Gli “Sconfinamenti” di Arcangelo Sassolino. Conflicts and the unresolved border. Sculptures as metaphors of life (Original text in English).


“Ho un sentimento del perimetro che non si risolve”.

In Arcangelo Sassolino’s own words, Sconfinamenti refers to the edges of his iconic wall sculptures in concrete, to the perimeters of works of art that do not resolve, to works that push the boundary of their form, that engage with contrasts of strength and fragility, and that are metaphors on conflicts of human life.[1]

Fig 1 Arcangelo Sassolino

SCONFINAMENTI showcases Sassolino’s distinctive ‘Concrete’ and ‘Glass’ wall sculptures, engaging in a dialogue with the historic spaces of the University of Malta’s historic Valletta Campus.  Sassolino’s ‘Sconfinamenti’ actually marks the inauguration of the University of Malta Gallery of Art, also located at the Valletta Campus.  Added to these, the exhibition also presents a series of works on paper that are a homage to the collaboration between the artist and the University of Malta that marked the realisation of the Malta Pavilion entitled Diplomazija Astuta (curated by Keith Sciberras and Jeffrey Uslip) at the 59th Biennale di Venezia in 2022.[2]

Continuously exploring new modes of expression, Arcangelo Sassolino initiated his series of wall sculptures in 2000, pursuing throughout these years the development of the Concrete, Glass, and Paper series as key aspects of his artistic language and repertoire. In Sconfinamenti the artist is presenting new works from fixtures of his oeuvre and practice. Emphatically, his works speak of energy and tension, of constant conflict, of uncertain borders, and of materials at their edge. In their conceptual and philosophical essence, they are also metaphors on human conditions and on the balances and fragility of life. Art, for Sassolino, provides a powerful space for reflection. In their manufacture, through processes that apply pressure, heat, and friction, Sassolino explores the behaviour of his materials and gives new life to his art.

Although distinct from his kinetic and often monumental mechanical creations that mark Arcangelo Sassolino as a major protagonist of Italian contemporary art, the wall sculptures similarly embody the artist’s innate passion and the fundamental research questions of his artistic production. They delve into industrial methods, pushing the boundaries of materials’ physical attributes and investigating contrasts of intrinsic forces through rigorous technical investigation and processes. These are works that are characterised by the artist’s iconic finesse of technical precision and finish. The mastery of these processes, and the poetics of how art embraces industry, science and engineering, are at the very essence of the artist’s language. This embeds Sassolino’s oeuvre as a fixed statement of Italian Contemporary Art. His minimalist sculptures underscore the experiential engagement and relationship between the audience, the works and the spaces that they are set in.

There is a time-honoured dialogue between artists and their material in Italian art history. Sassolino captures this in his modes of execution and in the knowledge of pushing material to the very limit, to the edge. In this, in trying to go deep inside the material through technology and mechanics, both the Concrete and the Glass series are key expressions of his artistic language; a sculptural language that utilises industrial and natural materials and that revolves around the notion of conflict and encounter.

Unconcluded perimeters and the fragility of the edge.

Works in Concrete

In technical terms, Sassolino’s Concretes are cast sculptures, produced as single works through a process in which a one-time polycarbonate mould is used, and destroyed. In its physical act, the primary contact, or pouring of concrete (‘gettatura’), conditions the final outcome of the work in its materiality, strength, and volume. In the subsequent stages of the process, especially during the settling phase of the wet concrete, the work cannot be modified, but emerges as the result of the engagement between material and mould. The highly polished surface of the works is the actual result of the act of casting, achieved through the strapping away (‘strappo’) of the dry concrete from the waved polycarbonate mould into which it had been poured. The strapping is the final stage. It unveils the polished form of the work’s ‘finished state’, the colour, and its fragile edges, in contrast to the rough texture of the back that captures the action of pouring the concrete on the mould.  There is no cold-state work on it, no toolwork, no varnish.

