Encounters in the Depths of the Material
trait of the last twenty-five years (from 1985 to 2010) of Osvaldo
Decastelli’s art has been the use of corrugated cardboard, the
primordial material in his production. And, since we are in the
sphere of contemporary art that “mistrusts classic categorizations
and holds in contempt the difference between noble and common
materials,”(1) Decastelli’s discovery of this material has become
more and more meaningful with the passage of time and the course
of his work. Due to the often unexpected, indeed surprising, possibilities
that corrugated cardboard opened up in Decastelli’s work, it is
impossible to distinguish between this material and the identity
of the work produced in this period. His technical skill, which
was evident starting in his years as an art student, and his imaginary
served to generate an empathetic tie between the artist and his
material, which served to reveal his skills and to give rise to
a large range of proposals. There have been many phases in this
prolific—and ongoing— relationship between artist and material.
Human figures, beasts, boxes, books, objects of daily use as well
as abstract objects and many others, including his recent use
of corrugated cardboard in conjunction with photography: the scope
of the artistic concepts generated by this artist has grown broader
and more versatile over time. Since the Baroque period, the work
of art in the Western tradition has ceased to be painting, sculpture
and drawing as such. Due to a series of broader and broader ruptures
which grew especially intense in the mid-20th century, art became
“pure event, art as activity. Forms (as well as the use of materials)
came to be akin to living organisms.”(2) Decastelli’s pieces in
corrugated cardboard form part of this series of breaks with tradition;
they have found a place of their own thanks to the loss of the
identity of the traditional art object. (3) His works are unique,
sophisticated objects without a trace of solemnity (they seem
to aspire to just the opposite). As such, they entail a reflection
on the material, and display the playful attitude of an artist
who attempts to approach the viewer , to draw him or her in. Hence,
in Decastelli’s work there is a certain sympathy, whether deliberate
or not, with early 20th-century movements like Dadaism, whose
influence was strong into the second half of that century. Nonetheless,
it is important to bear in mind that Picasso was not only the
first artist to use newspaper as a constitutive part of his early
Cubist works, but also—and this a few years before the emergence
of Dadaism—the one who used cardboard and string in his Maquette
for Guitar (Paris, 1912), a precursor to the definitive version
entitled Guitar (Paris, 1912), which is made with sheet metal
Both are now at the New York Museum of Modern Art. Picasso even
used corrugated cardboard in some works from the 1930s. Regardless,
in terms of this historical process and its intersection with
Decastelli’s unique development, what the artist has called his
dialogue with the material—corrugated cardboard—lay the basis
for a process that radically altered his attitude towards making
art. Similarly, though his aim has always been to make specific
art objects and his emerging creative process has been connected
to those objects, it has, through his intimate investigative dialogue
with corrugated cardboard, gone beyond that. That is, his work
does not begin and end with the production of a set of unique
pieces; that is just part of a larger process that also entails
the production of ideas, a form of thinking subject not to pure
reason but to free association. The non-schematic nature of this
thinking is bound not only to what he calls the playful side of
his work, but also other sorts of projects, inventions, instances,
performatic ideas. Examples of this include the invention of an
object to make quadrangular eggs (p. 147), thematic dinners (p.
159), the Un metro cúbico para San Telmo [A Cubic Meter for San
Telmo] project (p. 158) and others. Before engaging in an in-depth
analysis of his production, it appears as if Decastelli has sought,
in his art and actions, to generate an estrangement in his viewers’
way of being in the world. And in that his attitude is analogous
to certain Surrealist formulations.
Decastelli’s attitude toward the practice of art has always been
characterized by restlessness, curiosity, and mostly experimentation.
