Arts&Culture

Harmony, lightness, slowness and beauty

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Mauro Fissore is an artist from Turin who has chosen paper as his inseparable life companion. Inspired by travels that have taken him to Europe, the United States, Latin America, Asia and Africa, he met the master Hiroaki Asahara from whom he learnt not only the poetic art of paper, but above all, the value of time.

We are in Turin, in the north west of Italy. Here lives Mauro Fissore an artist who likes to call the place where he works ‘the place of time’. Because paper is not just a material but a perspective, a way of seeing and perceiving the world: an ‘other’ dimension in which space and time acquire new and profound meanings. Because working with paper is lightness, slowness, harmony and light.

We interviewed him exclusively for Paper Industry Word.

How long have you been dealing with paper and how did you approach this material?

“I have always been fascinated by paper, which I consider a magical tool for transmitting the written word and images, and at the same time, a ductile material. However, there is an episode in my life that has turned paper into my inseparable travelling companion, into an indispensable tool for me to seek harmony, to represent beauty, to collect and represent the fragments of memory that I carry with me over time.

It was some twenty years ago, the first time I stopped to contemplate the beauty and evocative power of paper itself in front of a work by master Hiroaki Asahara. Japanese, about ten years older than me and sadly passed away in 2015, Hiroaki had chosen Turin as his ideal place to live and create his paper art. Meeting his works first, and with him later, was an immediate emotion. A kind of enlightenment. His paper sculptures were poetry that needed no words.

From Hiroaki Asahara I learnt to make paper and to create sculptures. In him there was the lightness of gesture, an essential and profound language, the chromatic harmony, the fragility and at the same time the consistency with which his sculptures were harmoniously placed in space. Hiroaki’s paper sculptures have always aroused in me emotion and admiration for how a material that we often take for granted and think we know – paper in this case – can always be transformed, shaped, fragmented and recomposed, without ever losing its profound soul. The meeting with Hiroaki was the beginning of my artistic and also, at least in part, existential journey in this phase of my life”.

Why paper, what are the reasons for choosing it?

“It was only when I started making paper and adapting it to my works, using Hiroaki’s teachings, and carrying out my own experiments – because the beauty in the field of creativity and art is that you can always try to push yourself further or change your path, following your sensitivity and ability – that I more rationally understood what was the reason for that attraction to paper material.

What attracts me to paper is its robust lightness and solid transparency, the varied textural texture of its surfaces and its ability to hold light and give dimension to shadows. Paper carries with it the fascination of the life and memory of the tree and is, in a way, its extension. Fragility and strength if they manage to coexist in a work can, in my opinion, represent the fragile harmony of beauty. The harmony I was looking for I was able to find in the paper that I create and transform into works, into sculptures”.

Have you had any other artistic training apart from teaching Master Hiroaki?

“I am not from the Academy. And I regret this a little, because at times it seemed to me, and still seems to me today, that I lack the tools and knowledge that a training course in art would probably have given me. However, I have always loved art, hung out with artist friends, visited museums, galleries and exhibitions in all my travels. I can consider my travels as a fundamental formation in my life and in my artistic journey. A journey is an immersion in cultures, forms of communication, languages, creative manifestations. I started travelling from the age of 17, first in Europe, then in the United States, in the colours of Latin America, in immense and ancient Asia, in the magic of the Middle East, in Africa.

And then in life I was a teacher, and I believe that the fundamental components of this profession – such as research, passion and rigour – are also formative elements of my current creative commitment. So, if in school there was the daily rigour, in travel there was the fulfilment of my desire for freedom, to go beyond boundaries; over time they became a personal, I would say intimate, reserve of memory and emotions. I really believe that these are the roots of my paper world”.

Who is Mauro Fissore today?