In their physicality and form, Sassolino’s series of ‘Concretes’ delves into the intricacies and complexities of spatial perception. The works evoke a dialogue between the rawness of concrete and the sophistication of the undulating forms, and the shining and polished surface. Vibrant, theatrical, energetically striking and physically heavy, yet paradoxically appearing light, elegant and graceful, these are fragile works with jagged edges. Physically heavy but seemingly light, the ‘Concretes’ are poetic in how their form shows the artist’s intent to visually defy gravity and overcome the damning weight of the sculpture itself.

The engagement between gravity and material is evident and reminds of important episodes in Italian art history, from historic works to the masters of the Arte Povera. The spirit of Sassolino’s work is, beyond any doubt, deeply set in the Italian artistic tradition, findings it roots in the greats of the Italian Modern and Contemporary.  Its language is firmly placed in this artistic timeline and acknowledges and reflects on a tradition that directly evolves from the Italian Futurismo, Arte Informale (especially the work of Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana) and Arte Povera.

To an extent, Untitled (2018, Black, concrete and steel, archive n. AS-2018-073) is, for example, so deeply rooted in Italian art that it cannot escape dialogue with even earlier works, such as the floating form in Gianlorenzo Bernini’s (1598-1680) black marble structure for his monument to Suor Maria Raggi in S. Maria Sopra Minerva, Rome, echoing Chiara Parisi’s reference to Sassolino’s ‘Industrial Baroque’ as the anchor of her reflections on the artist.[3]

Arcangelo Sassolino, 2018, Black, concrete and steel, archive n. AS-2018-073

At the same time, it echoes juxtapositions of gravity and suspension in the sculptures of Giovanni Anselmo (1934-2023), to which the art of Sassolino is so deeply linked.  In many ways, Sassolino is an heir of Anselmo.[4] He derives from the latter, but also from the protagonists of Process Art, and the limitless possibilities that both movements engaged with. By constantly responding to technological advances, his art pushes forward precisely from these traditions.

The solid undulating waves at the core of the Cement works metamorphose into wafer-thin jagged edges. These jagged edges, that feel as delicate as porcelain, accentuate the ever present tension between strength and fragility found in Sassolino’s oeuvre; the artist describes the edges of his most recent Cement works as the “unconcluded perimeter”.  For Sassolino

“the jagged and fragile edge is an attempt to push the boundary that every solid form imposes; it is like giving the sculpture an indeterminate time”.[5]

Emotionally, and intellectually, they also take on the strengths, tensions and fragilities of humankind.

Essentially, in this exhibition, these silent and motionless works sway gracefully like drapery hangings caressing the walls of the Valletta Campus. They bridge time and the gap between contemporary production and the historic building. Sassolino’s sculptures dialogue seamlessly with the timeless sophistication of the idealised human form in the white plaster casts of Antique statues in the University’s Gibsoteka. In its curatorial display within the Gibsoteka, Untitled (White, concrete and steel, archive n. AS-2023-081) embraces the space between the Michele Gherardi’s plaster casts of the Dying Gaul and the Hermes Belvedere.

Arcangelo Sassolino, White, concrete and steel, archive n. AS-2023-081

It breathes their air, and connects the timeline of art history through the ‘ennobled artistic gesture’ that makes a seamless passage of time.  Untilted (White) shows how much of the Classical there is in Sassolino’s art, and how relevant to the debate on the contemporary the Classical is.

In contrast to the silent and classical refinement of the Gibsoteka, two other Concrete works (Untitled, 2017, Grey, concrete and steel, archive n. AS-2018-074; Untitled, 2023, Blue, concrete and steel, archive n. AS-2022-050) embrace the raw space of the stark walls of the University’s old entrance on the ground floor.

This space opens directly on the street, on noise and on the mechanisation of cars, brutal tarmac and modernity. Here, Sassolino’s Concretes face each other, altering the physical experience of the space and contrasting its sensory experience. Unlike most of Sassolino’s kinetic repertoire, these works are silent in nature. Their forms elicit absorptive and contemplative qualities, whilst having a strongly textural effect that elicits the viewer to feel the surface and its fragility. On one side, the dry surface of raw grey cement is a direct in its brutalist rendition and treatment of material. Concrete looks like concrete, but its delicate and fragile edges are unexpected. On the other side, the polished surface of an intense blue Concrete imbues the work with an intense sensuality of material, a sensuality that is not expected of concrete. One work emphasises the material, the other transforms its visual character.

