Venice - Interviews

“Art Thinking Is How to Navigate the Future”. An Interview with Daehyung Lee

1 month ago

Claudia Malfitano: You curated the Korean Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale. What was the main challenge of such a role? What does it mean to curate a national pavilion?

Daehyung Lee: Curating a national pavilion is very challenging, especially in Korea where the cultural proposal has to pass through the jury members. The jury usually consists of 6 curators and artists who have themselves experienced the Venice Biennale, so their expectations are usually centered on national identity and how to best present Korea. But at the same time, we have to either reflect or go against the artistic direction of the main exhibition. In 2017, Christine Macel was the curator, so I tried to analyse her curatorial practice not so as to emulate it, but to distance my curatorial methodology from hers; I implied Foucault’s pendulum. The pendulum would swing back to the more artistic expressions from that of Okwui Enwezor’s political narratives. In her exhibition “Viva Arte Viva”, Macel encouraged more diverse engagement with the audience; she invited sound artists and performance artists. So that was her taste and that was her curatorial direction. When I chose my Korean artists, I had to respect her curatorial direction, but the world in 2017 was divided by many forces such as transnational conflict, minority issues, and right wing movements (like Brexit, for example), so I tried to focus not just on the artistic forms but also on political, social and economic narratives. Then I realised that Korean problems or other Asian countries’ problems were all linked to global problems, so I conceived my curatorial direction as transnational and transgenerational. I then approached 3 artists: the first a fictitious artist I called Mr. K., representing our grandfather’s generation; the second, Cody Choi for our father’s generation and the third, Lee Wan for our son’s generation. Those generations are different universes: the grandfather’s generation depicted by Mr. K. is dominated by the conflict between Japan and Korea, because he experienced the Japanese colonial period; my father’s generation experienced the Korean war, when Communism was a big issue: Korea and America; Korea and the US Army. His dilemma is squeezed in between generations. But my generation—the son’s generation—we don’t care about Japan, we don’t care about America, and that’s our situation.
I discovered that our perception is increasingly infiltrated by multiple landscapes: we begin with the natural landscape, and then incorporate the social and political landscape, as well as the technological landscape. Since we are all connected 24/7 through our mobile phones and SNS (social networking services), so technological literacy is a key issue. Technological literacy among my grandfather’s generation is lower than among my father’s generation, so his universe is in some ways limited. America symbolises Western culture and our generation, we’re connected and we’ve got all the information. Like, you know BTS?

CM: Yes, they are huge! Not just in Korea.

DL: You see?! That’s because we are surrounded by the same technological landscape, so our path to understanding the world is different; that’s why yesterday we were talking about how the transnational situation, conditions and conflicts impact curatorial issues in many countries, but tomorrow we’ll talk more about transgenerational issues because technology is fast erasing all the boundaries. Then I discovered some similarities between art and technology, because technology also can transcend all the boundaries.

CM: So your analysis of the present and the recent past kind of led me to the second question I wanted to ask you which is, where do you think Korean contemporary art is now?

DL: Ok, that’s a good question…Back in 1980 to early 2000, many of my friends outside Korea described Korean contemporary art by saying “you guys are really good at making things, the fabrication technology is really good.” I think it’s a bit of a derogatory description, because fabrication without philosophy is just the final part of a process. When they said that, I heard “Conceptually weak but the fabrication is good.”
After 2010, we were all talking about the experience economy, and I think that Korean contemporary art is there. Artists are entering that phase and that opportunity because creating is more important that the physical entity; Korean artists have to collaborate sometimes with archaeologists, sometimes with sound artists or programmers, sometimes with environmental activists. So we do more than the fabrication: we ask questions and develop new narratives—really interesting narratives arise from this duality of fabrication. We cannot plan the visual: it is totally open-ended, that’s why Korean artists are very good at making, and really good at collaborating with different people.

CM: During every Venice Biennale there are many exhibitions of Korean art and artists. What is the connection between Korea and Venice, if there is one, or why is the Venice Biennale so appealing for Korean institutions and galleries?

DL: I don’t think there is a connection between Venice and Korea specifically, but the Venice Biennale is an international opportunity. It’s a place to visit, like a pilgrimage: we imagine thousands of curators, journalists and museum directors from all around the world so we really appreciate this opportunity because in Korea, Seoul is not a global city like London, New York or Berlin: it is economically strong but you rarely see any foreign curators.

CM: Why do you think that is?

DL: Korea is still a very homogeneous society. Universities need to hire more international professors like they do in Hong Kong or Singapore; even in Beijing and Shanghai they keep hiring international faculty members, but in Korea we are not. Or we are hiring but the numbers are small.

CM: Is it because of bureaucracy or is there another reason?

DL: It’s controversial. Before the current director of MMCA we had the first international director, Bartomeu Mari. I respected his new vision very much, but our society was not ready or patient enough to wait for his achievements.

CM: I kind of sensed this in Korea when I was there, but I also felt that people want to open up towards the rest of the world and be more international, and be seen as more international.

DL: I hope that in the next 5-10 years our society and culture will be more open to foreigners. Culture is not a product to export but a sharable creative experience that requires borderless collaboration between many different ideas.

CM: What’s in the future of Hyundai’s art initiatives?

DL: We started our programme based on 3 major museum partnerships with TATE, LACMA and MMCA, and we extended the programme to Bloomberg, do you know why?

CM: No, why?