Indeed, that is what led him to corrugated cardboard, and the
universe that it opened up. He attended Manuel Belgrano and Prilidiano
Pueyrredón art schools in the early 1960s. He says that “the 1960s
were wonderful,” and indeed they were: they gave rise to one of
the most important cultural shifts in the 20th century. He feels
privileged to have received a solid, interesting and vital art
education. Inevitably, one wonders about the connection between
his education in art schools in the stimulating and tumultuous
1960s and the aforementioned attitude. While he recognizes the
dogmatic and overly structured side of art education at certain
traditional schools, when he speaks of his years at art school
his face lights up. He speaks of how the positive side of those
years was reflected in the educational atmosphere: talented professors,
creative excitement about teaching, multifaceted
(1). Elba Pérez, “Lo perdurable y lo efímero,”
Télam, August 12, 1996.
(2). Frederico Morais, Gráfico arte moderna, arte
pósmoderna, Rio de Janeiro, 1977.
(3). Mercedes Casanegra, “El arte argentino,”
in Historia Visual del Arte, Santiago, Chile, Larousse, 2004.
of each discipline, mutual stimulation between teacher and student
and so forth. He recalls that the professors at these institutions
had a maxim: they were there because, to put it briefly, they
felt responsible for “creating extremely sensitive beings to capture
what most people can’t.” They intended, that is, to sharpen perception,
one of the key concerns of that time both in relation to life
and ways of seeing and interpreting the world; a change in awareness,
in this case through the visual arts. He recalls that studio classes
were given by the artists Juan Batlle Planas, Enio Iommi, Juan
Carlos Labourdette and Luis Balduzzi. He has particularly fond
memories of Balduzzi, who had deposited a good deal of confidence
in his promising student, giving him room to experiment due to
his mastery of techniques and materials.
Decastelli could sense the rupture that those years did, in fact,
entail; cultural change and innovation due to a shift in paradigms
in all fields. The atmosphere surrounding the real and vital search
for truly original answers is what Decastelli emphasizes about
his experience in those years.
“In music, it was electronics, in literature, Cortázar ,” he recalls,
and goes on to recite a long list of figures that we all know.
And he feels privileged to have been heir to the essentially experimental
character of that decade.
Most certainly, even in those years Decastelli had within him
an inclination for experimentation, searching and investigation.
While he celebrated what was happening around him, he did not
necessarily identify with the achievements or discoveries of others.
He was still looking for his own way. That way of perceiving and
feeling art for oneself is in keeping with some of the ideas Luis
Felipe Noé expressed in Antiestética [Anti-Aesthetic], a book
first published in 1965 that put forth the spirit of the times.
“If art is searching, if it is a form of knowledge, artwork, each
work of art, is part of a search […] The search for permanent
revelation, which is the form of knowledge that is art, is shot
like an arrow and cannot be limited to the work.”(4) Noé is speaking
of his notion of “art as process”: for the Neo-Figurative artist,
what matters is “the creative will” and its dynamic, and the agent
attempting to navigate those phenomena is engaged in a personal
“search.” Since the time of his art education and into the present,
these notions, especially the idea of constant searching and experimentation,
have been very much akin to—indeed branded on—how Decastelli tackles
the adventure of art.
The proximity of Noé and Decastelli’s conceptions and attitudes
is evident, and they are very much in keeping with the atmosphere
during a certain time they shared, even though their productions
are so different.
All material has history. All material has its own history built
into it. There’s no such thing as “better” material. It’s just
as unnatural for people to use oil paint as it is to use anything
else. An artist manufactures his material out of his own existence—his
own ignorance, familiarity or confidence. Robert Rauschenberg (5)
Cardboard is in all my work. I am not interested in sticking to
established formulas, but seeing how far the material can take
me. At times it is support, at others material…
Once he had graduated from art school, where he majored in sculpture,
Decastelli followed the traditional paths of that discipline and
its practice. Initially, he worked with the inevitable materials:
plaster, bronze, iron; then acrylic, which was novel in the 1960s,
and somewhat later wood. He stayed on the expected path, one that
had been walked by so many before him. But he was not satisfied
with it. Despite the aforementioned atmosphere of change in those
years and all that that had to offer , art schools have always
been somewhat conservative, and Decastelli was aware of the need
to free himself of all that. That led him to continue his search.
Meanwhile, though, his technical skill had grown.