Arcangelo Sassolino

As aptly put by Luca Massimo Barbero, in Sassolino’s work

“the cement, a key testimony to our era and the protagonist of countless architectural eyesores, takes on a different sense and is ennobled by the artistic gesture”.[6]

Liquid Soul: Glass

Sassolino’s kinetic repertoire often engages with transformative action, where something turns into something else. They possess an inherent sense of instability, of something that is often not itself, but rather becoming something else.  This sense of becoming or ‘divenire’ is also felt in some of the works that are still and silent. This is notably the case with his “Glass”, specifically with the glass sculpture on show, framed between the dynamic, yet curated poses and muscular tension of the historic plaster casts of the Borghese Gladiator and the Discobolus in the University’s Gibsoteka.

Arcangelo Sassolino

In the story of art, glass fascinated artists for its materiality, its strength, smoothness, shine, clarity and transparency. It is highly resistant to decay but, at the same time, it cannot be separated from a sensation of fragility, and also of slight danger and constant anxiety. Precisely because of these qualities, it is no surprise that glass has lent itself as an ideal medium for Sassolino.

Arcangelo Sassolino

This work on show, entitled Bent Time (2023), has a rectangular sheet of clear transparent glass that has been bent to the limit of its potentials and kept in that state by a horizontally laid metal sheet that acts as a clasp. Glass is exerting a force that steel is resisting, hence a conflict is created within. The work, despite its apparent effortlessness, speaks emphatically about tension, and about time, about a hypothetic countdown for its self-destruction, about the time that it will resist.

The sheet is in tempered glass, arched and held by a steel framework. Glass is tempered through a technique that involves thermal processes and that toughens it.  Simply put, tempered glass is annealed (regular) glass, cut to size and shape and heated in an oven at 650-700 degrees. When taken out of the oven, the sheets are treated with rapid blasts of cold air for a fast cooling process, causing the molecules on the exterior surface to retract and go into compression. This creates a sort of invisible protection around the glass. Unlike the sheet that it was before, with this protection around it, tempered glass can withstand impacts. It also allows for it to be bent or arched.  Such glass can bend until the limit where it tears and shatters.

It is this characteristic that has led Sassolino to make extensive use of tempered glass in his Glass series. Sassolino relates this characteristic to a state of “anima liquida”, or liquid soul.

“Io lavoro con molti ingegneri ma mi piace anche ascoltare molto gli artigiani perché hanno dei modi di dire che sono meravigliosi e per quanto riguarda il vetro temperato dicono che ha un’ anima liquida”.[7]

Arched, Sassolino’s glass sheet is held in an almost impossible bent position, kept together by the tension that exists between the metal that is holding it and the force exerted by the glass itself; a sort of implicit conflict and mutual interdependence between material. There is clearly an effortless sense of visual balance in this state, but it is also potentially highly unstable, thus the “divenere”.  At the same time, the work is silent, transparent, and static.  It remains as a whole thanks to the high tension that it holds, thanks to an energy that is invisible. “C’e questa sospensione al muro, qualcosa che deve reggere, deve tenere la pressione, la pressione non deve superare il punto di rottura del vetro, ma deve essere abbastanza per tenere assieme questa massa”.[8]

Sassolino’s dynamics, once again, link beautifully to the work of Giovanni Anselmo.

“Mi piace che sia tenuto in questa posizione quasi impossibile, perché a me interessa che qualcosa sia sempre in conflitto dentro la scultura, qualcosa che sia attivo, chi sia un equilibrio, ma e un equilibrio anche potenzialmente instabile. Mi piace questa idea di inserire dentro la scultura una specie di conto alla rovescia. Non sappiamo se rimarrà altri cinque minuti, cinque anni, o che sarà li tra cinquecento anni. Di sicuro è sotto un certo stress, e questo fatto che faccia fatica, ma che regga e per me una declinazione di inserire il concetto di tempo dentro la scultura”.[9]

For Sassolino, glass in itself carries a subtle threat, a threat that emerges from it being seemingly easily destructible.  Because of the potentials of tempered Glass, it became a motif of Sassolino’s oeuvre, with variants and versions of these works having different modes of engagement. In one series, sheets are loaded with a weight up to their breaking point (such as the one of the granite). There are different versions. Glass sheets held as wall sculptures, in which the tension is kept by straps, clamps, or steel mount; the transparent glass sheet is under strain but it holds and sustains its own, even though precariously.