DL: I think there are three phases or stages of contact between money and art, companies and cultural institutions: the first stage is collection, the second stage is commission, the third stage is perception; this is my analysis. We don’t support collection at the moment. We support commissions because we are not buying the final beautiful outcome, but we support really interesting ideas, either physical or experiential. At Hyundai Motor, we define art and culture not as a collector’s item for a small number of people but as a sharable experience for many people. Then we realised that Tate’s visitor numbers—somewhere between 5 and 6 million per year. It’s a big number but not big enough compared to the number of people that are actually travelling to London. We wanted to share really good ideas through virtual space so that you don’t have to travel to access them. That’s why Bloomberg filmed 75 international artists for 3 years, chosen based on a range of geographical locations and genders, then we asked the artists to find the right person to describe them—it could be a philosopher, a psychologist, or an art historian, for example, and they described the artist with their own voice. So that’s a phase.
Then we switched gears from contemporary art to art and technology; that’s a shift from the question within the art ecosystem to questions outside it. During the first three years we tried to support the art ecology, and now we are raising some bigger questions about what the role of art will be in our society; what will be its role in the future? We revealed this plan to our museum partners, and I had a talk with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Yana Peel at the Serpentine Galleries in London. They agreed because art is such a valuable experience, an asset, so we have to get the art out of the white cube space and bring it to society, to the city. That’s been our new role and that’s why we started the Blue Prize—a curatorial award programme for young Chinese curators. In many countries, when you ask international art curators “what do you think of Chinese contemporary art?” they all talk about the market, the auction houses, the art fairs but they don’t see what’s going on; their understanding of Chinese art is very flat and superficial, so I thought China needed a strong discourse-generating platform. China’s young curators are really, really talented so every year we select two young Chinese curators and we give them prompts. The first year the prompt was “social mobility.” The second year it was “future humanity;” and this year it’s “social intelligence.”

CM: What do you mean by “social intelligence”?

DL: The world is divided by different ideologies, different economic systems, and different political agendas. It’s a fight between humanities. Since 2016, we have all been talking about the fear of a robotised world dominated by AI (artificial intelligence). So we have to think about this from the perspective of the anthropocene; we have to consider what human feature can keep humanity human in the future. Empathy is a big part of it, emotion is a big part of it, but social intelligence is too—we have forgotten how to communicate properly with people, though we are really good at communicating with a digital gadget. Technology and robots and AI, yes…but we keep forgetting, especially younger generations with stronger technological literacy, how to communicate with real people with a different skin colour, background, or culture, because our default world is bigger than our real world and our relationship with technology is dominating our everyday life. So developing social intelligence is crucial for us to regain our real sensorium.
Now we need “art thinking”—everybody is talking about design thinking and finding solutions—art thinking is question-finding because our society and technology are changing so fast that design thinking is not timely enough to provide the real solution. We have to find the right questions, and that is the role of art. This is how we navigate the future.

CM: What are the exhibitions you want to see in Venice?

DL: I didn’t have much time, but my favourite National Pavilions so far, apart from the Korean Pavilion, are India, Ghana, France, Chile, and the Chinese pavilion’s AI augmented cityscape is very interesting.

Claudia Malfitano

  • Portrait of Daehyung Lee. Photo © ninevonstudio Portrait of Daehyung Lee. Photo © ninevonstudio
  • Hyundai Commission 2017: SUPERFLEX: One Two Three Swing! Courtesy of Tate Photography Hyundai Commission 2017: SUPERFLEX: One Two Three Swing! Courtesy of Tate Photography
  • Korean Pavilion and the 2017 Venice Biennale Korean Pavilion and the 2017 Venice Biennale
  • Installation view of Hyundai Commission 2016: Philippe Parreno, Anywhen 2016. Courtesy of Tate Photography Installation view of Hyundai Commission 2016: Philippe Parreno, Anywhen 2016. Courtesy of Tate Photography
  • Hyundai Commission 2015: Abraham Cruzvillegas: Empty Lot. Courtesy of Tate Hyundai Commission 2015: Abraham Cruzvillegas: Empty Lot. Courtesy of Tate
Naples - Interviews

Naples Clothed In “Oro Rosso”: A Conversation with Jan Fabre and Curator Melania Rossi

1 month ago

Jan Fabre returns to Naples with “Oro Rosso“, a project that involves, with Madre museum, three places of culture: the Museum and Real Bosco di Capodimonte, the Pio Monte della Misericordia and the Studio Trisorio gallery. We interviewed the artist and curator Melania Rossi to learn more about the project.

Carla Ingrasciotta: How did the idea for this exhibition come out and how did your collaboration develop with the institutions involved?