In 1985, his work underwent a conversion, a radical turn: he came
upon corrugated cardboard as a potential component. Soon, a tight
connection was established between Decastelli and this original
material, one quite uncommon in the field of sculpture.
The uniqueness of cardboard as an art material incites an investigation
of its genealogy in Argentina and abroad. This is not only because
of its peculiarity in the field of art but also because of the
symbolic weight of cardboard and corrugated cardboard. When related,
certain cases are useful to further defining Decastelli’s work.
At the same time, phenomena outside the sphere of art also form
part of the meaning and connotations of his production. In Argentina
today, the first, indeed almost spontaneous, association is with
the daily reality of the cartoneros—people who rummage through
the trash in search of recyclable materials, principally cardboard
from which they get their
(4). Luis Felipe, Noé, Antiestética, Buenos Aires,
Ed. de la Flor , 1988, p. 64.
(5). Rauschenberg, New York, Vintage Books, 1987.
name, in order to resell it—and by extension
the economic crisis of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Due to
the growing poverty rate, even today cities throughout the entire
country witness a daily occupation that has become something of
a craft: collecting cardboard out of the trash, selecting it,
ordering it and getting it ready to be sold for recycling. Cartoneros
and their work are not only a social issue, but a theme for some
Argentine artists. In August of 2001 Miguel D’Arienzo presented
Los cartonautas, an installation that makes reference to the cartoneros,
at the Centro Cultural Recoleta. That work made narrative use
of corrugated cardboard in relation to the idea of recycling and
transformation. In a contemporary language, Daniel Ontiveros dealt
with the social problem surrounding cardboard, if not the material
itself, in his exhibition Expropiaciones (1999, ICI - Centro Cultural
de España in Buenos Aires). He made use of supermarket carts,
one of the most common vehicles used by cartoneros, who were starting
to appear on the city streets in those years, to carry what they
gather. Starting in the year 2000, Fabiana Barreda referred to
the theme of recyclable materials in her performances and photo-performances
of trash in the street. She identified with the social situation
by dressing in used food containers and, though she did not work
with cardboard itself, she did use polyurethane containers. The
use of the colorful packaging of leading food brands was also
related to recycling as subsistence and manifestation of different
moments in the lifecycle.
Decastelli’s work could also be connected with Italian Arte Povera
artists, who in the late 1960s rebelled against traditional canons
of beauty and so-called noble materials. But the parallels end
there, as many Povera artists introduced live matter and elements
taken from nature into their works: mud, herbs and even animals.
Jannis Kounellis, for instance, exhibited horses and live blackbirds.
In any case, what connects them to Decastelli is a concern with
doing away with the fetishism of the auratic art object, a Neo-Dadaist
approach shared by other artists of the time.
The most recent artists worth mentioning in relation to Decastelli—though
neither of them seems to have noticed the existence of the other
in making his work—is the British-born Italian artist Chris Gilmour
(Stockport, Great Britain, 1973). Like Decastelli, he skillfully
works with corrugated cardboard, whether new or recycled. Gilmour , like Decastelli, has also dealt
with the theme of objects taken from current daily life, though
Gilmour usually refers to technological elements like cars, bicycles,
typewriters, electric guitars and so
(6). Chris Gilmour, (www.chrisgilmour . com/en.intervista.
(7). María Torres, unpublished book project Osvaldo
Decastelli, Buenos Aires, 2010.
forth. Gilmour’s work is
largely geared towards a rigorous hyperrealism and the attendant
paradoxical de-functionalization. What the two artists might agree
on is the reason for using corrugated cardboard, a material that
can be understood by everyone and, thereby, allows for other sorts
of readings and re-readings of their art. (6) Despite their different
educations, contexts and eras, both artists are drawn to the proximity
and dailiness of corrugated cardboard in the lives of so many.
Nonetheless, Decastelli’s ongoing relationship with cardboard
as an art material as well as the concepts he has developed in
the different stages of his work are different from the aforementioned
cases. His strategies are and always have been very personal.