In these works in glass, there is a sense of the imminent, despite the seeming stability and the silent elegance of the works. Once spectators become knowledgable of this precarious state, they are placed in a state of awe, but also of discomfort.  Sassolino’s sculptures must be seen as metaphors for contemporary (and often timeless) issues of human life, conditions that refer to conflict and to struggles.

Much of Sassolino’s works relates to plain sheets of material, be it metal or glass, flat or deformed under stress, or kept together.  In one series, thick crystal glass sheets, cut to size by diamond, are composed by being packed together and kept tight through the tightening force of a steel g-clamp that presses them together. The inward pressure exerted by the clamp is visible at the point of tightening, highlighting the point of maximum pressure. These works are suspended or attached as wall sculptures. The pressure that is exerted by the clamp cannot exceed the point of breakage of the glass, but it precariously gets close to it, enough to keep together the mass of weight of the crystal sheets.  This allows Sassolino to get his static works closer to the limit of their breaking point, and potentially to their most fragile state.

In another series, a weight (stone, granite or steel) is placed at the centre of a large glass sheet, resting on a stand at its perimeter. The sheet deforms under the weight of the load, as it tries to keep it in hold. These works are about finding that state of equilibrium, that moment in which the work holds up, at the same time knowing that it is a fragile equilibrium.  When the load is removed, the glass sheet returns to its flat state, as though glass has its own ‘memory’.

Conflict: Fire, Steel and Paper

Throughout his oeuvre, Sassolino experimented with industrial, mechanical, and grand scale work in order to comment on the experiences of human life, creating astounding kinetic works that enter into the spectator’s psyche and engage with the intellect. These are works that explode, rotate, crash, break and contract. Such work transforms the modes of visual experience into a direct dialogue with the mind. In its exploration of human life through molten steel and water, connoting violence and calm, light and darkness, Sassolino’s Diplomazija Astuta, presented for the Malta Pavilion for the 59th La Biennale di Venezia,[10] represents a defining moment in his career.

01_GCMLP, Diplomazija Astuta, ArcangeloSassolino, MaltaPavilion, ph.Agostino Osio Alto Piano

For Diplomazija Astuta, Sassolino’s signature material was steel. In this project of monumental proportions, the artist pushed the boundaries of metal sculpture in ways that had not been seen before.  The ephemeral act of transformation from solid to liquid state, and back, became the work of art:

 “What I am trying to capture is the change of state, that instant in which something is becoming something else, that energy and power that exist in the flash of absolute instability between the moments of equilibrium that are the before and the after… I want to free metal from that closed form, to expose its luminous liquid origin”.[11]

The installation, set in the halls of the Biennale’s Arsenale, resonated this tension between heat and metal, fire and water. Standing infront of the sheer mass and space of a ‘contemporary inferno’ of raining fire (droplets of molten steel) neutralised so dramatically by water, its audience stood as witnesses to a captivatingly powerful, yet silent, unfolding event. Reflection on human suffering transcended both space and time.

Engaging with a series of works of paper that Sassolino executed over the past years, but also emerging directly out of Diplomazija Astuta, SCONFINAMENTI presents work that, as its process and medium, engages with the impact of drops of molten steel on paper.  The steel drops disintegrate into multiple droplets and explosive rapid streams, the thermal contact of which mark the paper, often burning through it.