Jan Fabre: From my, purely artistic, point of view, Melania Rossi and Laura Trisorio were the driving forces that allowed these important projects in Naples to happen. For over twenty years I have developed almost spiritual relationships with Laura Trisorio and today the exhibition “Tribute to Hieronymus Bosch in Congo” is held at her historic Neapolitan gallery until the end of September.
I love Naples, every time I go there for some project its energy invests and embraces me, like in a warm and cheerful family-run restaurant. I have been visiting this city since the 1980s, at the time of the Falso Movimento group of friends Mario Martone, Tomas Arana and Angelo Curti, I still have beautiful memories of that period.
My visual art, with “Red Gold. Gold and coral sculptures, blood drawings ”is now at the Capodimonte Museum. Melania Rossi coordinated and supervised the project, also taking care of the recently published catalogue with editor Electa Mondadori.
The story began more than three years ago, when Sylvain Bellenger invited me to visit his museum’s collection and I was impressed by the amount of masterpieces it contains. On that occasion I saw many paintings in which corals appeared and this inspired me to make ten new coral sculptures specifically for the exhibition.
Gianfranco D’Amato, friend, gentleman and great art lover, helped put me in touch with a company with a long family tradition in coral engraving, Enzo Liverino 1894.
Later, one evening when we were having dinner at a restaurant in Naples, the director of Madre museum Andrea Viliani told to me and Melania Rossi that when my bronze sculpture “The man who measures the clouds” was set up two years ago on the terrace of the museum, some visitors had returned several times to see the work and spend time in front of it. So much so that the ticket office had begun to give the entrance free to those who returned to see “The man who measures the clouds”. This work had established a spiritual bond with the Neapolitan public, for this reason Melania Rossi convinced me to give to the Madre museum the Carrara white marble version of the work, as a gift for the spectators and the public of the museum.
“The man who bears the cross”, in its original wax version made with my
own hands, it is located in Pio Monte della Misericordia, a place of great historical and artistic importance. This sculpture speaks about what that place represents, that’s why the curator Melania Rossi chose it. The work questions our doubts, speaks of our search for balance.

Melania Rossi: As often happens in Italy, but actually not only here, the project was built and defined during the work. The collaboration between the various institutions has been organic and animated by everyone’s love for art, from the directors Sylvain Bellenger and Andrea Viliani, to the governor of the Pio Monte Conte Rocco of Terrapadula and his superintendent Barone Alessandro Pasca di Magliano, to the gallerist Laura Trisorio, to the friend and fundamental support Gianfranco D’Amato, up to the art historians and conservators of the Capodimonte museum, the professional restorers etc …
The idea was born, as Jan said, after an invitation from Mr Bellenger, which was followed by three years of work to plan a dramaturgy, a path through four very important places, of real institutions for Naples: the museum and Real Bosco di Capodimonte , the church of the Pio Monte della Misericordia, the Madre museum and the Trisorio gallery.
To be able to inaugurate four exhibitions in the same period of time, great teamwork was needed, an organisation that involved the public workers of the museums, assisted by private professionals. An exhibition work carried out in collaboration with specialised architects saw the study of Jan Fabre engaged for several weeks in Naples. I would say that the Belgians had to agree to improvise a little, they learned to gesticulate and to assume the fact that the agreements, in Italy, are mostly made at the table. On the other hand, the Neapolitans have demonstrated their great professionalism and an incredible passion, helping the artist and his collaborators realise a great exhibition.
The different institutions involved in the “Oro Rosso” project are in excellent relations with each other and believe in synergy for their city, and Fabre is very much loved here so there has always been strong enthusiasm. And then, I would add, when we revealed his works in the various venues, the magic was the same for everyone. The locations were perfect and works of such quality always win.

 C.I: The exhibition is spread throughout 4 locations in Naples. What is the fil rouge of the route?

M.R: When Jan Fabre told me he wanted to make ten new sculptures completely in red coral for the Capodimonte Museum the first thought went to the symbolism linked to this material, the “red gold” to which apotropaic power has been conferred since antiquity, its preciousness, its mythical birth. The coral, as told by Ovid in “Metamorphoses”, was born from the blood of the Gorgon beheaded by Perseus. Medusa had the power to petrify with her eyes and her blood became stone in contact with the earth and the sea. There is a reference to the blood of San Gennaro, to the mythical magic of this liquid gold that keeps us alive. Je suis sang, is also the title of a theatrical performance by Jan Fabre for the 2005 Avignon festival.
Hence the idea of also exhibiting drawings made by the artist with blood since the seventies, along with gold sculptures. All precious, symbolic materials.
At the centre of all the art of Fabre there is always the humankind, the body, the bodily fluids. But there is also the urge to go beyond our mortal destiny, to question ourselves about our actions and to celebrate our doubts and dreams, as shown by iconic sculptures such as “The man who measures the clouds” and “The man who bears the cross”. The first one is an invitation to never stop trying the impossible, to measure a cloud, the sky, the greatness that is outside and inside us, to keep on dreaming; the second is the staging of the constant search for balance that distinguishes us as human beings, between matter and spirit, between finiteness and faith in the infinite. A nine-metre large version of this same sculpture, in bronze covered with gold leaf, is now on display in Venice, as part of the 58th Art Biennale. From the garden of Palazzo Polignac it looks at the Grand Canal and whoever looks out from the Ponte dell’Accademia suddenly sees this man measuring the clouds that, even in its grandeur and preciousness, also in this case, in this wonderful location that becomes magical and rarefied at night, shows all the fragility and strength of the human being, his eternal duality.
Going back to the Neapolitan project, at the Studio Trisorio the theme becomes more political and the terrible history of Belgian colonisation in the Congo is told, but Fabre always starts from the man and his relationship with nature, in this case recounting the encounter between the “predatory western culture” and that “exotic, indigenous usurped” in powerful images composed of mosaics of iridescent jewel beetles.
After all, all of Fabre’s art is political, whether it deals with philosophical, religious or existential themes, or with historical facts, there is always the story of humanity and there is always the attempt to condense into a shape a history, an idea and a thought, which becomes universal. The art of Jan Fabre is explosive and always consistent because every work is connected in a sort of personal universe, fabresque, which is also universal. The fil rouge of this project, for me, is the magic that is created between the works of Fabre and the various venues, between historical and contemporary works, the love for the artistic materials, the amazement in front of the work of art that today as yesterday raises questions and communicates, gives relief and leads to contemplation.