His approach to corrugated cardboard has always been original
and personal; it cannot be reduced to a single instance. With
an open and experimental attitude that never fails to heed chance,
he has achieved goals that were not necessarily established beforehand.
At the same time, he does have something in common with some of
the aforementioned artists and tendencies: since cardboard is
usually seen as a disposable waste material, working with it means
that the artist effects a sort of recategorization through an
array of transformations. Nonetheless, in this there is another
difference in the work of Decastelli, as he uses mostly new corrugated
cardboard. Only at the beginning and for a few years, from 1985
to 1992, did he get cardboard from local merchants who gave him
empty boxes. Thereafter , Zucamor , a manufacturer of boxes and
corrugated cardboard containers, started to provide him with new
material fresh from the factory.
The viewer is surprised by his insistent use of a material—corrugated
cardboard—that usually goes unnoticed, and this incites reflection.
Corrugated cardboard is generally considered solely in terms of
use. At the hands of Decastelli, though, it is evident how these
characteristics immediately recede.
According to dictionaries and encyclopedias, then, corrugated
cardboard is a material used basically to make containers and
packaging; it is employed in countless production and distribution
chains the world over . It usually consists of three to five layers
of paper; the smooth ones for the two outer layers, and the wavy
ones for the inside, which makes the resulting
structure mechanically resistant. At first, its production was
artisanal and then it became industrial.
Hence, the first shift in meaning to occur at the hand of Decastelli
removing the material from its habitual sphere, away from
the world of industry, mechanical manufacturing and packaging
for an array of objects, mostly unrelated to art. That, in and
of itself, was an operation that would have delighted the Surrealists.
By striping corrugated cardboard of its function, it underwent
a process of resemantization.
Crucially, and at the same time, in the multiple expressions of
this material in Decastelli’s work and in his spoken references
to it, there is a striking reiteration: corrugated cardboard was
a material unknown to the artist, and that worked to his favor
. He had to investigate and get to know it, and that was not only
a challenge, but also the beginning of everything.
Asceticism and Material
In attempting to imagine the most obscure reasons for Osvaldo
Decastelli’s choice of cardboard as his material, we tend to think
of a certain ascetism. This not necessarily artistic quality is
present not only in his works but also in his studio and his home,
specifically in its formal purity and in the material used in
its construction—few materials, all of them carefully chosen by
him. Indeed, it is also felt in his very person. And, though it
seems to come from other human spheres, that quality inhabits
his life and the depths of his artistic consciousness. Furthermore,
I would venture the hypothesis that this striping of anything
superfluous, this doing away of any excess or baroqueness, led
Decastelli not only to choose the original medium with which he
works but also to narrow his course, to hone his formal search
in order to make it deeper and more fruitful. That is, the depth
of this approach gave rise to a variety of modalities and methods
of working with and combining cardboard that do not seem to have
come to a dead end in these twenty-five years. Just the opposite.
This approach set off a permeable process in which his imaginary
and the material have forged a close and synchronized relationship.
All of this has led to the development of his work, which is our
object of study and interpretation: a wide oeuvre (sculptures,
objects, photographs, installations) in cardboard. But, Decastelli’s
approach is singular. Again and again, the individual works confront
the one who interprets them with the raw material, with the extreme
range of possibilities it offers: an industrial material reveals
its expressive, formal and conceptual power. (7) To do this, Decastelli
has taken a specific stance: though his
aims are artistic, his
research entails practices akin to those of a scientist or physicist.
He has approached the object of his study—cardboard—in a number
of ways, both micro- and macroscopic. Quite literally, what he
calls his dialogue with the material has been an investigation
into its broadest and deepest range of possibilities. Finally,
anyone who delves into an investigation of his work will continue
to be surprised by the multiplicity, the multifaceted nature,
of the results.
In the beginning, in 1985, corrugated cardboard replaced the sheets
of wood with which he had been working. This change from traditional
materials to cardboard was not abrupt; there was a period during
which he worked with both, as is manifest in the title of the
exhibition Del cartón al bronce, at the Amicitia gallery, in 1985.