“I think that each of us is many things, a sum of experiences, interests, passions, desires that build who we are, and time and years can take us to previously unknown terrain and make us discover that there are microcosms inside and outside of us that we did not know, new places to explore, unknown paths to take. I believe that we can, perhaps we must, find within ourselves the curiosity, the time and the energy to travel those paths, to enter those worlds. It is worth it, because we discover new urgencies – things you feel you have to do – especially for yourself. So I entered my paper world.

I am in my seventies. I live in Turin with my wife Isabella, who has always supported and understood my artistic research. My studio is in San Salvario, a very lively, multi-ethnic, I would say ‘real’ neighbourhood, with its contradictions and its people. I spend a lot of time in my studio/workshop, which is not large, quiet, secluded in an inner courtyard, which helps me to get away from the noise and speed of the world to immerse myself in my work. With the necessary concentration and slowness. If I had to define my studio, I would say it is a place in time”.

Back to paper: what techniques do you use in the making and creation of your works?

“As I said, I learnt how to make paper from Master Hiroaki Asahara. He explained to me the traditional technique of washi paper making in Japan and how even today it is possible to pass on its beauty and magic. In making the paper, I start with the pulp I get from cotton paper. The process involves the steps of maceration, fragmentation, immersion in vats, eventual colouring, collection on a screen/matrix, deposition on canvas or non-woven cloth, insertion of natural elements, drying and finally extraction of the sheets. Over time, I transformed the technique learnt from Master Hiroaki to adapt it to my inner world and to what I wanted to communicate; elements such as sands, powders, feathers, raffia, straw, fabric and colour variations from experimentation entered the papermaking process. What I was interested in from the beginning was creating sheets of paper that were unique in terms of their texture, surface, materiality, transparency and chromaticity, so that I would have a varied and ductile material to use for making sculptures. The sheets of paper are my colour palette.

I have also been buying and collecting paper on my travels for many years. Fine papers, humble papers, sometimes large sheets, sometimes small pieces. I collect and put aside. What I need for my works I also draw from this collection. And in the process, each type of paper can be manipulated, made thinner and more transparent or strengthened, depending on my needs”

In your sculptures, what other materials do you use besides paper?

“I use poor materials that can be in harmony with paper. Wicker, wood, bamboo, glass, ropes, sand, nylon thread, gauze, harmonic steel wires are the other elements that contribute to creating the sculptures. And, if time were matter, all the slow time it takes for the work to take shape and become what I had imagined in my head. The harmony between these materials and the paper is what I look for in each work. Harmony and lightness.

And then light. From the beginning, I have created two types of works. Illuminated sculptures and material sculptures, which emphasise the transparency in the first case and the materiality of the paper in the second. In the illuminated sculptures, the internal or reflected light gives the work a double life, a double dimension. With the lights off, the work shows the texture and materiality of the surfaces, with the natural colours of the paper. When the light is on, it reveals traces, ignites colours, generates unexpected chromatic effects, creating a dreamlike life that releases lightness and a bit of magic.

For the past three years or so, I have also been working on the texture of shadow. By lighting the sculptures from appropriate angles, in this case outside the work – whether suspended, stationary or mobile -, shadow effects are created that become an integral part of the work itself”.

What kind of philosophy underpins your artistic activity?

“The work for me is a search for harmony between volume and the space in which it is placed, emptiness and fullness, light and shadow, transparency and materiality. A search for harmony also between the chromatic values of the paper fragments used. When I create the sculptures, the juxtaposition and sequence of the paper fragments are in my head words and pieces of a dreamlike vision, of a poetic language, of a fragment of memory that acquires consistency in an attempt to represent the fragile harmony of beauty.

The search for harmony starts from the very process of execution; I went in search of a ‘gentle’, non-aggressive technique in the construction of the structures that support the sculptures. I abolished nails, replacing them with interlocking, grafting or gluing. I chose to treat only the back of the paper used with semi-transparent glue so as to strengthen it without altering the material consistency and opacity that characterises the surfaces. This means lengthening the execution time, but I believe that time and slowness of execution are intrinsic to the work itself. In the works of the last three years, time has become an object of symbolic representation and an integral part of the work. After all, we come from a strong experience of suspended time due to the pandemic, which has given me much food for thought”.

