Interview by John Harrison
Marco Bravura, a well-know Italian sculptor and mosaicist moved to Russia in 2007, with the help of the highly successful philanthropist and businessman Ismail Akhmetov. Marco now lives and works in Tarusa with his wife Daniela.
How did you end up here in Russia?
Everything started rather slowly. Iâm from Ravenna in Italy. After living for 20 years in Venice and in other places in Italy and abroad, I finally returned to the town that I was born in. It was when I returned to Ravenna that I became more involved with mosaics. One day, a Russian called Ismail Akhmetov, came to visit in 2004. At that time I was creating a fountain for a public space in Ravenna, in a school with a large studio, with the help of about 12 students. The fountain was huge, it was made of two 9-metre blocks. When Mr. Akhmetov came to the studio he was amazed and said that he wanted to do something like this in Russia. He visited me in my private studio in Ravenna a few times after that. He liked my work and started collecting it; he bought almost everything I made. Then he suggested that I come over to Russia. I asked: âto do what?,â he answered: âwhatever you want.â We [my wife and me] like to travel, and so we came here for a month. It was really beautiful. Then we came for two months, five months, and then 10 months. Eventually we moved here altogether.
What are you doing as an artist?
Let me tell you what happened to mosaics here. Mosaics were big in the Soviet Union and quite amazing. Mainly they were used for huge propaganda mural works. Ismail had a vision of building on what was done in the past but invigorating it with contemporary artistic expressions and processes. It is the same sort of thing as I was trying to do in Italy, where mosaic as an art form, until the 1970s was looked at as being something to do with cemeteries and the church, and nothing else. In the beginning we created many works and organised many exhibitions in his private gallery here in Moscow, MusivumGallery.
I personally love mosaics because of their colour; the potential is huge particularly in sculpture. Sculpture has been devoid of colour for so long, and mosaic is perfect to re-infuse sculpture with colour, thanks to new materials and techniques.
So this is your major challenge as an artist?
Yes, that is what I was trying to do back in Ravenna, and since then I have been developing this mission. I still believe in beauty, which is almost a sort of dirty word in art now. But a few people have offered support. As Patrick Mimran said: âArt doesnât have to be ugly to look clever.â Mosaic has something to do with beauty, and it is a very labour intensive. In Russia, people are not disgusted by the idea of beauty as they are in the West. When they like something, they tell you. So Russia is a good environment to do what I am doing now. I feel I am in the right place.
Do you think that Russia has sort of by-passed post modernism?
Russian artists are very into what is going on in the rest of the world and they have become like artists everywhere. Todayâs Russians donât know a lot about what was happening in Art in the last century. I am talking about the mass of people, not a few individuals. Art itself has changed in that we do not have movements any more, like the PopArt movement and all the âismsâ of the 1900s. After that, everything collapsed, and another factor is that art is no more only in the hands of the Western world. Now with the Chinese coming up, with the Indians, it is not clear what is going on. You could say that globalisation is uniting us, but only if we talk about globalisation of individuals, not of movements.
How do you sell your work?
I am working on my projects. I see that investors buy art as a way to keep the value of their money. That is why they travel to Paris, London, New York or wherever. In London there are about 2,000 galleries, in Moscow, which has about the same population â 20 million, there are 200. So London is a centre for international art buyers who come from everywhere, and Moscow is not. On a cultural level, Moscow is a centre.
However, things are changing. We did an exhibition in Minsk which lasted two months. 54,000 people visited the exhibition, which would never happen in Italy or in Europe. The ticket sales alone were huge. But now we are getting commissions, that is, people with money have seen my work and they want to invest in it, but they also want something special. This is not the same as going into an exhibition in Europe or the States and buying something. In a way, it is like artists worked in the late Middle Ages: on commissions of the great patrons of the Renaissance.
How long do you see yourself living here?
As long as I have something to do, I am very happy to be here. I like the people very much, I really like them, they are not so closed when you get to know them. I have real friends here and I cannot say the same thing about other places. You feel that they understand you.
What do other Italians feel about life here?
We are post war children. I was born in 1949, our generation didnât know anything about the War, and we used to go on holiday to different countries. But our fathers were killing each other. Then something started to happen in Europe. We believed that people should come together, there was this feeling of creating something, a new society. Here, I get the same feeling, a feeling of creativity. In Europe, we have stopped talking about the future. Here, it is all about the future. Maybe it will take blood sweat and tears, and people are not afraid of that. But you donât see people complaining of this or that, they go on and on, and this is something that I appreciate very much. I hope that Russians can finally find a third way to live, that is not communist or purely capitalist, a third way. We are all tired and compromised. Russians have a balance between the Orient and the West. What surprises people greatly in the West, is that these people are not aggressive. When I used to go out in the evening when I was living in the United States, I did not feel safe. Here, I have never felt any kind of insecurity while walking the streets. My daughter lived here for more than a year and cycled back from her work. She never ever felt any feeling of insecurity, because there is not the consciousness of violence here.
So Russia is a land of opportunity, I do not feel like I have to leave here. I feel accepted.