Italian artist Marco Nereo Rotelli is known for blurring the line between visual art and poetry. His startling use of light, imparting a beatific look to famous buildings in several cities of the world has earned him a distinct place in contemporary art. His collaboration with Syrian poet Adonis (Ali Ahmad Said Esber) has set an example of how two genres of art merge to create unity of thought and at the same time allow, seamlessly, a confluence of cultures to take place.
Rotelli was in Pakistan recently to take part in the first Karachi Biennale where he put up an installation at the NJV School. He also took out time to share his views on the creative process with Eos. The following are excerpts from his interview:
You used Baudelaire’s‘L’horloge’(The Clock) for an artwork in France in the year 2000. It became the talk of the town. How did the idea come about?
The light installation was important because I’d been invited by the municipality of Paris to make an installation for Petit Palais. I remembered a poem by Baudelaire which he wrote in the 19th century. It was an incredible installation and the city answered with astonishment — it was now possible to see the Petit Palais in a new light, in another century. I transferred a poem written on a piece of paper to a building with light projection.
You have worked with Adonis. You don’t understand Arabic. How were you able to work alongside him, interpreting his poetry?
I like poetry not just because of its content but because of the idea of space, the music of words. At least 10 years ago, I invited 1,000 poets to send their poems to the Venice Biennale — Derek Walcott, Adonis, Seamus Heaney, etc, and they wrote for me. All I could think about at that time was a door and I presented at the biennale 100 doors and wrote and painted on each one of the poems that they had sent me.
The title of the project was “Bunker Poetico.” This is the idea that I’m referring to change the space, widen your world. Recently in Shanghai I was with poet Yang Lian and Adonis for a meeting of different cultures and to work together. When I work with Adonis, the colour is not only on his paper but in my mind as well.
You play with light in your work, whereas poetry has a lot to do with the auditory sense. How do you reconcile the two genres?
First of all, poetry is light. Poetry is the inner voice. In a certain way, my work is the journey of light. I use light to translate work from one dimension to another. I don’t like beauty the way people perceive it, I like the sentiment that light conveys. In my work, light is the project of a poem. For me, light is a blue dialogue because in every site, every place I present my work, the space has to be blue.
Have you ever tried to interpret Dante’s work?
Yes. It was the opening of the Italian year of culture in Chicago, US. The ministry of culture had asked me to work with an Italian poet. I decided to present the hell of today. The hell of Dante is in nine cantos. I invited nine poets from those parts of world who were living in difficult situations. They were from countries such as Egypt, Afghanistan and Turkey.
What’s your take on conceptual art?
I’m not a conceptual artist. I’m a sentimental artist. For me, when I use words I change them in a new language. Often, you can’t read or understand them. It’s a vision where reality and dream come together. This is the space where I like to work. I like to call it the space of astonishment.
We live in troubled times. How can artists make this world a place worth living in?
After the Second World War, Theodor Adorno said that it’s not possible to write poetry after Auschwitz. I believe art is inside of the mind of the man. Art can try and create a better world.
There are regions where people are intolerant towards art.
Beauty is not just metaphorical, it is also ethical. If you are beautiful, you will refuse terrible notions.
Are you familiar with Pakistani art?
No, but before arriving in Pakistan I was looking for some Pakistani art and found out that their dimensions are closer to mine, because “words” seem to be important in Pakistani art. Two days back I saw the work of Amin Gulgee’s father Gulgee, which is about words. I liked it.
Who influenced you as an artist?
I was born in Venice. As a child I used to look up to Tintoretto. After that I liked Turner’s work. But eventually, as an artist you have to be alone. Usually I work with poets and music. That’s my dimension.
How should artists present power, love or hatred in their art?
Artists should not think about power or the power of love.