Aspects of nature in the work of Marcela Cabutti
By Adriana Lauría.
When she was a girl, Marcela Cabutti made Plasticine models and shoved everything that interested her under a microscope, especially insects and plants. Thus began a creative vocation that flourished across a twenty-five year career of sculpture and complex contemporary manifestationsof objects and installations. These mediums, which were also accompanied by drawings, photography and video, were her way of exploring and presenting certain themes: the natural world as shared, generally symbiotically, by humans, animals and plants; areas altered by the growth of cities transformed into urban habitats by artistic expression and a continuous interest inoccupying space, a path that reached its highest expression in the recreation of architectural forms.
Between 1992 and 1994, her boundless curiosity was reflected in the final thesis for her degree in Sculpture at the Universidad Nacional de La Plata, which involved technical, artistic and historic and cultural research. Ignoring the dominant trends in academic studios, she explored the construction of inflatable objects made from PVC, presenting lightness as an alternative to traditional sculptural practices. It was during these explorations that she rediscovered the concept of playfulness, nourishing an original imaginative universe featuring unique and surprising motifs and fabrications.
Designing, cutting and thermosealing moulds, she created a variety of figures filled with air or coloured water, occasionally adding colour with serigraphic ink applied with a brush or spray. The theme of these inflatable pieces – whose forebears can be found in works by the German artist Otto Piene, the American pop artists Oldenburg and Warhol and Fluvio subtunal (Underground Flow) by the Argentine artist Lea Lublin – was a reflection of those childish visions of insects as seen under a microscope. These Insectos de la vida cotidiana (Insects from Everyday Life) provided the basis for her first major exhibitions in her home town and Buenos Aires in 1993. These effigies were joined by figures of other animals, anthropomorphic characters and the installation Templo (Temple) with which she won the sculpture prize at the Young Artists’ Biennial. This work, which was her first to evoke building construction, consisted of thirty-two transparent columns, a kind of pop memorial to the sacred forest – the basis of temple symbolism. In creating this work, she was influenced by Chichén Itzá ritual sites – especially the Temple of the Warriors and the Thousand Columns– which made a big impression on her when she encountered them on her travels in Mexico.
But it was the gallery of beasts that made her work distinctive. Dragonflies, flies, cockroaches, butterflies and beetles merged with humans. The names the artist gave to these inflatables –“niki” and “tonto” (silly), “mosquito chupasangre” (bloodsucking mosquito), “insecto rapiña” (insect of prey), “brujo” (warlock) and “Gregorio” – were described by Fabián Lebenglik as “crosses between animalization and humanization” relating these works to the deconstructed thought studied by Deleuze and Guattari with regard to the transformation of Gregorio Samsa, the protagonist of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”. Their unpredictable paths and monstrous appearances provided a model for alternative perspectives.
Soon Cabutti was expanding upon the effects of her work. To Chicharra (Cicada), made following a study of desiccated samples, she added a motor that simulated chirping and breathing and placed it on a dissection table. At the time she was being taught by Luis Benedit at the Barracas Workshop, the headquarters of the Antorchas Grant Programme. Benedit affirmed the validity of her themes and encouraged her to associate her iconography with mechanisms that reflected the scientific aspects of her subjects, expressing them in the exhibition space and increasing the degree of observer involvement. For Cigarra (Cicada) she created a sound environment and added a trunk that evoked their habitat. A landscape appeared in Lombrices (Earthworms), with the worms emerging and disappearing from their underground home. Powered by a simple, ingenious device – a motorized spit – these latex constructions wriggled in a lifelike way.
