#ArtissimaLive Interview with Namsal Siedlecki

Namsal Siedlecki (1986, USA) may be considered an artist of the transformation. In his practice, he brings together considerations on public and private space, institutional processes, art history and science, with a focus on chemical reactions. For the occasion of Artissima art fair in Turin, he presented his brand new work Viandanti (2019) with Magazzino Gallery, Rome in the Present Future section. The artwork consists of an industrial tank for electrolysis, filled with water (the medium that allows the process to happen), that surrounds two statues hanging from two rods, and constantly changing their shape.

Magazzino, Namsal Siedlecki, Artissima

Namsal Siedlecki
Photo: Giulia Murgia / Artissima

 

We interviewed Namsal Siedlecki for #ArtissimaLive.

Marco Antelmi: Where does the title Viandanti (Travelers) come from?

Namsal Siedlecki: This title comes from the names of the two statues hanging inside the tank. The statues are the exact copies of the an ex-voto statue, made of beech wood and depicting a traveler, that in 50 B.C. used to thrown in the springs of Clermont Ferrand, in France, to ask for favors to the divinities.

 

Magazzino, Namsal Siedlecki, Artissima

Namsal Siedlecki
Viandanti (2019)
Metacrylate vessel, brass, wires, electronic unit, zinc sculptures, zinc galvanizing bath
Variable dimensions
Courtesy the artist and Magazzino, Rome
Photo: Sebastiano Pellion

 

While explaining the origin of Viandanti, Namsal passes paper towels onto the surface of the water, then throws them in a bin.

MA: What are you doing with the paper towels?

NS: I’m cleaning the surface of the water from dust. The water attracts dust because electrolysis is happening. Inside this galvanic tank there are two statues made of zinc. Every two hours the polarity switches, so that there is always a sacrificial anode and a cathode. During electrolysis, one statue literally gives its matter, its zinc, to the other statue, creating a circulatory exchange. I consider the two statues as two desires in constant exchange.

MA: What happens when the polarity changes?

NS: The interesting part is that, when from being a cathode a statue becomes the sacrificial anode, the zinc it “gives back” to the other statue never settles in the original position. In this way, the two statues are constantly morphing and changing their shapes, as desire does. The theme of desire is also present in the fact that the statues are made out of coins fished out of the Trevi Fountain in Rome, where people throw them in order to make a wish.

 

Namsal Siedlecki, Artissima, Magazzino

Namsal Siedlecki
Viandanti (2019)
Photo: Giulia Murgia / Artissima

 

MA: Can you tell us how you produced the statues?

NS: As I was telling you, each statue is made with 22.000 coins from the Trevi Fountain, and for this reason I consider the two statues as two desires. The process of retrieval of the coins took more than two months. I started a dialog with the Municipality of Rome, but I was redirected first to Caritas [a charitable organization that usually receives the coins when they are extracted from the fountain], then to the Bank of Italy, then finally to IOR. From Caritas I discovered that, every day, the equivalent of 5000 euros are thrown in the Trevi Fountain, even though almost 8% of this amount cannot be used because of currency exchange problems. Eventually, I was able to buy the coins by weight from IOR.

MA: After that, could you melt the coins directly in order to give the statues their shape? Or did you have to take any special expedient?

NS: Actually, it was hard, because I needed to create two statues of pure zinc, but coins are usually made of metal alloys. I discovered that, since 1982, the Unites States’ 1 cent coin is made of 98% zinc and 2% copper. Then I bought a machine that divides coins according to their weight. This way, I could obtain all the US cents produced after 1982 and then I could separate the copper from zinc in the foundry.

MA: But this technical process is not the only important part of Viandanti. The historical and social narratives you bring out add a hint of magic to your work: this combination makes me feel like Viandanti is something coming from the age of alchemy. What can you tell me about this?

NS: I believe that Viandanti is a dialogue between a symbol and itself, living in constant movement in the circularity of time. It’s two desires coming from two different ages that coexist within the liquid.

 

Magazzino, Namsal Siedlecki, Artissima

Namsal Siedlecki
Viandanti (2019)
Photo: Giulia Murgia / Artissima

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