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IN CONVERSATION WITH ARTIST DAVIDE DORMINO

JASMEEN DUGAL  (click here to know more about this blogger)

What would you say to the world if you could? This is the question posed by a lifesize sculpture in Berlin's Alexanderplatz. It's titled: 'Anything To Say?' The sculpture has three figures of Edward Snowden, Julien Assange and Chelsea Manning who had the courage to battle intrusion of global surveillance, each standing on a chair. The fourth is empty because it's our chair, for us to stand up on and speak up. Inspired by author, journalist, broadcaster Charles Glass, it was sculpted by Davide Dormino. Over to the sculptor.

 

''This project was born in August 2013 when I was contacted by Charles Glass. He asked if I would like to collaborate with him on a project based on Assange, Snowden and Manning. At that point, I wanted to express an idea, a gesture that had to do with courage… and this is exactly what he was proposing! After a week of thinking it over, I got to work. You see, I'm an advocate of public art as it provides an opportunity to speak to a broad audience and help people grow. This can be transmitted not only through a vision but by creating something that encourages people to introspect and ask questions. When art doesn't do this, it only has an aesthetic facet. 

 

I chose to model this sculpture in a realistic fashion—an ancient form of representation. The idea was to make something that can be featured in the squares of the most important cities of the world. To leave a sign, a flag, to create a meeting point that encourages dialogue. Many people asked me how I came up with the idea of three figures standing up on chairs — a chair is a place where one sits down, where one feels comfortable; it's also a place where one thinks. Besides, I was inspired by the 'speaking corners' in London and New York — places where you can get up on a chair to express yourself! As I created the sculpture, the idea was to showcase whistleblowers, people who had defied the system. These three people chose the chair of courage… but the empty chair is the most significant part of the sculpture. It's an opportunity for us to speak up and share our perspective with everyone. Perhaps you remember a scene in the film, 'Dead Poets Society', where students stand up on tables as an act of sheer courage and rejection of blind authority—we need such courage today!

 

I cast it in bronze as it's indestructible and I was happy to see people getting up on the fourth chair and doing what we visualised when this idea came to being! There were hundreds of people lined up waiting to stand on the chair to say something. Some expressed their support for the whistleblowers, some babbled, others said nothing. The people who stood on the chair armed with megaphones were Michel Rediske from Reporters Without Frontiers, Hans Christian Strobele from The German Green Party, Sarah Harrison from Wikileaks, former MI5 intelligence officer Annie Machon, Berlin International Literature Festival Director Ulrich Schreiber, actress and human rights activist Anjhula Singh Bais. Anjhula is well known and respected in European circles for her courageous stance and her spirited justice. Introduced by a mutual friend, I spoke with her at length at dinner the night before the unveiling. I couldn't believe she had flown from India especially for the unveiling! With no jet lag, she sat and described to me and others her fight against Southeast Asian companies; she was taking on regional law firms and unethical, unscrupulous individuals, completely unafraid and unfettered of how this might impact her on a personal level. In that sense, she is similar to our other speakers from Wikileaks and the MI5 because they are all concerned about doing the right thing. Anjhula said standing on the chair, that Berlin was significant karmically given its history in World War II, and it was a spiritual sign that she had stepped off the plane in Berlin and received an e-mail from her lawyer saying the other side had agreed to apologise. The crowd cheered at that a lot! Anjhula spoke powerfully, simply and elegantly about not hereorizing the statues next to her; they are human beings like us, she said, and we have the same capability and impetus as them. Many people came up to Anjhula afterwards to thank her for speaking so sincerely and I believe she will be in a documentary and also got offered a job!

 

The sculptures are on view at Ufa Fabrik in Berlin and on June 1 it will be in Theatreplatz in Dresden. We are also organising exhibits in the US, Moscow, Switzerland and France. That said, I'm an independent artist. I work with galleries but an integral part of my work is public art. In 2011, I did some work to commemorate victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, 'Breath'. It was also public art, a monument to victims of the earthquake. Art is great when it gives people an opportunity to ask questions about their lives and the role of society. The role of the artist is to help people ask questions, encourage discussion and assist in developing new perspective. This has been the case since the beginning of the world. Important artists have always been the first to recognise and point to a new direction. Art is called upon to make a choice, to show a new direction. I call upon people to take a stand because their liberty is at stake. I stress: 'Be courageous because courage is contagious.'''
 

ARTIST DAVIDE DORMINO
Artist Davide Dormino
 
ARTIST DAVIDE DORMINO
Anjhula Singh Bais stands on the fourth chair and speaks up
 
ARTIST DAVIDE DORMINO
The lifesize bronze installation in Berlin
 
29-MAY-2015
 
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