“Introduce yourselves,” I begin.

Before me, there is Cristian Porretta, founder and owner of galleria d’arte Faber, and Jacopo Mandich, sculptor and protagonist of El Volador, their upcoming exhibition—or, as he calls it, immersive installation—based on a graphic novel created by the artist himself.

Currently based in Turin, Mandich was originally born in Rome, where he attended the Academy of Fine Arts in 2005. A year later, he won the Edgardo Mannucci International Sculpture Prize. He continued his artistic training in 2015 with a two-year Master’s program at the Fine Arts Academy of Urbino and Turin. In the same year, he was the first Italian to be invited to the Ural Biennale of Contemporary Art in Russia. In 2018, he attended a Master’s program in sculpture at the University of Art and Design in Halle, Germany.

After the inauguration of their first project A Ferro e Fuoco (which loosely translates to “Ravaging”) in 2014, they worked on a riskier show called Antinomie (Antinomies) in 2016, a complicated yet rewarding installation that, according to Jacopo, didn’t have a lot of commercial potentials. The exhibition consisted in having the gallery completely empty except for 20 to 30 dissected trunks, chopped in such a way that you could see the fiber of the wood, its texture, what it was made of.

These objects were meant to create an analogy between how humans are built versus how natural elements are, between rationality and irrationality. As Jacopo adds, the trunks could interact with the public and were often moved from one corner of the gallery to the other, recalling the dichotomy between inside and outside, warm matter and cold matter, which are also the artist’s conceptual North star.

Antinomie was then followed by a long and peculiar project called Forze Invisibili (Invisible Forces) in 2019, which involved 6 to 7 months of preparation for both Cristian and Jacopo. The show was divided into three parts: Connessioni (Connections), Levitatis Bellum (Warrior of Lightness) and Jackal Project.

I take the opportunity to reveal that, when I first entered the gallery, Jacopo looked more so like a construction worker to me than an artist. He tells me he takes it as a compliment. He says he is aware that the contemporary art scene puts too much emphasis on an artwork’s façade instead of its message—although, he adds, it is indeed an essential aspect.

It’s not about moving my hands, but meeting the actual material. To me, everything evolves around the dynamics of control and non-control, the rational and mental side that seeks to dominate, like the philosophical contrast between analytics and metaphysics. The metaphysic cannot be defined, but it exists nonetheless.

This encounter of the solid matter inspires the artist to listen, to seek conversations, like hugging a friend. Far beyond talking and interacting with someone, physical touch has taught him a lot, he says. By working wood, he sees how a natural system builds its own fiber, which helps him create analogies with many more things during his creative process.

“This realization opened my eyes,” he says. “The encounter with materials helped me see different things in the same object.”

Since Jacopo mentioned it, I’m curious: did the pandemic change this perspective on touch and physicality? He believes it exacerbated society’s alienation towards touch, an alienation that had been there even prior to the crisis. However, it also brought up the need for physical touch with other human beings, a deeper and less obvious reality.

Jacopo says the lockdown was not as negative to him, as it forced the world to revert its rhythm and slow down.

Always up to every challenge, he shares that El Volador is a project that forced him to go outside of his comfort zone, mostly because he had to draw and create his own graphic novel—Cristian will later reveal that Jacopo has actually been drawing for much longer, though not professionally.

At this point, I ask Cristian to recall the first time he actually met Jacopo, which occurred a little over ten years prior.

He had been invited to an exhibition in Via dei Serpenti, in the city center of Rome. He went there with a skeptical attitude, without expecting anything from the event and certainly not intentioned to start new collaborations from scratch.

And then, when he got to the venue, the best word to describe Cristian’s state of mind is impressed—impressed by the strong expressiveness of Jacopo’s works, which appeared to perfectly fit the environment they inhabited.

“It wasn’t mere aesthetic power, but something you can’t help looking at, perceiving, questioning,” he concludes.

After his 2016 exhibition Antinomie (Antinomies), Jacopo Mandich kept experimenting with a tree trunk in his project involving human-shaped trunks and titled Hug. The work was inspired by the need for closure with others and yourself, to make up for psychological lacks. This sculpture offered contact with a different form of life—at least metaphorically.

In one of my previous visits to Faber art gallery, Cristian Porretta had told me that one of Jacopo’s interactive artworks consisted in letting visitors get undressed and then enter one of these trunks in a public space. Or so the artist had imagined it. In reality, this project only came to life in one of Turin’s public parks, but it never made it to Rome.

However, I still want to ask Jacopo about what pushed him to create such an interesting experience for Italian visitors and passersby.

He recalls that people would spontaneously enter the trunk without him inviting them—some of his friends even accepted to do so nakedly. As Jacopo remarks, it’s a sculpture that has to be touched to be able to feel the materials, the hot and cold, like a conflict between two opposing forces.

The artist calls it “the symbol of absence but also recognizability, the outline of a human being inside of a natural element.” He says the experience is divided into three moments: you first look at the human shape carved into this tree, then you look at someone else entering the trunk and finally you live the experience yourself. These three distinct moments have a common synergy between them to stress a sense of coherency. The point is to inspire visitors to reflect on these three stages.

Three editions of this series of artworks are currently exhibited at Palazzo Caprioli in Brescia, Museo d’Arte del Bosco della Sila (MABOS Museum) in Calabria, and Parco della Goccia in Milan, given as a donation.