At that time, Decastelli’s work was strictly figurative, and his
recurring theme was the human figure, as is suggested by the title
of another show, La figuración y el corrugado, 1990, his first
exhibition at the Centro Cultural Recoleta.
It is important to bear in mind that corrugated cardboard comes
in flat sheets, and that one of its most common uses is to make
boxes. At first, the artist took it on those terms; he was inspired
by and respected the standard folds and facets used in the manufacture
of such containers. That is, in this first approach Decastelli
made use of the memory of the material’s common form. This is
evident in the pieces from the installation Estigma [Stigma],
1993-1995 (pp. 31-35), protagonists of a bestiary in which the
geometrical shapes of the somewhat fantastic animals were developed
using the material’s facets and creases. Even more explicitly,
in the Cajas [Boxes] series, 1992-1994 (pp. 44-47), the artist
showed the boxes as such, that is, as containers or transporters
of things and objects.
Despite a certain faithfulness to the habitual uses of corrugated
cardboard—in the aforementioned boxes, for instance—and a certain
resonance of its recognized forms, a tendency to abstraction and
the geometrical began to make itself felt in these series. Indeed,
these artist aims would become a constant with variations.
The more experimental next step entailed pushing the limits of
more common, everyday uses of corrugated cardboard. In this
phase, Decastelli started layering the sheets of cardboard with
glue in order to construct blocks, as if it were a homogenous
and monolithic material. Then, after having built a new material,
he brought those blocks together; the blocks themselves were analogous,
in a way, to large slices or pieces of wood, stone, marble, etc.
Thus, the artist’s work here entailed two basic steps: first,
the manufacture of the new material—which was strikingly solid,
strong but not rigid—by layering sheets of corrugated cardboard;
second, cutting this new material in different ways, molding and
scraping it. Sometimes he also used dyes, oils, shellac or rendered
photographs (digital shots of the material itself) on the surface.
This is the case of works like Imposición [Imposition], 1991 (p.
37), a sphere with colored shapes that emerge like a crown, and
Introversión [Introversion], 1991 (p. 41), a circular form with
a wide base cut to form large tooth-like shapes towards its center
, a form that he would repeat in other pieces. A slightly earlier
work, Sin título [Untitled] (1990) (p. 39), is another case where
three geometrical forms are united along the length of an imaginary
axis; this work simulates a simple mechanism, and Decastelli would
also use this resource on other occasions. The artist placed on
the inner portion of some works from the Cajas [Boxes] series,
objects constructed using the aforementioned method (layering
sheets and molding) in order to create a sense of the container’s
fullness. On other occasions, he proposed another variation: the
contents overflowing from the limits of the open box, for instance
the pyramid shape that emerges in another work from the same series
(p. 47). The use of certain cuts to give shape to each piece yields
a variety of textures that are particularly evident on the surfaces
of some of the aforementioned works. Thus far , one of the pieces
where this is most clear is the somewhat more expressionistic
Introversión. At the same time, the smoothness of other works
generates another sort of expressiveness. These procedures reveal
an intention to let the material express itself, which means not
only not covering it but also showing it from different points
of view. This attitude is central to Decastelli’s artistic vision.
Using this same procedure of layering, he created a series of
Libros [Books] from 1995-1996 (pp. 49-57), which consisted of
large-scale books or book-objects. That meant, then, moving away
from the normal functioning of books to create objects with an
array of playful connotations.
All these works are examples of formal variations with specific
themes proposed by the artist in his dialogue with the material.
Thus, Buscando una mujer I [Looking for a Woman I], 1995 (p. 49),
has a horizontal incision—an indirect reference to female genitalia—that
cuts through almost all the pages of the book; the more formalist
Obsesión Obsession], 1995 (p. 51), simulates the waviness of the
corrugated cardboard, also on a larger scale, which is uncovered
by an outer sheet cut at a slant, a macro-imitation of its waves.
Later , in Cantar a libro abierto [Sing to Open Book], 1996 (pp.
