Guido Musante: So where are You?
Roberta Busato: I’m in Buscoldo, a tiny hamlet a few kilometres from the centre of Mantua, in an old barn in a courtyard in the countryside which is now my studio. Here there’s peace and quiet: no-one comes and bothers you and everybody takes their time.
Guido Musante: Are you originally from Mantua or did you move here for work?
I am originally from the province of Verona and first I lived in Carrara where I studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, then Lucca, Pietrasanta and finally here. In Carrara I studied painting with Omar Galliani, but also sculpture using different techniques and materials. The chance to experiment with multiple disciplines meant I was also able to get involved in the world of theatre sets and scenography.
I met Matteo and a whole new world opened up. Matteo was confident in the possibilities of experimentation right from the word go: he set a space aside for me within the brickyard complex as a workshop and put me in contact with experts such as Linda Antonietti and the valuable contributions they made.
Guido Musante: Had you worked with raw earth before?
Roberta Busato: It came pretty much out of the blue when I moved to Mantua. A friend who works in the construction industry introduced me to it and the first step was to build me a kiln. From there I got in touch with the Brioni brickworks, I met Matteo and a whole new world opened up. Matteo was confident in the possibilities of experimentation right from the word go: he set a space aside for me within the brickyard complex as a workshop and put me in contact with experts such as Linda Antonietti and the valuable contributions they made.
Guido Musante: For you, art starts from the idea of occupying space, but I’m rather thinking above all of the faces you create using raw earth: how do these two dimensions fit together?
Roberta Busato: The face always starts from two raw earth bricks, an architectural module, almost an “artefact”. Family images generally emerge from this although they don’t always come from portraits but my personal collection of images that has gradually stratified over time. The idea of generating the shape of a face starting from an abstract element such as brick summarizes the central theme of my work: the human condition within a space or a place. I believe that my experience with theatre and scenographic space is also connected to this approach.
Guido Musante: Let me throw a name at you: Medardo Rosso..
Roberta Busato: You know, it's always a little tricky being compared with someone who was around well before you, and who did what you're doing now a long time ago: sometimes it almost feels like you’re being tested. That’s certainly the case with me and Medardo Rosso, and Constantin Brâncuși too: I feel connected to them because of working on this transformation of the human being. Right now I’m also working with beeswax and that’s a material that automatically comes to mind when the name Medardo Rosso comes up ...
Guido Musante: When you mentioned Brâncuși I immediately thought of his Endless Column and its identical modules, each one representing different human particularities. From that point of view, I wondered if when you are sculpting you work by subtracting or adding matter, or perhaps simply by moving it ...
Roberta Busato: When you are sculpting you either add something or you take it away. In particular, I think I am digging, even figuratively in order to enter a deeper dimension that goes beyond the shaped form. I don't think that I am moving material, I think perhaps more than that there is a penetration of the dimensions and sizes that create a form. In particular with the heads, it’s as if one thing is born from another: before, there was something inside and all I do is investigate it and allow it to emerge.
Guido Musante: How do you work the earth: directly with your hands or do you use tools?
Roberta Busato: With my hands. Mainly the work starts with mixing the different earths then adding aggregates and finally straw. Now, that material takes you into a world that belongs to the distant past and quite another construction culture. Sometimes I work directly on the earth: other times starting from a negative cast, for example an animal head. These are two very different processes, each with a different way of handling of the material.
Guido Musante: Straw is also a very powerful expressive element ...
Roberta Busato: Like raw earth, it’s a very dirty material ... they are both familiar because they are part of everyday life: we’re used to seeing earth. But they are also dirty materials and that can create difficulties even in just how you handle them. I often imagine that what I do is simply take them and put them in a different context, within a space.
I think sculpture is something unpleasant in the sense that it takes up space, you don't know where to put it and if it’s made of raw earth or straw, it’s even worse. In my work there is also the violence of this stance, this approach, the violence inherent in the occupation of space.
Guido Musante: When you say “dirty” you also seem to redefine the concept of “non-perfection” with everything that such a term implies, both in a spatial and temporal sense ...
Roberta Busato: Yes, exactly. Then the surprising thing is when the material achieves a level of lucidity, when it’s smoothed in such a way that it reminds you of some other material, maybe stone or sometimes leather. This process not only transforms the material, but forcibly changes it, even redefining it to the point of attributing a different value to it.
Guido Musante: How do your sculptures appear, in terms of “solidity”?
Roberta Busato: They appear very solid, hard, and this is the most striking aspect especially if you think that this is a malleable raw material simply worked through compression. Sometimes people expect to find the faces warm to the touch, since the material seems to be alive, even though it isn’t really. At first there was a slight chalking on the surface, but over time I’ve refined the processing technique so now it doesn’t happen anymore (unless I want it to).
Guido Musante: Aside from the purely technical aspects, what would you say has been Matteo’s most important contribution to your experience with earth?
Roberta Busato: Matteo is a constant and tremendous source of knowledge (laughs). I am always fascinated by the stories of his adventures when he goes looking for the most different kinds of earth in quarries and sites all around the world. But going beyond the properties of the materials, talking to him means delving into what there was before and behind the individual earths. I remember once, a conference on Aaron Demetz at the Palazzo Tè in Mantua and Matteo was with us.
When he started talking and describing his work, he seemed to cast a kind of spell over the audience (which to start with had been a bit bored). Apart from the technical side, he spoke with a frankness that led to the depths of the human dimension, of humans linked to a substance that we walk on every day. I think that if there is a word that can describe Matteo it is “openness”, a concept I need every day in order to enter the dimension of sculpture.
Guido Musante: Talking about walking on things, yesterday my son asked me if I would rather have four hands or four feet, which (I'm not sure why) now leads me to ask you what you think the function of art is today
Roberta Busato: I believe that the function of art today is closely linked to a sense of responsibility, because having a wide range of different expressions, it tends to move away from the dimension of language and words. It may become the bearer of a reflexivity disconnected from the mechanisms of the verb or the illustrations of the present and yet because of this it can lead to new accomplishments. Art has always been fundamental in the life of society. Even without needing anything.