We change the topic and start talking about a traveling exhibit Cristian and Jacopo managed to pull off in spite of the many troubles that came with it.

Described as a “traveling modular installation, aimed at catching the observer in non-designated places,” the project involved carrying animal sculptures from Turin to Rome by train. With this work, Jacopo wanted to focus on the relationship between art and context, exemplified by the contrast between a rest stop urinal and an artist’s urinal, probably referred to Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. Jacopo asks, which one is the right place? As the show proves, taking these sculptures outside of an artistic context confuses and upsets the observer.

Before this long trip, however, Jacopo experimented with different means of transportation—buses, trams, trains—to further explore the theme of the unseen by society, of how the light falls on a specific object taken out of his natural habitat.

The first time ever he did something like this, he tried to convince a Flixbus driver to let one of his animal sculptures in, one that he created while attending a Master’s program in Halle, Germany, on his way to Italy. To his disappointment, the driver declined the artist’s request and Jacopo had to leave his work at the station, and later have a friend pick it up.

Then I ask Jacopo about the trip from Turin to Rome, to which he laughs, and responds “it was very, very funny. Very difficult, too.”

Among the curious gazes of the other passengers, the train ride from Turin to Rome went better than the one from Halle to Italy, but, according to Jacopo, it was a back and forth with the authorities to convince them to keep the “animals” on board.

Cristian agrees with the artist that it was a lot of work, but very rewarding nonetheless.

“Every moment spent with Jacopo in that period—preparing for the exhibition, the trips, the many phone calls—was very intense because, from an artistic point of view, it really was like embracing the curatorial aspects of an exhibition, apart from the technical aspects,” Cristian says. “Understanding an artist—why they do what they do and closely sharing their creative process—was essential.”

Cristian simplifies this feeling of deep involvement with the following example: it felt like organizing 4-5 exhibitions as part of the same sequential corpus. It was, at the same time, an important step in his growth process as a gallerist to understand an artist’s work and present it to the public.

“Jacopo is the purest artist: he does what he is, and representing him to our clients in an exhibition is difficult and delicate,” he concludes, remembering the many arguments he had during the month-long preparation of the traveling exhibit.

We conclude our conversation by talking about the commercial potential of artwork and taking the risk of exhibiting a work that can be considered out of the box.

Faber art gallery aims at representing a place of promotion and development for contemporary art, and a safe space for all art lovers. “Faber is the ability to partially shape, with enthusiasm and professionality, every exhibited project, whose careful organization adds to its value,” Cristian Porretta says.

According to him, the concepts of commerciality and artistic research are not completely opposite to each other, because, in order to present artwork in its full potential, there has to be a process behind it that goes beyond pure financial gain.

All the artists Cristian collaborated with are still working on how to evolve their careers. “Supporting a single artist is not only about hanging a piece on the wall, but rather research his personal idea of art,” Cristian explains, hoping that his audience feels closer not only to the single artwork as an object but to the wider concept of art.

Collectors might want a specific artwork in their homes not only because it’s aesthetically pleasing but also because the artist wanted to convey something, even works that are harder to include in a homely environment like Jacopo Mandich’s artistic installations. It’s the gallerist’s intentions that change everything.

These risky choices were well welcomed by the Roman public, as proven by the success of their first installation, whose background research inspired curiosity in their visitors both before and during the show.

“In my opinion, a curator or gallerist should manage their own space as they feel most comfortable, and right now this is exactly what I want to bring to the public,” says Cristian.

That’s when Jacopo jumps in again and talks about the difference between the ideal aspect and the practical aspect of a piece of work.

“Presenting this immersive reality is a unique experience. Financial gain purposes are far from it,” he says, describing the approach that Cristian fully embraced towards his work since the moment they met. “Cristian is very courageous in this regard,” Jacopo adds.

We finally get to their upcoming exhibition, El Volador.

As Jacopo says, the language of this show is strongly related to their previous project Forze Invisibili, as the artist deeply wanted to examine terms such as narration and the unconscious through the dimension of dreams.

Inspired by Carlos Castaneda’s books that he read during high school, Jacopo has always been fascinated by the idea of separated realities: the perceived reality, the objective reality, the individual reality, and the collective reality. In a nutshell, the artist asks the public, who’s the perceiver?

El Volador tells the story of a journey through dreams, made of the many fragmentations that each and every one of us remembers in our sleep. These bits work as a fully developed story that essentially is an interpretation of what one sees, similarly to the archetypes, psychological readings and manifestations. When we resurface, we’re able to reconstruct what the dream was about, in an attempt to decode a separate dimension intimately tied to your personal experiences.

Finally, Cristian adds more about the technical aspects of bringing this exhibition to life.

When Jacopo first presented this idea to the gallerist, Cristian was quite surprised by the artist’s choices of building an exhibition around a series of drawings, a format Mandich rarely experimented with in the past. In preparation for the exhibition, they had talked about creating a world of illustrations blending with what it’s called contemporary art, oftentimes two separate ideas in the mind of the mainstream public.

Instead, illustration is key in El Volador, and it is included in an immersive installation that audiences can participate in: visitors can draw on pieces of paper that will be part of the exhibition itself as much as Jacopo’s works.

The show also features an iron-and-neon sculpture positioned on the furthest wall from the entrance, other sculptures on display and flying ones made of iron, as well as preparatory sketches, watercolors, studies of the characters and the settings so that the visitors can literally lose themselves in the story Jacopo wanted to tell.