Home > Culture > The Arts > State of Art: Artist Maurizio Savini talks iPhones and chewing gum
State of Art: Artist Maurizio Savini talks iPhones and chewing gum

Step into Forbidden World, Italian artist Maurizio Savini’s exhibition in Gillman Barracks, and you’ll feel as if you’ve entered some sort of whimsical wonderland. A pastel pink giraffe stands amidst tiny toy soldiers, while a large, hot pink crocodile crouches under a glass table, its teeth bared in a menacing snarl. Over in another corner of the room, a rocket stands adorned with stickers and cheerful hues of pink, white and yellow. Everything is crafted from chewing gum.

But beneath the quirky, almost cutesy veneer, lies a deeper message, with many of Savini’s works carrying political undertones. Take for example, the giraffe sculpture, which has its legs tied and is draped with a European flag. According to Savini, the giraffe symbolises how some European politicians often “make decisions with the brain and not the heart” — because its long neck keeps the two organs so far apart. Meanwhile, the rocket exhibit, which is revealed to be a war missile, juxtaposes the Hagia Sophia’s traditional minaret with a sticker of a provocative pin-up girl. “It represents the conflict of Western and Eastern cultures,” says Savini.

Maurizio Savini giraffe
Titled Troppo Lontano Dal Cuore, this sculpture features a pink giraffe draped with a European flag.

Based in Rome, Savini specialises in using chewing gum as a material in his sculptures and artworks. His ongoing presentation at Partners & Mucciaccia gallery marks his first time exhibiting here, and features 38 sculptures and micromosaic portraits of prominent personalities such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Ahead of his show’s launch, Savini shared with us about his fascination with iPhones and why chewing gum makes a perfect art material.

Maurizio Savini-portrait4
Italian artist Maurizio Savini is known for using chewing gum in his artworks.

Lifestyle Asia (LSA): Why do you use chewing gum in your art?

Maurizio Savini (MS): Chewing gum is a food that doesn’t have any nutritional value. We simply chew and spit it out. I find it’s an interesting way to express the modern world and its political and socioeconomic issues through art. I’ve been using chewing gum as a material for over 20 years, and I often use pink gum, because it looks appealing and draws viewers closer to the artworks. As a material, it doesn’t get ruined easily and is quite resistant.

LSA: Do you ever use gum that you’ve actually chewed?   

MS: No, because I personally don’t like chewing gum. When I first started experimenting with it as a material in 1996, I used normal chewing gum that I bought from the shops. But now, I use raw gum, which I get from a factory in Rome. It’s the base material for chewing gum that’s sold commercially. I add my own colour pigments to it. I use maybe 300 to 350kg of gum each year.

Maurizio Savini lee hsien loong
Savini’s micromosaic portrait of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

LSA: Has anyone ever tried to taste your artworks?

MS: Of course. At my first chewing gum exhibition in 1997 or 1998 in Rome, a child took a bite of a sculpture. It was a sculpture of a UFO and was placed low and close to the floor, so it was easy for him to reach. His mother got very upset with him. There have also been cases where some art collectors brought my sculptures back to me and asked me to restore them, because their dogs had eaten them.

LSA: What can visitors expect to see at Forbidden World?

MS: Forbidden World is my first exhibition in Singapore, and all of its 38 works were created specially for it over a period of two years. A highlight is American Breakfast, a crocodile sculpture under a glass dinner table. It’s to give the idea of a beautiful surface with a frightening element hidden underneath.

There are also micromosaic portraits resembling iPhones and iPads. I coloured the chewing gum, broke it down into little pieces and, bit by bit, put them together like a jigsaw puzzle. I decided to use iPhones, because almost everyone has one, with thousands of images stored inside. And all the iPhones and iPads have deliberately broken screens made from bulletproof glass — a reference to how common it is to see phones with shattered screens.

Maurizio Savini-Steve Jobs
A micromosaic portrait of Steve Jobs, presented in a replica of an iPhone.

LSA: Which artwork is your favourite?

MS: My favourite piece is Utopia Militare. It’s based on the utopian idea of a peace army and is covered with symbols such as the peace sign. I put it inside a glass box so it looks like a museum object, like a historic jacket that was found from an archaeological site. It’s to make visitors wonder if there has ever been a peace army, or will there ever be.

LSA: Is there anything in the exhibition that isn’t made from chewing gum?

MS: There is one, titled Raw War. It’s made with flowers, paper and paint. It’s inspired by a war, where tanks are passing by — which explains the painted track marks on the artwork. I’m known as a chewing gum artist, but I paint as well, and wanted to show that side of me.

Maurizio Savini-Raw War
Raw War is the only artwork in Savini’s exhibition that doesn’t contain any chewing gum.

LSA: Lastly, is there a significance behind your exhibition’s title, Forbidden World?

MS: Forbidden World is the name of one of my sculptures, which is based on the idea of global, political and economic interests shifting to create a new world. But I also felt it was apt for the exhibition because all my works are built from chewing gum, which is banned here in Singapore.

Forbidden World ends 8 December, 2016.

Partners & Mucciaccia @ Gillman Barracks, Blk 6 Lock Road, #02-10, Gillman Barracks, Singapore 108934, +65 6694 3777, partnersandmucciaccia.net

Sara Yap
Deputy Director, Digital Operations (Asia)
Sara Yap is the Deputy Director of Digital Operations at BurdaLuxury, and a contributing writer to Lifestyle Asia’s dining and jewellery beats. When she’s not on the lookout for exciting new restaurants or bejewelled trinkets, she’s probably buried in a riveting read, or reminiscing the good ol’ days with her favourite playlist of ’90s boyband hits.