Diabolus in Vitro at Salon Vert

Tuesday night’s discussion at Salon Vert was between four fascinating protagonists – including an artist who burns books and a man whose book he has burned, and a man whose job it is to preserve writing for future generations.

The associated exhibition, at Salon Vert’s South Kensington space, is Diabolus in Vitro – a room-sized installation of two large wall-mounted sets of ornate and hand-blown Venetian glass chalices, each chalice containing the ashes of a book and inscribed with the title of the book, date and place of publication… and date and place of combustion.

This special evening was a James Putnam-adjudicated panel discussing book-burning, its clearly very loaded connotations, and its place in art. Arguing that the act can be harnessed innocently into an artwork was the artist, Antonio Riello, from whose personal library all the books had come, and who regarded it as an act suffused with both love and sacrifice which creates a kind of reliquary.

Arguing against the possibility of any innocent reading was Dr Irving Finkel, Assistant Keeper of Ancient Mesopotamian script, languages and cultures at the British Museum. For us, Dr Finkel took the day, not least through sheer enthusiasm and voluble presence.

Dr Finkel would not countenance any concept that burning a book was anything other than a barbaric, scandalous and entirely unacceptable practice – it didn’t come to blows, but I’m not quite sure how.

For his part Riello has said “maybe we cannot really live in a politically correct world” and this work carries on perhaps from series such as his ornately decorated firearms (title: Ladies Weapons).

Diabolus in Vitro is a mesmerising installation of very beautiful pieces – if you can avoid worrying about the process there’s plenty to like about it.


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