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30 January - 23 February 2020
Opening - Thursday 30 January, from 18 pm until 21pm

Residency LVMH Métiers d'art 2019
Manufacture Renato Menegatti

Exhibition organized in partnership with

Exceptional opening Sunday, 23 February
from 14pm until 18pm signature in the presence of the artist
FABRICA, Sabrina Vitali
RVB Books, 2019

In Search of Salt Fogs*

Story by Léa Bismuth
This text was published by RGB Books, in its full version, in the book FABRICA. It was written following Léa Bismuth’s visit to Sabrina Vitali when she was in residence LVMH Métiers d’art within the Renato Menegatti Manufacture.

When I went to meet Sabrina Vitali in Vicenza, I landed at Marco Polo airport in Venice, hired a car and headed out across the northern Italian countryside, toward the factory where Sabrina was researching precious metals and prepping for her next exhibition. After a long stretch of road where the pine trees punched silhouettes out of a brilliant blue sky, I drove into an industrial zone cut with brick walls and dotted with factories. I was immediately struck with visions of Michelangelo Antonioni and his films— Deserto Rosso (Red Desert), in particular, the film he shot in and around Ferrara in the 1960’s, golden years for Italian heavy industry, when hiring workers was easy and the unions were compliant. Nowadays, Vicenza is known more for its artisan jewelers and their exceptional brand of Italian craftsmanship.

Straight away, Sabrina took me on a tour of the factory. Sabrina talked to me about galvanizing, decanting and vibratory tumbling, about copper, nickel, bronze and gold, about PVD, brass dye cuts and wire ribbon rings, about buckles and perfectly polished clasps destined for handbags. I jotted down all the terms, without understanding much of what they meant. Sabrina told me about all the experiments she had managed to carry out, how she was constantly testing and tweaking the material, playing with different approaches to the same raw metal as it evolved and assumed different forms. Metal is a living material, she said, a substance rendered precious only when it is subjected to a set of discrete and delicate actions. She led me to vaporized gold, showed me mists that changed color as we watched; all these magical metamorphoses in a forest of wheeled carts, portholes and egg cartons. Sabrina is fascinated by the transmutation of matter, its fragility, and its power to attract. (An appropriate metaphor, since most of the matter in this factory requires a constant stream of electrical power to move, feed and transform it.). Sabrina is drawn to those corners, to the leftovers and anomalies of manufacture. She is captivated by streaks of forest-green paint left on the panes of abandoned machines, by the rusty reds of ferrous oxide, the intense blues of cobalt and ultramarine. All these sublime and toxic landscapes she has made her own.

The sun was blinding when we walked out of the factory and up the hill to Sabrina’s workshop, an immense, solitary space where she has spent the past six months as an artist-in-residence. I saw matter, flesh, transience, life; I saw the airs of a factory, to be sure, but also the atelier of an tireless artist who ploughs through the fragmented spaces of experimentation with a singular purpose: to give voice to her material, to explore its edges, push its limits, to find in its depths a sensuality that gives it meaning. Sabrina told me that everything she used— all the materials, the colors, the blues, the greens, the tints derived from multiple oxidation—came from the production lines we had just visited. And yet, a transformation had taken place. First, there was the alchemy of machines and, then, the alchemy of the artist.

Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), one of the greatest anatomists of the Renaissance, compared the body to a factory in De humani corporis fabrica. Vesalius called the human body a fabrica, a “collective construction” of parts, a production line, a factory equipped with muscles and bones, a circulatory system, a nervous system and a set of organs with separate and distinct functions. In Vicenza, Sabrina studied Vesalius’ anatomical drawings obsessively—the écorchés, in particular. Inspired by his depictions of muscles, she took to regularly drawing her own remarkable, abstract forms in a sketchbook. (Was this an obsession or more of a meditation, a sacred time away from the machines?) In her wrestling match with the material, Sabrina was also seeking to represent what the ancient Greeks called the “humors” of the human body: blood, bile and phlegm. (A very short list to which I would definitely add tears, semen and sweat.) I saw one installation with some sort of vital fluid circulating constantly, like an IV drip. I couldn’t help but remember those Baroque “anatomical machines,” the human skeletons transformed with wire and wax into detailed models of the cardiovascular system (two of which are on display in the Sansevero Capella in Naples, not far from Sanmartino’s sculpture of the Veiled Christ).

A bit further down the path, I passed a variety of weavings and silks before stopping to look at a series of folding screens, or tagasode, as Sabrina said they were called. An adept of Japanese culture, Sabrina talked about the art of unveiling, the art of fanning desire with the subtlest of movements. She mentioned ukiyo-e, the great “floating world” of Japanese woodblock printing and talked to me about her fascination with the ephemeral and with the spiritual teachings of Zen and Taoism. From her art, you can tell that Sabrina knows how to build a bridge between Italian Baroque and Japanese Zen. You might assume there is great gap between those two schools of thought, but there really isn’t. Both the Baroque and the Zen concentrate on that which surges in the body and the spirit, to that which emerges, and they focus on what will be revealed—either in a moment of effusive rapture or in a process of radical letting-go. They both address control and the uncontrollable, technical precision and mindlessness. On Sabrina’s tagasode, there were engravings, flowers, visions of the universe.

The next morning, Sabrina and I met in a place that was very close to her heart and that, she said, had exerted an enormous influence on her work during the residency in Vicenza. (It also happened to be a place I had dreamed of visiting for years.) It was the Brion Cemetery by Carlo Scarpa in San Vito d’Altivole, a town about 30 kilometers northeast of Vicenza, near Treviso. The Brion cemetery is like an open-air art gallery—or an architectural space where the marble and the concrete have become conceptual materials; a space where the smallest set of stairs, the littlest clutch of trees, the tiniest pond with lily pads take on a certain weight, an appropriateness, a sense of equilibrium and honest simplicity, outpacing our perceptions and yet adapting to them at the same time. As if someone had quietly taken us by the hand, not to rush us along, but to lead us on our way. This is a living, breathing space, built with cogent lines and coarse materials, a space resplendent with geometry, sensuality, intelligence. Scarpa has captured infinity and laid it at our feet. I think Sabrina and I, if we look deep into our hearts, might just be trying to create exhibitions in the image of that walk in the cemetery.

Léa Bismuth

* The Salt Fogs test is a standardized assessment of the corrosion resistance of metallic materials. In the test room, the vaporization of a salt solution produces an atmosphere conducive to corrosion that attacks the test piece. Under these conditions the corrosion phenomenon is accelerated, and the coatings lose their protective properties.

The LVMH Métiers d’art artist in residence program is designed to draw on the materials and savoir-faire of producers recognized for their unique quality as the inspiration for a major artistic project. At the same time, the program stimulates the creativity and innovation of the artisans as they engage with the artist’s vision. The works presented in the Fabrica exhibition, are from the 2019 residency held from January to June 2019 at the Renato Menegatti manufactory in Italy.

Sabrina Vitali – Born in 1986 in Thionville. lives and works in Paris. Graduated from the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris in 2010, Sabrina Vitali has completed numerous residencies. She won the 32nd International Prize of the Takifuji Foundation in 2011. She has participated in several group exhibitions, notably at the Palais de Tokyo in 2018, and has already produced several solo exhibitions in France and also in Japan.