The Visual Language

A Tête–à–tête with Carlo Bernardini

Born in Viterbo, 1966, Carlo Bernardini, started his career in early 1990s with abstract paintings. During the first half of the same decade he also started researching with the 3rd dimension of his work. In 1996 at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome for the XIIth Quadriennale the research saw successful fruition in the work carried out on a more than five-metre board, intervening with pigments and phosphor, creating visual duplicity, the hallmark of Carlo’s. He extensively started experimenting with optical fibre with installations at the Galleria Nazionale della Pilotta in Parma (1998), the environmental project in Reggio Emilia in the spectacular sixteenth-century location of the Chiostri di San Domenico (1999) and the great installation in Padova, realized in via Fiume, at the Palazzo della Ragione (2000). In 2002 Bernardini was invited to the XXth Triennale in Milan and to Sculpture Space, Utica (New York).

A two time winner of the Overseas Grantee award of the Pollock Krasner Foundation in New York Carlo also received grants in 2000, 2005 and 2010. He won the Targetti Art Light Collection White Sculpture award in 2002.

A resident of Milan, Carlo also teaches in the Multimedia Installations at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan.

You have received formal training in fine arts. But no formal training could have prepared you to think of and execute these art forms. How you were first inspired and started working in this field?

I use optical fibre only in visual art. I use it on an intuitive level, I draw a mental space as if it were a drawing done with a white pastel on a dark sheet. I reduce the visual conditions of real space and the result is a mental space for plastic-visual intuition. The optical fibre is the line of a pencil that is drawing in space, and I use this material because it is functional to the visual language.

You are born and brought up in Italy which has stored exquisite works of art in its galleries for centuries. Coming from this background and breathing in that atmosphere how do you feel your form of art has been accepted by the Italian audience?

As regards the audience’s reaction, I care about it to see if some dynamics have been released or not. I may work on it to improve some perceptive aspects of the performance. Very often in the exhibition visitors don’t know what is behind a work, they can only catch the procedures of some structures or of some situations. They can understand as they get into the work, which thus becomes an experience fact. A person discovers something by surprise, and performs a minimum effort or action. Sometimes this happens, sometimes not. Some people refuse to approach a too much pensive work and they search for something easy or hasty to understand.

Your work requires not only an understanding of art but a thorough understanding of technology as well. Tell us about how you successfully harmonise art and technology to execute your beautiful pieces.

In my opinion, we should work with technology supporting discoveries. It is not as in painting or in sculpture where the artist’s talent is evident by his technical skills. Technology is seen as an idea, so if you use the same idea as that of another artist you run the risk of being recognized as an imitator. But if you use a different medium, which is not clichéd by the art languages, then you are acclaimed. Or at least, they will know you for your own style, that nobody can infringe. You don’t descend from another artist before you.

Lightbox, Artwork by Carlo Bernardini

From conception to execution how do you plan and choose to tell your story?

The idea of division of the visual unity was born in the early Nineties to create two independent visual identities within the same work. At the beginning I performed it with some paintings that you could watch in the dark, made of a phosphorous substrate under thirty light coatings. White monochromes were crossed by white lines, lines of white light on white; in the dark you could see a kind of photographic negative, the white colour became a sparkle unfolded over the coatings. The part of the surface not covered by the coating spilled the phosphorous substrate, creating that sort of sparkling extended over the entire surface, while the white painted line didn’t beam light and became a shade on the surface. This was an independent visual reality of modular panels in succession that you could watch by natural light, as well as white and bright in the dark.

The idea of permeable space is the idea of navigable space, in which the installation can cancel the visual state, then it cancels the space physicality and then allows a person to cross a mental space. So you can permeate this space in a totally different manner from the standard one. The perceptual processing means that a person can live that space, even through darkness, in a different way. This is an area permeated by the presence of an environment of light.

The works are boundless in space, whatever their material. And light is the main element because it is immaterial…

You are also involved in teaching young minds. How much do you see an inclination towards innovativeness among your students?

It is interesting to view the work at 360 degrees, from the inside and from the outside . The greatest transformation in contemporary art was not the use of new materials, of new languages, or of expressive concepts, but it was the loss of the perimeter in a painting or of the volume in a sculpture. The works are boundless in space, whatever their material. And light is the main element because it is immaterial, because you can also work with sunlight. Light is in fact the most suitable to remove physical boundaries and go beyond perimeters. It has in itself an innovative communicative power, that other materials haven’t got: that is something that allows you to go beyond the fixed boundaries.

How do you see your art form evolving in your hands in near future?

I am working on other installations, in which space is made very permeable and physicality is cancelled: lines cross the environments, and follow the concept of optical fibre that can extend light to several metres. A single installation can be structured in an environment with an unknown number of rooms and corridors combining, and cover them all remaining visible only in small portions or in small blocks that visitors can rebuild in their memory, because the installation hasn’t got an overall point of view. Then, everyone will see a different image of the installation.

Portrait of Carlo Bernardini

Carlo Bernardini prefers…

Carlo Bernardini considers travelling his most important influence in developing and shaping his views of the world. He has been a frequent traveller to United States, Brazil, and to several European countries. A football and sports car aficionado Carlo is also a great admirer of Pasolini’s works. He unwinds listening to the timeless compositions of Vangelis and Philip Glass.

Find more of his work at

Image Courtesy: Carlo Bernardini