Interview with Joanna Przybyła and Claudio Silvestrin
The Polish sculptor Joanna Przybyła and the famous Italian architect Claudio Silvestrin, who works in London, are the authors of an art project which is to be presented in the middle of next year in Warsaw’s Foksal Gallery. The project refers to the sensual and is entirely non-representative. A room in the Gallery will be lined with cedarwood, used to build the walls, the floor, the door, a bench. The gallery will become a sculpture, to allow inside one or two persons at a time. As air will be coming from the outside, the cedarwood room will be connected with the garden. The air, taken through a soil exchanger, will be purified and moisturized to activate the fragrance of the cedarwood.
A window – a moving projection of the Sun – will be the only source of light.
What were the origins of your idea to work on the project together?
Claudio Silvestrin: We met through common friends a couple of years ago. They asked me to design a summer house in Provence which in the past used to be a shelter for pilgrims coming to a local monastery. I remember that when you visited the place, it sank deep into your mind.
Joanna Przybyła: I had been repeatedly invited to visit the place, I had seen it in pictures, and finally I decided to go there myself. We met later, however, some seven of eight years ago, when I was passing through London on my way back to Poland.
I have always thought about Claudio’s projects as going beyond architecture. The way he creates the optics of a single object or the spatial perspective is pure art. He finds relationships between the form, the matter and the function which are true to the extent of revealing the quintessence of their interdependence. His architecture makes the observer concentrate to a point comparable to contemplating a work of art. Working on this exhibition we are co-creating the space, maintaining its equivalence to an object of art.
CS: Our working together often makes us go beyond the limitations imposed by the areas we work in.
JP: And at the same time these mutual inspirations lead to a sublimation of our individual objectives.
Architects often feel an urge to design the space around the buildings they design, making the value of the new structure dependent on its relationship with the surroundings. Do you believe this applies equally to artists exhibiting their works in galleries?
JP: The term site specific has for some time now appeared in relation to such places as galleries. It usually means, however, the effort to fit in the existing architectural space, without changing it. I am interested in creating a work of art which would remain in a genuine relation to the space around it. That is why the Foksal Gallery exhibition provokes the question about the formal presence of a work of art, about what it is on its own merits. In this case, it is not an object that dominates the space; in fact, there seems to be no object at all. There is, however, the discreet fragrance of the matter. The visitor will first of all feel his or her own presence confronted by the matter, the light, the smell, the silence.
CS: The point is to offer the visitor a sensual experience of the space not of the object. A commercial gallery becomes simply a showcase for the exhibits.
The subject of the work is nature…
CS: The „room”, or perhaps we should use the word „raum” here which means both a room and space, is pure nature, experienced through the senses, placed in a man-made space. It is neither a copy nor a representation. A representation is to remind of something or replace something. Here we are confronted with nature itself. I hope that “exposed” that way, it will open souls, awaken the senses lulled to sleep by modern culture.
JP: Our work refers to a primary way of thinking about architecture. For materials abstracted from nature, such as stone, clay or wood, we find a new place – a raum, for instance – and we reassemble quotations from nature into a new form.
CS: This way we join in the natural cycle, we enter nature. We often negate or forget about our being part of it. And it is through close contacts with nature that we stand a chance of being set free from our egos.
Who else among modern artists represents a similar way of thinking about nature?
CS: Certainly Joseph Beuys was one.
JP: I would add such names as Fritjof Capra, James Turrel. I think it applies not only to artists, but also physicists, philosophers …. Divisions between the disciplines of art and other fields are no longer valid. Instead of relying on fixed definitions, we should start perceiving the continuity of changes, the coexistence and interweaving of processes, just as we can see it in nature.
Have you ever worked on a strictly artistic project, such as this one, before?
CS: I have arranged exhibitions before, for example the famous exhibitions of Anish Kapoor, Lucio Fontana, Robert Mappletorpe. I have never cooperated on such terms before, though. It’s my first time.
Interview by Aleksandra Stępnikowska
Interview with Joanna Przybyła and Claudio Silvestrin, Architektura-Murator, 2004, Warsaw, no. 7, p. 16.