The Theatrical Sketches in Polystirene and Polyvinyl painting by Toti Scialoja

Grazia De Cesare / Annalisa Lusuardi / Giulia Cappelloni / Eleonora Leone Sciabolazza / Laura Montaina / Martina Vento / Elena Zaccagnini
In 1953 Toti Scialoja becomes professor of Scenography at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. Introduced to the experimentation and use of new materials as poly vinyl acetate by Alberto Burri, in 1956 Toti Scialoja travels to New York where he comes in contact with artists such as De Kooning, Rothko, Motherwell. Returning to Italy, he modifies his poetry by interpreting the surface as a dynamic space for movement with a new approach to artistic materials. In 1986 he produced a series of stage machines for “The Rat of Proserpina”, a musical performance staged for the Orestiadi festival in Gibellina, (destroyed by an earthquake), point of arrival of the poetry of Scialoja as scenographer. His stage machines are able to move to follow the rhythm of a perpetual metamorphosis drama, on the contrary to the immobility of traditional scenography. “The stage is a place where something happens,…Where everything moves, shameless and elusive like the course of a river”. Unfortunately, only one of the five machines designed for the representation has been preserved, made of metal profiles of 8 mm diameter, later coated with sheet metal coated in carded paper, painted with colors based on acrylic styrene resins.
The maquettes of such scenery executed with multilayer wood bases, polystyrene sculptures painted with PVAc and actually preserved at the Toti Scialoja Foundation in Rome, have been restored at the ISCR Contemporary Art materials Conservation Laboratory. The data from the interviews conducted with the main collaborators of Scialoja, Di Stefano and La Monica confirmed what was already supposed in the reconstruction of the execution technique. Nunzio Di Stefano claims to have carved the expanded polystyrene according to the designs of the master, using alabaster plaster mixed with Vinavil NPC for preparation, while the painted layer was personally painted by Toti Scialoja, using the same PVAc and pigment powder.
The conservation state at the moment of the restoration was precarious for losses of widespread color and small agglomerates of polystyrene balls in the edges, breaks of some elements sometimes held together by metallic spills, diffused compacted particle deposition and glue residues of old adhesive tapes.
To project the intervention, solubility tests were carried out on film and support, resulting both very sensitive to most of the organic solvents. The cleaning has been verified by high retentive hydrogel too. Reversibility was considered in adhesion and retouching phases. For this purpose, samples have been realized to reproduce the technique of the original and to test on them the materials to employ. The mechanical behaviour and the resistance of the adhesion treatment has been verified by mock-up of expanded polystyrene, cut in two, resealed with different adhesives and subjected to stress in the humidification and dehumidification chamber, for repeated cycles to verify the seal of the joints. The solution was defined preferring cellulose ethers as stickers and retouching binders, with pastels.
The sketches have regained their full integrity and evocative ability while remaining the material memory of the historic stage.