Stimulated by these ideas in 1997 and 1998 Cabutti took a Masters course in Design and Bionics at the Centro di Ricerche dell’Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan. Following these studies, she continued with the animal theme, producing artefacts with sophisticated designs made from metal, wood, glass and electric lights. In this series, which she called Frágiles seres invaden la casa (Fragile Creatures Invade the House) – a selection at the international competition Luci e Ombre at Expo 2000 in Turin – Luciérnaga (Firefly) stood out, as it was her first piece made from blown Murano glass under the guidance of the craftsman Pino Signoretto. The insect shone like a jewel: the translucent crystal accentuated the light shining from its pyramid base, giving it an interior glow to echo its real-life model. The works in this cycle displayed a degree of representative realism; the caricatured features that humanized her inflatable animals were gone. Instead, they presented a synthesis that established a relationship with industrial design.
This realism, which would soon undergo modifications, moved into the field of statistics when she began to explore insects through photography, for instance in the group 150229, muertos (150.229, Dead), enlarged photographsof a train engine against which hundreds of insects had been crushed as it moved at high speed. This series also recorded dead butterflies attracted by electric light.
Cabutti had already produced one series of photographs, Paisajes (Landscapes), in which she employed experimental techniques such as tinting black and white negatives blue, superimposing and printing negatives and employing light effects by shining torches over illustrations.
The resulting images of forests, mountains, aquatic ripples, skies crisscrossed by strokes of light, architectural fragments, toy insects in a blur of movement, and barbed wire – some of which were clearly artificial – were presented as dream-like or nostalgic visions.
The study of other species: analogies between animals and humans
In every European city where she studied or was an artist in residence, Cabutti established a relationship with the local museum of natural sciences in order to use their resources and obtain the documentation she needed for her work. Perhaps this habit was related to the bond between most citizens of La Plata and their museum, a paradigmatic Argentine institution. For her series on bats she did research at the museum in Milan where she had access to a collection of engravings that depicted the physiognomy of one thousand five hundred different species. She chose thirty to depict in small sculptural portraits, like busts, made from epoxy and polyester resin. The bases featured graphs of the sounds the mammals use for echo-location and finding prey.
Each head included the distinctive characteristics of each species but the artist also added features inspired by political portraits by Daumier and the people she was close to. This lent them a more caricature-like appearance. Meanwhile, Murciélago azul (Blue Bat) featured a whole body specimen while an animation depicted how the animals fly, digitizing the motions with points of light joined together by blue lines. The points that showed the animal’s joints in each stage of flight gave rise to Cielitos (Little Skies), five boxes on which still video images were projected with the lines erased. Printed on black paper they featured conglomerations of light bursts in which the silhouettes of the bats in flight could barely be seen, suggesting nocturnal visions of cities, or exploding stars.
The exhibition, whose title was Bat, was completed with a group of the animals hanging upside down with their wings wrapped around them – their typical sleeping position – made from cast aluminium. It was held in Milan in 2000.
Bats’ image as dark, monstrous creatures was thoroughly undermined by the expressive and comic aspects of the works as well as the aura of nocturnal beauty created by the sight of their bodies in flight. These works returned to the theme of analogies between animals and humans, a distinctive trait that would be a recurring aspect of Cabutti’s oeuvre and even extend into the plant kingdom in works such as Mujeres cactáceas y suculentas (Cactus and Succulent Women, 2006), a suggestive set of figures whose moods and characters were linked to different aspects of plants. The analogy between nature and culture is a theme that in art is reminiscent of the work of Víctor Grippo, who drew on it in the 70s to expand certain conceptual categories of natural products, as can be seen in his paradigmatic potato-related output. Like him, Cabutti was seeking to “increase awareness” and expand ways of thinking about human beings and their relative place in nature.
The story of a rabbit
In 1999,when she briefly returned to Argentina, Cabutti held the exhibition Move in in La Plata. It featured several pieces. An object – a hybrid with a woman’s head in a diving helmet and a rabbit’s body – that lived inside and moved around an acrylic box displaying a plan of the Cabutti family’s home. It was driven by a battery powered motor activated surreptitiously by the artist with a remote control. This object was joined by a cycle of sixteen photographs that, like shots in a cinema sequence, told the story of a woman carrying luggage who arrives at a house and begins to perform the peculiar act of vomiting hairy creatures. The work was completed with catalogue illustrations.