C.I: The dialogue with artists of the past is central to the work of Fabre, who on this occasion confronts Caravaggio and Bosch. Where does this need to measure up with the past come from and how does it develop in your artistic research?

J.F: I often say that I am a dwarf born in a country of giants. The house where I was born and raised in Antwerp was very close to Rubens house and my father always took me to observe and copy Flemish masterpieces. I trained by observing the masterpieces of Rubens, Van Eyck, Brueghel, Bosch, Jordaens. I find that their art is still more avant-garde than a lot of contemporary art. They have been and still are constant sources of inspiration for my work.
I was the first contemporary living artist to be invited to make a solo show at the Louvre in 2008; later I received the invitation to hold a major exhibition in Florence, in direct dialogue with the masterpieces of Piazza della Signoria, with Michelangelo and Donatello; and then in 2017 I received the invitation from Michail Borisovič Piotrovskij to build a personal exhibition of mine at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, where I chose the gallery spaces of my Flemish masters.
My sculpture “The man who bears the cross” is like a friend to me and my friend is happy to come face to face with the spectacular canvas “Seven Works of Mercy” by Caravaggio.
I received the fire of passion for art from these great artists and I hope to be able to pass it on to future generations. The anarchy of art of all times is like the anarchy of love, it has no rules and participates in a vital, human and humanistic afflatus.
The same humanistic afflatus animates the projects of the artists of all times, in this regard Melania Rossi and her colleague Bianca Cerrina Feroni have curated a beautiful and small collective exhibition in Venice in which I have four of my works, still on show until 8 July at Palazzo Novecento, entitled “Looking for Utopia”. Here these two young and talented curators have decided to exhibit the unrealised projects by the artists, some modern and other contemporary, the utopias and the dreams that are the basis of thought and the work of art.

Carla Ingrasciotta

  • Jan Fabre © Carlotta Manaigo Jan Fabre © Carlotta Manaigo
  • Melania Rossi © Giuseppe Zizza Melania Rossi © Giuseppe Zizza
  • "Jan Fabre. Oro Rosso, Sculture d'oro e corallo, disegni di sangue", Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Naples © Luciano Romano
  • "Jan Fabre. Oro Rosso, Sculture d'oro e corallo, disegni di sangue", Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Naples © Luciano Romano
  • Jan Fabre, Jan Fabre, "L’uomo che sorregge la croce", Pio Monte della Misericordia, Naples © L.Romano
  • Jan Fabre, Tribute to Hieronymus Bosch in Congo © Luciano Romano Jan Fabre, Tribute to Hieronymus Bosch in Congo © Luciano Romano
  • Jan Fabre. L’uomo che misura le nuvole © Amedeo Benestante Jan Fabre. L’uomo che misura le nuvole © Amedeo Benestante
Basel - Interviews

“IKEA, Modern Horror, Edward Hopper and Kodokushi”: An Interview with Nadim Abbas

1 month ago

On the occasion of his solo exhibition Poor Toy, which opens on Monday 10 June to coincide with Art Basel 2019, Hong Kong-based artist Nadim Abbas discusses his new work and influences. Incorporating references from design, the domestic and the every day, Abbas explores how contemporary living conditions have produced particular psychological patterns, trends, and subcultures. He positions the domestic space as a site of horror, using groupings of sculptures – produced from hacked flatpack furniture, cast concrete, and custom-made mattresses – and vacuum-packed drawings.

Susie Pentelow: Could you start by telling me about the title of the show, Poor Toy, and how you choose it?

Nadim Abbas: In a roundabout way… it’s a quote from the Dhammapada that I found in a book by horror fiction writer Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, which deals with the problem of pessimism and/or nihilism; often associated with the genre of supernatural horror and H. P. Lovecraft.

Susie Pentelow: Poor Toy explores an overlap between domestic space and the horror genre. What inspired your interest in this?

Nadim Abbas: IKEA, in part. Who hasn’t had that humbling moment in an IKEA megastore, trapped in a vortex of repetition; where life slides into an empty void of meaningless consumption?  I say this, but with equal awe for IKEA’s integration of global logistical infrastructures into all aspects of their designs. In other words, no item in the IKEA inventory exists unless it can be fabricated within a certain price point, en-masse, and is easily broken down and transported according to standardised methods.  The lengths at which IKEA has gone to achieve this is staggering. Then there is the strange intimacy of a homeware manufacturer peddling goods that sit somewhere between desire and banality.  The way I see it, modern horror, starting with Lovecraft and inherited by Ligotti, also sits on this intersection between desire and the banal. There is a mystique that draws you in, even to the most ordinary of things, only to discover lurking beneath the surface, not monsters and demons, but something even more terrifying: a ruthless and efficient system of pure rationality. The way in which modern horror capitalises on this relationship is to accentuate the ambiguity of the everyday, where the most innocuous object or setting has the potential of creating a situation of abject terror. The point here is that one cannot differentiate between the ordinary and the terrible, as they have become one and the same. There are certain classics of the horror film genre that have exploited this ambiguity to great effect, such as The Thing (John Carpenter) and The Shining (Stanley Kubrick).

Susie Pentelow: Due to the positioning of VITRINE’s gallery space on the public square, your exhibition will be visible to the public 24 hours a day. Has this informed the way you’ve developed this work?

