Lucilla Catania or the ineffable lightness of material


Lucilla Catania’s advent during the 1980s as an artist who based her work exclusively on sculpture and on a technique involving the use of more traditional materials, was a break from the more traditional position in art circles of the time. Her decision was clear from the very outset – to re-establish the formal and spatial values that were the historical heritage of the nineteenth century European avant-garde movement and, which, in Italy, was seen in post-Second World War art. In the first abstract works of Pietro Consagra, his wedge-shaped plastic elements were meant to be seen, on a visual and psychological level, as synonymous with dynamism, an optimistic projection of the future. His “plastic conscience”, the identifying totems of a propelling impetus, are transformed into the artist works of Lucilla Catania, pointed bodies, free from all social connotations and ideological consequences, bringing to the fore the meaningfulness of the object. The over-sized representations of martial weapons, such as daggers, clubs and hooks, merge with the density and opulence of the completely rounded marble blocks. This results in, on the one hand, the sculptures becoming increasingly thinner, almost diminishing, and to the other extreme, being square-shaped, exhibiting traces of a sharp and peremptory gesture that cracks the material in two. Lucilla Catania next turned her attention to Brancusi’s work, searching for a more formal perfection in refinement and alchemist purity oval shapes, where elongated curves like those of the horizon contrast with sharp, razor-edged lines. These geometric solids of meta-physical clarity are not reaching out up into the air or to natural light, but emerge, extending horizontally out from the bi-dimensional section resting on the ground, revealing a Cartesian solidity, tangibly and culturally in tune with Roman art work – clear theorems translated into sculpture.

If the artist’s work was confined to salvaging the memory of a past historical technique and critically re-examining the various movements, past and present, of sculpture, her role would be only that of an imitator – instead, Lucilla Catania has searched for a poly-centric language made up of interference, deferment, antithetical and complementary paths, proposing the need to compare and move on.

The shapes are also defined by the accumulation of fragments from the rough and lumpy surfaces, the remains from the pre-established geometric-based design, open to the variability of events. They also rise up as vertically standing sculptures, precariously balanced as they tower upwards, alluding to the idea of instability, nomadism and the dissemination of shapes that would become more evident in her works of the 1990s.

Following the same fragmental quality, Lucilla Catania arranges groups of sculptures, self-expressive presences drawn close to each other, creating their own parallel and autonomous space.

In her desire to create an artificial landscape made up of plastic models establishing an eventual new architecture, we can recognize and feel the Roman spirit impregnated in their tri-dimensionality, weight and volume, renewing our rapport with antiquity.

Yet, in hollowing out and emptying her forms, Lucilla Catania has desecrated the idea of the immobility and inertia of marble, stone and cement blocks. She has revealed their elastic qualities, their flexibility and even, how the material breathes. The merging of the natural and the historical gives rise to sculptures of a minimal monumentality, and minus the classical Roman pedestals, theyrepresent an ultimate contemporary classicism.

Anna Imponente