RETROSPECTIVE – PART 3
The body of work for “It’s only a matter of time” was first displayed at the Ex. Macello, a former slaughterhouse, in Padua in 2013 for the exhibition “Futuro Anteriore”.
Whilst walking the corridor created by the installation, visitors were enveloped by the sound of crashing waves and met by a real goldfish in a bowl suspended in the air.
This work of Roberto Cambi then moved to the exhibition “9th International Arte Laguna Prize” in Venice in 2015 with a different configuration to suit the new surroundings. Selected as a finalist from the section “Sculptures and Installations”, it was awarded the prestigious Open Prize.
The stark space created by hanging the large fishbones reflected the themes of social isolation, depletion of natural resources, never-ending cycle of life and death and more broadly of human fragility. Like a collection of colourful glass washed up on the shore after a storm, Roberto Cambi’s detailed artifacts, lined up in glass jars full of water like preserved specimens, are also a powerful reminder that few stages of life are final.
Everything gets recycled, finds a new place or use, and death represents nothing more than the beginning of life under a new guise.
The installation comprises 36 white clay fishbones, 10 glass containers with glazed ceramic objects immersed in water, sound, and Zagor, a gold fish who usually resides in the artist’s studio in Milan.
AS: Where did you get the inspiration for this work?
RC: Inspiration for any work is often born out of an impression. When I was invited to exhibit at the Ex. Macello in Padua, I took some time to explore the location, which is something I always do, to get a feel for the space, but also to gather any memories associated with it.
It is an imposing building from the 19th century, straight out of the industrial architecture of that time.
Despite the extensive refurbishment and transformation, it still retains a lot of the original features such as drains, hooks and pulleys. This is a former slaughterhouse, a place of death, where thousands of animals were killed. As you can guess, it didn’t take long for the association of images to form in my head: bones, scarification, fragility, the transience of life on earth, our actions which in turn make our future even more uncertain.
AS: The word installation already implies the transformation of a space. Given the size of ‘It’s Only a Matter of Time’, do you usually have a location in mind when you start a piece or do you create it in a way that makes it easy to adapt it to different surroundings?
RC: I generally like to size up any space, look out for the potential and create a site specific body of work. At the same time I try to inject some flexibility in my work so that I can adapt it to suit different locations. Think on an elastic band that can be stretched, but can also resume its normal shape any time.
AS: It won the Open Prize at the 9th International Laguna Prize. What difference does winning an award make to you or to the value of a piece?
RC: To be awarded such a prestigious prize by an international panel of judges when you get picked out of two thousand other artists from all over the world is certainly a satisfaction and a boost to your ego, your drive and your popularity. Prizes are often an indicator of where your work stands on the international scene.
AS: Both the Ex. Macello in Padua and the Arsenale in Venice are amazing locations. Is there a particular art destination where you would love your work to be exhibited?
RC: Some of my favourite destinations are the Triennale and the Fondazione Prada in Milan, the Biennale in Venice, the Fondation Luis Vuitton in Paris, the Saatchi Gallery in London or the Moma in New York because of their incredible drive to promote contemporary art. However it is not only a matter of business, but of different synergies too: smaller galleries might not just exhibit your pieces, but might be more open to work together at new projects.
AS: Given that art installations are so ubiquitous at the moment, what comes first: maintaining your integrity as an artist or pleasing the crowd?
RC: The million dollar question! I think that maintaining your integrity is definitely what matters as an artist. You need to believe in yourself and what you do.
AS: Since your work constantly gets to be scrutinised by the public, do you consider your studio a sort on inner sanctum or is it open to the public?
RC: My studio is like a sacred temple where I turn my ideas into reality, but at the same time it is a meeting place, a place of dialogue and debate. Apart from truly manic periods, it is open to any visitors.
AS: Do individual elements of an installation get separated and sold off or are they strictly kept together?
RC: Yes, most of the time they are sold individually or as part of a smaller installation.
AS: How easy is it to part with a work of art which has taken so much time and energy to create?
RC: It is never easy. Instinctively we are all hoarders because we project a lot of ourselves into what we create. Only with time and a strong will you come to realise that the very moment a piece is ready for the public, it does not belong to you anymore.
AS: ‘It’s Only a Matter of Time’ deals with the rather heavy burden of human fragility. However most of your work is visually fun and lighthearted. Is this a reflection of the way you are as a person?
RC: Mine is a fun filled and playful vision of life. My work has always an irreverent and ironic side to it. We are already often surrounded by tension and negativity. I personally tend to see the glass half full.
AS: Which single word would you associate with this installation?