In Comrades of Time, Boris Groys writes: ‘We are familiar with the critique of presence, especially as formulated by Jacques Derrida, who has shown—convincingly enough—that the present is originally corrupted by past and future, that there is always absence at the heart of presence, and that history, including art history, cannot be interpreted, to use Derrida’s expression, as a procession of presences’.
Roberto Cambi has shown an unwavering fascination with time and temporality throughout his career.
His large scale installations might have roots in the past, but they are decidedly about the future. The present has been sidestepped altogether.
His ubiquitous and striking Ghosts are permanently escaping the past, the Oracle deals with the uncertainty of things to come, It is Only a Matter of Time —winner of the Open Prize at Arte Laguna Prize in Venice— explores a dystopian future depleted of natural resources whilst If it does not kill you, it fattens you is a homage to Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto.
The affinities with the decline and obsolescence of the present articulated by the artists of Futurism and Dada are not mere coincidences. Shared artistic sensibilities often lead to impromptu homages.
Time’s relation to art is often tangled in a promise of eternity, be it for the object or the crafter. An obligation which very often remains unfulfilled.
Instability, uncertainty and fears are so widespread in our time that the present has lost its transitional nature from past to future, becoming instead a mere occasion for perplexity, worry and anguish.
Under a veneer of playfulness and jest, his more recent works have become darker, more sinister and decisively political.
What started as a reaction to the tensions that events like Brexit and the American president election spread around the world, the sense that a storm is brewing on the horizon, became a series of works. Hence the birth of the Bad Boys.
The first one, BLACK CLOUD, is centred around our common inability or unwillingness to recognise serious threats for what they are, but also the ability of dubious politicians and world leaders to hide under a cloak of respectability. You see the planes with the grinning skeletons and they look cute, but when you see them closely they are terrifying. Only then you notice the bugs on the fuselage, they bring pestilence. And it’s too late.
PORTHOLE carries on with the same concept. You might watch the air raids of these Bad Boys from the window of a plane, the comfort of your armchair or from behind the screen of a television without realising that the threat is directed at you, not even when the direction has been clearly mapped out for everyone to see. We believe that not getting involved keeps us free from harm. Nothing is sacred anymore and no one is completely safe either, like you see in KILL SANTA CLAUS.
MY LITTLE PONY, a unique piece inspired by Yōkai – monsters, spirits and demons in Japanese folklore- was Roberto Cambi’s entry for the 11th International Ceramic Competition of Mino in Japan. The latest in the series is SEVEN DEMONS, a group of pieces inspired by the seven demons of air from the Babylonian tradition. They are a reminder that the present demons produced by our society share an ancestral origin and are not that different from the ones populating different cultures long time ago. Fundamentally our nature has not changed much.
He is adamant that the positive and playful artist is still there somehow, just waiting for a shift in the political landscape. BLOW, a piece that has taken the Fuorisalone 2017 by storm, works only with the intervention of a person, every time stealing a smile or a surprised expression. There is the same naughty glint in his eyes when he shows this new device to snuff candles. He cheekily points out that what you get afterwards, even with this seemingly innocent piece, is darkness. The bad boy of the Milanese art scene has not lost his reputation. Don’t let the bedbugs bite you!