This installation, which was inspired by “Carta a una señorita en París” (Letter to a Young Lady in Paris) by Julio Cortázar, made recurring allusions to travel, from photos depicting the protagonist of the story, a tired suitcase maker, to the small creatures expelled by the model in the photograph, which were similar to the little white bunnies that so bothered him. It’s easy to see links to Cabutti’s life, as she had just had the experience of living in a foreign country, trying to adapt to new places and unfamiliar situations and in her discomfort “regurgitated” artworks. The travel theme is also noted in the text by Marcelo Pacheco that accompanied the exhibition. In it he linked Cabutti’s post-graduate training with the tradition of aesthetic and study trips from the history of Argentine art.
The exhibition design, which grouped the photos in three panels to create an accelerated perspective, did not just reveal an intention to compose pieces as part of an overall installation but could also be read as a mise en scene with a twisted perspective, a spatial metaphor for what one assimilates during the experience of living and working overseas as well as the disconnect between what one was looking for and the unexpected things they actually find. It also pointed to an awareness of an identity constructed from a confrontation with a different reality.
From another point of view
In the year 2000, Cabutti found herself in another artist’s residence in Rotterdam. She arrived with a project already in mind: she wanted to make a duck that could blend in with the real ducks in the Dutch canals and it had to be capable of recording images from the duck’s point of view. Long days of observation, information gathered at the Natural History Museum of Rotterdam and Vogelklas – an institution that cares for urban animals – and municipal regulations about animals’ interactions with people all became part of the artistic operation during the object’s creation. It was then placed on canals and images of the experience were recorded.
The artist made a strange decision when creating Desde el culo del pato (From the Duck’s Arse): she chose to make a very realistic model but only of the back half of the body, mimicking a duck’s feeding position with its head under water. The video camera and remote control sensor were placed in its bottom. The title of the work created a link between the unusual perspective of the animals and people from the bottom half of the world. Throughout the experience, the artist had in mind the inversion Joaquín Torres García had worked on the map of the world half a century before; placing the south at the top to graphically demonstrate that “our north is the South” and raising questions about canonical geography, the legitimacy of discourse and hierarchies. With this work, Cabutti proposed a return to this spirit, using the rigour of scientific method to produce a strong symbol of new ways of seeing and thinking.
Nothing could have been a better example of other ways of seeing than Naturaleza muerta, perro, ave y abeja (Still Life, Dog, Bird and Bee) from 2006, the result of a detailed research. The work consisted of a blue fruit bowl with white ceramic fruit and three photographs taken from the points of view of each of the animals in question, representing their different optical capacities. In its shape and inverted colour scheme the object evoked Cézanne’s well-known fruit bowl. This provided a basis for the experience and also signalled the new perspective – binocular and mobile – closer to the reality of human physiognomy that the French painter used in his works, revolutionizing the history of art and its systems of representation.
The piece was completed with graphics in the catalogue and a gallery text that provided information about how the optical systems of the different species, including human beings, worked while the precision of the data and scientific paraphernalia offered a distinctive atmosphere that appears in much of her work.
Small animals and masks
In 2001, having returned from her latest European residence, Cabutti began to make small cast aluminium and transparent polyester resin sculptures. The inspiration for these was a funny-looking model seal she’d made when she was a girl, which led to a dozen small animals that marked a return to the humour and tenderness of the inflatables. Sra. Foca (Mrs Seal) poked her curious head above the water, Sra. Jirafa (Mrs Giraffe) opened her legs a little so as to reach the water trough, Sra. Avestruz (Mrs Ostrich), true to her nature, buried her head in the sand and Sra. Pájaro de pico rojo (Mrs Red-Beaked Bird), flirtatiously made-up, stuck her lipsticked beak into a hypothetical crust. The overall effect was a gallery of characters worthy of a cartoon, the result of sharp observation. Once again, the figures’ personalities were comparable to those of humans.
