Artist takes a childhood obsession with flight on a ride

As a boy in Italy, Luca Buvoli grappled with the idea of teaching himself to fly like Superman, Spider-Man and other superheroes. He was his own superhero Ñ SuperMark Ñ and if he was a prisoner of gravity, his imagination was not.

Buvoli returned to the subject as an adult with an extensive art education, expressing the idea of flight in multimedia explorations in sculpture, painting and film.

First was the exhibit 'Flying: Practical Training for Beginners.' Now it's 'Flying: Practical Training for Intermediates,' on display at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art through Feb. 2.

The latest show Ñ to be succeeded by an advanced guide in a couple of years Ñ has taken Buvoli around the world, as far as Germany, South Africa, Japan and South Korea.

The ideas are elegantly expressed, even if the logic is mystifying. The exhibit is as eloquently simple as its creator Ñ who is an able spokesman for his work Ñ with puzzling overtones that require leaps of faith.

As Buvoli says in the 18-minute stop-action animated film that accompanies his show, 'Every time you think, you achieve something.' And in that case, he's achieved quite a bit.

The language of Buvoli's film is a combination of philosophical and psychological sources translated into the sort of bombastic language that might accompany a genuine flying manual. Buvoli's friend Steve Burham appears as the bogus Professor M.A.S. delivering the lecture.

Lest this sound too much like smoke and mirrors, the 39-year-old Buvoli's artistic credentials are solid. He gained an arts degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, a master's degree from the State University of New York in Albany and a master's degree in fine arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He settled in New York in 1992.

The first 'Flying' show synthesized his superhero experiences so far.

'I realized after a certain point I needed to go to another level and explore what was at the core of my project: The idea of flying emblemizes the dream of the superhero,' Buvoli says. 'I went back and tried to explore other aspects of the flying dream. I simulated a super-technical approach and did a lot of studies and research.'

Buvoli says his experiences as an athlete and swimmer enabled him to invent disciplines for the would-be intermediate flier. As the lecturer in the film, he guides viewers through 33 movements and breathing exercises.

'It seems to be rather absurd and serious, and it's progressively more humorous because the tone is so pompous,' Buvoli says.

In parallel with the subtitled flight instructions, the idea that imagination has a part to play in flight is woven into the film. This becomes more animated as the overlap between the real and imaginary becomes blurrier.

The largest part of Buvoli's show includes what he calls vectors, extruded resin figures that hang from the ceiling, symbolizing the figures flitting through his film. In the entrance, there's also a mandala illustrating a variation on Leonardo da Vinci's man in a circle displayed on the floor in Kool-Aid powder glued in place.

Buvoli also has 208 illustrations from the film on a 20-by-26-foot wall that he drew by hand.

Overall, Buvoli emphasizes that the aim of the show is to develop mental acuity:

'I don't expect people to practice this method from the top of a building. Flying is a method for connecting the imaginary and the real. This film captures the seriousness that children have thinking they can fly.'

On the other hand, Buvoli has met people who think he's really got a system.

'After a show at MIT, one person contacted me, and he was sure he had applied my method and found a way to fly,' he says. 'I've heard of other people, too, but I'm not sure I want to meet them. What if my method actually works?'

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