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Not Vital at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

21 Jan 2016

Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) presents the first major UK exhibition and largest museum project to date by the extraordinary and enigmatic Swiss artist, Not Vital. New works, specially developed for YSP’s indoor and open-air spaces, are shown alongside a selection drawn from the last thirty years of Vital’s career. The artist’s work is inextricably linked to his native Sent, a tiny village in the lower Engadin valley in the Swiss Alps, yet his practice is crucially fed by a life made rich through global travel and an enduring sense of enquiry and wonder. Vital is currently working in numerous and divergent places: Bataan (Philippines), Beijing, Flores (Indonesia), Rio de Janeiro, and Patagonia.
 
Within the Underground Gallery are paintings, works on paper and sculpture made from materials including plaster, silver, gold, marble and glass, reflecting the characteristic strokes of Vital’s practice – its muted palette, pared-back elegance and meticulous craftsmanship. Centrally, the Engadin landscape, with its particular way of life, its mountains, snow, reflections and textures, is expressed through pieces such as Piz Nair (2011), a portrait of the mountain rendered in coal, Marble Sled (2004) and a glass Snowball (2001). Other major recurrent themes are also referenced, from animals and nature to the surreal, in works such as
4 Camels for Yorkshire (2016) and 8 Halves (2006), the latter an amalgamation of eight repeated white casts of the rear half and long hind legs of an animal.
 
Self-portraiture is an important strand in Vital’s work – revealed in sculptures such as the bronze Self Portrait with Six Ears (2016) and the plaster Self Portrait as Village Idiot (2012). Vital uses the genre to disguise himself and to try out different identities, exploring ideas of the real and imaginary self. The exhibition is also the European premiere of an extraordinary group of monochrome portrait paintings, one made especially for the gallery and measuring eleven metres long and four metres high. Vital’s sitters are closely connected to his personal and professional life, and include family, friends and studio assistants. Portrayed in full frontal poses against a minimal background, they are at once intimate and confrontational.
 
The experience of walking between gallery spaces along a full height glazed concourse brings together indoors and outdoors, something that is so symbolic in the artist’s work. From the gallery a series of HEADS (2014) can be seen against the dark green of the historic yew hedge. Other works in the open air resonate with YSP’s rolling 18th-century estate. Let 100 Flowers Bloom (2008), comprising 100 elegant lotus buds on three-metre long stems, rendered in stainless steel, stretches almost the entire length of the 18th-century Terrace. Big Tongue (1996–97) overlooks the Bothy Garden and Yorkshire landscape beyond.
 
Cast in bronze, 80 Cow Dungs (1990–) raises the status of ubiquitous natural countryside waste to precious object, re-emphasising the relationship between animals and land, pivotal both to YSP and to Vital himself. Vital began the edition of 1,000 cow dungs when he went to Nepal in the late 1980s and saw that dung was being burnt for fuel. He witnessed children injured from the fires and discovered the local hospital lacked a burns unit. Income generated from sales of the cow dungs has since created a specialist unit, which is still running today, and profits from the edition, which is nearly complete, continue to support it.
 
Central to Vital’s wider practice is an exploration of the spatial, economic and cultural contexts of his homes and workplaces. Makaranta (school) (2003), an adobe pyramid in Aladab in Niger, is a ‘human sculpture’, a structure in which students shelter and learn, and on which they can sit, sing and pray, transforming the artwork into an open-air schoolhouse or vice-versa.
 
Vital's House to Watch the Sunset (2005) is precisely that, drawing out the locations’ extraordinary qualities and indigenous materials, and simultaneously giving work to local people. The artist is building the same house on each continent, always using a different, local material; two have been completed in Agadez, Niger and in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, others are at different stages of construction in Indonesia, Mongolia and Thailand. The exhibition features a large model of the work in the open air. Vital’s largest work to date is an island in Patagonia that he acquired in 2008 and named NotOna (2009). Here he has excavated a fifty-metre long, domed space, polishing its floor to create a ‘house’ in a solid piece of the island’s natural marble.
 
Having spent time exploring YSP’s landscape, Vital will create a site-specific work in the form of an aluminum bridge that will stand as a long-term legacy of the exhibition.  In the far reaches of the historic Bretton Estate, the bridge will draw visitors deep into the lakeside area, echoing the tradition of 18th-century follies marking key viewing points. The second in the series of seven bridge projects by the artist (the first can be seen in Vital’s sculpture park in Sent), it joins other commissions at YSP by Andy Goldsworthy, David Nash and James Turrell. Models of all seven bridges are displayed in the Project Space as part of the exhibition.
 
Born in 1948 in Sent, Switzerland, Vital grew up among the mountains and forests of the lower Engadin valley, on the border with Austria and Italy. His first language is Romansch, the rarest of Switzerland’s four official languages spoken only by 35,000 people, and by a young age he could already speak four languages. His polyglot abilities and his nomadic lifestyle play an important role in his exploration of the world and its peoples, enabling Vital to work with craftsmen around the world, including steel-chasers in Beijing, glass blowers in Murano, Tuareg silversmiths in Agadez, and ceramicists in Jingdezhen.

Notes to Editors
 
About Not Vital

Not Vital established a foundation in Ardez (a small historic village in the Engadin) in 2003 with the aim of preserving the cultural assets of the Engadin. He has a sculpture/architecture park in nearby Sent and has realised contemplative buildings in Belgium, Patagonia, the Philippines, Indonesia, the Amazon, and Niger. His work has featured in "Plateau of Humanity" at the 49th Venice Biennale, Italy (2001), with major recent exhibitions at the Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Germany (2005); The Arts Club of Chicago, Illinois, (2006); KÖR Kunsthalle Wien public space Karlsplatz, Vienna, Austria (2009–2010); Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China (2011); the Cabinet d’Arts Graphiques, Musées d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva, Switzerland (2014); and the Museo d'arte di Mendrisio, Mendrisio, Switzerland (2014–2015). In 2013, 700 Snowballs was on view on the Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, Italy, and in autumn 2014, Vital’s Tongue was featured in the Busan Biennale 2014, South Korea.  Muntognas, an intimate group of the artist’s marble sculptures, will go on display at Ordovas in Savile Row, London from 10 June to 5 August 2016.
 

High Res Image Downloads

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Not Vital, HEADS, 2015. Ceramic, various dimensions. Courtesy the artist and YSP. Photo © Jonty Wilde

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Not Vital, HEADS, 2013. Stainless steel, various dimensions. Courtesy the artist and YSP. Photo © Jonty Wilde

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Not Vital, Let 100 Flowers Bloom, 2008. Stainless steel, c. 320cm each. Courtesy the artist and YSP. Photo © Jonty Wilde

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Not Vital, House to Watch the Sunset, 2005. Aluminium, 430 x 550 x 330 cm. Courtesy the artist and YSP. Photo © Jonty Wilde

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Not Vital in the Underground Gallery. Courtesy the artist and YSP. Photo © Jonty Wilde

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Not Vital, Moon (detail), 2015. Stainless steel, 320cm. Courtesy the artist and YSP. Photo © Jonty Wilde

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Not Vital, Moon, 2015. Stainless steel, 320cm. Courtesy the artist and YSP. Photo © Jonty Wilde

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Not Vital, Nietzsche, 2015. Bronze, 57 x 70.5 x 57 cm. Courtesy the artist and YSP. Photo © Jonty Wilde

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Not Vital, Tongue, 2008. Stainless Steel, 780 x 170 x 150cm. Courtesy the artist and YSP. Photo © Jonty Wilde

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Not Vital with Moon (2015). Courtesy the artist and YSP. Photo © Jonty Wilde

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