Home - T Singapore

The Artist With An Ongoing Fascination With Light

By Renée Batchelor

Filippo Sciascia in his Bali studio.
 
Photograph by Stefano Scata
Filippo Sciascia in his Bali studio.

For Filippo Sciascia, art was something that he wanted to pursue from a young age. He first decided to be an artist as a young teenager. “It happened quite early, by the time I was 13 or 14, when a kid can understand that adults can do something that they are passionate about for living. I enjoyed drawing,” he says. A global artist in a true sense, Sciascia has practiced and studied all around the world, and this has informed his work in different ways. “The global artistic styles I have embodied due to my personal experience have set the foundations upon which I have built my art practice — this is a crucial essence of my being,” he says.

Sciascia explains how being born in Sicily he was surrounded by Greek classical art, Byzantine and Baroque influences. Subsequently growing up in Florence, Italy, he was exposed to renaissance and the Arte Povera style, and later on living in New York to pop art, minimalism and conceptual art. Currently Sciascia is living and working in Bali and this experience “forms the basis of the anthropological and social evolution of my practice,” he says.

Today light continues to fascinates Sciasia and he explores this theme in various forms and mediums in his latest show at Yeo Workshop — his second solo show with the gallery —  called “All We Have” that is running till the end of April. “I am interested in light, and an exploration of the material and motific forms that one of the most fundamental elements of our universe may be embodied in. Light and energy constitutes the evolution of life and human civilisation as we know it, playing a transformative role in the development of mankind’s technological ascendancy,” he says.

 

Courtesy of Yeo Workshop"All We Have" (2019) by Filippo Sciascia is painted with melatonin powder.
"All We Have" (2019) by Filippo Sciascia is painted with melatonin powder.

Sciascia said when he first started his study on light in 2000, his work focused on the human eye and its similarities with the camera apparatus. “The eye is often described as a camera. It captures light which feeds the brain with information transformed into neural activities, which is called the language of the brain. The photographic image is subject to a time paralysis which I form into oil paintings,” he says. In doing so Sciascia says that the effect of the two subjects subconsciously translates the relationship of the classic media (oil paint) and the technological media (video). “The intention is to provoke a wound, a black hole to overcome the work of camera, and the painting simulates the sensorial activities of the viewers which becomes also a subject to activate the work itself,” he says.

For his latest show “All We Have” Sciascia is experimenting with different media and different ways of painting and sculpting to express the concepts of materiality, the production and the metaphorical language of light. He says, “The painting ‘All We Have’ refers to our resources as light, and it is painted with melatonin powder. Melatonin is produced by the human body to regulate our circadian cycles and sleep, and here it emphasises the importance of natural light‚ as well as its absence — a fact that dovetails with the pretense of actual light in the painting.” Sciascia chooses his materials according to their energetic quality and the properties that can speak to the value of light and energy throughout the work. “The use of materials obtained from chemistry can provide the artwork with a different energetic density,” he says.

Courtesy of Yeo WorkshopA detail on "Machine Learning" (2020) by Filippo Sciascia.
A detail on "Machine Learning" (2020) by Filippo Sciascia.

Sciasia also uses actual light in his practice. He says, “‘Phylogenetic’ is a painting of a wooded terrain, the Stygian forest illuminated by a strip of LED lights placed behind the canvas, positioned to resemble a slanting shaft of sunlight. The work may be read within a particular tradition of landscape painting in Western art history — one that substitutes the typical portrayal of bucolic woods with a lush, tropical jungle, foregrounding the biological matter of plant life and replacing the depiction of light with an actual light source, suggesting natural processes of energy production involving sunlight, such as  photosynthesis,” he says.

For other pieces like “Primitive Mornings”, it seems at first glance to be a hybrid of minimalist sculpture and light art. However Sciascia says that “carved into a piece of fossilised resin is the eponymous phrase, which reveals the conceptual underpinnings of the piece.” Describing the piece he says that small, lighted cables have been tied to the panel to evoke the presence of electricity while the use of ridged aluminium siding recalls the surfaces of cable-shaped bacteria called desulfobulbaceae that was recently discovered living in sediment on the ocean floor.

Courtesy of Yeo Workshop"Phylogenetic" (2019) has an actual LED light source that lights up the painting.
"Phylogenetic" (2019) has an actual LED light source that lights up the painting.

