Interview by Claudia Colasanti for Flash Art, April 2004
I read that, for you, ’creative starting points’ have a fundamental value. What did you start from?
My work began spatially. I started with the theatre, in the early 1980s, collaborating with the Florentine group Krypton. What I made were ‘scenographies’, realised through projections and light, in which traditional scenographic elements were reduced to the bone. Performances such as Eneide and Angeli di Luci, inspired by John’s apocalypse, made between 1983 and ’84, which were already considered as ‘virtual’ for how they approached the stage space.
What did the 1980s mean to you?
They represented the hope that literature, theatre, architecture, philosophy, music, everything I was interested in and which defined my generation at the time, could lose its disciplinary contours and become a unified new culture, in which arts and politics were one, generating a diffused aesthetics. The hope for an aesthetic society, to quote the title of a book by Filiberto Menna which was important to me at the time: he spoke of art as ‘prophecy of an aesthetic society’. But over the course of the years this utopian dimension lost sight of its objectives and art lost its centrality; this provoked an impoverishment of aesthetics, and art became more and more akin to decoration, to artificial void.
How did we get to a specificity of disciplines?
It has been a complex but obligatory moral pathway. From a culturally expanded universe, we had to go in search of a possible specificity although we had lost all traces of disciplinary competency. Clearly, I refer to a new dimension of discipline in which, for example, the narrative aspects of the work don’t curl in upon themselves but remain in a living conversation with the rest of culture. Attempting to redefine an artistic territory, one which held a vastness, both in interests and in suggestions but which was still recognisable in its traits is what eventually brought me to a stricter confrontation of the specific tradition of art.
We’ve reached the end of Eighties…
In this passage my interest in space remained paramount, and even touched on architecture, which still interests me greatly. Again, it was a ‘political’ passage. I mean, I think that what that aspect we called moral actually attempted to show was the attempt to highlight a necessity to make art, its necessity for survival, a sort of struggle in favour of existence.
And you immediately began to think about the social role of art and its specificity…
I don’t think art should, or could for that matter, want to close in upon itself, in fact it has been and still is the fugal point of many disciplines; but what I really want is for art to be recognised with its specific value, because without this the inertia of the expressive tends to override the creative act, playing its role. It is certain that art dialogues and debates with the world and with society, but it does this from a place so remote it is almost invisible; and as such, art doesn’t only dialogue with the world, it ‘grounds it’, it gives the world its reality. Without this gift from art, the world would look unreal.
What did your early solo exhibitions look like?
Even at the time, my work already showed a progressive getting closer to a specific view of art in a ‘pictorial’ dimension in the largest sense: painting wasn’t only a surface entity, but something capable of a quasi performative relationship with its environment. Although it began on a surface, my idea was that painting should expand into the space, involving the whole environment, animating it intimately.
If you were to define your relationship with painting and with sculpture…
My production can be either bidimensional or tridimensional, but I’m especially attentive to painting. In my spatial works I am mostly interested in the performative possibilities of painting, in its ability to open up into the space giving the space a luminosity. What I’m interested in in sculpture is its dynamism, the fact that it presents itself as ever-changing. I like that it is an ‘object’ amongst others, but that it is incomprehensible, unlike painting which immediately reveals itself as space of difference.
What memory do you have of the 1990s, and what do you think of the art which was produced then?
For many of us it was an in-between period, when most of us didn’t know what direction we were travelling in. Most of the artists who started then showed a cultural lack, compared with what came before them. They didn’t feel the need to continue an open dialogue with art and with the artists of their immediate past, which for us was essential, and a give. This dialogue which stayed open, which was never concluded, was a mistake for my generation: the work lost its immediacy, which was what made it authentic. But at the same time, a generation that doesn’t know what came right before it manifests a critical incapacity which inevitably becomes cultural and social solitude, which was exactly the opposite of the desired outcome.
What changed in those two decades of art, and towards where did you move as you traversed them?
My path could be drawn like a zig-zag. I mean that I often moved suddenly, and when I thought I was moving in one direction with a clear objective what happened was that the objective slipped from my view, and this translated in a deviation, in sudden mutations. And then, sometimes, the road continued. My work mostly, and still, contains a progressive loss of objectives and the attempt to reach the objective even after it has disappeared from view, once it has changed shape because of the experience of the path travelled so far.
Always attributing a strong morality to the work …
A philosopher friend, Pietro Montani, recently wrote that the central motif in my work is not aesthetic, but moral. The moral element resides not really in the fact of being a painter, which is an aesthetic value, but in the fact of wanting to be a painter, which is a moral value.
Returning to the zig-zag, what have you discovered and what have you abandoned?
I started with a piece, (Squadre plastiche, Ed.’s Note) made towards the end of the 1980s, in which there wasn’t a trace of image, there was a connection with architecture and with space. After, I made a series of works (Facce di gomma, Ed.’S Note) in which a number of moulds of my face were used as cups within which to pour paint, which would then leak out of all its orifices. At a first glance, this was a contradictory movement, from a so-called ‘abstract’ piece to a ‘figurative’ one. But the truth is that I didn’t see the first as abstract and the second as figurative. In fact I have learned not to make this distinction, to let things coexist in a unitary dimension.
A voluntary loss of meaning in the distinction between figuration and abstraction…
The “Squadre plastiche” weren’t an abstract work but a concrete one, they weren’t in conversation with the tradition of abstract art but with architecture. The “Facce di Gomma” were pictorial, more than figurative, objects: ‘broken’ goblets in which to constantly and uselessly to pour paint. In the first piece there was a virtual dispersion, and in the second, something more physical, something useless, even, like the act of continuously pouring paint into a broken vessel which will never be filled. But in both cases I was dealing with facades: the first were architectural, the second were human.
Have you abandoned these two modes of expression?
At the moment I’m in the middle of a synthetic process which produces something different. I’m not really thinking about ‘mixing’ things as such, but more about a confrontation between two spirits in order to find another. This is why my recent pieces contain abstract elements which nonetheless take on an almost narrative dimension. The abstract and the figurative have found a balance by way of attempting to make work containing both a great intimacy and a great sense of narration.
What are your thought about the current immersion of the everyday in the aesthetic?
Some think of interiority as of an expressive source at the service a more general something, which has to do with the evolution of the human race. This runs the risk of proposing art which is all centred on the subject in an era in which the subject itself has been demolished. I brief, it’s a kind of subjective art without a subject, art that is ‘stylistically’ subjective but unequipped to tell us about a truly subjective, or even solitary, drama.
This also happens elsewhere, at the cinema, on television…
The risk is precisely in attempting to replicate models which have been almost overly experimented with in popular culture: attempting to express ‘subjectivity’ without a subject. The idea of a subjective identity has been so criticised, even demolished, and now we expect this subject, is weakened to the point of appearing inexistent or so existent it appears diffused, to tell us something. I believe in a creative art, not in an art that copies. I believe in art which has its fundament in a subject both poetic and ethical; better still, in an art which can make poetics the only ethics for each one of us to see and practice.
So what value should the work of art take on?
I’m interested in the work of art which touches many. In the work of art that, although it moves in the space of artistic research, which can be specific and which can be difficult, knows how to seize something about a community and hence makes itself able to give a community a sense of belonging and at the same time a sense of solitude; not a depressive solitude, but an adventurous one. Another thing that’s extremely important is the compositional and creative act. The fact of beginning from zero, from a white sheet of paper, from a neutral surface, and giving this shape though modification, through compositional facts. The act of creation is a libertarian act: it is morally and politically necessary.