The art of dreaming by Alessandro Zeni

Published on 09/10/2019

The truth is that we are all born dreamers, we are pushed towards new experiences, new goals to reach, in the continuous search for ourselves.

At birth we all have this inner strength. Someone forgets to have it and lets it weaken in the monotony of days that are always the same while for others it is an insatiable thirst, a deep desire that accompanies every minute and every moment of one's existence.

I was born in the Dolomites at the foot of the Pale di San Martino from a sculptor father and a painter mother. Since an early age, I imagined that I could also be an artist... My eyes as a child were totally enchanted by seeing my father's deeds and abilities that shaped the wood with chisel making ever-newer figures. A roe deer, an eagle, a small gnome, a madonna, an alpinist ... Art.

This has always been the watchword in our family, a kind of mantra that pushed me to dream and to think that in life I wanted to create something new, something of my own, a sculpture so beautiful to amaze and give emotions to those who looked at it.
But as it often happens, I soon realized that innate gift for sculpture, that deep call, did not belong to me.

Therefore, my eyes fell upon the earth, defeated, trying to understand how it was possible that there was not that spark in me; yet a flame kept burning inside me, I felt it, I was sure of it.
Days passed and then years following a path that would see me become a future surveyor. No, it wasn't me, it wasn't what I wanted to do. I loved too much nature and life outdoors …  One day I looked up and saw the mountains. Huge peaks that rose above my head, simple stones for some, but in my child's eyes they appeared like enormous paintings to paint. I discovered climbing.

It all started when, one day, me and my dad went to the sporting goods store of one of his cousins where I managed to get a couple of old Mariacher climbing shoes that were just useless stock by then. For me those shoes were the perfect chisel to start sculpting my work, they had become my whole world and even when they were totally worn out and the thumb sticked out of the tip I continued to climb with them. I spent years perfecting myself, searching for the perfect gesture every day.

I was aware that I could never have created my most beautiful sculpture without first refining my technique and learned that art that seemed almost a vertical dance. Everything came naturally to me, I loved that circling in the air, feeling the emptiness below me, as I listened to the sensations of my body. I discovered that I possessed a sort of talent and almost without realizing it I improved very quickly.

So in a short time my little Valley became too narrow, I met Riccardo Scarian and with him I began to travel. Spending days with him on the wall was like finding me in Val Gardena in a workshop of a master sculptor to learn that elegant art of climbing upwards. His advice refined my exploits and the new stimuli of being able to climb on walls never seen before allowed me to improve myself and to know myself better and better. From him I learned the beauty of slab climbing, a slow advance, an inner quest that required finger strength, patience, balance and sensitivity. I was immediately trapped and it became my favorite playground.

Thinking about art, perhaps you could compare slab climbing to realism, in which every stroke, every single color is carefully chosen. On a realistic picture there are no smudges, every detail has been thought and finished with patience as well as for that kind of climbing as demanding as it is harmonious.

Years passed and my teacher became a great friend. Journeys followed one another and climbing became a source of life for me.

In climbing I found my art, that continuous travel changed my eyes and my way of seeing through the rock. Thus came the day I was waiting for, the day when I could finally create my sculpture ... Then more than ever I felt the need to put everything I had learned to use. To find my perfect line, nail it and then one day free it. But to do this I needed a canvas on which to paint this dream.
No, the difficulty wouldn't have been enough, it had to be in a nice place, a place special to me. Close to home and that, despite the difficulties, made me want to come back every time.
After climbing walls hundreds of meters-high over the years, my canvas could only be found in a remote wall in Val Canali, just over 20 meters high. Yes, my sculpture would not have been huge or on a very famous wall, but on a small one hidden in a beautiful place, far and lonely, that made me feel at home.

So I nailed the route and called it "Cosmic Energy". In this line I found everything I was looking for and when, on a fine autumn day, I climbed it and I realized that inside that stone there were years of dreams, hopes, travels and new friendships. Twelve years of climbing concentrated in 52 movements, my sculpture, the perfect slab in the perfect place.

I believe there is a form of art in each of us. Sometimes we think we don't have it, that at birth we were not given any talent but maybe we're just looking the wrong way. Let's look up, look elsewhere, maybe it's just hiding in other forms. It is not a question of sculpting the most beautiful work, nor of climbing the most difficult wall in the world; it is simply the art of dreaming.

Article and pictures by Alessandro Zeni, August 2019.


Alessandro Zeni, born in 1991 in Feltre (Italy), has been on the team Grivel for 5 years.  He practices mountaineering, climbing and sport climbing up to 9a+, nailing new routes at the crags, bouldering.
Grivel favorite products: Zen 35 backpack, Trend harness, Stealth helmet.