Sciascia’s use of materials include fossilised resins that are produced by plants through photosynthesis, paint made out of our volcanic sand, as well as sand. “Sand, of course, is one of the sources of silicon, mined from the earth as silica sand or quartz, and used in the making of technological hardware such as microchips, memory cards and other components of integrated circuits. I am interested in the biological starting points of contemporary technology, and its origins in natural materials that were often formed millennia ago — the intersection of the digital and the mineral, the relentlessly contemporary and the occluded primitive,” he says.

His main message from his show is that, “I think of evolution as a not a history of light, but a light of history.” On working with local gallery Yeo Workshop, Sciascia says, “The Yeo Workshop mentality is to workshop ideas with artists, be bold and take experiments seriously. It is a tenacious contemporary art gallery in Singapore. Our relationship has been constructive and healthy as they nurture artists’ careers and embraced my practice which is to approach different media conceptually.”

Courtesy of Yeo Workshop"Clorofilliana" (2020) by Filippo Sciascia.
"Clorofilliana" (2020) by Filippo Sciascia.

We asked Sciascia to do our artist’s questionnaire:

What is your day like? How much do you sleep, and what’s your work schedule?

Daily life and work are one and the same, I work on priorities than schedules. My house and studio is a building that I designed in 1997 —  a live work space that exists together. I always have been a poor sleeper. I would like to be able to be better at it!

How many hours of creative work do you think you do in a day?

It changes from day to day, but I can feel that the older I get the more time I spend thinking and experimenting with materials and waiting for  results and their potentiality before I go on with a new work. The evolutionary process of work-life has had to evolve simultaneously.

What’s the worst studio you ever had? 

The worst was in the hills of Florence, while I was still a student at the  art institute of Porta Romana. The studio had  broken glass windows no heating system —  in the winter I had to work in multiple layers of clothes and gloves to cope with the cold, but when you are 20 you can easily overcome issues like that… it was great.

How do you know when you’re done?  How do you know when you’re finished with a work?

I actually have given up the finished idea of a work that has to arrive somewhere i.e. the end.  A work can manifest and transform like layers of energy.

How many assistants do you have? 

One only very good Balinese young man by the name of Komang — a  great help who maintains my  studio, prepare stretchers, sources for fossilised resins and uses dangerous cutting tools which I am terrified of and very clumsy with!

 

Courtesy of Yeo Workshop"Xuanlong" (2020) a sculpture of stainless steel and bronze by Filippo Sciascia.
"Xuanlong" (2020) a sculpture of stainless steel and bronze by Filippo Sciascia.

Is there a meal you eat on repeat while you’re working? 

I wish I could drink coffee like we do with water!

What is the weirdest object in your studio? 

Weird is quite relative to the viewer. I keep fossils, local ethnic sculptures made out of bones, medical tools that one day will transform into sculpture… but they are not weird to me.

What music do you play when you’re working? 

Music and sound is the oldest human expression, I am attracted  to any kinds of sound/music, from wavelength sounds to electronic, classic operas, soft punk, traditional, folkloristic, and meditative. Then again good music, like anything else, can come from anywhere. I’m only not very fond of rock.

Are you binge-watching any shows right now? 

I am always on the alert for the latest science documentary. Fictions never really attract me. Reality is far more incredible.

If you have windows, what do they look out on? 

The windows look out to my garden where I have a lot of ferns and cactus. I find them meditative and relaxing.

What do you bulk buy with most frequency? 

Linseed oil for painting. I can make a colour pigment from many natural and alternative sources from my garden such as soil from the ground or simple red brick powder can make beautiful tonalities but the linseed oil is truly essential to bind any pigments.

What’s your worst habit? 

I am trying to stop smoking!

What embarrasses you the most? 

Can’t tell you, it’s embarrassing...

Do you exercise?

I believe is a good habit for the mind and body and I push myself to take a break and go for a walk in the late afternoon. Behind my studio, there is an old temple “The Monkey Forest” in Ubud where I live. 

What are you reading? 

I’ve just finished read Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens”, but I also listen lot of different audio books while I work.

What’s your favourite artwork (by someone else)? 

I don’t feel I have a single favourite artwork, but I have in my mind a respect for various artist’s works, like Jannis Kounellis, Mario Merz, Matthew Barney, Joseph Beuys…..

"All We Have" is showing at Yeo Workshop until 30 April 2021. 

 


T magazine

T: The New York Times Style Magazine Singapore’s best videos: digital house tours from around the world, behind-the-scenes looks at cover shoots and more.