What are your works inspired by?

“Journeys, nature or words from poems or other literary texts are my sources of inspiration. My work is slow and I also concentrate for long periods on traces of thoughts and ideas that I transform into works, forms, sculptures. I give a few examples.

The dreaming masks are illuminating sculptures that start from a study of African and Asian masks that have always fascinated me. The sculptures dedicated to trees want to represent the tree-paper-tree ring as a symbolic gesture of giving back to nature. The artist cats, the flying fish, the philosopher fish and the blue-eyed birds are illuminated sculptures that I made a few years ago to represent animals with paper that I think are able to dream and make us dream. The Small Theatres of Paper and Shadows are magic boxes, stages with backlit and changeable paper backdrops and changeable props that create evocative and evocative modular works.

Since 2019, my works have become more symbolic. With wind forms, suspended sculptures and furniture that descend from the ceiling like light stalactites, I have tried to give dimension to a movement that is not tangible. With Shadows of Time, large tapestries suspended from the ceiling and detached from the wall in such a way as to create shadows, I tried to give a dimension to one of the most important things in our lives, time, which accompanies us, envelops us, drags us, escapes us, impalpable and at the same time concrete, just like a shadow. With Invisible Cities, five illuminated sculptures, I have tried to give form and colour to the words and images of Italo Calvino’s narrative. The lighting inside the works, the lightness of the paper with its transparencies, and the poor materials used – wicker, bamboo, wood, ropes and fragments of glass – are intended to give life to the dreamlike dimension of the dialogues between the Emperor and the young Marco Polo, a visionary traveller who tells of impossible cities made of desires, signs, and languages. Cities that live in memory and imagination”.

Altro da aggiungere? Ad esempio, un episodio che vuole raccontare.

«Quando lavoro su un’idea che deve diventare un oggetto concreto – il più simile possibile a quello che vedo nella mia mente – mi succede spesso di perdere il senso del tempo e di certo non mi viene di misurarlo come spesso succede nella vita con le sue scansioni, le scadenze, le rincorse, gli affanni. Così mi è capitato anche recentemente in una collettiva a Villa Giulia, Verbania – Le stanze delle Meraviglie/Wunderkammer, curato da Marisa Cortese e dall’Associazione Siviera – dove esponevo in un’ampia stanza bianca e oscurata le mie cinque città invisibili: a una delle domande poste con maggiore frequenza dai visitatori – “Ma quanto tempo impiega a realizzare una sua opera?” – io non ho saputo con precisione come rispondere e ripiegando su “tutto il tempo necessario”. La risposta è in sé banale, ma riflettendoci stride con la concezione dominante – forse inevitabile – del tempo, che deve essere sempre misurabile, sempre scandito, sempre sotto controllo. Qualche altro visitatore della mostra, apprezzando molto le mie opere, ha commentato “ci vorrebbero ore per scoprire i dettagli delle sue opere”. Un apprezzamento gratificante, ma anche questo mi ha dato da pensare. Siamo sommersi da immagini – opere d’arte, natura, vita – talvolta anche molto belle, che divoriamo e dimentichiamo in fretta perché abbiamo sempre poco tempo per fermarci a contemplare i dettagli, i frammenti che la compongono, che ne costituiscono spesso l’anima o il senso o la bellezza. Perché ci rinunciamo? Perché per queste cose non troviamo mai il tempo? Non so ovviamente rispondere. Ma mi piace pensare che se le mie opere sanno comunicare leggerezza, lentezza e armonia possono essere una piccola oasi, un fragile rifugio di carta, al riparo dalla pesantezza, dalla velocità e dai rumori dissonanti del mondo e del tempo in cui viviamo».