Nadim Abbas: There is an image that I have in mind, where the windows of the gallery are transformed into virtual screens of light, throwing all the objects inside into sharp contrast. More importantly, there is an uncertainty about where this light is actually coming from, much like the eerie stillness of paintings by Edward Hopper or Giorgio de Chirico. With the VITRINE installation, I have attempted to reverse this relationship somewhat: instead of having light coming from nowhere, the objects manifest their own material “shadows” by nature of their construction/modification. So there is this impression that no matter what hour of the day, this image of a shadow is fixed in place, unaffected by the actual changing light conditions.  

Susie Pentelow: Your work draws thematically from a large variety of sources – from art and literature to psychology and biology. How do you balance a research-rich practice with the need for your work to ultimately exist independently of this?

Nadim Abbas: I have an obsessive compulsion to get lost in my subjects of enquiry before lifting a finger to make anything. This potentially endless condition of accumulative mental wandering and physical immobility usually lasts until an imminent deadline forces me to act. When I am faced with the material reality of the construction process, a whole host of limitations come to the fore, which I see as liberating rather than a hinderance. The material acts as a kind of editor or guide that sharpens the focus of ideas, or introduces new possibilities altogether. Another way to put it is that I make in order to forget.  But there is always something that is translated into the process of making, even if not in an entirely conscious manner. There is always this push and pull between one’s intentions and where the process ends up taking you. When I look back at my own work, I usually notice the things that have been left out, or things that I wish I had left out. Perhaps these absences are a way of keeping things open to interpretation, to let the work take on a life of its own when confronted with changing contexts and audiences.

Susie Pentelow: In your recent installation 4 Rooms (一梯一伙) for the 12th Shanghai Biennale, a performer occupied a space furnished with simple white structures suggestive of flatpack furniture. Is there a thematic link between this installation and the work you will be producing for Poor Toy?

Nadim Abbas: To date, all of my work with performers has attempted, through various choreographed languages, costumes, masks and settings, to achieve a state of assimilation into the environment. The performer wants, effectively, to become an object, to mimic and succumb to his/her surroundings like a stick insect does with a twig. Poor Toy is really just another manifestation of this death-drive, where the assimilation is complete, leaving only questionable traces of a former existence. The irony is that in the absence of the living, it is the objects that come alive, in our heads, going through the motions as it were. 

An interesting parallel here would be the phenomenon of “hikikomori”, or urban shut-ins which informed 4 Rooms, and some haunting photos that I recently discovered of “kodokushi” (AKA “apartment of lonely deaths”) in Japan. From the latter, there is this particular image of a pair of false teeth left behind by the deceased on a stained mattress that I have borrowed explicitly for Poor Toy.  What is significant for me is how both hikikomori and kodokushi have this relationship to domesticity and confinement as forms of social alienation in an excessively positive achievement society. When all is said and done, is there something other than “positive” that can be gleaned from these extreme cases of negativity?

Exhibition details:
Nadim Abbas: Poor Toy
11 June  – 25 August 2019
Vitrine, Basel
Private view: Monday 10 June, 7-11pm
Artist in Conversation with Aoife Rosenmeyer: Thursday 13 June 2019, 11am-12noon

My Art Guides Editorial Team

  • Nadim Abbas © Roberto Chamorro Nadim Abbas © Roberto Chamorro
  • © Nadim Abbas, Poor Toy, 2019. Installation view, Vitrine, Basel. Courtesy Vitrine © Nadim Abbas, Poor Toy, 2019. Installation view, Vitrine, Basel. Courtesy Vitrine
  • © Nadim Abbas, Poor Toy, 2019. Installation view, Vitrine, Basel. Courtesy Vitrine © Nadim Abbas, Poor Toy, 2019. Installation view, Vitrine, Basel. Courtesy Vitrine
  • © Nadim Abbas, Poor Toy, 2019. Installation view, Vitrine, Basel. Courtesy Vitrine © Nadim Abbas, Poor Toy, 2019. Installation view, Vitrine, Basel. Courtesy Vitrine
Basel - Interviews

Basel from an Artist’s Perspective: an Interview with Johannes Willi

2 months ago

Claudia Malfitano: You studied and took part in the local art scene both in Switzerland and Colombia. What aspects of each country are still present in your practice and where did you find the most creative humus?

Johannes Willi: Humus for my work is fortunately everywhere. Depending on the place of course in other compositions, sometimes with more minerals, sometimes with extra many worms sometimes completely dry and then again lush and lascivious. In this sense, I would say that both the humus in Colombia and the Swiss humus offered my art the best possible conditions. To see, feel, understand and then to forget; during the Art Basel at the Swiss Art Awards in hall 3.

C.M.: How would you describe your practice? What do you wish to achieve through your art?

J.W.: Over the last few years I have been building a body of work, whilst diverse and far-reaching in its subject matter, remains coherent and entirely my own. Through various subjects, from Beethoven’s most celebrated composition, his “5th Symphony”; to one of Werner Herzog’s lesser known films, “Happy People”; the nineties’ blockbuster: “Free Willy”; or the work that focuses on the notion of the Antropocene where I worked together with a Clique (die Unbaggene) of the famous Basler Fasnacht; my work explores hidden histories, formal affinities, and secret connections between events. Through my work, I hope to get embroiled with people to make them feel connected. Not only with my art, but also with myself and all the other fantastic species out there. I would not call myself a research- based artist, but someone whose efforts studying, finding, or researching is just as important as the final form. For me, the visual, material qualities of the project outcome, is very much where the artwork lies. My practice is intuitive, and adapts to each project I work on: having worked with performance, installation, sculpture, live events, and the printed page. I try to define the physical manifestation of my ideas anew each time; finding the media that will best respond to the subject matter.

