Opera, 2020. Wire mesh, permanent installation at Falcomatà Seafront, Reggio Calabria, Italy. Photo: © Roberto Conte

Edoardo Tresoldi: Framing Emptiness

A former scenographer who helped to design backdrops for other people’s cinema productions, Italian sculptor Edoardo Tresoldi has since found success by putting his own work center stage. His large-scale, seemingly fragile sculptures are predominantly constructed from wire mesh, a medium that reinforces their ephemeral, mirage-like quality. Tresoldi’s notable temporary public works include Etherea (2018), a neoclassical- and Baroque- inspired, site-specific installation created for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California, and Pensieri (2014), a sculpture of a reclining male figure facing the sea. His permanent works include Basilica di Siponto (2016), a dramatic reimagining of an ancient church in the Archaeological Park of Siponto, and Simbiosi (2019), for Arte Sella sculpture park, which combines the transparency of wire mesh with the materiality of local stone to create a kind of untraditional ruin suspended between architecture and nature.

Opera (2020), Tresoldi’s most recent work and another permanent public art installation, is located in Reggio Calabria, a coastal city on the toe of Italy. Commissioned by regional and city authorities, Opera consists of 46 columns standing in a narrow seafront park overlooking the Strait of Messina, which separates mainland Italy from the island of Sicily. Framing views across the water and inspired by the language of classical and Renaissance architecture, the 26-foot-high columns crisscross the park, following a geometric ground plan unrelated to the winding pedestrian pathways. Opera resembles a spectral ruin, the insubstantial remains of an archaeological artifact around which plants and trees have grown.

Etherea, 2018. Wire mesh, temporary installation at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Indio, California. Photo: © Roberto Conte

Tresoldi explains that the arrangement of the columns came from the desire to create a dialogue between something rationally conceived—the linear geometry of the column layout—and “the organic positions of the trees.” When designing the work, he first laid down a “regular grid on the space, calibrating the orientation in accordance with the possible perspective corridors in relation to the context, and then eliminating the columns overlapping the trees or other pre-existing elements.” Impressed by what he describes as the “visual poetry” of the constantly changing views across the channel, Tresoldi became interested in “underlining the quality of that specific place by building up a monument able to receive and filter the many small daily moments that enrich [visitors’] visual encyclopedia.”

Like Tresoldi’s other works, Opera celebrates the “genius loci of a place.” When researching a project, “everything that is around the installation is taken into account, since it is the first step in designing the artwork,” he says. “The starting point is always the observation of the physical, historical, and social elements of the place. From there, I develop a thought, a story, and a character, the sculpture, which I use to try to relate the viewer to the surrounding environment.” He adds that “another element in common, of course, is the transparency given by the materials.”

In the design phase of his projects, Tresoldi and his team use 3D-modeling software. Later, prototypes allow him to predict the behavior of the installations. When it is time to sculpt the wire mesh into the desired forms, Tresoldi and his team of builders wrap their arms and hands in padding to protect themselves while cutting and folding the galvanized wire. During Opera’s final installation phase, the columns were anchored to the ground with galvanized iron plates.

Opera, 2020. Wire mesh, permanent installation at Falcomatà Seafront, Reggio Calabria, Italy. Photo: © Roberto Conte

Through Opera, Tresoldi wanted to “realize an open architecture and a place of contemplation capable of creating new visual and perceptual dialogues between viewers and the landscape.” He describes contemplation as “a pure moment of listening and connecting with a place.” Despite its apparent simplicity, contemplation is “a complex activity because it requires us to listen without necessarily expressing an opinion,” he says. “It doesn’t have a specific function.”

The act and idea of contemplation also inspired Tresoldi’s wire mesh figure in the town of Sapri on Italy’s west coast. A temporary sculpture, Pensieri sat on top of a single-story structure next to the beach. Leaning back, seemingly gazing at the sea and horizon, the man appears to be lost in thought. Tresoldi believes that in such moments of silence, when we observe what is in front of us, we see first the whole, then the small details. We can observe a landscape “without analyzing it for its historical, anthropological, geological, and meteorological qualities.”

The notion of the sacred also features strongly in his work, particularly in Basilica di Siponto, the consequence of spending many hours sitting in churches. Raised a Catholic, but no longer practicing, Tresoldi still finds religion an important source of inspiration. Part of his “cultural grammar,” it has shaped his way of thinking, feeling, and communicating. Basilica di Siponto, which reaches a height of 98 feet, rises from the excavated foundations of an Early Christian basilica in the Archaeological Park of Siponto, in Manfredonia on Italy’s east coast. Designing the work began with historical research, involving engineers, architects, archaeologists, and cultural heritage experts. The sculpture, however, is “not a faithful reconstruction…but rather an artistic interpretation based on previous studies,” Tresoldi says. He notes, however, that the architectural aspects of the work are consistent with the style of the building that once stood on the site.

Pensieri, 2014. Wire mesh, temporary installation at Oltre il Muro Festival, Sapri, Italy. Photo: © Gianvito Greco

Another important consideration for Tresoldi is the emptiness of the landscape or seascape surrounding his work. “An empty background,” he says, “stimulates the viewer’s imagination, and through the transparency of the materials, it generates infinite possible relationships between the human body and space, where light and shadow play a big role.” Places with a great deal of emptiness, like the desert or along the sea, have a strong spiritual dimension for Tresoldi. In such locations, the “relationship between natural elements and man who seems to be a small part of a bigger entity, is extremely powerful.”

In Fabiano Caputo’s short film about the making of Pensieri, Tresoldi explains that “the true value of the sea is in being extremely visually empty,” which “contrasts strongly with all the input we receive in everyday life.” In the case of Opera, a similar visual emptiness can be found in the views of water and sky. Tresoldi would like Opera to be an opportunity for people to slow down and observe the “tiny nuances that compose and define that place,” but which “often, sadly, escape us because we are losing the slowness of observation and the moments dedicated to its contemplation.”