The resulting imagery is that exhibited in twelve works that are essentially the artist’s raving attempts to control the unpredictable effects of this impact, its thermal contact and velocity, and the resulting conflicts between steel, heat and paper:
“Facendo cadere gocce di acciaio fuso direttamente sulla carta ho osservato che si possono creare tracce e segni straordinari. Disegni generati dal caos e dalla velocità che solo il calore estremo dell’acciaio al contatto con un materiale così inconciliabile come la carta possono generare. E’ un’azione fuori controllo che avviene in modo rapidissimo. A seconda dell’altezza da cui impattano contro la carta, le gocce fuse, si possono disintegrare in migliaia di scintille incandescenti lasciando piccolissimi segni oppure rimanere una massa unica che scivola sulla carta lasciandosi dietro scie di ogni tipo. In questo secondo caso, nel momento esatto in cui la goccia smette di scivolare e si ferma la carta prende fuoco all’istante. Per tentare di gestire questo scontro tra fenomeni della fisica si può intervenire nell’altezza e nell’angolazione d’impatto, e il modo migliore per farlo è tenere direttamente in mano i fogli di carta prendendoli dai bordi e manipolarli rapidamente tentando di gestire il rapido conflitto e scontro tra questi materiali”.[12]

Light … and Silence:

Diplomazija Astuta.

Dettaglio, Diplomazia Astuta, Padiglione-Malta_03

Sassolino’s large-scale kinetic sculpture functions as both a monumental macchina and a contemporary meraviglia. This dialogue between macchina and meraviglia is age-old in the story of art, especially so within the context of metal sculpture.   This same dialogue, undeniably, is at the very basis of Sassolino’s “Industrial Baroque”.  His work creates an awe inspiring sense of marvel born from his conceptual and creative dialogue with the technical world of sophisticated engineering ingenuity. His kinetic repertoire firmly grips his viewers in breathtaking works, undeniably at the same time often creating a sense of palpable danger or hazard. For example Diplomazija astuta captured that vibrant tension between silence and danger, between marvel, reflection and anxiety.   In No memory without loss, a huge rotating circular steel sheet laden with oil-based red pigment, danger is replaced by loss, and the tension is clearly between silence and loss. The element that grips the viewer is the poetics of tangible loss.  Sassolino’s current work and his research questions centre on transformation, the sense of perpetual becoming and, obviously, instability.[13]

The genesis for the setting of the imposing installation at the Arsenale in Venice was  Sassolino’s intent to anchor the intensity of light generated by a drop of molten steel in Caravaggio’s revolutionary method.  The resonance of the powerful act exemplified Sassolino’s method of presenting a narrative of human emotions and passion within grand spatial constructions.  In its curatorship, anchored in research with scholarship on the artist, it also explored concepts and processes that engaged with Caravaggio’s penetrating realism, audacious inventiveness, spiritual hold, his method, his darkness, and his light.

For Diplomazija astuta, inspiration was drawn from the blood of John that oozes from his slashed throat in Caravaggio’s monumental altar painting of the Beheading of St John the Baptist that dominates the Oratory of the Decollato in Valletta.  In many ways, had it been possible, this installation would have had its natural location in the Crypt of the Oratory of the Decollato where the molten steel, melted at 1500degrees, could have repeatedly dropped precisely beneath Caravaggio’s painting. These fiery droplets, symbolic of blood, could poignantly bridge time and serve as a perpetual reminder of unjust death.

The scale of the site specific installation in the cavernous space of the Malta Pavilion at the Arsenale echoed and mirrored the Oratory of the Decollato itself. There, a monumental, freestanding solid steel plate, weighing sixteen tons and measuring 360 x 520 cm—the exact dimensions of Caravaggio’s canvas— was placed in a setting that reflected the bare and austere original context of  Oratory of the Decollato in its early Counter Reformation years.

The Malta Pavilion had a multiplicity of layers, mirroring the absorptive capacity and thematic overtones of Caravaggio’s canvas into the realm of contemporary art and political discourse. Through the installation, the curatorial team re-situated Caravaggio’s response to execution within Modern culture and society. On a reflective and spiritual level, it provided space for Misericordia, where the audience could reflect freely on contemporary injustices and how to overcome them, even in death. For the artist, and the curatorial team, it served as an intense moment of engagement and personal reflection on the brutal assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta in 2017, and, at the moment of its installation, on the Russian siege on Mariupol in Ukraine in 2022.