At the time, the artist said:
I observe the shapes and colours of animals and insects and the way they adapt to their environments. The way they move, their distinctive characteristics and the way they express themselves in different situations. […] I carry out remote research into their behaviour and present the results. I emphasize humorous and ironic aspects, making clear certain relationships I sense in people.
Another work from the same year was a box containing photographs of a parcel of land on which sculptures of snails were spread out. This was the first of a series of cast-aluminium works that also included locusts, caterpillars, frogs, tortoises and maggots, which were placed next to other pieces in white resin portrayed on the grass in black and white. The superimposition of photographed and modelled figures created a dynamic effect while placing them on the floor gave the sensation that a fragment of the same garden, brimful with vitality, had been transported to the exhibition space.
It was clear that Cabutti was starting to pay more attention to the settings that her characters inhabited. The landscape progressively took on greater relevance and the aforementioned combination of photography and sculpture in the same piece would also be extended to trees and plants.
In 2006 she presented Máscaras (Masks), which consisted of seven animal heads – four birds, a weasel and two dogs – modelled in epoxy resin and painted silver. Their placement on the wall was reminiscent of hunting trophies but when the artist used them in a cycle of photo-performances, they took on a new life with poses that imitated the postures of each species. On this occasion Cabutti made use of her own body to imbue these “personifications” with a delicate and vulnerable character, presences whose images and titles referred to the natural – Carau y ciprés(Carau and Cypress) or Comadreja y palmera (Weasel and Palm Tree) – or frankly domestic realms – Perro y cucha (Dog and Kennel) or Paloma y ventana-nido (Dove and Window-nest). The gardens she had experienced in her lifetime, with their load of memories and emotions, would provide the inspiration for the artist’s next theme.
Landscapes of the soul
In 2003 the artist held the exhibition City Bell. The title was provided by a town close to La Plata. This choice referred to a family history of gardens whose vegetation and creatures were just as important as grandfather and granddaughter finding and exchanging flowers, or the young lady tirelessly scouring a bed of clovers for one with four leaves. Geraniums carefully preserved under a bell jar, a Murano crystal cactus, and watering cans spontaneously watering a plant pot joined photographs of trees and plants to provide a sculptural continuity resulting in a meaningful vision full of nostalgia and the presence of people long gone.
In the catalogue, Daniela Koldobsky described some of the choices – including the colour scheme – as being a way of representing the elusiveness of memories:
[City Bell] is a garden as seen through the filter of a memory in which everything is black and white, like old photos, and even silvery, like cherished but remote things, converted into relics on the nightstand.
In a detailed conceptual article that noted this aspect of the pieces, Fabián Lebenglik saw a precursor in Alberto Heredia’s Silver Series, made by the artist in 1979 and 1980. However, the tone of his works lacks the moving tenderness of Cabutti’s pieces, opting instead for an acidic irony criticizing social conventions. The similarity perhaps lies in reminiscences of a family past in which the silvery quality of certain everyday objects used by our parents and grandparents such as a zinc watering can and aluminium casserole dish produced a labile sensation. The flexibility of memory can fade details, blur faces and fragment anecdotes but the feelings are more precise: the objects and photographs were carefully organized and placed to evoke these experiences.
This nostalgic spirit was transformed into wonder in the works that formed part of Jardines y jardines. Mañana, tarde y noche (Gardens and Gardens. Morning Afternoon and Night) from 2006. Cabutti had immersed herself in Los papeles salvajes (The Savage Papers) by Marosa di Giorgio, finding in that book a universe of common experiences and poetic coincidences. It was as though without her knowing it di Giorgio’s imagination had materialized itself in several of the sculptor’s works, from those dedicated to the bats to the pieces that made up City Bell.
The blues and pearls of Flores de verano (Summer Flowers) – over-sized Ceibo flowers, oleander, lemon blossom, achira, honeysuckle and jasmine – created a fantastical atmosphere of charming gardens once actually seen and experienced but now transmuted by dreams and the magic of imagination. The same was true of Pasionaria (Passion Flower), which emerged from a white prism as though the museographic device had suddenly become fertile.