C.M.: It seems to me that collaboration played an important part in your past creations. Do you plan to expand this format in your future exhibitions?

J.W.: You might think that collaboration plays a very important role in my work, but for me it’s much more about getting embroiled with my environment. This can happen in terms of content, craftsmanship, erotic, threatening, loving but always at eye level. I believe that a contemporary discourse is of the utmost importance and that art makes available to you the most diverse languages with which you can claim the unsaid, the unthought, the untaught, the impudent, the impossible and the unexpected carved in stone. This will also be seen in my works and exhibitions in the future.

C.M.: What is your relationship with Basel like? You are the co- founder of Hinterhof Offspace in Basel and I Never Read Art Book Fair: what is your perspective on the city’s art scene?

J.W.: The two projects are very different, but of course both have great significance for me as an artist in Basel. The Off- space which I programmed during two years with Thomas Keller and then also with Eveline Wüthrich was the perfect introduction for me. Working for the Künstlerraum allowed me to make the necessary contacts and also to concretise my own vision of my art during my studies. The project lasted two years and was also the place where I Never Read, Art Book Fair Basel was born. As we all know, the fair is already in its eighth year and the art week can no longer be imagined without it as an independent and visionary platform during Art Basel.
As an art city, Basel not only has a lot of money to afford incredible collections, but also enables young artists to manifest a place where they can create their own works. What lacks is often the connection of both worlds.

C.M.: My Art Guides likes to recommend to its readers unique places to visit in each destination, not necessarily connected to contemporary art. In your opinion, what are the absolutely unmissable places, landmarks and spots in Basel? Could you recommend something that shouldn’t be missed during Art Week?

J.W.: Of course, I have some insider tips you shouldn’t miss. A place of peace can be found for example in the fantastic Kunsthalle. This is not in Dora Budors or Geumhyung Jeong’s exhibitions, but in the reading room of the library which is located at the height of the skylight of the halls and can only be reached by a small stairway. Since I like such places, I want to draw your attention to the viewing platforms on the two cathedral towers. After climbing the stairs, one has the best view of the city and you will probably be able to see one or the other work of the Art Parcours from a bird’s eye view. Then it is also an absolute must, and a wonderful acoustic phenomenon, to listen to the “wild” animals in the zoo that are being fed – lions, or are flirting – storks a lot more to be discovered during an evening walk through the Bachlette and Gundeldinger quarters. And then as last and most important to do, a visit to the I Never Read, Art Book Fair Basel at Kaserne Basel where you can find next to fantastic publications, wonderful people, music, drinks and a basketball tournament, a laid back atmosphere to enjoy. And if you are still hungry by then, just walk over to Artemis Fontana’s Artist-run restaurant, open 11–15 June 2019, from noon till midnight at Grand Café Basel, in Clarastrasse 2. Enjoy!

Claudia Malfitano

  • Johannes Willi © Joel Sames Johannes Willi © Joel Sames
  • Johannes. Willi. «Tree (Abies Alba)», 2015 (Foto: Eveline Wüthrich, Johannes. Willi. «Tree (Abies Alba)», 2015 (Foto: Eveline Wüthrich,
  • Johannes Willi, Free Willi 2, 2016, Kunstmuseum Basel Johannes Willi, Free Willi 2, 2016, Kunstmuseum Basel

Angela Vettese in Conversation with Milovan Farronato

3 months ago

Milovan Farronato and Angela Vettese have lived/live in Venice and worked together during Angela Vettese’s presidency at Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa, Venice.

Angela Vettese: For your Pavilion you have chosen three artists with whom you have not only worked a number of times but with whom you have also shared a lot with. The first thing that I am drawn to is the existential compo- nents of both their work and your relationship to each of them. Yet you have always been attracted to the formal elements of their work and have never shied away from the necessity of the work to “show off”. Which of the two aspects prevail in the reasons for your choice of Liliana Moro, Enrico David and Chiara Fumai: the conceptual evolution of their idea about life or the way in which they have given expression to this?

Milovan Farronato: Neither/Nor. I would rather replace Kirerkegaardian Aut-Aut with a double negative. Either they are both true or neither of them are. There might an ephemeral point of contact somewhere in the distance or perhaps there exists a third way that brings them back together. I have always been fascinated by one of Liliana Moro’s neons which simply asserts (but how do you teach me, simple is not simplistic!): neither in heaven, nor on earth. Where does this place reside? Where is this dimension? The formal aspect is important, almost fundamental, one cannot disregard the container in order to enjoy the content. I brought them together because at some point down the line the configuration was clear. I imagine Liliana’s work as a perspective cone that widens into a wide-rang- ing vision. While I imagine Enrico David on the opposite side, which from its blurred horizon tends towards the vanishing point. And finally I interpret Chiara as that existential and intricate maze of symbols that connects the two opposite perspectives. I had the luck and the pleasure of working and sharing life experiences with all three, but first and foremost I feel a profound and moving em- pathy with their work in their characteristic differences.

AV: You are the curator of a pavilion which displays at its entrance the monumental inscription “Italy”, affixed during the fascist movement to the central pavilion of the Giardini, it then moved to the Arsenale after countless controversies, not withstanding that the Venice Biennale from

the beginning and until the 1930s was without a dedicated pavilion to our country. Beyond the historical events, for which the gigantic space at the Arsenale you are about to occupy with the works of the three artists was inaugurated, I feel obliged to ask you whether you conceive your work as a national representation or whether you disregard this as- pect. Nor can we forget that you and Enrico have been living and work- ing for years in Great Britain and that Chiara, had she still been alive, would probably have spent much time in New York, the place of her last artist’s residence. In any case, as curator of this Pavilion do you intend to interpret an Italian language or a transnational one?

