A sculptor, installation artist and performance artist, Paolo Canevari is well known for his works made from rubber tyres and inner tubing. Canevari is attracted to the material because of its flexibility, its capacity to assume an endless variety of forms.

Descended from three generations of artists, and born in Rome, a city famed for its architectural and artistic heritage, Canevari’s choice of material is also a conscious rejection of the traditional materials of the ‘classical’ artist. His work often explores the complex relationship he has with this ancestry – for him, at once a burden and an inescapable influence. In Colosso(2002), he covered a gallery floor with miniature copies of Rome’s Colosseum cut from tyres, while in an opening performance, he himself took on the role of Atlas, bearing the weight of a colosseum on his shoulders.

Canevari is wary of the monumental, and much of his work is ephemeral. In an early series of sculptures, Camera d’aria (1991), he hung sections cut from inner tubing on the wall, and manipulated them so that they took on recognisable shapes (anatomical forms, or objects such as helmets or shells). When removed from display, the sculptures quickly lose their shape, and return to their material state. Canevari notes: ‘I don’t want my work to be permanent; I want it to be a memory, to have a metaphysical presence’. In a more recent intervention, Canevari created an entrance to the lift in his apartment block by squeezing an inflated inner tube into the doorway, evoking an image of female genitalia. This installation, Mamma(2000), recalls the artist’s own birth in a lift and invites visitors to reflect upon the idea of birth.

For International 04 Canevari suspended a replica of a World War II bomb over a Liverpool street. As if temporarily frozen in the action of falling, the bomb was a potent reminder of the damage suffered by the city during the war. The bomb had a specific historical context. Yet in a world increasingly faced with the phenomenon of ’invisible‘ warfare (whether by means of chemical weapons or suicide bombers), Canevari’s work also offered a, powerful visualisation of contemporary fear.

In a related piece made on the roof of his New York studio (2004), Canevari threw a bomb into the sky, and captured the image in a photograph as it fell. The resulting image was as mysterious as it was arresting. The artist stood with his arms outstretched as the bomb hurtled towards him.

Had he conjured up this icon of destruction? Or was he willingly embracing his fate? Canevari reproduced this image in black and white, and flyposted it, without any explanatory text, on street hoardings around New York. Post-September 11th, this was, needless to say, a highly provocative action, heightened by its anonymity. For Canevari, it was intended to express a collective preoccupation, and to provide an opportunity for the public to reflect on the contemporary climate: ’My intervention was directed towards an audience sensitive to the subject, or even not sensitive to it, but I think the most important thing was to create a question rather than give an answer.‘

In titling both these works Seed, Canevari alluded to the often unforeseen regeneration which follows in the wake of destruction.

Seed, 2004
Commissioned by Liverpool Biennial 2004
Exhibited at Biennial Centre



Italian Cultural Institute