Pinuccio Sciola’s Sound Garden

Annalisa Trasatti interviews Maria Sciola

Giardino Sonoro Pinuccio Sciola

  • How did the Sound Garden come about and how does it relate to the surrounding area?

Pinuccio Sciola’s exhibition area was the family’s citrus grove, eight hectares dotted with olives and orange trees which the young sculptor used in the 1960s as a workshop for his skilful carvings of olive wood, trachyte and sandstone. He held his first exhibition in 1963 when Foiso Fois, Aligi Sassu and Beppe Viola, who would later become close friends of his, travelled to San Sperate, a few kilometres from Cagliari, to get to know the “peasant artist”. Sciola’s incessant curiosity, supported by grants, enabled him to travel around Europe pursuing his studies, from the Magistero d’arte at Porta Romana in Florence to Salzburg International University. But it was in 1968, on returning home after his years at Moncloa University in Madrid and his winters in Paris, that he took stock of the cultural gap that had now opened up between him and his contemporaries and began to form the idea of involving them in an art which had its existence outside museums and was accessibile to everyone. The idea blossomed and led to one of the first ventures in public art in Italy, transforming the village of San Sperate – a village of mud and farmers – into a Museum Village which today boasts over 500 murals and artistic installations. The family garden became a meeting place for a gathering of minds, a forum for new ideas.

  • Throughout his wanderings, though, there is one material he never abandoned.

From beginning to end of his career he never abandoned stone and always described himself as a sculptor: “stone is nature and nature is mother”, and he continued to plant his monoliths, thinking and hoping that they would return to being a part of that nature from which they were generated. And to this day the Sound Garden is a place of pilgrimage, the heart of the Museum Village which keeps the artist’s philosophy alive. When you come away from these places it’s with a new insight into what respect for nature means.

  • Since when have you been running it?

I started working full time with my father is 2014, realizing what had been my wish since childhood and putting in practice what I had learned from my studies. That same year we decided to make the Sound Garden an exhibition area where qualified guides would accompany visitors so that they could immerse themselves fully in Sciola’s poetic. The first step was to protect the stones which, being mainly sound stones, were at the mercy of people who damaged them because they didn’t know how to approach them. It takes a very delicate touch, even though made with another piece of stone, to spread the particular type of sound. Otherwise the stone gets damaged.

  • What are the aims of the Sound Garden?

The Sound Garden is a timeless space and each of us experiences it through the filter of their own emotions. Leaving tears and smiles. There’s an audio guide spoken by Sciola himself and containing his explanations of eight of the most important works so that the visitor can understand his artistic development over the years. Then there are specialized guides to the Sound Garden, often flanked by university trainees, who guide visitors in the discovery of the sounds of the different types of material.

In the Sound Garden, tactile and sensory encounters have always been vitally important in experiencing and absorbing the full potential of the works. In terms of sound, Sciola mainly worked sedimentary rocks such as limestone and volcanic rock, like basalt. Limestone is formed under water and the sound it produces is liquid and melodious. Basalt, though, is the stone which symbolizes our origins, our culture. Its sound is totally different, deeper.

When these works are made to sound they transmit to our bodies the full vibration that they emanate: all the sound proceeds from a vibration, but to glean it through our hands, especially coming from a material which is always described as powerless, is an unforgettable experience. Like the experience of placing our ear against a stone to feel the vibrations and sounds, those sounds which seem almost innate in our memory, as though drawing us back to the maternal womb.

  • What types of visitors come to the Sound Garden?

Pinuccio Sciola has created works capable of speaking all the languages on earth to people of all ages; that’s why our work turns on communicating with children and the elderly, something which is possible because of the accessibility of an artwork which manages to be interactive even without the aid of technology. The heart of the district is now the enormous artistic legacy which Sciola has left us. From the murals to the colourful streets leading to the open-air museum: the Sound Garden is a timeless artistic space, a horizon of megalithic stones suffused with the scent of citrus fruits, where visitors can steep themselves in an experience which touches all the senses – touch, for feeling the vibration of the stone, sight, hearing and smell as they make their discoveries among the flowering citruses. 

As well as being an interactive museum area, the Sound Garden is also a place of study where art, architecture and cultural heritage students, under the guidance of the art historian, Giulia Pilloni, can become acquainted with this visionary artist by examining past documents and artistic projects at first hand.

  • How do you organise the educational side?

We pay particular attention to children and schools. Walking through the colourful streets of the Museum Village with the Fentanas Association, which tailors visits to specific age groups and lays on treasure hunts and ancient games workshops, we get to the Sound Garden where Federica Collu, head of the museum’s educational and accessibility projects, stimulates our creativity by encouraging us in the crucial task of re-learning how to use our hands. She starts out with simple materials like vegetables which, with a little imagination, can be transformed into imaginary characters, or through the frottage workshops among the relief textures for the works.

But so that it continues to be an art for everyone, we concentrate on the use of social stories, Augmentative and Alternative Communication strategies, special visits for the deaf and blind. We have even embarked on a project with a Sardinian association to allow blind and visually impaired people to accompany visitors, themselves blindfolded so that they see nothing, in an experience which is strikingly novel in terms of enlarging empathy and generating completely new feelings.

  • What projects and collaborative ventures do you have in the pipeline?

Pinuccio Sciola’s life is a jigsaw puzzle to be reconstructed with unflagging commitment by myself, my brother and sister, Tomaso and Chiara, as well as by our splendid team; we’re busy filing and cataloguing his works and major projects, aiming to create a digital archive which all scholars and art lovers will be able to access. We’re also working on Sant’Arte (Saint Art), the visual and performing arts festival scheduled for the last weekend in May, which is our major tribute to the artist and the man, and provides an opportunity to celebrate the one saint, as Sciola used to say, who can rescue mankind from mental inertia and uniformity.