MV: I must correct you there, Chiara couldn’t handle it in New York and, after just a few weeks, she returned to Italy; at the very most she spent only one of the sixth month residency there. Her thinking went into state of crisis in the US and she literally ran away. Not even I, to tell the truth, have ever abandoned Italy, not only be- cause I am still a resident in Milan, but because, as you well know, for over ten years I have spent every summer in Stromboli, where

I oversee for the Fiorucci Art Trust, the contemporary art festival Volcano Extravaganza in its ninth edition. An unavoidable, emotionally essential engagement in my annual agenda, which records my very erratic life. I observe Italy, above all, from Stromboli. To me, Italy is a smell, a perfume, certainly a landscape, a vibration! I have many homes and I am not referring to formal domicile, but to elected places of affection. These are Borgonovo Val Tidone where I was born and where my family still lives, the aforementioned island of Stromboli, certainly Milan, but also Venice where you yourself introduced me to many years ago and for other various reasons.

I have also lived in London for six years and spent a lot of time in São Paulo, places which have inspired me with new and precious perspectives and way of life. I like flowers, especially winter ones. The first mimosas. But I like the idea of pollen. And also the con- cept of “smarginatura” (an expression so dear to Elena Ferrante). Spreading, losing oneself, trespassing. Maybe even blurring and confusing the boundaries or even merging them. As a teenager I used to feel the sensation of breaking up, of losing my identity. It was as if I would shatter into a myriad of scattered particles, which would never again be recomposed. To feel myself anchored to the ground, I asked the closest people to call me by my name. As if my name was the only safe belt that could guarantee my existence. Some years ago it was explained to me that according to some spiritual disciplines, this feeling of dispersion of being and body is considered a sign of liberation, of elevation, a sort of other worldy evolution. Today I am no longer afraid of becoming fragmented, because it means flying. The “Italian Spirit” can be compared to a kind of pollen, which like many others, is destined to become dis- persed. Enrico brought it to Britain and now, enriched by other fac- tors, he has brought it back to Italy. Minister Alberto Bonisoli has recently stated that art doesn’t have a passport and I share this view with him. I would like to add in conclusion, and I am sure it will amaze you, when I received the letter which invited me to present a project to represent Italy, there was non mention of the fact that my artistic choices should have been of Italian nationality. The only mention was of the relation between past and present, of Italian sentiment and of many other things, but not of the nationality of the selected artists, and I found this a relief, even though I have put forward three artists of Italian nationality to represent Italy.

AV: The idea of dispersion is interesting. It is said that you will build a maze with two possible entrances and routes. What will we encounter in this tangle? How will our sense of identity be challenged? Are you planning a single itinerary or three distinct ones?

MF: Calvino in “La sfida al Labirinto” (Menabo 1962) spoke of tan- gled languages and only seemingly divergent tendencies. He then emphasised a rationalist and a visceral path that I feel I can relate to Liliana’s attitude (the first) and Enrico the latter. And he argued how these paths could be intricate even at the time, in the middle, around, through them I imagine Chiara’s path that could potentially connect them. There are many itineraries. Different exhibitions at the same time. Different entrances and ways out, but above all more than one centre. It is said, as Mario Praz said, that at the end of a maze there is often a mirror because man must recognise himself as either a god or a monster, this being the final mystery of their existential search. On the contrary I prefer to think that under a curtain, or behind a corner, or thanks to a crack in the wall or as a consequence of a sudden glimmer, the visitor can be attracted by someone else who distracts him for a moment from the search for un-findable principles and allow him to feel unexpected empathy or a sudden affection. At the very end the horrific forest and the locus amoenus often coincide (see Boiardo and Ariosto, less evident in Tasso who was a victim of the strict rules of the Coun- ter-Reformation) and behind a robust tree, a peril could be hidden, of course, but also a pleasant and adventurous encounter.

Lara Morrell

  • Angela Vettese Angela Vettese
  • Milovan Farronato Milovan Farronato
Venice - Interviews

HILLARY: “The Hillary Clinton Emails”: an Interview with Francesco Urbano Ragazzi

3 months ago

We interviewed the curatorial team Francesco Urbano Ragazzi on the exhibition they have organised at Despar Teatro Italia “HILLARY: The Hillary Clinton Emails”, by artist and poet Kenneth Goldsmith during the 58th Venice Biennale.

Mara Sartore: We started our collaboration many years ago when I was still directing Circuito Off Venice Short Film Festival, after that we collaborated with yourself and Miltos for the first Internet Pavilion, and then My Art Guides were media partners for the exceptional Jonas Mekas show at Burger King…could you tell us about how you have evolved as a curatorial duo, and this year presenting for the Venice Biennale Arte –  HILLARY: The Hillary Clinton Emails?

