TAHAR BEN JELLOUN
Velasco Vitali is a human artist, very human indeed. This is why he prefers to represent humanity’s suffering through canine metaphors. I don’t know if his compassion is for animals or humans. In any case, his dogs, some of which are similar to those cast by Alberto Giacometti, are humanised in such a way that their arrangement within the space brings to mind groups of people intent on moving from one point to another, or placing themselves in one point or another. We know that the best of a man lies in the dog that sleeps within him. Not in the sense that man is a dog who is unaware of his actual state, but in the sense that a man, when he cultivates his affectivity, behaves like a dog. As a comic once said, “my dog is the only being that is happy to see me when I get home”, or, in the words of Jules Roy, “it is a being that prefers us to all others”.
As such, the way in which Vitali’s dogs are arranged within the space reminds us that man needs to feel secure associating with his counterparts, seeing his destiny as shared with that of his neighbour, knowing himself to be in the company of other men, both in order to act and in order to defend himself. Only dogs do not go to war. They do not study battle plans. They can defend themselves when attacked or if they are hungry, but they will never meet up somewhere in order to put together a plan of attack. It is in this sense that Vitali inserts the canines into contexts capable of bringing to mind certain elements of human behaviour. Away from the metaphor, we attempt to observe these dogs cast in metal as objects of art. At the limit, as Braque would say, this is not a dog. And it is true: it is a figure that has arisen from the artist’s imagination, the artist who wants to talk about humanity and its complexity. In fact, these dogs sprayed by water from a cheerful
fountain are nothing more than stars that have fallen from the sky dreamed up by the artist. Stardust, perhaps. In any case they are creations that look at us as witnesses from a time that is far from simple or calm. If anything, theirs is a time marked by violence. Certainly, our time is less violent than that experienced by our parents and our grandparents, when Europe was devastated and destroyed by Nazism, but it is still enough to cause us to talk of violence when we The Inhuman Condition perceive the nostalgia of certain individuals for that brutal ferocity we know from history. Because it is life itself that is violent; life and its conflicts. Or, at least, this is the message, or the suggestion, that I get from the work of our artist. He does not paint or sculpt our time, reproducing it exactly as it is. This would be impossible. Vitali avoids a full-frontal assault, he does not attack the real in a direct way, face to face. Instead he works around it, and in doing so he manages to tell us so much more. It is up to us to decipher the words, the dreams, the anxieties. Jean Genet wrote about Giacometti: “Beauty has no other origin than a wound, unique, different for each person, hidden or visible, that everyone keeps in himself, that he preserves and to which he withdraws when he wants to leave the world for a temporary, but profound solitude”.
Velasco Vitali knows what the “inhuman condition” is made of. Vitali is full of reality. He knows a great deal about it. He needs no pretence or legible symbols. He changes race. The human race has led him to the animal race, conscious of the beauty that his creations can convey. Vitali’s dogs are familiar to us. They move without seeing us, they stretch themselves out unconcerned about the person considered their master. They are not dogs; they are statues that scare dogs, that reawaken an ancient fear in men, that of the body’s immobility, of the immobility of death that freezes the body and cancels out the mind. These works of art never cease to remind us of the sensitivity of the person who has created them. Looking at them means giving them a little bit of life. Looking at them means giving ourselves a burst of life. In this sense, Vitali’s magnificent work affects us very intimately. Because he has chosen to speak out using the most demanding, most refined, and most beautiful artistic means. His dogs are ‘bourgeois’ dogs. If we compare them to Giacometti’s dogs, we cannot help but recognise how Vitali’s ‘dogs’ are well-fed, well-raised, whilst those created by Giacometti are skin and bone, starving, alone and essentially human. It is this humanity that Vitali has tried to sculpt. And he has succeeded insofar as his work is a creation that causes us to reflect, and to perhaps change some of our old habits, some of our worst certainties.