What Makes an Artistic Genius? Anna Paola Cibin – the fairy tale continues.
Almost a year ago Dantemag discovered this unique artist in an art gallery in London. Since then Anna Paola Cibin’s life has become as much a fairy tale story as her art work.
We met her in Venice on her way back from Shanghai where she had been invited to teach the students of the Yew Chung International School the secrets of her technique and prepare with them a permanent installation for their building’s main entrance next October.
I wonder if she feels a bit like Marco Polo these days, considering the amount of travelling she has been doing lately in Asia . After all she shares the same background with the legendary man The uniqueness of her work reflects the quintessential Venetian traditions, silk, velvet and Murano glass, a potent combination that has made her creations so hugely acclaimed around the world. Like her Venetian predecessor she is back in town as she is preparing an important installation to be shown here.
It is strange to be in the departure lounge and not travelling anywhere. “So what’s going on?”, I asked, as if I am not supposed to know. “Well”, she says smiling back at me, “somebody I met last year in London who happens to believe in my work suggested I should do something unique for my home city”.
Mmm, that sounds familiar! I thought. She might be referring to the installation of hers shown as part of the Biennale, a shoal of brightly-coloured fish on top of a terrace in a palazzo on the Grand Canal. The “No More Room in the Lagoon” installation created such a magical effect on the water, sparking all kinds of emotions in passers-by. “But hold on, that was last year’s, wasn’t it?”, I asked suspiciously.
“Actually I’m not talking about that one”, she said smiling. “I’m talking about the one opening here right on this very spot on 13th of June”
“Where? In the departure lounge of Marco Polo airport ?”, I asked surprised, as if I was Harlequin or some such character in a Commedia dell’Arte scene
“Yes! What ‘s wrong with that?”, she said grinning .
I have no recollection of anything similar ever having been done in an airport before and probably for very good reasons, I supposed – like security concerns and bureaucracy, just for starters. Besides we are in Italy and in Venice where to get into a museum you have to fit your schedule round their restrictive opening hours. Mmmm, not sure; she must be having me on but I pretended to go with it and tried to find out more.,
“Yes,we’re still in Italy and not moving from Venice”, she said in her usual charming way. “In fact that was part of the challenge, to try and prove stereotypes wrong. So we created something special for this unique town, as a message for the rest of the country. You guys at Dante talk about a new renaissance, right?”
“Right”, I said, not fully understanding what that had got to do with the magazine’s motto.
“Well, this is a perfect example”. There’s that teasing smile again.
Ok, like the Carlo Goldoni’s character I’m finding it hard to grasp the full concept here, but I’ll play along, because, as the servant of two masters – myself and the magazine – I am aware artists are renowned for having a different approach to reality so I ventured a tentative question.
“So this man suggested you should do an installation right here?” She nods playfully
Well, just like my character I went rambling on about how, yes, it did make sense, because this is the third largest airport in Italy with more than ten million passengers a year passing through, and definitely the most beautiful in the world to arrive to. The more positives that came to me, the more I began to think it really was an excellent idea, because, honestly, it is worth booking a flight here, just to have the experience of landing at Marco Polo.
“So this crazy friend of yours asked you to do this and… ?” My question trailed off.
“And ?” She asked back, puzzled, as if she didn’t get my drift.
I felt like saying ‘C’mon Colombina, don’t be so difficult’ but I had to bite my lip and I replied politely, “You’ve obviously agreed to do it but I’m curious, how “easy” has it been to organise it?”
“Well”, she said, maybe realising she was trying my patience a bit too much. “The curator contacted SAVE, the airport management company and they liked the idea but before a final decision could be made we had to work out all the security issues.
Once we solved the logistics SAVE were excited about providing a show for passengers passing through the airport. We hope people will enjoy this small token of appreciation, a little goodbye present for coming over and visiting our city”
“You make it sound so easy but we all know very well what it takes to get anything done in Italy these days”
Anna Paola interjects, “I’m not saying in Italy things don’t get more complicated sometimes for no reason at all, but, in my experience, I’ve faced similar difficulties all over the world. Putting together something unique like this, you have to abide by that country’s rules and regulations. Maybe I’ve been lucky, I don’t know, but like any other artist I’ve had my obstacles, and I’ve had my fair share of rejection but I never gave up. I kept on believing and producing my work.”
I was well aware of the praise for her art so I wanted to know what the worst thing anybody had said about her work.
She smiled again, thinking back, “I’ll never forget, at one of my first exhibitions in Venice I overheard two ladies commenting on one of my paintings that depicted an elephant, ‘Perfect for the National History Museum‘. I’m sure they didn’t mean to be spiteful”, she said smiling, “but as a young artist you are hypersensitive to comments like that. Anyway two days later at the same exhibition, a gentleman who spoke perfect Italian but with a French accent came up to me and after chatting about my technique, he left me with these words, “The art world is full of rubbish these days but you’ve really got something unique here in this show. Don’t give up!”
