Pinuccio Sciola, the artist of sound stones. Life, works, style

Pinuccio Sciola is the Sardinian artist known for making stones sound. His life, major works, style.

Pinuccio Sciola, whose real name is Giuseppe Sciola (San Sperate, 1942 - Cagliari, 2016), a lively personality and a great cultural mediator, brought Sardinian culture to the world, before carrying out the ambitious project of transforming the small village of San Sperate, where he was born, into a sort of village-museum. Here, Sciola placed numerous murals, statues and the so-called Pietre Sonore, the activity for which he became famous.

Sciola, in fact, elaborated the theory that stones are not inanimate objects, but rather hold the memory of our land and possess an inner voice. By making slits in stone, particularly basalt and limestone, and passing an object or a small stone through them, they emit sounds. He even integrated Sound Stones into jazz concerts in the mid-1990s. More generally, Sciola’s entire artistic research has always been based on the relationship between art and nature, which for him is inescapable.

Pinuccio Sciola
Pinuccio Sciola

The life of Giuseppe Sciola

Pinuccio Sciola was born on March 15, 1942, in San Sperate, Sardinia, to a family of farmers. From an early age he discovered his predisposition for sculpture, and in 1959 he participated at the age of 17 in the First Exhibition of Figurative Arts for students of all levels in the La Rinascente circle in Cagliari, as a self-taught artist. On this occasion he presented Opera prima (later named Petrino) and won a scholarship with which he could travel to Cagliari and attend the Liceo Artistico. After obtaining his high school diploma, Sciola participated in a number of exhibitions and attended first the Porta Romana Art School in Florence and later theInternational Academy in Salzburg. There he attended courses by great other artists such as Oskar Kokoschka and Emilio Vedova. He made several study trips to Europe coming into contact with Giacomo Manzù , Aligi Sassu and Henry Moore.

Some very significant experiences for the artist were attending theUniversity of Moncloa in Madrid in 1967, and the period spent in Paris the following year, in which he became involved in the turmoil of the youth protests of the French May. Sciola makes the revolutionary charges he experienced in Paris his own and brings them back to his village, deciding to help transform San Sperate into a Museum Village. The agriculturally-minded village is thus filled with sculptures and murals, creating to all intents and purposes one of the first forms of Environmental and Public Art in Italy that enthusiastically involves the inhabitants. Sciola is, moreover, invited to participate in the 1976 Venice Biennale to illustrate the Country Museum project within the section The Environment as Social. This activity brought him another satisfaction, that is, in 1973 he received an invitation from UNESCO to travel to Mexico City to collaborate with one of the main exponents of Mexican muralism, the artist David Alfaro Siqueiros, thus establishing an artistic twinning between San Sperate and the popular Tepito neighborhood of Mexico City.

Over the years he has received numerous awards not only for his artistic works but also for his intense activity in promoting culture, art and social issues in Sardinia. He also decided to establish in San Sperate in 1984 an International Center for Stone Working, with the intention of involving young people by teaching them the art of craftsmanship and thus trying to revive it. He later brought some of the work produced at the Center to the exhibition “Piere e Città” set up in Milan’s Rotonda della Besana. 1986 is the year in which Sciola was present in numerous exhibitions abroad, such as a traveling exhibition that touches several cities in Germany such as Duisburg, Munich, Leverkusen and Hamburg and lasts for about a year.

From 1990 to 1996 he taught at the Sassari Academy and made trips to Peru and Chile. He continued into the 1990s to be present in various international exhibitions, all of which were aimed at emphasizing his idea of an intimate relationship between art and nature. With the onset of the 2000s and with the definition of his experiments on the sounds of stones, Sciola organized several public occasions in which to present the results of his research and which contributed to increasing his fame. The accolades continued to come over time, in fact in 2010 he was appointed President of the Regional Commission for Landscape and Architectural Quality, in 2012 he was appointed by then-President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano as Commendatore dell’Ordine al merito della Repubblica Italiana, in recognition of his activity art, and in 2014 he was awarded the Beato Angelico Medal, in the year of the 450th anniversary of Michelangelo’s death, and finally in 2015 he received the 2015 Woman of Marble Award for his important contribution to the history of sculpture, given to him by the National Association Le Donne in Verona during the 50th edition of Marmomacc.

Pinuccio Sciola died in Cagliari on May 13, 2016, and San Sperate paid tribute to him by hanging white sheets and drapes on all windows and balconies. His work is carried on today in the small Sardinian town by his three sons, who started the Pinuccio Sciola Foundation in 2016.

Pinuccio Sciola, Jazz Stone (1996; basalto; San Sperate, Giardino Sonoro)
Pinuccio Sciola, Jazz Stone (1996; basalt; San Sperate, Sound Garden)
Pinuccio Sciola, Pietra sonora (2000; basalto, 66 x 55 x 18 cm; Nuoro, MAN). Foto di Confinivisivi - Pierluigi Dessì
Pinuccio Sciola, Sound Stone (2000; basalt, 66 x 55 x 18 cm; Nuoro, MAN). Photo by Confinivisivi - Pierluigi Dessì
Pinuccio Sciola, Il cantico delle pietre (2003; performance)
Pinuccio Sciola, The Canticle of Stones (2003; performance)

The style and works of Pinuccio Sciola

Pinuccio Sciola’s artistic research is strongly linked to nature and its main elements such as earth, water, and sun. This very strong interest is certainly due to his close connection with Sardinia, his homeland, which boasts an important tradition of peasant work. Sciola is moreover a tireless artist, dedicated to production and craftsmanship, who has ventured mainly into sculpture but also painting. His sources of inspiration reside, in addition to his homeland, from his travels around the world, which allow him to discover new cultures while strengthening his own Sardinian identity. This is demonstrated by his intense activity in cultural promotion, as well as the ambitious project of artistic redevelopment of the entire town of San Sperate.

