At Home with DM
At Home with Not Vital
Song-I Saba talks with the Swiss artist about creating his own wonderland
Swiss artist Not Vital (b. 1948) is a sculptor, painter, draftsman, architect, and nomad whose singular approach to work, life, and adventure defies easy categorization. Eluding neat art world labels, he has built an inspirational career creating “SCARCH,” a term he coined to describe his unique combination of site-specific sculpture and architecture.
Tracing his practice from Switzerland, New York, and Italy, to Niger, China, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, Not’s first definitive monograph was released by Skira last month. Not Vital: Sculpture by curator and art historian Alma Zevi offers an intimate look at one of the art world’s true originals.
After a lifetime of exploring and leaving his mark in the farthest reaches of the world, Not returned to Switzerland to create a private/public wonderland. Near his picturesque hometown of Sent in the Engadine Valley, Not took over a handful of properties—including a 12th-century castle—and set up his living space, foundation, studio, and sculpture park, which he installed with a selection of his works alongside his own international art collection, showcasing his long standing interests in folklore, nature, and identity.
I reached out to Not to discuss his multidisciplinary approach, his collection, and how he thinks about “home” now.
Song-I Saba: Your practice has undoubtedly been heavily influenced by your experiences living and working across the globe. What have you collected during your nomadic travels and why?
Not Vital: Since my youth, I have had a big interest in collecting books—old books. I have a library here in Engadin of Rumantsch books printed between the 16th and 19th centuries. Also, when I went to Africa, I started collecting handwritten manuscripts of the Quran. The Tuareg, since they are nomadic, don't have artifacts apart from silver jewelry. From the beginning of my frequent travels to Niger, I have been fascinated by books of the Quran.
SS: What draws you to specific objects?
NV: The form. I don't read the Quran; I don't know how to read it. I like to possess it as an object—almost as a sculpture.
SS: What draws you to specific places?
NV: Mostly the names: Patagonia, Timbuktu, Tonga, Flores, etc. Also the far location of these places. All my interventions are in remote areas of the world.
SS: After many years of living abroad, you have brought works from international artists back to your hometown of Sent. What does “home” mean to you now?
NV: “Home” in Engadin means having my own country, my own place, because it is surrounded by other countries. I can walk to Italy in the South and to Austria in the North. Two different countries, two different languages, two different religions, and a very isolated and beautiful valley.
SS: Looking back on your multidisciplinary career to date, what advice would you give a younger version of yourself?
NV: To do the same things, to repeat what I did, maybe in a more ephemeral way. If I were young again, maybe I would like to be a musician or a dancer or a torero.
SS: You speak of building tree houses as a child, and architecture later became a pillar of your practice. What can contemporary artists learn from architects?
NV: It is more the other way around, where architects can learn from sculptors. But what we sculptors can learn from architects is size. They are building habitats you can enter. To build a sculpture as big as you can enter, to build a sculpture so big that it becomes your habitat.
SS: Where to next?
NV: Japan and Mexico. ◆
Not Vital: Sculpture is available through Skira and your favorite book sellers.