Sursum corda- hearts up
Written by Monica Camozzi
At the age of 6, Michele Tombolini completed his first work: an angel, looking upwards. The iconographic imprint of his majestic installations, often over two metres high: a half-bust turning its eyes to heaven. Eyes that are veiled by pixelation in the immense image, 8 metres high, that appears in front of the Venice Police Headquarters and portrays a 12-year-old boy with his mouth ‘plugged’ by an X, the black imprint of a hand on his chest, his eyes concealed to recall the new digital anthropology full of traps, such as grooming and cyberbullying. Because it is to the theme of violence that the artist wants to lead the observer today, with his unmistakable inclination to combine all forms of expression -photography, painting, music, digital art- to communicate messages of social and cultural impact.
I realised later on, over the years, beyond all religious matters, that the spiritual impulse in me has always been very strong. And by spiritual I mean that which pertains to the energy of the universe, to the soul.
The wings, they were always there. A semiotics of freedom that appeared behind the shoulders, symbolised the contrast to censorship, recalled the divine. In short, a crucial element of Tombolini-poetics.
However, before arriving at this courtly temperance, Michele went through his heated periods: that of primitivism, instinctual and decidedly gut-based
I wanted the work to be perfect in two hours: if that didn’t happen I would destroy it, I would wake up at night to redo it, in short I was a little restless.
A way to exorcise fears?
Yes, they were still figures, but unrecognisable compared to my current expressiveness. A bit childish, punctuated by drips of paint that I would put on with my hands, then remove. Some of my paintings have 6 or 7 other iconographies underneath. In those days I was very instinctive….
What happened next?
Life has been a great school, I have learnt to tame my impulses, I have observed reality better. I learnt that we are resonant, the negative attracts the negative and vice versa so I learnt to breathe, to smile and focus on the beautiful.
I am now an observer without judgement. My task is not to stigmatise, it is to make people think. I throw the stone in the pond, everyone reads what they want
The nature of the works I do is also different, it takes time. I created a staff with a photographer, a permanent collaborator. Right now, for example, we are creating a huge tapestry, we have been on it for two months. I already have it in my head and I will be happy when I see it finished.
An artist must evolve together with the reality around him. And my art changes in symbiosis with my existential changes.
Were you born as a painter?
Definitely yes, since my exploit at the age of six I have always painted, then I had a lull at 20 to resume at 24 and that was it. I was inspired by the great masters of graffiti art, from Basquiat to Haring, I adore Picasso, the transavantgarde, from Domenico Paladino to Sandro Chia or Enzo Cucchi. And I have always created large-scale material installations, they give me more emotion
Your inclination to provoke an emotional impact, however, has always been there….
I play a lot with emotions and I love provocation, as long as it is not obvious, it must be intelligent and provoke spontaneous questions.
Like the mannequin in front of Piazza Affari covered in energy bills and sitting on a radiator chair?
Yes exactly, or like the beggar with the Chanel bag. I really love surprise raids, the abusive ones… When we put 35 skulls on the monuments of Italian cities in one night together with the environmentalists of Extinction Rebellion, the project was The Voice of the Planet. I smile now but that night I was terrified, I was in connection with the various groups via zoom. On the same night at 3 a.m. all the Italian cities installed masks and each group had a photographer and video maker. On this, we are editing films.
The image of the young boy with the cross on his mouth and the black hand on his chest, in front of the Questura di Venezia, what message does it want to convey?
The work in Venice is part of the project Linea Interrotta, realised with Biennale Educational and aimed at bringing the focus to violence and abuse that sees the youngest as victims, often unaware. But already in 2015 I had made Butterfly, in Berlin (a work reminiscent of Wenders’ metaphors, ed): the half-bust of a little girl with an X on her mouth and wings, to signify metamorphosis but also the possibility of flying beyond the cages of reality.
Over time, my butterfly went from full to transparent, to give a more positive message of openness where before there was a total closure on freedom
You are contextualised in the social pop current, do you recognise yourself in it?
I have been part of it, now much less so because as I said I also transform myself, you cannot stay still. I look for new forms of expression, the archetype of pop is Warhol, but we always go too close to what has already been said and done. Revisiting the already seen is not what I want to give the public.
What kind of social phenomenon attracts you now, apart from the crucial one about violence?
I‘m looking at young people, the anthropological change that has led to an indefiniteness of physical characteristics.It is as if archetypes have been dismantled, man has become feminized and this phenomenon arouses in me the desire to create a work. The change is too marked not to be considered.
Is there room for photography in your installations?
I have been working with photography for a long time, I have a collaborator who, together with my photographer, helps me to create the works. For me, photography is art, I’m fascinated by it, I put it a lot in my installations.
I create photographic works with sound, collages, monitors, because I see art in 360 degrees. For example, inserting mechanisms into the mouth of a robotic woman helped me to express perceptions about the current trend, the one that wants to unite man and machine. I have taken this topic forward with the San Marino Biennial.
What do you think about the use of AI in art?
I think that all the tools are suitable for documenting the times we live in. As with all other things, I accept this transformation and look at it with curiosity. 3D sculpting is also fine. We can’t imitate Michelangelo.
Every means is a tool. And as such it depends on who uses it, whether to use it for good or for evil.