The landscape that flowed from plants to female figures – as seen in the works and catalogue dedication to di Giorgio, Francesca Woodman and Silvina Ocampo –was ingeniously recreated in the six boxes of light that made up Sorpresas (Surprises).
Imposibilidad (Impossibility), a small composition in which a silver humming bird tries unsuccessfully to drink nectar from a flower enclosed in a light bulb, was an interpretation of one of these poetic narratives, which presented a girl’s sensual awakening:
¿Colibríes? ¡Qué confuso caso! ¿Cómo entran a mi huerto clemente, pero cerrado?…
Son novios, trajes fantasmales, los picos largos, entran una y otra vez, en lo más prohibido de las rosas. (…)
Asomo el rostro y la mano de niña, por la ventana, ansiosa. Vendrá la fiesta. Vendrá la guerra breve y trepidante del colibrí. Mas, cae la tarde, y ellos desaparecen tras las bromelias.
O acaso solo era uno, como siempre, por un segundo. El marido secreto e inestable de esa rosa. El que baila ahí.
(Humming birds? What a confusing case! How do they get into my pleasant but enclosed garden?…
They are grooms, ghostly suits, long beaks, again and again they enter the most forbidden of roses. (…)
The girl’s face and hand appear timidly at the window. The party is coming. The brief, quick war of the humming bird is coming. Evening has fallen and they disappear behind the bromelias.
Or perhaps it was just one, as always, for a second. The secret and unstable husband of that rose. The one dancing over there.)
In Esculturas de sombras. Envíos (Shadow Sculptures. Deliveries), presented at the final edition of Estudio Abierto in 2006, which was held at the former Palacio de Correos in Buenos Aires, Cabutti used the same materials and techniques as she had in Sorpresas (Surprises). She placed acrylic cut-outs in transparent acrylic boxes whose superimposed profiles form a landscape of mountains, lakes and forests. Following the strong impression made by the landscapes of Patagonia during a holiday there the previous year, the artist conceived of the format to capture these visions but also offered them as gifts, tied up in ribbons finished with coloured bows made from enamelled epoxy resin.
Here, landscapes, traditionally a genre of painting, take on three-dimensional format. The artist had moved on from the metonymic detail – a flower, insect, or plant in which a part referred to the whole – to present a panoramic view. The different planes, evanescence and dégradés were calculated to create varying degrees of chromatic opacity – black or grey sheets – under a light that, at the flick of a switch, reveals the wonder of the forms.
In Homenaje a Caspar Friedrich (Homage to Caspar Friedrich) she cited the celebrated work by the German painter El caminante sobre el mar de nubes (Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818), in which a man stands on top of a rocky outcrop,embodying the experience of the sublime. In the landscapes of southern Argentina, the artist updated this sense of overwhelming immensity, when nature asserts its infinitesimal proportions.
Fables, paper boats and wishes
The combination of experiences and literature reappeared in 2008, in the exhibition Mira cuántos barcos aún navegan! (Look at all the Boats Still Sailing!) which was also the title of the large installation of which it was a part. Here, a paper boat floated in a large tank of water lilies, observed by a dog. After Cabutti’s sculpture studio was flooded, the work was inspired by stories by Hugo Padeletti and Yasunari Kawabata. The soft grey tones reduced the impressionist resonance of the water lilies, although the inspiration from Japanese landscapes remained. The dog, standing on its hind legs with its forelegs on the railing of the dock, seemed to embody a character from a fable while the subject of its gaze, a large paper boat, was the very incarnation of vulnerability.
This artwork was often invited to form part of other exhibitions around the country and overseas and led to another version made from weathering steel and carved stone and permanently installed in Pisogne, on the shore of Lake Iseo in Italy.
