A journey through the artistic production of the Neapolitan artist Diego Cibelli, who manipulates the daily life objects to reveal their endless meanings
Diego Cibelli exploring the multiple applications of ceramics
The first time Diego Cibelli used ceramic for artistic purposes dates back to 2003, when he was working on Tarzan’s House in the Media Forest. While looking for the right material for the project, he realized that plexiglass and other plastic materials could not replicate the complexities of the new house models.
It was on that occasion that he discovered porcelain and ceramic. «Ceramic is a living material. It has micro and macro properties: on one hand you can touch and shape it, but on the other hand it is sedimented in the territory of origin and therefore it carries within itself certain immutable characteristics».
Before starting the production process, Cibelli undertakes a research phase in which he explores, through video and 3D modeling, the multiple applications of ceramics. For Cibelli this stage is a fundamental part of the creative process, as it allows him to understand how to use and place the material in a specific scenario.
His research on the multiple and unexplored meanings of the everyday objects present some similarities with the work of Dino Gavina, who in 1971 developed the collection Ultramobile in collaboration with artists of the caliber of Man Ray and Oppenheim.
Studies at Academy of Fine Arts in Naples and Weißensee Kunsthochschule in Berlin
His artistic training started with a bachelor degree at the Academy of Fine Arts of Naples, his hometown. Afterwards, he graduated from Berlin Weissensee Kunsthochschule. Thanks to the wide choice of courses given by the Berlin Weissensee Kunsthochschule, Cibelli had the chance to range between different subjects and study areas.
Nonetheless, for more than a decade, Cibelli’s works have revolved around one central focus: the relationship between people and the landscapes that surround them. «all my projects are connected, there are no breaking points. My work is a continuous evolution. His concept of time, understood as transformation and metamorphosis, is the central focus of a project curated by Alessandra Troncone which was presented in spring: Gates (2019).
Gates and Visitatio
The starting point of his research for the production of ‘Gates’ is the findings of Carlo di Borbone in Pompei, Ercolano and Stabia in the mid-1700s and the related publications by the Royal Printing House. This discovery was the beginning of a journey through time and space which continues today.
The main goal of Cibelli’s artistic research is to understand what it means to inhabit the space. During his period of study in Berlin, Cibelli had the chance to attend a geography course taught from a humanistic perspective. «What fascinated me was the definition of ‘landscape’ given by the European Union: a specific portion of territory so as it is perceived by the population that lives in it».
According to this non dualistic perspective, the two subjects, human being and landscape, merge into a single entity. The individual inhabits the space and, on the other hand, the space inhabits the individual. This issue was addressed by the artist in ‘Visitatio’ (2002-2003), a one-year-long video art project in which Cibelli filmed the aspiring Berliner taxi drivers while preparing for the final exam.
In the film you can see them travel with the mind across the streets of the German capital moving their hands in the air in a sort of dance.
The importance of experimenting art mediums and techniques through visualization
The second stage of his artistic training took place in his homeland, at the University Luigi Vanvitelli, where he deepened his knowledge of architecture and design. Through his years of study in Italy, Cibelli realized that things, as well as people, have a soul and a specific identity. His research method transcends the production of single objects characterized by their functionality and common use; his work is aimed at creating collections of items in relationship with the environment.
With his multidisciplinary approach, Cibelli tries to disclose the power of things and build narrations about spaces, objects, people and the connections that arise when all these subjects are put in relation. In order to achieve this result, Cibelli understood the importance of experimenting different art mediums and techniques through the act of visualization. «Visualizing means working with all the possibilities that the World has to offer. Before reaching the final result, the visual product must have lived a journey» Cibelli said.
The project ‘Meditation in Emergency’, started before the advent of Covid-19, is an invitation to rethink the object of use as an «object of dream», capable of assuming new meanings and stimulating the imagination of the viewer. The items assume the status of domestic animals, which have their own autonomy but, at the same time, establish a symbiotic and codependent relationship with human beings. They become comparator elements and allow the viewer to enter new realities, in which the domestic space becomes a place of symbolic meaning.
