Gehard Demetz
Conversation with Luigi Fassi

LF: Let’s talk about your artistic development, about your background and the beginning of your career. You live in Val Gardena, an unusual context for an artist, quite cut-off from the main Italian centres but open to many influences from German-speaking countries, such as Austria. What impact has this had on your work?

GD: My interest in sculpture goes back to my childhood, when I was enchanted by those huge religious statues. In Val Gardena there is a consolidated artistic tradition of sculpting that goes back more than thirty years. Everyone thinks this tradition of wood sculpture came from Poland. I spent the first six years of my training as a sculptor in the Art School in Selva, the village I was born in and where I live today. In 1996 I started teaching sculpture in the Sculpture School in Selva and I taught there for ten years. During that time I concentrated on my development as an artist, following academic courses in Saltzburg and my own individual research. With the passing of the years and all those changes that that inevitably entails, I realised that teaching took too much energy away from my creative work and I decided to stop working as a teacher. It’s true, as an Italian-Ladino I find myself on the natural border between Italy and German-speaking countries. It’s natural here to absorb all the stimuli from across the border and these have a positive impact on one’s being receptive to cultural influences.

LF: In recent years the visual image evoked by your sculptures has been very homogeneous and recognisable, as if you had in mind a clear direction towards which you were working. How do you create your images?

I get the idea for my sculptures from very different situations!! I am fascinated by a whole series of child and adult attitudes and behaviours. Many of their attitudes seem mysterious, almost incomprehensible, and they capture my imagination, which is constantly seeking likenesses and contrasts. So I find myself with notes and sketches all over the place, on pieces of paper, on notes in my pocket, in books and in my diary. I build and sculpt the sculpture directly from the drawing and often a written thought is the starting point for various subjects. When I look at the photographs of my sculptures, I realise that my stile has a clear continuity of thought. But the incredible thing is that even after I have finished a work, I continue to think about it and want to develop it.

LF: Looking at your work, the famous episode of Elias Canetti’s childhood came to mind, which he mentions in his autobiography (Die Gerettete Zunge). In that book Canetti describes all the suffering and psychological malaise he felt because of having to learn German in a few weeks, with his mother’s teaching methods, which were so severe as to seem almost cruel. It seems to me that your adolescents evoke this atmosphere of suffering and impotence, translating it into absolute rebellion, or at least absence of appeasement.

GD: My subjects transmit the awareness of becoming adults and thus losing, as Rudolf Steiner says, their ability to be able to “hear” their unconscious. They live with the burden of guilt transmitted from generation to generation, which doesn’t belong to them. They are children who feel sad about not being able to really be children, but who have, on the other hand, the possibility of choosing to become adults, totally independently, thus freeing themselves little by little of all the influences transmitted by their ancestors. They are witness to all the effort involved in the process of growth and development, which is achieved through individual will and concentration.

LF: Your sculptures in fact function according to a precise schism, between the infantile purity of a child and the responsibility of those who have become adults and therefore able to do evil knowingly. Modern German philosophy defined theodicy the serious problem of how to justify the existence of God against the omnipresence of evil. Your sculptures seem to question the origins of evil, through a disquiet that is evoked in their posture, in their facial expressions and in their movements.

GD: Yes! Children ask themselves about the origin of evil and certain behaviours, and they are aware they will lose their instinctive perception as they become adults. However, they know they will also acquire the ability to control their own reality. I feel that when Bois Groys said “we are a museum of geniuses”, this can be applied to children of no more than 8 years of age. This is why I am particularly attracted by the fertility of human beings during infancy, when their character has not been defined and everything seems fluid and possible.