Meanwhile, the paper boat provided the inspiration for a series of activities organized under the name Barcos-Deseos (Boats-Wishes), starting in 2009 in different locations of the country. School groups took part, writing down their wishes – the artist’s only instruction was that they couldn’t be for things that can be bought with money – on pieces of paper that were then stuck to the boats and sent out into different lakes and ponds on occasions that tended to be associated with historical events from Argentine history.
In 2012 this experience was organized at the Espacio para la Memoria, Promoción y Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (former ESMA), and the boat-wishes were launched in the pool used by the cadets at the naval school before the building’s function was changed. From atop a diving board, alone – accompanied only by the photographer who documented the performance – Cabutti performed a kind of purification ritual, on this occasion featuring the wishes of students at the Instituto Vocacional de Arte de Buenos Aires, among which could be read the words “Happiness”, “Truth”, “Justice”, “Never let them disappear again”, “Love”, “Equality”, “Conscience”, “Never again”, and much more.
The profound intensity of this action moved the artist to say: “When I drew up the plans for this project, I said that it was like ‘placing oneself into other people’s wishes’. I had no idea how significant those words would be in this space.”
Landscapes, as specific or metaphorical references would continue to provide the theme for works from this period, in linear paintings that the artist prefers to call drawings, combinations of paintings and objects, and attempts to capture them in different formats such as tables and mirrored boxes harbouring allusive glass forms.
Cabutti also felt driven to create large scale sculptures, an ambition that was realized in 2009. One of the first was Pasionaria (Passion Flower), a modified, monumental version of the 2006 sculpture of the same name. After it won the first edition of the Premio Arnet a Cielo Abierto, Cabutti was able to make it, placing it on Dique 4 in Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires. This area stands out for streets named for notable Argentine women such as Alicia Moreau de Justo and Azucena Villaflor, and the work’s title also refers to Dolores Ibárruri Gómez, known as La Pasionaria, a politician in the Spanish Republic who was a prominent figure in the Civil War and fought for women’s rights.
The proposed theme was a native domestic plant – a vine often found in gardens – that also grows vibrantly in the wild. The choice of red, which is also the colour of the flowers of one of the species, was due to its evocation of passion but especially the contrast with its setting, which is dominated by the glass windows of office buildings, grey steel and the cobbles in the small plaza where it was installed. The artist’s main objectives with this piece were to create an urban landmark, a meeting point and a catalyst for fantasy among passersby.
This work was followed by Juego de pasionarias (Passion Flower Kit), activities aimed at stimulating play among children, held at the Museo de Arte del Tigre (2012) and the Museo del Libro y de la Lengua de Buenos Aires (2013), the latter event organized to pay homage to the Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector.
The next open air works were Flor del secreto (Flower of the Secret), a Cassia tree, donated to the Museo de Arte del Tigre in 2011 and Homenaje al Cardo (Homage to the Thistle), erected at the end of 2015 in Rafaela, Santa Fe Province. This latter piece was commissioned by the Municipal Committee for the Promotion of Culture in that city whose members took into account Cabutti’s contemporary feel and experience with these kinds of projects. After researching the flora of the region at theArboretum Takku – a botanical garden that houses and studies species native to the region, most of which are exotic –, she decided to use the thistle flower for her sculpture due to its forms and colours and because, although it was introduced by Italian immigrants – to make bagna càuda among other things – it spread and became common in the Pampas, and was easy to recognize and identify with the landscape, the main source of the area’s wealth. The fact that some of the artist’s ancestors lived in the Santa Fe pampas simply enhanced the emotional impact of the work.
Architectures: expanded sculpture
Working closely with the company Cerámica Ctibor, Cabutti began to experiment with the poetic possibilities of brick, creating Octas, an installation she presented in 2012. The artwork took its title from the unit used to measure cloud density in the sky, conceived in the first decade of the 19th century by Luke Howard, a pioneering meteorologist. The artist was inspired by the wash drawings the scientist made to distinguish between the different varieties of cloud, especially one that portrays an ascending funnel-shaped mass with prominent curves. Working with the workers at the factory, the artist was unfazed by the difficulties inherent to the rigid, rectilinear modules she was using as her material.
