Not Vital (b. 1948) is driven by exploration, having established a number of studios across the globe, working for months at a time between Rio de Janeiro, Beijing and Sent. He has since been described as an “artist-nomad”– shifting between locations, collaborating with local craftspeople and drawing inspiration from a variety of cultures and traditions.
Museum der Moderne Salzburg launches the artist’s first solo exhibition in Austria, titled IR. It takes its name from Not Vital’s native Romansch language, in which ir means to go. “It speaks to a defining principle of Not Vital’s creative practice,” says the gallery. “It is energised by the perpetual tension be- tween departure (leaving) and return (homecoming).” Indeed, the artist remains closely connected to his place of origin, Graubünden, Switzerland, to which he regularly returns.
This sprawling presentation features 21 sculptures, three expansive installations and over 140 drawings. What’s dis- tinctive is the clarity of the pieces, which are known for bright whites, polished chromes and sharp lines. Plaster, steel, marble and ceramic are the tools of choice here. In one room, a slimline table and chairs gleam silver. In another room, a smooth, pristine egg sits atop an angular wooden structure.
Not Vital links a sparse palette back to memories from childhood. “If you grow up in surroundings which have snow for six months of the year, your eyes are naturally sensitive to white,” he reflects. “When the snow melts, the mountains turn grey … I became accustomed to these nuances in grey and white and not so much colour. Even now, my favourite material is plaster, not only because of the colour, but also because it dries quickly. You have to work fast.”
There is an archaic iconography running through the presentation. Outside the museum, viewers discover a large stainless-steel head sitting in the landscape. It’s a mosaic of pieces that have broken and stuck together again. Inside is a pile of smashed-up sculptures, stacked against the wall in a pyramid. Fragments appear like ruins of ancient civilisations.
Above all, Not Vital is interested in craftsmanship. He “picks up on what exists around him” – fascinated by unusual materials and techniques – creating with artisans around the world. His partners are wide-reaching, from steel-chasers in Beijing to glass blowers in Murano and silversmiths in Tuareg. “I believe that using all these different materials may also have something to do with using different languages,” the artist notes, reflecting on his interest in communication and travel. “My mother language, Romansch, is only spoken by 36,000 people, and there are five different dialects … You grow up in a place where, if you go 20 minutes one way, they speak one language; if you go 18 minutes the other way, they speak another… I only communicate in my mother tongue maybe a tenth of the time.” IR is the culmination of these experiences, presenting minimalism at its most surreal and intriguing.
Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, until 13 June | museumdermoderne.at
300 Kamelköpfe aus Moskau wurden am 3.3.2005 an die Wand der Kunsthalle Bielefeld geworfen, 2005. Plaster, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist © Not Vital, photo: Eric Gregory Powell.