In his exhibitions between the 1980s and the 1990s, nature is always the great protagonist, going on to explore the intimate relationship between it and art. Examples of this are the sculptural works created in 1994 for the park of the castle of Ooidonk, Belgium, or the performance La semina della pietra which took place in 1994 at the Third Biennial of Nature Art in Niederlausitz near Berlin.

All of Sciola’s research then leads him to make a groundbreaking discovery concerning stone. This element for him is in deep connection with other natural elements since its origin, for example fire, as it is derived from the lava of volcanoes, or water with which it is often found in combination. For the artist, in the sediments of stones is preserved the historical memory of our planet. He then discovers, through different experiments applied to different types of stones and marbles, that these materials are not as inanimate as we are naturally led to think, but “speak” through sounds they produce based on different actions, such as passing a hand over them or striking them with an object. He then arrives at the definition of Sound Stones, a concept based on the liberation of the voice of Mother Earth, which is vital and full of energy. Once again it is the morphology of Sardinia that inspires him, rich in megalithic structures such as the menhirs that are then reproduced by Sciola in San Sperate with basalt and limestone and on which he makes carvings that often follow geometric shapes, so that by passing another small stone or object over the slits, the sculpture emits sounds. Not only Sardinia, but also pre-Columbian and primitive African cultures, which Sciola studies and gets to know in his travels, are an inspiration for him to arrive at this concept, for example, the Incas claimed that stone is “the backbone of the world.”

Sciola soon realizes that the quality and type of sound are not influenced by how the carving is done, but rather depend on the very material from which the stone is made. The Sardinian artist particularly favors sounds produced from limestone and basalt, materials that are very fascinating to the artist because they are derived from millennia and millennia of sediment, whose origins are lost in prehistory. Basalt produces a fairly dark sound, and for Sciola it is the sound of earth and fire (it is a volcanic rock), while testing limestone he noticed how the sound produced was very soft, more evanescent and similar to the sound one hears when going underwater (the rock itself is derived from fossilized water).

Sciola will take his Sound Stones to several shows over the years. They were played for the first time in 1996 by percussionist Pierre Favre at the Time in Jazz Festival in Berchidda, Sardinia, and later that year during an electronic music concert at the Teatro della Scala in Milan. One of the stones in question took the name Jazz Stone (1996) and is located in the San Sperate Sound Garden(read more about the Sound Garden here). Moreover, in 2002 he made a sort of sculptural and architectural revolution at the same time, being asked by architect Renzo Piano to place a basalt sound stone in his project for the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome. The stone becomes, in this case, a symbol of eternal music. He returned again to the Venice Biennale in 2003 precisely with a work entitled Solo pietre (Only Stones), and a few months later he created Cantico delle Pietre (Song of Stones) on the square of the Lower Basilica in Assisi, wanting to create a kind of addition to St. Francis’ Canticle of Creatures dedicated precisely to stones, which were absent from the original text. He would then return to this square five years later, in 2008, with another work entitled The Seeds of Peace.

In 2006 he proposed in Bologna, in the Villa delle Rose, an innovative itinerary dedicated to the Pietre Sonore with an interactive installation, moreover in a venue that usually did not host exhibitions, deliberately looking for new contexts for the fruition of art. A last event featuring the Pietre Sonore took place in April 2016, a few weeks before the sculptor’s death, in the Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome. The event was titled La voce della Pietra - Il Mosè di Michelangelo e le Pietre Sonore di Sciola (The Voice of Stone - Michelangelo’s Moses and Sciola’s Pietre Sonore ) and was based precisely on the dialogue between Michelangelo, who in shaping the marble for the Moses sculpture asked him why he did not speak, and Sciola, who instead found the answer to the illustrious sculptor’s question in the hidden voice of the lithic material, freed from its cracks.

In addition to Pietre Sonore, throughout his artistic activity Sciola has also devoted himself to projects of various kinds. In 2011 he tried his hand at architecture, proposing an ideal city by the name La città sonora uniting music and sculpture, an idea that was proposed in Madrid at the Italian Cultural Institute in Calle Mayor. The following year he made Endless Columns, iron sculptures that were intended to pay homage to the architect Antoni Gaudí. Pinuccio Sciola also created theatrical sets, such as the one for Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot at the Teatro Lirico in Cagliari, in which he depicted a modern, futurist Beijing, combining modernity and tradition and recalling a world of stone.

Pinuccio Sciola, I semi
Pinuccio Sciola, The Seeds
Pinuccio Sciola, Colonne infinite (2012; 80 elementi di tubi innocenti)
Pinuccio Sciola, Endless Columns (2012; 80 elements of innocent pipes)

Where to see the works of Pinuccio Sciola

To get the most complete view of Pinuccio Sciola’s work, one should go to the Sardinian town of San Sperate, in the province of Cagliari. Here, as explained earlier, the artist placed numerous sculptures, murals and sound stones scattering them throughout the entire village.

Within San Sperate he created the “Sound Garden,” in which several famous works are preserved, such as his early work Pietrino, Homage to Piet Mondrian, and Jazz Stone, the stone that was first played during a Jazz concert in 1986.

Pinuccio Sciola, the artist of sound stones. Life, works, style
Pinuccio Sciola, the artist of sound stones. Life, works, style

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