In snow, air and in the city - the beauty in Paola Pivi’s 'other' beasts
Zebras, horses, an alligator and fish have all found their way into her work
The Italian artist Paola Pivi created her first animal work back in 2003, when she was living on the remote island of Alicudi, off the coast of Sicily. Another islander was attempting to establish an ostrich farm on Alicudi, and the two initial birds imported for this purpose piqued Pivi’s interest.
Since then, as she puts it in our new Paola Pivi monograph, the animal works have appeared and reappeared in her work, “like a cascade,” she says, “I’m just picking everything from the world around.”
In some instances works such as her colourful, feathery bear sculptures can be read as a commentary on our fascination with, and alienation from nature. Others, such as her donkey in a boat piece can seen as a Dada-style statement; while others, such as Pivi’s placement of a thrillingly real leopard beside some fake coffee cups in a galllery “awaken and underscore elements of the human condition,” as the Bass Museum’s Leilani Lynch puts it in our book.
There’s no denying the works lend themselves towards deeper consideration of the natural and artificial worlds. As Julie Decker, director of the Anchorage Museum in Alaska, writes, Pivi’s “intertwined connection between man and beast takes place within a manufactured world that has deeper significance than just serving as a setting for beautiful and baffling photographs.”
Paola Pivi, I wish I am fish, 2009; photographic print mounted on aluminium, 160 x 240 cm. photograph by Hugo Glendinning. Courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki and The Chartwell Trust, Auckland
And yet, in acknowledging this, we shouldn’t deny the inherent beauty in so many of her works. Take, for example, her 2003 photograph of a pair of zebras in the snowy, mountainous Italian National Park of Velino Sirent. It’s a lovely, striking image, with the pure whites of the snowbanks complemented by the monochrome coats of these African animals.
In our new book, Pivi is keen to point out that the zebras didn’t mind the cold, and in fact, “probably had the best weekend of their lives, because they were free to roam alone in this amazing expanse of space for a whole weekend!”. The book goes on to explain that the zebras had been living in captivity in Italy and had already experienced real snow.
There’s also Pivi’s fantastical 2009 piece, I wish I am fish, in which a plane was chartered to transport goldfish as they swam in fishbowls. “These buckled-in fish flew for real, not on some sound stage for a more convenient illusion,” writes Creative Time’s Justine Ludwig. “The piece itself is not comprised of only the video and subsequent images, but also the experience of flight as participatory performance and fish as the primary audience. It is a preposterous gesture that captures the imagination and leaves the public with a tumult of questions, perhaps the most pressing being ‘why?’ The best answer might be the simplest: ‘because the artist could.’”
Paola Pivi, Yee-haw (Paris), 2015; photographic print mounted on aluminium with Diasec, 180 x 553 cm. photograph by Hugo Glendinning. Courtesy the Artist, Paris Eiffel Jumping and Perrotin
More recently, however, Pivi has been considering reasons why she might not produce such works in the future. These days the artist is less comfortable using captive animals. “Now that I’m fifty years old, I have the support of galleries,I have a certain power, I will not use animals in captivity anymore,” she says, “because it’s a very different situation from me as a young woman, with very limited power, living on an island where there happened to be two ostriches and we were basically cohabitants of this island and I did something that I found very poetic, and it was a very particular situation.”
Her final animal placement masterpiece was Yee-haw, a 2015 work (and accompanying series of photographs) in which she let a group of pure-bred horses run wild through the Eiffel Tower. It’s a beautiful work that the viewer can choose to interpret in a number of ways.
“Pivi’s points are not direct. She does not expound on the protection of species, climate change or environmental impact,” writes Decker. “One can choose to see simply drama and theatre. The viewer can opt to be taken in by scale and colour fields, or to see an invitation for reflection—the animals representing either play or plight.”
To make your own mind up, and to see many more images, order a copy of our Paola Pivi book here.