56-57), the artist once again reveals his interest in a formal
approach to certain mechanisms, a hinge in this case. This approach,
though, contradicts any possibility of real functioning. This
concern with the uselessness of mechanics, with playfulness and
subtle humor connects Decastelli with strains of Surrealism and
An untitled installation of blocks of corrugated cardboard dated
from 1996 to 1999 (pp. 58-59) is a very particular piece within
Decastelli’s oeuvre. It involves the aforementioned abstract tendency,
while also manifesting the production of textures. Like each block
in and of itself, here the piled blocks yield a seemingly monolithic
and self-enclosed form. Another untitled installation (1999-2001)
consists of twelve pieces with hinges (pp. 70-71). This work furthered
the modality of cutting a basic block made from glued sheets of
corrugated cardboard. It also shows the artist’s nclination for
simulated mechanisms. The hinges in this work form chains and
also display the tendency towards geometry. This work was one
of the first times that Decastelli made powerful use of color
, black, which covers the entire surface of the pieces in the
What has been described thus far—the layering technique and the
gluing together of sheets of cardboard—entails the construction
of a dense and strong material out of something by no means as
solid as stone or wood. Nonetheless, within the limits imposed
by the nature of cardboard, the artist has managed to render it
hard and resistant. n relation to this, Decastelli speaks of tests
of resistance involving objects that are not necessarily artistic
in nature: the construction of a prefabricated house that lasted
for ten years, or boats for navigating river rapids, as well as
furniture he uses in his own home.
Lastly, somewhere between the rigid and the geometrical are his
Paletas Boards], 2000-2006 (p. 87), abstract vertical shapes,
and his Señales de corte [Signals of Cutting], 2005-2009, from
the same series (pp. 104-106). In these
latter works, he transferred photographic images of the material
whose black streaks suggest primitive weapons. The works from the Paletas series, as well as both versions of
block installation, display his sculptural skill in the layout
of those pieces in the space. In these works and others, the mastery
of the question of location in space entails the concept of specific
works. This skill is also evident in the use of space in the house-studio
where he currently lives and works.
When subject to other treatments, the same material manifests
other traits like softness and flexibility. Sin título [Untitled],
2000-2006 (pp. 65-69), for instance, consists of ductile screens
created as if by slicing the blocks of layered sheets. Decastelli
has offered different designs for the exhibition of these works
(displaying them horizontally or vertically “standing up,” held
up by small wooden sticks, etc.). Regardless of how they are exhibited,
though, their flexibility is evident. Similarly, the vertical
zigzags in the small work Sin título [Untitled], c. 2004 (p. 93),
resoundingly convey the idea of the malleable and the subtle,
here also playful and festive.
Perhaps one of Decastelli’s most daring and surprising experiments
in terms of challenging the material is the Vibración [Vibration]
series, 2004-2010 (pp.72-79), open sheets of corrugated cardboard.
By hitting them, the sheets become soft forms with unexpected
textures considering the original hardness of the material. Here,
he separated the cardboard into the layers from which it is made
and, by hitting it, brought out another rich version of the material,
showing malleability and mobile forms that are quite unexpected
for the unforewarned viewer . On occasion, the artist has even
referred to these works as “textiles,” that is, the very opposite
of the rigidity of the corrugated sheet. Along these lines, one
possible interpretation would entail the experiential aspect of
the dialogue with the material. The fact of having “softened”
a seemingly rigid material might be explained by having experimented
with it directly. First the artist and then the viewer experience
it corporeally and existentially.
Between Geometry and Play
Though Decastelli’s playfulness might well lie at the very root
of his creative originality, it is particularly evident in certain
works, like Sin título [Untitled], 2000-2007 (pp. 94-103), an
installation of ten square pieces. This work brings together his
tendency towards a sort of
and his playfulness. Here, he made use of an array of techniques
to formulate a synthesis of his multifaceted work: the separation
of sheets of cardboard, the construction of small box-modules,
the layering in different directions, the negative rendering of
pyramid shapes, that is, towards the inside, the interplay of
textures from different angles, and so forth. Each piece could
be a board for some imaginary game.