Cabutti researched the different ways in which architects had used brick throughout history, from Brunelleschi, to the rounded walls created by the Uruguayan engineer Eladio Dieste, and the parabolic forms created by the Argentine architect Amancio Williams, as well as the ancient Inca techniques of setting the stones without mortar as she had decided not to use it. She discovered the brick vaults featuring catenaries – named for the ends, which resembled a suspended chain – masterfully employed by Gaudí in many of his organic, sculptural buildings. By tying together the mini-bricks with steel wire she was able to create the curves necessary for different elements of the installation, including the enigmatic cone painted by Howard. Other pieces evoked mountainous landscapes and the undulations of the land. A semi-circular archsupported by strong pillars provided a specifically building-like element although the imprecise strangeness of the overall installation invited associations with more mysterious constructions; metaphysical scenes with alchemical connotations. The three main pieces unfolded in open spaces and curved brick areas similar to lenticular clouds – Altocumulus Lenticularis in Howard’s taxonomy – while a shower of mud, also suspended from the ceiling and made up of crude, irregular clay spheres further encouraged fantastical interpretations.
The technique of combining hollow bricks with different elements reappeared in La constatación de las formas (Proving the Forms), an exhibition from 2014. There, Cabutti presented Arco (Arch), in which the bricks were joined by a pair of red bubbles of blown glass. Columna (Column) replicated a pillar from the gallery, placed close to the actual one. Here, glass bubbles sprouted from the tiny, unplastered bricks, distinguishing it from purely architectural forms. Acerca del equilibrio y la posibilidad de la magia (On Balance and the Possibility of Magic) consisted of a group of relief-paintings juxtaposed with small bricks on which different glass forms and appliqués were placed. In the catalogue, Florencia Battiti cited Louis Kahn, the master of large scale brick constructions, who invented a kind of fable to convey the need of materials to “talk”. This architect was another of the references studied by Cabutti, who, like him, believes firmly that the substances with which she works contain inherent potential and has always been willing to “listen” to them.
Menos existen en un solo lugar (Less Exists in a Single Place) was an intervention in the small galleries of the Espacio de Arte at the Fundación OSDE, which was structured like a temple. At the door, it evoked the monumentality of the Puerta del Sol in Tiahuanaco, but at the centre of the lintel she replaced the Andean deity with a carved relief of a winged horse. This was a simplification of the series of golden Pegasuses featured in the frieze in the final room, enlarging and individualizing a motif drawn from classical building decorations inspired by ancient mythology but stripped of meaning by its ornamental function. The crowning of the entrance can also be associated with the protective figures of Persian winged lions made from enamelled brick.
Inside the exhibition, two rows of columns made from transparent PVC marked a return to the artist’s early inflatables. The evocation of ritual architecture was accentuated by the harmonious combination of very different materials such as brick and plastic and also the sharp contrast with the building housing the pieces with which the installation interacted through its spatial layout and lighting.
The final gallery housed the secrets of the cella – the interior chamber of ancient Greek temples containing the sacred image – where Cabutti had tongues of fire emerge from an existing chimney. These were made from brick rows arranged to form dynamic curves and undulations. The power of the deity was manifested by a monster that stretched out its tentacles with transformative strength; once unleashed it was able to display the full range of its attributes.
The overall atmosphere was that of a fantasy legend drawing on a wide range of sources converging in the same time in space. It was a resounding affirmation of the artist’s statement: “The less clearthings are, the less they exist in a single place”. Centuries of history stand upon the shoulders of art, merging and renewing with each new creation.
In 2009 Cabutti took part in an artist’s residence at Cristalería San Carlos in Santa Fe Province. As on other occasions, she set out to test the properties of the material, in this case glass. In the 90s she had made works in Murano and in 2000 had attended Columbus College of Art & Design in Ohio to perfect her technique.
