Wood returns to the forest... and immediately becomes art!

If while strolling through the forest in Val di Sella you should happen to see a bear... don’t be afraid.

Nico Zardo

Approach it very, very slowly and when you are a few feet away, you will discover that that bear is actually a magnificent sculpture made of tightly entwined branches, created with artistic skill and love for nature. And if you look around, you’ll notice that it’s not the only work of art that “lives” in this valley.

Arte Sella is an international contemporary art exhibition born in 1986 and held in the open air, in the fields and forest of Val di Sella, a municipality of Borgo Valsugana, thirty kilometers east of Trento. Visitors can enjoy a stroll through the forest, admire monumental trees and along the way discover about fifty 3D works created on-site by artists from different countries, expressing their creativity by taking inspiration from the location and using rocks, leaves, branches, tree trunks. These works that each year enrich the area with additional pieces, must respect established principles that endorse harmony with the environment and the safeguard of nature rather than a resounding central role, dissonant with the location.

THE USE OF ORGANIC MATERIALS AND THE EXPRESSION OF ENTENTE WITH THE ENVIRONMENT sometimes produce a camouflage effect where the visitor is spurred, like in a treasure hunt, to discover the presence of works and often to mentally trace the artist’s intentions. It is the case of minimalist artist Giuliano Orsingher who, by digging around some rocks protruding from the ground, creates a privileged place by shaping small containers (“Nicchie ecologiche”, 2000) where rainwater is collected and placed at the disposal of who - man or animal or the earth itself - may need it.

MOST OF THE TIME, HOWEVER, THE HAND OF MAN SHAPING THE NATURAL MATERIAL pursuant to his creative intentions is evident. Like “Rifugio” by Anton Schaller (2011), a smoothed container shaped like a huge, inhabitable bean, available to offer maternal protection. Or “Imbuto di lusso” (2008) by Finnish artist Jaakko Pernu: by changing proportions and expertly entwining branches he reproduces an object dear to his childhood - a special funnel used to bottle milk. With “Nucleo” (2004), the Austrian Armin Schubert intends to remind people that nuclear physics and molecular biology profoundly cohabitate the mechanisms of matter and, with his two spherical sections of black locust wood that recall the components of the atom, invites people to approach nature with great respect and sense of responsibility. And, still in agreement with nature, François Lelong wanted to represent the journey of the “Sole” (2008), by assembling a circle in the sections of decorticated Douglas fir trunks, each bearing just one branch, to recall the rays of the beneficial star.

A particularly important role at Arte Sella is assumed by “Cattedrale Vegetale“ (2001), a work by Giuliano Mauri, Italian artist from Lombardy. It is a rectangular structure 82 meters by 15, 12 meters high, where eighty vegetable columns protect the growth of small hornbeams whose branches, becoming entwined as they grow, form the arcs of the three grandiose naves. Ten years after installing Mauri’s “Cattedrale”, the Sanfte Srukturen atelier, a group of German artists, reinterprets this theme with its “Galleria di salice” (2011) a simple structure made of living willow that creates entwined geometric arcs: its size allows the willow branches to extend and grow, creating a very special forest. The willows will grow and become trees, turning the arcs into an organized space created by the cooperation between man and nature.

INITIALLY INSPIRED BY THE LEANING TOWER OF PISA, the three small tree structures of entwined branches (entertaining title: “Tana libera tutti”, 2011) are too big and fragile to stand on their own. So American artist Patrick Dougherty from Oklahoma chose to build each around a tree that supports them. Says the artist: “It is a way of calling attention to the relationship between man and nature”, underscoring the dependency that man has always had in regards to trees as places appropriate to find refuge in. The title of the work stems from imagining these towers as if they were children playing “hide-and-seek”, intent of leaning their heads against the tree to count before looking for their companions hiding nearby. At one point, someone runs towards the tree-base and frees all those who have been “captured” by touching it and yelling “Ollie Ollie oxen free”!

ENGLISH ARTIST STUART FROST AND SPANISH ARTIST MATILDE GRAU participated at Arte Sella with two works that, although stemming from different inspirations, have interesting analogies. With “Intersticios” (2002), a parallelepiped comprised of wooden blocks placed one next to other so as to leave crevices between them, Grau invites the viewer to look inside the sculpture and try and find the hidden (steel) structure supporting it. With his “Capsula” (2011), Frost expresses his creative quest for the hidden features of natural objects and the relationship with their place of origin. Both the capsule of the English artist, with its external texture made of branches cut off at the top, and Grau’s geometric volume highlight the ability of wood to express formal qualities with great power of expression.

“Dopo il caos” (2006) is the title of the work by Belgian artist Bob Verschuren who entrusts an arc of tightly intertwined branches of spruce fir and ash with the task of uniting two parts of the forest separated by an old World War II foxhole. And the same idea of uniting two parts of a territory divided by a gorge inspired American artist Steven Siegel in creating his “Ponte II” (2009) made simply with overlapping newspaper pages. An apparently ephemeral work for its exposure to the harshness of rain and snow, but, by compacting and camouflaging itself with the environment, has maintained its integrity and force of communication in the course of the years.

THOSE WHO VISIT CONTEMPORARY ART EXHIBITIONS have certainly noticed that frequently recurring themes are inspired by the most dramatic and negative aspects of our times. Instead, here at Arte Sella, we feel the inspiring force of nature that influences the artists by infusing the positive sensations of peacefully living the rapport with the natural environment. It is not by chance that the invitation to establish, through an artistic action, a relationship of sensations and ideas with the mountains, the forests, their colors and perfumes in a cycle of the seasons of life, yields works that instill in the viewer an intimate pleasure, deep reflections on nature and on the relation between it and man. Arte Sella is a proposal that is in constant progress: the artistic works follow the ephemeral fate of the natural environment hosting them. That’s why some dissolve away, replaced by others that become valid reasons to return to this magnificent place with renewed interest. *

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