Walking into Lorenzo Vitturi’s canalside Haggerston studio is somewhat comparable to disappearing down a rabbit hole and emerging in a fantasy scrapyard of colour and material. Heaps of plastic are stacked on the floor in a myriad of bright hues and contrasting textures, and buckets brim with odds and ends which might come in useful to his unique practice, which takes the form of an endlessly reflexive circle of sculpture and photography. It is a cave of chaos, in short, and yet there’s a strange order and calm to proceedings.
This dichotomy is familiar to Vitturi, who comes from a set design background. “My work is always about chaos and order, about finding the right balance between these two different dimensions,” he explains, pulling up a stool to a huge makeshift table. “It's always this mix of completely different elements coming from completely different natures, backgrounds. But then, when I understand that the sculpture is working well there's a kind of balance – this harmony.” Oxymoronic is one word you might use to describe his aesthetic, which culminated most famously in Dalston Anatomy, a characteristically bright and colourful series of portraits and still-life photographs capturing sculptures which has been shown around the world, not least at London’s Photographers’ Gallery in the late summer of 2014. It was a one-of-a kind show – indeed, Vitturi’s attention to detail is perhaps most evident when it comes to displaying his work within the ‘white cube’ of a gallery space; he employs clever trompe l’oeil effects painted onto walls and doorways, or panels of colour painted to frame certain images, transforming the traditional photography exhibition into a far grander immersive installation.
The evolution of Dalston, an area which has become so close to Vitturi’s heart, has neatly mirrored the progression of his work itself; he lived and worked close to Ridley Road for six years before being priced out of his studio, a move which tied in with the conclusion of Dalston Anatomy. “I had a really strong connection with the place,” he explains. “I feel a bit melancholy now when I go there because, you know, it's changing. Still, I go sometimes and I find all the people that I knew. It took a while to get their trust, because there were a lot of photographers, video-makers, and journalists who were interested in the area. These are working people – the stallholders work 13 hours per day, which is quite a tough life. It took maybe six, seven months just to get their trust.” It proved worthwhile. “Once they understood that I didn't want to make a reportage about the Ridley Road Market, but that I was creating something completely different, I started to have a really nice, deeper relationship with the community there. That was quite important to me.”
It was this hard-won connection with the local community that encouraged Vitturi to present the work on the street before beginning to show in galleries and museums, and the street-side exhibition turned out to be a phenomenal hit with the stallholders. Presented as a market stall, Vitturi built a kind of mobile display of the work he had spent so long making, accompanied by a series of large-format posters which he plastered across the walls. “We used the street of the market as a gallery,” he explains, excitedly. Not all of the posters had much of a lifespan, however: “This one, for example,” he says, gesturing to an image which was pasted next to a hairdressing salon. “this ended up inside the hairdressers. I went in and I said, 'my God, you could at least leave it there for, like 24 hours?’ They said, 'oh I'm sorry, but I really loved the picture, I had to take it!’” Art as advertising, in its truest sense. This sense of giving back to the street, in a very literal way, appeals to the artist. “It was being sort of recycled by the market itself.”
Now a couple of years out of the furore which followed Dalston Anatomy – its manifold exhibitions and accompanying photo-book were received to great acclaim around the world – Vitturi is turning his attention to showing a new work, which has itself emerged from the same geographic focus. “When I was finishing Dalston Anatomy I was looking for a spot where I could find materials on the street – especially in Dalston and east London, I use all this debris coming from the street and the different work sites. I spotted this place which is actually one metre from the market, and there was a scrapyard full of all these remains from the Arcola Theatre, which had been demolished. I found out that that block had been sold, and they were building a new high-rise there, so I said, 'my God, what's happening?’ I wanted to show people the future of Dalston Anatomy, and how it's changing.”
This concept formed the earliest beginnings of Droste Effect, Debris and Other Problems – a new project which takes the found-object focus of Dalston Anatomy and pushes it several steps further. Playing with the interdependent relationship between photography and sculpture, Vitturi started to build sculptures from debris he found in scrapyards around Dalston – remnants of the extensive developments there – which he then photographs, prints, and builds further sculptures around, creating the aforementioned reflexive ‘Droste effect’. The result is softer, more abstract than his previous work. “Dalston Anatomy was an explosion of textures, of objects coming from completely different cultures, and the sculptures were really dynamic and organic. Here, it's totally the opposite. This is a way to represent the new aesthetic that's taking over east London.”
Incorporating photographs of the aggressive advertising used by developers to promote their new properties – young, white couples carrying coffees and briefcases walking through litter-less streets, people, incidentally, who are quite literally the opposite of what Ridley Road has come to represent in east London – the palette is overwhelmed not with cobalt blue and burnt orange, but with silver and grey. “I took all these colours from the advertising palette. It's quite an abstract way to represent the change.”
It’s not simply a woeful tale, however. Interwoven with Vitturi’s never-ending process of building, photographing and building some more is a narrative of development and development all too familiar familiar to those living in east London now, one which takes the much-debated topic of gentrification as its core concern. “It's funny because some people criticised me when I did Dalston Anatomy – they said, 'you're talking about gentrification, while you are part of the gentrification – you are a white artist going to live in a black area’. I’d say, 'yeah, it's true!’ But, you know, gentrification is something continuous, and now I am a victim of it, too.” How better to demonstrate such a circle than with a neat reflexivity?
Not much remains of the original work – Vitturi ceremoniously set most of the original sculptures aflame after he’d finished with the project once and for all – but in true ‘droste’ style, the melted scraps were re-photgraphed and featured in the end of the new book for posterity – a new explosion of life, the phoenix from the ashes. Just one totemic plastic sculpture remains, sitting atop a filing cabinet like a solitary reminder of things past.
With thanks to Flowers Gallery.