The Oracular Skullptures project ideally starts in Pantelleria in 2014. By walking in a deserted part of the island between abandoned Dammusi (Sicilian traditional housing) and dry ears, I found a veil’s scapula. It hold something magical, I was so fascinated. I kept it for 2 years before realizing what to do with it. One day I dreamt to lacquer this piece in white paint and once I woke up I went to a laboratory to make my first prototype.
From that on I started to study animal skulls with great interest. They hold such an intrinsic ancestral power. They inspire respect, but also protection. I see them as silent witnesses and warners of our times, physical reminders of our connection with nature and cosmos, archetypical figures that entertain a deep and privileged relation with our unconscious. They are oracular in the sense that it is impossible to not establish some kind of communication with them, even just by an emotional response. They invite, sometimes force, the viewer to stand in an interrogative way. Whatever you may ask, they process it and “spit” or “whisper” an answer back to you. With their charming bone structure, coloured surface and mocking sneer, these animal skullptures trigger contrasting feelings of attraction/repulsion. This fascination for the animal bones and their use in cultural rites, and later in arts, as always accompanied humanity (as well as human bones, something I wrote about here).
There is an interesting example of this fascination I found in art books regarding British artist Henry Moore. Animal skulls were great inspiration of a large number of his graphic designs and sculptural works. He studied form, empty and full spaces, both inside and outside with great wonder and interest.
Here in his words:
«I have found the many qualities that generally have the bones, including the strength and thickness of some parts, while others are as light and thin as a piece of paper. The sense of strength and structure of Nature are among the wonderful things that one can discover by studying these bones.»In 1966 he received the skull of an elephant as a gift from two dear friends».
Again, here his enthusiastic description:
«I do not know any single bone that has so many forms inside it, it is much more complex and fascinating than the human skull! I was also given a rhinoceros, which has an interesting shape, but it does not inspire me as much as that of the elephant. He has a fierce, aggressive character, while that of the elephant, despite being very powerful, exudes kindness and serenity. In my mind has even become the arm of a reclined figure».
SYMBOLISM OF THE ANIMAL
Besides arts, in the post-human theory the figure of the animal is very much linked to the displacement of anthropocentrism, but not necessarily in the sense of the anti-specism. In my view, the animal power is still based on its “ontological difference”. In fact, while the human skull is the emptied face reminding the observer the future of his inevitable mortality, the presence of animal skull may evoke a sense of nostalgia for a past condition mankind have left behind. By looking at the animal skull one is inevitably driven to fantasise about his animal previous wild life, environment, species-specific horizon, and “stunned” immersion in its own kingdom. An archaic state also shared by mankind of the origin where the earthly microcosm was immediately connected with the macrocosm. In this sense the animal skulls are also an invitation to regain a more universal gaze encompassing all sensient beings.
In psychoanalysis, especially Jungian, the archetypical meaning of animals in dreams is central. Unlike in commercials, where a desacralized version of the animal is used as if in a gratified manner (for the consumer), in dreams the individual is the animal. Because of their body structure and behavioural characteristic, animals in dreams hold a huge symbolic power, they function as synthetic catalysts of a wide range of feelings and situations: they crawl, jump, fly, swim, camouflage, attack, sleep, surrender, watch around. The animal in dreams can be downsized, reduced to formless raw meet, transformed into bones, or become a numinous out of scale super-Animal: a huge lion, a magical horse, a golden bird. Also the animal represent a repression/suppression of the traumatic experience we inflict to nature in order to dominate. Thus the animal skull can indeed be interpreted as a warning both for the individual and for mankind as a whole.
Without spoiling too much the process, it indeed needed the collaboration of technicians (Ernesto, Daniel and Paolo) and a laboratory with professional ventilation systems (also to prevent dust from sticking to fresh paint) to make a perfect and durable execution. Each skull needs to be cleaned from organic residues, degreased, disinfected, sanded, sutured, some pieces must be put back together and glued. Funny enough, the workers got very much engaged with the skullptures. They were happy to work on something so new and unexpected, as they normally work on doors, desks, cabinets, wardrobes. I could work at the laboratory side by side with them, preparing the skulls for days, choosing the right base and the right blend of paint for each skull. They were amazed of the result!
Paolo is enjoying spraying painting the warthog skull. It’s like a dance.