* This publication ended its activity in 2020.
Guido Dettoni: when art does more than changing the world
“Guido Dettoni. The artist who invites us to sense the world with our own hands.”
We need art, and we need artists. And before I met Guido Dettoni della Grazia, I would have claimed that we need them to inspire us into “changing” the world and to make it into a better place. As a matter of fact, that was the very first thing I told him when we met and talked: “We all need to transform the world — especially us, religious people.”
And he listened. And I could even hear his smile through the phone, and he brushed aside that observation of mine with a simple rhetorical invitation. He suggested that I considered a calling to “interact” with the world, before attempting to “change” it.
He caught me by surprise. And, of course, he did the only thing that made sense in that context: he allowed me to “interact” with him and his work and to “sense” it. And I must say, throught that direct experience I got to “change” my own art and work, and that’s why I’m sharing this experience with my readers, as his work might also resonate with you.
As you may already know, Guido Dettoni is an exceptional, multifaceted artist and unbelievably cultivated person. It’s very easy to find info about him online; there is a plethora of videos, resources, and articles about him. We have even published things about him on Novena News. Personally, I was inspired by his exhibition “Maria” in Assisi. I was also moved by his project on “Reconciliation.” And I was intrigued by “Pau Universal”.
Throughout his work, there is the underlying common thread of using your own hands to experience the world, to sense it, to feel it, to play with wax and other materials, and to become a sculptor as a means of sensing and feeling our world and ourselves.
It is all about being able to manifest reality with your own hands as your hands interact with matter. In his approach, everything supports the ultimate aim of having our hands acting and giving a testimony of one’s own attitude and of one’s own being. Living, sensing, experiencing … It all becomes an encounter that happens in between our own hands.
As a prolific artist, there are plenty of projects and ideas to focus on. I’ll choose the three I’ve already mentioned as a starting point for this dialogue. God willing, this would be the starting point of a fruitful journey that will take us into further conversations about his current projects. And, of course, should they happen, they will be dutifully written down and made available for all of us to experience and sense his art.
So, the first work that I would like to mention is “Pau Universal”. No spoilers here. I’ll include the video about this project so that you can judge its merit and beauty on your own. But before you do just that, I’d like to mention that “Pau” was a fossil from the Miocene, which was found in Catalonia. Pau Universal: https://youtu.be/9KSk-Bz_X-o
Guido Dettoni was asked to bring it to the world and to make it accessible to everyone. And as it so happens with great art and great artists, he did far more than that. He made it into a truly unique and immersive experience that combines touch, sound, being, presence, and existence. It became a gift to all of us, as he managed to capture something truly universal.
Through his vision, a fossil from millions of years ago was embedded and cast in a hollow structure that was then scaled up to human dimensions. People could stay inside and listen to music that was played and reverberated internally. Pau then could generate a musical landscape that can/could manifest that time has no end. Reality is not only something that we can hold, grab and contain; Guido Dettoni Della Grazia reminds us that reality is something that contains us. We go inside. We can comprehend with our senses what it is, and what we are, in relationship to ourselves and to our faith, for in a way we are that which contains us.
“Pau” – the sculpture, the concept, and the experience — gives a full testimony of our planet, which is engraved from within its acoustic environment. Hence, it is an expression of “knowing” itself.
As someone living in Madrid, and given the tense sociopolitical relationship between Catalonia and the rest of Spain, I was deeply suspicious of the possibility of “Pau” being used as political propaganda.
My views were unfounded. Guido reminded me that history is localized in a given culture and in a given reality, and as such, it can conform to the identity of people. But Pau, the fossil, existed in a time well before humans, well before Catalans, well before Spaniards. And hence, the symphonies we feel when we are inside it are not just notes, but a philosophy of the transcendence of being itself. It’s history as it never was. And it’s embracing our shared humanity in an encounter with a fossil that contains us…
Impressed as I was with Pau Universal, “Reconciliation” brought me to a new level of relating to his art and experiencing the world and ourselves.
Again, an introductory video is embedded, but the underlying concept was to give wax to people in need of reconciliation and to let them manifest with their own hands what that meant to them. As Guido Dettoni told me, it was a cathartic experience done at an individual level, but that was then shared with the others. That incredibly personal experience of molding the wax, just molding, had amazing psychotherapeutic benefits. The people who participated managed to feel happier, and more reconciled with themselves. The testimonials that they offered and that they all shared after the experience was never made public. That was not the point at that time. But it goes without saying that the insight they offered was as valuable, if not more, than the experiences themselves. Reconciliation: https://vimeo.com/284878612
Participants really felt liberated from inner tensions. And what Guido’s vision allowed them to see is that what matters is the path we walk through life — the path in itself — but also how we travel through it.
If he had asked them to experience wrath and to manifest that through the wax, what would have happened? Their hands would have manifested wrath. And if you let killers do the same, they would have shaped guns.
And, as we talked, I confirmed what I had previously sensed about his work, which is no other than the idea that art that you do on your own is just art, but art that you do with others becomes a reality – a transforming reality.
Our hands manifest what is in our beings. We manifest when we look when we touch when we caress when we mold. We need to learn how to interact with the world in a more tactile way. Reality manifests itself through touch. Above all, his gift is the idea that “hands matter.”
And from that to “Maria,” as a way of closing this personal encounter with his work. You can see the permanent exhibition in Assisi or online. If you follow the link, you will see that it is of sublime beauty and of a delicate spirituality. It prompted me to ask him about devotion and religiosity in this day and age in which, rather than touching, we just see art and religious images through the screens of our mobiles. We don’t even look at it; we just consume it. Maria: https://youtu.be/_Ehas5piPh8
Again, he reminded me that any work of art, an object of religious adoration, can be a three-dimensional reality. Our hands can touch, but not see. They can only see when they touch with the complete hand, not just with our fingers. When you hold a figure of Mary in your hands, something emerges. We can transcend reality in a way that you cannot do when you merely caress it with your eyes as a two-dimensional image.
As he said, even our planet opens up when you touch it. That’s why it’s important to shape matter, to interact. Right now, we are feeding the digital world with images. But there is no reason why we couldn’t incorporate touching, sensing, and spirituality into this digital experience.
Why not leave a photographic testimony of something that you have molded and created beforehand?
And as the true artist and visionary he is, he suggested an experience for us to do. Not only me but you too, as you are reading this article.
We could all blindfold ourselves. And we could start by praying together, or by going through an inspirational passage. By doing so, we could help our hands to manifest a reality born out of a specific stimulation. Then, we should let our hands work the wax and manifest themselves.
The possibilities are limitless. It could be done in the intimacy of our desks, or it could be shared online by taking a photo and sharing it, or by video conference. We could have a reflection as a starting point and come together to build a collective aesthetic story. We could all see, in the sense of looking, and through that experience, we could give testimony of our encounter with ourselves.
As Guido said, we don’t need to “change” the world. The world changes on its own. What we need is to return to experiencing with our hands as an antidote to getting lost in it.
There are plenty of avenues that we need to explore, and that we must develop. We must find a way to reconnect to our humanity in all of its expressive capabilities, for if we fail at doing so, we are doomed.
So, as I said at the beginning of this article, we need art, and we need artists. But we also need our hands, for it is through our own hands that we must renew our aesthetics at a global scale, and it should all be done with a certain artistic and suggestive willingness of meeting the world and interacting with it, before any attempt to change it.
Thank you, Guido Dettoni, for the work you do, for the conversations we’ve had, for the impact that your work has had on me, and for the contribution that your art has in Europe and beyond.
Mada Jurado González