Bus de la Lum (Hole of Light) is a new solo show by Italian artist Nico Vascellari at the Whitworth in Manchester. It is in three parts; a large-scale haunting installation, six framed wall-pieces and several bronze sculptures.

Inspired by wooded landscapes, the wall works evoke the textures and colours of fallen leaves and tree-bark, and the sculptures mimic natural forms. But it is the installation that creates the most lasting impact, evoking the experience of being lost in a forest. It is full of shifting patterns and shadows, and backed with churchlike choral singing that edges into modern minimalist music, intensifying the experience of being elsewhere.

While citing Caspar Friedrich, Mike Kelley and Gordon Matta-Clark as visual artists he most admires, Vascellari is also the singer in the punk band, With Love. “I’m interested in the hardcore scene, the black metal scene, the noise scene,” he says.

In 2005 he was awarded the first International Prize for Performance at Dro, Italy and in 2007 he was shortlisted for the Furla Prize. In the same year he received the Young Italian Art Award 2006-2007 and his work was included in the 52nd Venice Biennial.

Vascellari is also currently showing at the Estorick Collection in London where, he says, “my work is dialoguing with [work] by the Futurists”.

You integrate visual, performance and sound elements in your work. How did your practice develop?
My background was in the underground music scene – punk. Because I came from the countryside and was a bit isolated I became a fan of “doing it yourself”; if I wanted something to happen I had to do it myself. I sang and played in a band, but I also put on other bands and made little fanzines. I never considered myself a musician because I thought sound was more than just sound – I have always been an activist.

When I was older, I toured with the band, but on days off I visited museums in the town where I was and then what I was doing with the band didn’t seem enough. I was fascinated by the control you could see in museums – how you could control the space and the light and how people moved about. But I also felt museums lacked the things that a band can have – a sense of fear, physicality, violence – so all of a sudden I thought, maybe that’s what I can do! So I started doing performances in museums, and from there everything else developed. After the performance I started to make a sculpture, then a film, then music. So it all became a creative whole.

What do you want the audience to take away from Bus de la Lum?
The idea is that you perceive something that seems familiar, that reminds you of something. But the concept is that it goes beyond what you physically recognise, that it goes to something that is deep within ourselves, something that is primal. When you enter you feel that you are in a dark and spooky landscape.

Can you describe the installation?
There are two projections of video – one from behind my studio in north east Italy and one shot in Turkmenistan. In Italy there is a natural cavity in the landscape which animals kept falling into. But at night when the temperature was low the rotting bodies would react with the oxygen and emit gasses which caused small fires. This caused a lot of superstition among the locals who associated it with magic and witchcraft.

Then in world war two it became a mass grave – the fascists were throwing in the partisans and the partisans were throwing in the fascists. A lot of the time they were still alive when they were thrown in. So I wanted to do something that was political without being moral. To me, that place embraced the idea of evilness, without judgement. Physically it is what it is; human beings made it evil, first by fantasising about it and then by using it in this terrible way.

What’s the connection to Turkmenistan in the piece?
I connected this place [in Italy] with Darvaza in Turkmenistan, which in English means ‘gate to hell’.  Around 40 years ago they were drilling, and all of a sudden the ground collapsed. From the fissures this produced, poisonous gasses emerged. They set the gasses on fire, expecting them to burn out in five or six days. But 40 years later, there is still a hole in the desert that is in flame. So I made the connection – a suggestion of an underground link between these two spaces.

What about the music that accompanies the piece?
The music is improvised between me and [Turkish-born musician] Ghedalia Tazartes, singing together. We used the human voice because it too was air coming out of a human cavity. The screens are titled ‘leaves’ and provide the function of sunrays and moonrays.

It seems that you are drawn almost equally towards music, visual art and performance. Do you feel that you have managed to integrate all these sides of your psyche?
I would say “no”, because I am still trying to explore it. At first I wanted it not to be different aspects, but music people would come to a gig and notice the artistic parts, and the art crowd would go to an exhibition and notice the music. I think it’s coming together. It is becoming more and more natural to me, to come up with projects where the two entities are combined. Before it was very easy to draw a line between these elements. Now I feel that they are becoming united, one single entity that creates something whole and complete.

Nico Vascellari at The Whitworth, Manchester continues until 18 September 2016. His show at the Estorick Collection, London continues until 3 April 2016

Use the Q&A tag for more interviews in the series including Gerard Byrne, George Barber and Susan Philipsz

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