The other day we abandoned our car on the side of a field of blooming asphodel and began to walk to a certain point on the horizon. We had seen a circle of cement bunkers and, after driving down multiple dead end roads, had decided to get there on foot. We crossed a field that sprouted wild asparagus, jumped a small creek and started up the hill. The ground here was littered with stones, as if they had rained from the sky. After a quarter mile, we began to notice lines of larger rocks that formed small but perfect rectangles. We continued on, observant, and within a few minutes the stones all but disappeared - they were concentrated in that one spot. From higher on the hill, it seemed that this had once been a village, a very, very long time ago.
At the top of the hill were the bunkers, which had been abandoned on this lonely hill after the Second World War. They were connected by a stone wall which formed a courtyard around them, in the middle of which was a raised mound of dirt with a ring of moss-covered boulders surrounding it. The children ran in circles, hopping from one giant stone to the next and then darted off. But when they found a mass of rocks that had deep bowls carved into them, they ran back to us excitedly, since the clues would be clear to any Sardinian. This mound was a devastated nuraghe that had once served as a center for a people, thousands of years ago. In our short walk, we had passed from that current day, through WWII, into an ancient village, back to the Bronze Age and beyond.
This confluence of past and present is not rare here. The houses have been built one on top of the next and tend to span generations; the countryside is filled with thousands of remnants of nuraghes, menhirs, sacred wells, tombs - prehistoric structures all carved or created from stone.
It is not surprising, and perhaps inevitable that the artist, Pinuccio Sciola, is fixated on sculpting stones from his native island. He has traveled and studied throughout the world, but his creative soul is inescapably located here. As with many Sardinian masters, his roots tie him strongly to his birthplace; his incisions in stone are relevant not only artistically, but also culturally. He is convinced that by carving into rock he is releasing the sounds that for millennia have been trapped inside. He can’t help, he told us, but feel certain that each of his sculptures serves as a conduit between past civilizations and the present. “My time is timeless,” he declares.
And indeed his sculptures feel both gigantic and intimate. They reveal layers of stone (layers of geologic history) that we rarely see. The smooth cut contrasts against the jagged exterior. The transparency of carved lines juxtaposes with the durability that we assign to stone. The sculpture is performed on the stone, in symbiosis with its shape and structure. Once finished, it brings us music:
Ever since I heard the sounds emanating from your stones, my life has been upended. I can no longer look at a mountain, a stone, or a nuraghe, without the thought that is a sound waiting to be released.
— letter from Dino Sanna, journalist, to Pinuccio Sciola
The sounds are ethereal and modern and Sciola likens them to a voice - the voice of the stone itself, of the civilizations who lived among and within them, the voice of his heritage.
Last spring, long before our arrival in Sardinia, in the company of our two children, we attended a performance of Sciola’s in a church in the center of Florence. Our children, being children, are in a constant state of evolution and distraction and tend not to remember distinctly the jumble of artworks and performances they’ve seen throughout their early years. But the sounds from that night, and the man who made them, have somehow stayed with them. They recall the sounds vividly.
Sciola’s sculptures are both a re-evaluation and a transfiguration of the Sardinian landscape itself. And as such, they are capable of gifting to all of us a deep connection with land and history. His obsession with stone may be a result of his own heritage; it is an undeniable reward, then, to visit his work and remember that history and art are more generally the heritage of everyone.
Pinuccio Sciola was born into a large farming family in San Sperate. “We didn’t know we were poor,” he said, “because we had never seen anyone that had more than we did.” At 17, he entered an art concourse and won admission to an academy in Cagliari. From there he moved on to Firenze, studied at the Salzburg International Summer Academy of Fine Arts, participated in the Venice Bienniale, collaborated with a sculpture at Renzo Piano’s Parco della Musica in Rome. He now lives and works in San Sperate, surrounded by stones.*
All photos were taken at Pinuccio Sciola's Giardino Sonoro in the town of San Sperate. The garden offers guided tours everyday from 10 am to 2 pm, except Thursdays. Reservation necessary (+39 324 587 5094).
*Regrettably, Pinuccio Sciola passed away on May 13, 2016. His Giardino Sonoro is open throughout the year.