That person was Pierre Rosenberg former director of the Paris Louvre”. Inutile de dire, he has become one of her collectors!
“So your installation here at the airport is called “Nuoto d ‘Aria” (swimming on air) and it consists of eighty fish suspended in mid-air. Why this recurring theme of fish?
“Fish are a metaphor; I often use them in my work to describe the world out there and its diversity. I think we all feel like fish out of water at some point in our lives. There are all sorts of fish of all shapes and colours with all sorts of habits – some jump out of water for fun, some are famous for battling against the current to achieve their goal in life and others just go with the flow. But they’re all colourful and unique creatures on this earth”
“Yes but these ones are swimming on air?” I queried.
‘”Yes if you look at them from the front they look like an airplane’s fuselage, from the back an aircraft’s tail. Then if you go up to the second floor you’ll get a different perspective. With the sea in the distance beyond the airport, the effect is of them floating on the lagoon” “You see”, she went on, “Airports are not just places where people pass through, it’s where they also come together to go on to somewhere or to return from somewhere else. Passengers bring with them all sorts of emotions – they might be happy because they’ve seen something new to take back home, or they’re sad because they had to leave something behind they cared about. They fly in and out of here, so ‘swimming on air’”
Plus, as the icing on the cake, she tells me to look at the map of Venice and I’ll notice it is in the shape of a fish so I guess all of this is the perfect tribute to a city that lives on water and to all the diverse people passing through.
“So after this, Anna Paola, what’s up next?”
‘”I have an exhibition in Moscow and in New York before going on to China next October but I know we’re in talks with the curator to make this a travelling installation and take it to some other airports; we’ve got a few cities already lined up in Asia but it’s too soon to say for sure. ”
“So the Marco Polo trip continues then?”
“Let me show you something”, she says and motions me to follow her up to the second floor to the airport’s VIP lounge there. “Look what we’ve got for you here!”, she says, showing me a display of some of her other paintings . Wow! As I dived once again into the beauty of her work; I nearly forgot to realise it was based on the Marco Polo trip to Asia. I guess my Harlequin face must have revealed my amazement, only realising when I hear her giggling at my reaction.
“These works complete the installation, to stay true to my heritage because, yes, being a fish out of water is fine, but you should never lose touch with your roots because that’s what makes you a human being”, she says quietly Well, she really has thought it through, I tell myself and what a powerful message for our failing world of globalisation.
Now ladies and gentlemen, as we are coming towards the end of this piece, it is time to take the mask off. The mysterious curator at the heart of Anna Paola Cibin’s ground-breaking installation is in fact Dantemag ourselves. Our excuse for our deception at the start was our desire to add an extra Venetian twist of playing with the famous masked characters of the Commedia dell’Arte, teasing you, our faithful readers. The reality is we are extremely proud to be able to present to the world passing through Venice’s great airport this exhibition of Anna Paola Cibin’s stunning work, which will run from the middle of June to the end of October.
It is indeed a celebration of a new renaissance we at Dantemag are so fond of, a modern vision that does not represent a clash between old and new, but a process of evolution that blends tradition with new insights.
Describing Anna Paola Cibin as just an artist can sometimes be too reductive. Having had the luck to see her in action in her studio where she dyes her canvases of silky velvet, using only ancient traditional mixtures to create her colours, she has the air of an alchemist. The glass she adorns her works with has been created together in co-operation with Murano glass makers, using fire to turn silica into a crystal clear product. In the old days that would make her into a witch. Finally to be able to fix the pieces of glass onto the velvet she had to create her own glue, as there is no product available on the market, just as she had to do in order to create her brushes since no traditional ones can paint on velvet, – well, doesn’t that make her an engineer or a scientist, even?
Fire, water, air, and earth are the four elements of astrology, the four corners of pagan European ritual, the four ingredients of the alchemical schools of ancient Egypt,. But also another way of dividing the cosmos into elemental energies is the ancient Indian Vedic system of the three doshas: vata (air/space), pitta (fire), and kapha (earth and water). The same doshas used in Ayurvedic medicine in a system as fully developed as traditional Chinese medicine. So that makes her shaman healer as well then?
She might as well be, because artists with their work create emotions that connect to people on different levels. Beyond the unique effects that Anna Paola’s works create, what strikes me about this artist, is the attention to detail and the powerful stories she tells through her work that transcend all cultures. She is the Marco Polo who takes you on a voyage of self-discovery, the Dante that dives into the divine comedy of our lives. She shows us whether we are fish out of water or fish with our heads in the clouds. Whether we swim through this life as part of a shoal or alone, we all are on this cultural journey together, so we should take care of this colourful world in the best way possible.
A special thanks goes to all the people who work day in, day out at Venice’s Marco Polo airport and worked so hard to help us make all this happen.