The Spirit of FormLisa Trockner
Since the 2000s the interplay between enduring material and the concrete forms it assumes has gained noticeably in importance and has emerged from the shadows to replace the ephemeral, organic, flowing material of experimental art as the focus of attention. Art which is tangible in the physical sense and comprehensible intellectually, especially the figure, is currently undergoing a renaissance. There is a new appreciation of all that is resilient, static and permanent. Young artists in particular are approaching the genre of figurative representation with its long and turbulent tradition and are producing ‘classical’ figures made in wood or stone which are modelled on the body and its appearance, or are casting them in bronze, aluminium and other metals.
The focus, however, does not lie on the portrayal of reality. The artists do not create epigones or reproductions of what they have seen or what exists. Their works are externalisations of the inner being which reflect emotional worlds and evoke moods. The alternation between the imitation of nature and conquering it is what gives them their special charm.
Mario Dilitz is a member of this new cohort of artists. He creates concrete sculptures using natural materials which represent the compact surface, the external appearance of a human body. His beings have grown out of lime wood or are cast in bronze, and when we encounter and get to know them the form becomes a map of the soul in which socio-relevant sensibilities can be sounded out. Slender, angular figures whose frame resembles that of children or adolescents become ambassadors of the spirit of the times: the child or the young person is seen as an innocent, ingenuous, truly honest link in a chain, a storehouse of reality as we live it. Dilitzʼs people are static in their formal coherence and at the same time they express a need for orientation and a latent spirit of optimism through their youth and restrained body language. The forward-leaning heads and the tense, defensive posture suggest the ambivalent moods between imploding fixation and the delighted urge to rush forward. In spite of the bodies which appear withdrawn, frozen, the gaze is alert and quite often confident, boring into the viewer and staring straight ahead.
This feeling of contradiction between the motionless body and the alert spirit, which penetrates in visionary manner into the next dimension, becomes even clearer when we study the stance of Dilitz’s human figures. They stand there, their legs slightly apart and both feet firmly on the ground. And yet they do not touch the ground directly; they stand on pedestals from which they have grown. An ambiguous irony of fate: they stand firmly rooted and yet above the ground; they are isolated from their environment and are prevented from moving forward as they long to do. While in some cases the pedestals with their square floor area only separate them from the ground by a few centimetres, on other occasions the bases measure more than the entire length of the figure itself, thereby making them perch on the edge of a threatening abyss.
Mario Dilitzʼs figures stand exposed before the viewer; they are generally either naked or only lightly clothed. Together with the natural grain of the wood, the glued points where the boards were assembled to form a block from which the sculptures have been skilfully worked reinterpret the haptic qualities of skin and make it look as if it is streaked with fine scars.
The arms of Dilitz’s individuals are crossed in front of the body, almost as if trying to embrace themselves; the hands are often clenched to form fists. The figures always stand in isolation and are never assembled together to form a group; many of them hug objects close to their bodies, recalling the attributes of statues of saints. The compositions of individual and attribute expand the way we observe them; the pedestals become stages on which stories are told by individual actors. A boy hides a shark behind his back. A film immediately starts running through the viewer’s head in order to classify the absurd situation: is the boy a victim or the perpetrator, or both? The same interaction imposes itself in the case of the little boy with the oversized boxing gloves: does he have to defend himself? Were the gloves put on him against his will or does he like acting violently? These are questions for which Dilitz provides no clear patterns. It is evident that through his work he moves into the realm of the existential: protection and defence, attempt and failure, power and impotence are motifs with which he accurately portrays the present state of our society. While his people sometimes cling to a soft toy by way of comfort, on other occasions they clench their delicate fists, perhaps with the intention of finally fighting their way out of their own confused thoughts.
Through their permanent presence in materiality and the fleeting, momentary nature of their expression – thereby echoing the pulse of the times –, through their dimensions and the reality they contain, linked with the craftsmanlike, masterful and precise execution, the works of Mario Dilitz inevitably lead to a broadened perspective of the medium of sculpture and its upgrading in line with the present age.
The figures stand quietly there, life-size, flawless, gently rounded. The lime wood shimmers transparently, like skin, inviting us to trace the grain and the curves with our finger. The sculptor Mario Dilitz is interested in people: their evolution, their being and their decay. He senses them all in the moment in which a man, a woman, a child is completely alone, standing somewhere, utterly lost in thought. His sculptures seen introspective, concentrated, oblivious to their effect on others. Some seem to be smiling slightly, while others gaze almost sceptically. Their almost neutral expressions offer plenty of leeway for the visitor’s own projections, but also reveal Dilitzʼs urge for perfection, his insatiable need to continue working and practising until he has mastered the material and made it his own, until his hands move almost as fast as his thoughts, until he can demonstrate his craftsmanship almost in his sleep.
This applies to the wood-carving but it also applies to skiing. Mario Dilitz was born in Axams in Tyrol in 1973, and before he decided to become a sculptor, he swirled acrobatically down the slopes as a freestyle skier and participated successfully in the European and World Cup championships. Then came the return to his roots, to his childhood. Wood, for him, represented part of his understanding of the place he called home. Until he was twelve he spent many hours in his father’s workshop, worked with wood and even did some carving before he discovered skiing. He gave up competitive sport when he was 25. But with the same consistent discipline which he had demonstrated as a sportsman he now focused on his new vocation, sculpture. In 1998 he began a training course at a specialist school of wood sculpture in Val Gardena and attended the summer academy in Salzburg, then worked in several workshops, absorbing the knowledge and skills of his older colleagues until he established himself as a freelance sculptor in 2004 – still careful, still driven by the desire to master his craft as perfectly as possible before taking the plunge and joining the “art circus”.
His “training” consisted of a large number of commissions, including orders for marble sculptures weighing several tonnes. Continually gathering new skills as a craftsman, he created a foundation for his entry into the world of art. He likes to quote the observation of the Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, whereby it takes 10,000 hours to master the technical problems. The latter had claimed back in 1993 that an individual needs to spend this length of time in