By 2010 the artist had a sizeable group of works made with the help of the craftsmen at the factory. These included Lluvia gruesa (Heavy Rain)and Alientos contenidos (Held Breath), the former consisting of twelve large drops in different shapes hanging from transparent threads, the title embodying the sensation described by the writer Haruki Murakami in a series of lectures. In the latter piece, three irregular balloons placed on a table formed a reliquary of the breath exhaled to make them. Of course, animals also had to feature: Ronda de perros (Dog Round) consisted of a series of transparent “muzzles”. The coloured crystal used in Pagodas was a refined reflection of Eastern inspirations, especially a lecture by Junichiro Tanizaki, and this extended into Serie de papeles-chapas (furoshiki) (Series of paper sheets (furoshiki)), a floor installation that combined metal sheets mimicking folded paper with translucent red bubbles.
The technique of combining metal sheets with glass was also used in Gota gruesa sobre montañas de papel (Heavy Drop over Paper Mountains) from 2011. The fictional landscape returned in a delicately suggestive piece overshadowed by the threat of a drop hanging over metal models of piles of paper of uncertain strength.
In 2012, the artist conceived a group of pieces based around the theme of an erotic encounter. Previously, she’d used the genitalia of flowers to convey similar ideas. With the erotic figures of Mochica culture – which were long considered to be pornographic – in mind, as well as the many different sexual positions contained in the Kama Sutra, she decided to create contemporary versions, making use of the qualities of glass. Drawing on the sensuality of the material and the voluptuous forms it can be used to create, she created subtle, transparent glass Besos (Kisses) and denser Besos negros (Black Kisses) as well as stylized but explicit allusions to male and female genitals, penetration and different incarnations of erotic encounter, resolved with untrammelled beauty in the series Arquitecturas del amor (Architectures of Love), presented in 2015.
Referring in particular to the varied inventory included in Besos and Besos negros the artist wrote:
These Kisses in black glass and translucent crystal are repeated, evoking different kinds of encounter and heartbreak; expressions of desire where near-perfect double figures suggest different ways of kissing.
Kisses given, good kisses, kisses denied, and all those that await their moment or that will never find their destination.
These kisses are reminiscent of the censored ones included at the end of Cinema Paradiso.
Cabutti has made use of the qualities of glass to create representations of phenomena, as in Lluvia negra (Black Rain), and more independent and abstract pieces such as Formas rojas suspendidas en el espacio (Red Shapes Suspended in Space) but she has also used utilitarian or mass-produced objects – a variety of glasses and decorative elements – in installations such as Geometría del cielo (Geometry of the Sky), presented in 2016, which included a wonderful alchemical altar of pieces that were recognizable as ready-made objects but clearly repurposed by Cabutti’s imaginative transformation.
Throughout her long but youthful career, Cabutti has probed each material, theme and form for ways to explore the void that allows creatures and things to be, to move, vibrate, feel, relate… in short: to live.
Research and experimentation have been crucial aspects of both her motifs and techniques. Tireless in the studio, she has included science, poetry and literature in her work and yet she has also always told her own story, conveying her experience in the world of emotion and relationships and her sense of belonging to both a physical and sentimental geography. She also felt that she had to reflect nature and the capricious relationships that human beings have established with our environment and never missed out on the chance to undermine anthropocentrism.
She has always been seen as a sculptor but this concept has not limited her to a single discipline. The wide range of procedures and actions that she has presented spill over into other practices that she has never hesitated to make use of. She has included photography, performance, and objects in her work and also regularly plans educational programmes and installations.
As mentioned above, between beings and objects there is a void that Cabutti fills with her creations, showing the miraculous way in which an artist can imbue a subjectwith a soul, making it come alive with a spiritual dimension forged by hands and thought. This is what she has done from the very beginning, when she set about shaping the air and giving it volume, a palpable body, knowing that sooner or later she would have to let it go so it can be itself and continue to fill the space between objects.