Meditation in Emergency
The production of ‘Meditation in Emergency’ is the result of a combination of two previous works: ‘Almost Home’ (2015) and ‘Domestic Extremist’ (2017). For the production of ‘Almost Home’, Cibelli was inspired by a moment of conviviality between different species he witnessed in first person. One day, while wandering around the Berlin zoo, he saw the zookeeper’s preparing the meal for the monkeys and then feeding them from their hands.
In that specific scenario, in the artist’s eyes, the cage didn’t look like a symbol of captivity anymore, but on the contrary it pushed him to reflect on the resilience of the animals and their ability to satisfy their needs even in conditions far from their natural environment. This event was an occasion for Cibelli to wonder about the symbolic and exchange value of food, which goes beyond its nutritional value. These challenging times in which the hands became one of the protagonists of the Covid-19 narration, pushed the artist to reflect on the symbolism of the hands of the monkeys and their keepers. ‘Almost Home’ stems from the fusion of the human and animal world. The second source of inspiration for the production of ‘Meditation in Emergency’, ‘Domestic Extremist’ (2017), is based on hikikomori, also known as ‘acute social withdrawal’.
Hikikomori a disease spread among teenagers
This disease is common among Japanese teenagers and young adults from middle and upper-middle-class families, who cannot deal with the high expectations of their parents. Cibelli reflected on this social disease and realized how people need and seek human contact, just like hikikomori try to escape their loneliness through social media and virtual relationships.
In ‘Meditation in Emergency’ these two projects come together and invite the viewer to question themselves about the relationship between domestic and public space, which merged during the months of lockdown caused by the pandemic. «Lockdown allowed us to look at the items that surround us from a different perspective and to understand that they could all be virtual doors to new experiences and meanings» the artist claimed.
‘Meditation in Emergency’, through the encounter and combination between several different elements, marks the narrations and the challenges that people all over the world have experienced during the enforced isolation within their homes.
Feed Me with Domestic Stuff
The artistic research of Cibelli continued after the completion of ‘Meditation in Emergency’. He developed a new project called ‘Feed Me with Domestic Stuff’, which was unveiled on February 5, 2021 at the Made in Cloister, Naples. In this work the most common objects, decontextualized and placed in different settings, assume new meanings and possibilities from which springs an unexplored technological potential.
Nowadays art, as well as other sectors, is undergoing changes and evolutions. The way people relate to and benefit from art is evolving thanks to the phenomenon of digitization and the implementation of online collections and experiences by art museums worldwide. Cibelli acknowledges that the artistic experience does not end in computer screens and the online fruition cannot replace the trajectory of meaning which people can experience in the halls of an art museum.
The artist believes that unveiling the beauty and dignity enclosed within their walls, art museums and cultural institutions can make an impact on people’s lives. Art alone cannot deal with all the challenges society is now facing. On the contrary, Cibelli thinks that art, politics, science, economics and all the departments of human life must come together in order to initiate a cultural metamorphosis capable of generating a sense of common belonging.
Cibelli had the chance to further explore this issue in ‘Interlocking’ (2016) in which he investigated the notion of resilience through the study of the shifting cultivation, in which a combination of crops are cultivated on a parcel of agricultural land at the same time. Studies have shown that the soil takes advantage from this kind of cultivation and Cibelli wanted to investigate how it could be applied in urban design through the collaboration of sectors and city areas.
He involved six urban planners who collaborated with him in the production of six projects which led to a collection in which ceramic briquettes are interconnected and combined like crops in shifting cultivation. Cibelli’s creative production is a combination of styles, materials, disciplines and interests which transcends the boundaries of art and sculpture, finding fulfillment in daily life.
Neapolitan artist whose work aims at exploring the hidden meanings and relationships that exist between environments, objects and people. His production is influenced by his multidisciplinary artistic training at the Naples Academy of Fine Arts and Berlin Weissensee Kunschschule, and his product design studies at Luigi Vanvitelli University, Naples. In his works he often makes use of ceramic and porcelain. Their flexible and ductile properties marry well with Cibelli’s propensity to modify and decontextualize the elements of daily life and unveil their hidden potential.