The Brazilian critic Frederico Morais has spoken of playfulness
as an important trait of art after World War II as well as of
post-modernism, which developed some years later. (8) Frederico
Morais associates this characteristic with viewer participation,
which here might entail imagining each part of the work as the
board of a different game. Regardless of this interpretation,
the various parts and the whole operate as individual or joint
objects, combining to form more and less solid versions.
Photography and Color
Though the sphere of photography lies outside cardboard, Decastelli’s
experiments with that medium can also be seen as part of his dialogue
with the material. This work began with photographs of the cardboard
itself, shots of his own finished works or pieces of the material
discarded in the process of making his work. He then reworks the
photographs digitally and transfers certain shots onto the cardboard.
That is, they return to their original medium. Malas hierbas [Bad
Herbs] and Copia de seguridad [Backup], 2008-2009 (pp. 8-15),
were created by this procedure of copying black-and-white photos
onto flat sheets of corrugated cardboard. Skillfully laid out
for exhibition in the garden space of Arte x Arte in June of 2009,
both required the active participation of the viewer , though
this is more evident in Copia de seguridad simply because the
photograph was printed on only one side of the cardboard.
Decastelli continues to experiment with photography, and with
the use of color on cardboard. Sin título [Untitled], 2000-2006
(pp. 80-81), entails an interplay of gluing and textures as well
as the use of printing inks of different colors, thus straying
from the artist’s typical austerity and synthesis.
(8). Federico Morais, op. cit.
(9). Suzi Gablik, “Deconstructing Aesthetics:
Orienting toward the Feminine Ethos,” in The Reenchantment of
Art, New York, Thames & Hudson, 1993, p. 60.
Osvaldo Decastelli has been true to one of the key ideas of the
1960s, the period of his art education: mainly, refusing to follow
pre-established canons. He discovered everything along the way.
He understood what “the explosion of the traditional art object”
that took place in the mid-20th century
was all about, and that the new modalities of art were going to
be more open. He saw that art was going to get closer to design,
that the different art disciplines would intersect, and that anything
and everything would be capable of becoming an expressive material.
He built his own narrative of art. But, more importantly, he narrowed
his path in order to go deeper . Going against the times, he was
more interested in being than in seeming. And he understood that
human life and art must build a bridge to a material, ultimately
to the material of the world in order to reach a synthesis. Indeed,
his work and its processes incite reflections that deal not only
with art, but also with culture in these times.
Observing Osvaldo Decastelli’s work from the last twenty-five
years inevitably leads us to reflect on an age-old binary in Western
philosophy between material and form. It could be said, in the
most basic terms, that material is the possibility that something
come to be, and form the determinant of substance. As simple as
it is rich and far-reaching, this formulation sheds light on the
dialogue between artist and material developed in Osvaldo Decastelli’s
work. In the broadest terms, the West has privileged form, and
that is related to the place of reason not only in Western culture,
but also in modern aesthetics, which has given us, in the words
of North American critic Suzi Gablik, “an ontology of objectification,
permanence and egocentricity.”(9) These are the first two concepts
to be shifted in the work of Decastelli.
What is so unique about how Decastelli works with corrugated cardboard
is his approach to the material: that is what gives rise to the
form. It is born of the way he delves into the material’s intimacy,
of the interrogation of a material that so often goes unnoticed,
a material conceived only for use. Decastelli has valorized this
material in each and every one of his works. In his tireless attempt
to reveal the material, the artist seeks different ways to treat
it, and in the end he comes upon forms, almost by chance. One
day, he found corrugated cardboard, almost like a mandate. He
chose it. And, in this intimate work with the material, he continues
to find forms, new methods. There are no preconceived forms. There
is no prior intention in terms of the object.
In Gablik’s terms, due to the choice of this seemingly ephemeral
material, there is no desire for eternal permanence. Nonetheless,
in Decastelli’s unwavering loyalty, the material has proven to
be much more permanent and enduring than its normal use would
suggest. Though marked by paradox, in the folds of this paradox
lies permanent revelation.