The Malta Pavilion was brutally cold in its metallic permanence, but essentially fiery and ephemeral in Sassolino’s fugitive dialogue between light and darkness, or between fire and water. Placed at one arched entrance to the exhibition, this steel plate was composed of four interlocking stacked rectangles, replicating the methodology and construction Caravaggio employed when he sewed sheets of canvas together to create the large canvas of The Beheading.  Taken as a whole, the structure, scale, and physical location of Diplomazija Astuta—enclosed within a custom cella—coupled with the Malta Pavilion’s spiritual resonance, recalled the pictorial setting of The Beheading. At the Arsenale, the audience walked into a contemporary experience of the Oratory of the Decollato.

In the foreground, Sassolino situated his striking kinetic work of molten steel. Seven black stainless steel, rectangular basins filled with water, echoing the arrangement of the seven personages in Caravaggio’s composition, captured and disseminated the energy of the raining molten drops.  Symbolically, the central basin was the pool of the blood of John.

In Diplomazija Astuta, a cella around the installation served as a veritable protection, not only physical, but also psychological.  The audience was thus placed in a safe area, in a sort of buffer zone between the work and the outside, through which one can move, stay safe and see through the prison-like grid into the fiery work, whilst at the same time absorbing the flashes of light, the ephemeral drops of fire that dive into the dark pools.

As is typical of Caravaggio’s late works, ancillary splashes of light intensify the resonance of the violent act and underscore the classical precision with which Caravaggio arranged the figures. The calculated positioning of the subjects, as well as their expressions, movements, and gestures, exemplify Caravaggio’s new method of presenting a narrative of human emotions and passion within grand spatial constructions. of tension, of constant conflict, of materials at their edge.


Arcangelo Sassolino


University of Malta – Valletta Campus December 2023 – July 2024

Curator: Keith Sciberras

Project Manager: Chiara Galea

Set up: Studio Sassolino


[1] Arcangelo Sassolino, in an interview for SCONFINAMENTI, February 2024.
[2] Commissioned by Arts Council Malta, curators Keith Sciberras, Jeffrey Uslip, participant artists Arcangelo Sassolino ‘Diplomazija Astuta’, Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci ‘Metal u Skiet’, Brian Schembri. For the catalogue see Keith Sciberras, Jeffrey Uslip (eds), Diplomazija Astuta, Midsea Books, 2022.
[3] Chiara Parisi, Industrial Baroque: A sculptural alphabet of alteration, technical skill and astonishment, in Focus on Arcangelo Sassolino: The aesthetics of wonder and instability, Il Giornale dell’Arte, May, 2023.
[4] Sassolino has recorded his admiration of Anselmo’s work on numerous occasions.
[5]Sassolino, quoted in, Fragilissimo, Galleria dello Scudo, Verona, 2020
[6] Luca Massimo Barbero, in Matter Revealed. Arcangelo Sassolino, Repetto Gallery, 2017
[7] From an intervention by Arcangelo Sassolino in the conference Glass: a material of art a history through the Biennales (convened by Cristina Beltrami), Thursday 9 November 2023, Library of the Venice Biennale, Venice. Recording of the proceedings on the Biennale di Venezia YouTube channel.
[8]From an intervention by Arcangelo Sassolino in the conference Glass: a material of art a history through the Biennales (2023)
[9]From an intervention by Arcangelo Sassolino in the conference Glass: a material of art a history through the Biennales (2023)
[10] See Keith Sciberras, Jeffrey Uslip (eds), Diplomazija Astuta, Midsea Books, 2022
[11] Arcangelo Sassolino ‘Dissipatio’ in Keith Sciberras, Jeffrey Uslip (eds), Diplomazija Astuta, Midsea Books, 2022, pp.93, 94
[12] Arcangelo Sassolino, in an interview for SCONFINAMENTI, February 2024.
[13] See the interview with Andrea Bellini, ‘Wonder of the World, The artistic and biographical evolutions of Arcangelo Sassolino’ in Focus on Arcangelo Sassolino: The aesthetics of wonder and instability, Il Giornale dell’Arte, May, 2023.