“A world without problems is an illusion, so is a world without solutions.” – G. Sarcone
Visual artist and author from Italy with over 30 years’ experience in the fields of visual creativity, recreational mathematics and educational games. Much of his art blurs the line between cognitive sciences and communication. As Gianni puts it, his work is intended to “encourage people to look beyond what seems obvious and to open their mind to new emotions and dimensions.”
Describe something that has recently amazed you and how it made you feel.
As an artist, everything amazes me everyday. But what amazes me most is this feeling of security each human being experiences toward our world. This is an incredible attitude, as the earth rotates on its axis at nearly 1,700 km/h, and travels at 107,000 km/h as it moves around the sun. But the sun, too, moves around the Galaxy at the incredible speed of 720,000 km/h! Our fascinating earth is actually a tiny grain of sand shot at a foolish speed in the vastness of the universe; these facts should help us resize and relativise our everyday problems, but we keep on believing we live in a stable, unchanging world. I think, sometimes, illusion is a kind of economy of perception that makes functional living and survival possible.
How would you personally define wonder, awe and curiosity? And how do they relate to each other?
Wonder – an unexpected yet pleasant flash in our synapses.
Awe – the majestic, mystic breath that invades our heart.
Curiosity – the fantastic adventure beyond the border that divides knowledge from ignorance.
Awe, wonder and curiosity are shades of the same palette that cover or overlap many feelings from pure contemplation to the desire to know.
What inspires you to be creative?
Life itself inspires me to be curious and thus creative. Creativity is in my DNA – I come from a family of artists, it is what motivates me every day to enjoy and share my creations with others. Creativity is the spark of imagination, the primordial vitality that stirs desires to improve or change the world we live in. To be creative you just need an old pencil, a piece of paper and… a lot of patience.
Do you have any ‘rituals’ or an environment that aids your creativity?
I am very lazy. Usually, I get up late and I need another two hours to really wake up and be functional, after coffee, breakfast, etc. Then, I read a chapter of a book before starting my workday. My biorhythm is high in the late afternoon and evening. I am a nocturnal person. When you work late, there is a kind of serenity in the silence of the night that conveys a real sense of peace.
Creativity is spontaneous, you cannot force it. You can, however, invite it. I use ‘mental wandering’ to aid my creativity: anything I see, read or touch, like movies, art exhibitions, newspapers, magazines, internet – while walking in the street or even when I am cooking for a crowd – are the beginnings for visual ideas. I keep always in mind that my business is “making people wonder”. I am aware that for some people it may sound strange that I make a living from ‘illusions’.
What do you love about magic?
May I tell you the truth? I particularly love self-working magic. In fact, I love those simple tricks made with everyday objects or involving elementary physics and mathematics.
What do you think hinders an audience from experiencing wonder when watching a magician?
When there is a competition between the audience and the magician. That often occurs when there isn’t any empathy between the magician and the public, or when the magic performance is too polished and too focused on the performer’s skills.
Where do you think our sense of wonder comes from and what can we do to cultivate it?
The sense of wonder comes from humility. I know and accept that I am an ignorant; so, being empty of preconceived ideas and biases my mind is ready to wonder and learn. The sense of wonder is something that everyone experienced during the whole childhood, since the world of a child is fresh, new, beautiful and full of excitement! I don’t know why most of adults have lost their sense of wonder. I know, however, that it takes a long time to recover a child mindset again! As Picasso said: “It takes a long time to become young.”
Play is an important part of your work. Can you tell me more?
One day, walking and talking with his disciples, Plato affirmed: “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”
That is remarkably true! The fact we are all individuals is one of the main characteristic of the human nature. Each person is different in regard to the way he or she learns or solves a problem. Some of us are visual, some are more auditory and others are more sensitive and receptive to spatial tactile stimuli. So, games may help us understand our true nature. The way we play or solve a puzzle can unconsciously show:
– Who we are,
– What we value,
– How we regard others and our environment.
Man is not much sapiens, but tremendously ludens (“playful” from Latin). In fact, human beings love playing, because games are synonymous with risk and astonishment. Games are “enactments”, and the act of playing is the most exciting emulation of reality. Games allow us to invent, experiment or re-create with the fantasy the many situations of life without the need to live them all!
I design objects that are meant to create surprise and joy, when their true nature is revealed. Many of my creations relate to the interconnection between art, science and game. As you can see from the Venn diagram below: Science, Art and Game are actually tightly interwoven and their common denominator is wonder.
How did you end up becoming an “Architect of Wonder” and what does that entail?
I build castles in the air that people can visit. I use bricks of paradoxes to make walls that everyone can pass through to visit the other side of reality. I would like to encourage people to listen with their eyes and to see with their ears, to experience new ways to feel what we take or mistake for reality.
In fact, with my work I just want to make people aware of some of the sensory and mental paradoxes that can occur in particular areas of their life, and to explore how “reality” is perceived.
On your website you’ve written: “Wonder, imagination and inventiveness are the cornerstones of a meaningful life.” Can you tell me more about why you believe this?
Because they are very strong stimuli that encourage people to question themselves and to pay more attention to the banal aspects of our everyday lives, revealing a new richness and transforming our everyday experiences.
You’re a prolific designer of optical illusions. Which ones are your favourites? How do you approach designing new ones?
I prefer you call them “Op Art” (short for ‘Optic Art’). Although some of my optical illusions look simple, there is a real complexity to making them! The essence of Op Art is actually to play with our optic nerves, to surprise and to create the illusion of colours, dimensions and motion. To make pulsating, rotating or kinetic visual effects, the Op Artist uses a palette of elements like blank spaces, negative spaces, XOR spaces, interspaces, interferences, aliasing, space tiling and repetitive geometric textures. But Optic Art isn’t only based on repetitive patterns that alternate optical contrasts (clear/dark, vertical/horizontal, straight/oblique, thick/thin, and so on), it is mostly a type of research that tries to achieve the maximum visual effect with the most minimal intervention. Some Op Art paintings are in fact both simple and effective. In Op Art, paraphrasing Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
Precision is also important in my creative processes. In fact, a small change in an Op Art picture can strongly modify or negate a visual effect.
Can you tell me about the Archimedes Lab project. Why was it set up and what work does it do?
Archimedes Lab Project is a free, independent and collaborative educational project. Its main goal is to show mathematics and science in a different light and to make them accessible and enjoyable to everyone through original visual puzzles and games. Archimedes’ official website walks visitors through various problem solving strategies and discoveries in the world of recreational mathematics and visual thinking.
Among the proposed educational tools and tutorials, visitors will find and enjoy intuitive visuals, number games, puzzles with downloadable pieces, perception puzzles and interactive optical illusions. A principal objective throughout the site is the enhancement of critical thinking skills and the development of creativity.
As I always say, all my work is intended to prompt people to look beyond what seems obvious and to open their mind to new emotions and dimensions.
Further interviews with Gianni to read online…
Scene 360, Op Art Review and Smithsonian Magazine
What stood out for you? Any questions? Things you disagree with? Write a comment and join in the discussion.