Suspended gracefully from the ceiling, pale twisting branches hover gracefully over the foyer of the Athenaeum Spa at Corinthia Palace. Climb the staircase to the first floor and you almost feel like you are inside a network of trees. The artwork is by none other than the talented Liliana Fleri Soler – a local artist renowned for her work in painting, sculpture and assemblage.
Taking us behind the scenes of her creative process, Liliana shares how she came up with this unique piece. “When the idea for an artwork in the spa’s entrance was first put forward, I immediately pictured something tree-related,” she says.
As a chemistry and biology teacher, Liliana has a deep respect for plant life, and felt it would only be right to take inspiration from the hotel’s green spaces and the lush public gardens nearby. After all, nature is the perfect embodiment of the wellness and tranquillity that the spa promotes.
"“If I had to pick a hotel, anywhere in the world, that defines my idea of the perfect hotel, this would be it. It has everything that I feel a hotel should – it’s close to nature, has a history and enjoys clean air thanks to the trees that take up water and nutrients through their roots and purify the air.”"
It is especially fitting for the artwork to showcase the deep roots that represent the strong family foundations in which the hotel is anchored, and from where the business has grown – a universal symbol of where all life begins that tells everyone’s story. Liliana adds, “Anything we see that has grown and branched out has a root that is even bigger than what is visible on the surface. I really do believe that there is no better symbol of cycles and regeneration than a tree.”
Since this was a site-specific piece, Liliana had to ensure it was perfectly tailored to fit the entrance area leading into the spa. She stresses the importance of engineering in planning the armature of a sculpture. The first consideration was to rule out having it on the ground, as that would block the access and defeat the purpose of creating an inviting space.
Next up was making sure that the ceiling would be able to support its weight by choosing materials that were light yet enduring. Drawing on her knowledge of botany and grappling with the demands of physics, Liliana decided to design a longer, narrower taproot rather than a fibrous root that would branch out in all directions and take up more space.
The piece consists of two separate parts attached together to measure 4 metres in length and 2.5 metres across. The main armature used for the long central root is made of iron – a lighter metal than bronze, while the web of offshoots branching out of it are made of even lighter copper. Everything was wrapped in paper to block out the air and prevent rust, before being covered in textile – a material Liliana loves to work with and one she finds very feminine. She applied this in such a way as to create layers of pattern which, on closer inspection, truly bring the dimensions of the organism to life. Various shades of white paint finish off the final product and add further depth.
For Liliana, the creative process starts with some sort of mental work, where she finds herself engrossed in whatever material she is consuming at the time – from historical biographies and speeches to podcasts on science and spirituality. “I love words and I like listening to what people have to say, so I follow random directions until something sparks interest, then I’m off on a journey of discovery!”
This fuels her to launch into the physical phase of a project, which she admits, can be very tiring. While nowadays it is possible for a sculptor to have their design upscaled by a lab in any material of their choice, such as marble, Liliana still enjoys making her own pieces by hand. Despite the drudgery of bending over and climbing ladders, the physical aspect keeps her in shape. It is certainly a labour of love!
"“It takes a lot out of me, but I love the handiwork of my craft. I also find that there is a certain meditation in the repetitive processes of doing something mechanical, like applying materials onto something else. It feels very therapeutic to the human mind and spirit and transports me to another world.”"
In honour of World Art Day, Liliana shares an interesting perspective on art. “‘Creativity’ may be a much more appropriate term than ‘art’ because it embraces all the existing processes in the world, from concocting a recipe for a pasta dish, to producing a new antibiotic or vaccine,” she says.
Herself an artist with a background in science, she asserts that there is no real distinction between art and science – both are simply man-made constructs that study the real world and complement one another. She observes that World Art Day is, in fact, celebrated on the birthday of Leonardo Da Vinci – the original Renaissance man – an all-rounder who was intrigued by the world around him and who uncovered nature’s secrets through work that was as artistic as it was scientific.
Liliana’s concluding message is this: “Da Vinci was always curious and, to create something, you have to be curious. Whatever your art or craft is, curiosity is key to creativity!”
Happy World Art Day to all curious creators.