidence. Is it because that is how you see your artwork? Or did you mean something else?
The title of the triptych “Geological Evidence” is actually from a figure caption in the book “Biological Processes Associated with Impact Events”, edited by C. Cockell, C. Koeberl, and I. Gilmour (Springer, 2006). This particular figure of magnified thin sections of the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) mass extinction boundary was very inspiring. The notion of showing evidence (in effect, proof) of a meteorite impact of this magnitude is a rather abstract concept. While this is a relatively realistic depiction of what one would see looking through a microscope, from an artistic perspective, it is pure abstract expressionism. The artwork in this case is interpreting the evidence which just happens to look like a piece of art.
In Geological Evidence, Dona Jalufka presents the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction through microscopic geological proofs. As I said for Zheng Shoui's foraminiferal sculptures, geological objects extend over a wide range of scales.

You are a resident artist at the Osservatorio Geologico di Coldigioco. What is the influence of the natural environment of Coldigioco on your art?
The influence that the natural environment in Coldigioco has on my art is quite a contrast from that of the city environment. While living in Vienna with all its distractions (both positive and negative), the natural distinction between the two can be worlds apart. I find the landscape of the countryside in general, and Italy in particular, to be very inspiring. This of course benefits my landscape and abstract work just as much as the art/science work. Geology is never far away, as is astronomy (we have a small observatory in Coldigioco), and the abundance of insect and other animal life, to name a few of the natural influences that eventually (and perhaps subliminally) find there way into my art.

The triptych Space, Sky, Earth attempts to bridge the gap from the Earth (geology) to the sky (astronomy). These elements are very present in the natural landscape of Coldigioco.

What is the role of the social environment of Coldigioco on your art?
The social environment in Coldigioco per se has a certain degree of influence on my art, obviously because it is such an eclectic community in so many ways. The creativity of everything, from geology and art and to regional cooking classes, makes for a much “energized” breeding ground for my creative processes. My time spent with Paula Metallo (who resides in Coldigioco) as friend and collaborator, is enormously engaging and productive. There are constantly new things happening there involving resident Coldigiocans, visitors and students of varying backgrounds, a recording studio and vibrant music scene, rich, cultural excursions to local towns and cities, etc, etc. Whatever the venue, there is always this current of  creativity running through it. Something in the air there—the food— the wine— the people….

Coldigioco: where art meets geology! Picture from the webpage of the Geological Observatory of Coldigioco.

The words of Paula and Dona clearly expresses the vibrant artistic scenario of the Geological Observatory of Coldigioco. Within a unique social and natural environment, Coldigiocans traces shapes and colors which are continuously dancing with the Earth's interior. However, dance is often accompanied by music: at Coldigioco rock layers are singing! 
Are you surprised? Earth's sounds are coming soon, on the Geology in Art Webzine!

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