Francesco Urbano Ragazzi: Let’s start with a memory … It was 2004 and for Circuito Off you invited the founder of Dogma 95 to Venice. Not Lars Von Trier, the other one – Thomas Vinterberg, the director of Festen! It was a significant meeting: at that particular moment, almost ten years after the Dogma manifesto, the revolution in cinema’s accessibility had already changed our relationship with the language of images forever. The same revolution that Miltos Manetas theorised and experimented with in those same years with Neen and the Internet Pavilion. As early as the 1960s, Jonas Mekas himself had foreseen and lived a media dimension of everyday life with his film diaries and the New American Cinema Group. Certainly Mekas remains an absolute pioneer in this sense, and his way of practicing poetry and reality on paper, on film, on the web and on any other medium, for us will always be an inexhaustible source of inspiration. Kenneth Goldsmith is another god of the internet: the one who since 1996, through UbuWeb, has created a bridge between analogical and digital culture, making available to all copies of masterpieces of the avant-garde cinema, visual poetry, video, literature and contemporary art. Kenneth is also the poet of Uncretive Writing and Printing Out The Internet. HILLARY: The Hillary Clinton Emails is once again a celebration of the times and daily media, in the form of poetry and political literature.

MS: After Burger King you have once again chosen a mass/pop location in the guise of a supermarket, again located in a wonderful Venetian building – Teatro Italia. Could you tell us about the contamination between the concept and the space?

FF: We are interested in understanding what public spaces mean today and how art can also define a private space as public. The Auditorium at Cern, The Black Sea, Internet Point in Hamburg are just some of the unconventional places in which we have developed our exhibition projects, in the belief that art is the institution of itself. Places of consumption interest us in particular because they express the stratification and the moral values of our times. We try to introduce a slight psychedelia that deviates from its primary nature without erasing it.

This return to Venice immediately led us to the Cinema Teatro Italia, a building built in 1916 in reinforced concrete, with a façade in Venetian Gothic style and completely frescoed inside. Before becoming a supermarket with a museum appearance, it was a cinema, a university and an abandoned building. The presence of the Kenneth Goldsmith exhibition will reactivate this story by mixing different eras and identities, and accentuating the public-private dialectic. It is precisely this confusion that we want to question and inhabit.

HILLARY marks the first tangible public appearance of the emails that Hillary Clinton received and sent from her personal account when she was Secretary of State. These documents, which are among the most important of our century, were first disclosed in PDF format by the U.S. Department of State and then from WikiLeaks through a searchable archive. All the questions that have been raised around them concern the relationship and the boundarys between public and private. In the exhibition the ambivalence between privacy and transparency, propaganda and truth will become monumental. Or rather, anti-monumental …

MS: You defined the exhibition as “an anti-monument to the folly of Trump’s heinous smear campaign against Clinton” could you explain further what you meant with this statement?

FF: HILLARY: The Hillary Clinton Emails is an anti-monument because the 60,000 sheets that will be part of Kenneth’s work are a monster of reduced dimensions. And because this monster does not look very different from what we face every day in our inboxes or the other accounts connected to it. Yet this material – which was categorised as Unclassified and for which Senator Clinton was never indicted – was at the centre of a huge media debate that made it hot. Some say that the run-up to Hillary Clinton’s election against Trump had its heaviest setback here. And indeed a significant anti-Clinton campaign was organised off the back of these emails, or rather from the ghost of these emails. With Hillary at Despar Teatro Italia we chase away every phantom and completely demystify this correspondence, transforming it into a complete and searchable archive.

The public will then be able to discover burning truths, gory details or simply see the banality of their lives.

MS: How did you meet and start collaborating with Kenneth Goldmisth and how have you developed the exhibition together?

FF: Kenneth first spoke to us about Hillary Clinton’s emails in New York in the autumn of 2016, when we inaugurated the Jonas Mekas exhibition in the Missoni flagship store. Almost three years have passed, and a series of intense work sessions followed between Kenneth’s loft, the visits to Venice and a series of lunches and dinners with a high theoretical content in the most disparate places between Europe and America. Meanwhile much of the dialogue has grown in its habitat or origin: chat, mail, skype, facetime, messenger. And the words have become actions, journeys, designs, contracts, the collaboration with Despar and Zuecca Projects, the artist book we are to publish with NERO, the partnership with you!

MS: The exhibition is also enriched by a dense cinema programme. What is the fil rouge of the film screenings?

FF: We selected only a few directors from the vast UbuWeb Film and Video section: Peggy Ahwesh, Alex Da Corte, Cheryl Donegan, Lev Manovich, Alix Pearlstein, People Like Us, Christine Rebet, Sara Sackner, Leah Singer, Stan VanDerBeek, Jennifer West, Jordan Wolfson. And then we added the works of Six Doors, an online exhibition dedicated to vertical videos that we have edited in recent months for the new digital space at the Center d’Art Contemporain Genève: Sophia Al-Maria, Johanna Bruckner, Shadi Habib Allah, Bek Hyunjin , Sabrina Röthlisberger.

The fil rouge of this selection, which crosses through different approaches and generations, is a re-appropriation of the aesthetics of mass consumption in which the advertising principles are disregarded through poetry, irony, the visionary and subversion.

Mara Sartore

  • Francesco Urbano Ragazzi © Scott Rudd Francesco Urbano Ragazzi © Scott Rudd
  • Kenneth Goldsmith Kenneth Goldsmith
  • Despar Teatro Italia Outside Despar Teatro Italia Outside
  • Kenneth Goldsmith, The Hillary Clinton Emails (detail) 2019 Kenneth Goldsmith, The Hillary Clinton Emails (detail) 2019
  • Despar Teatro Italia Inside Despar Teatro Italia Inside
  • Kenneth Goldsmith, The Hillary Clinton Emails (detail) 2019 Kenneth Goldsmith, The Hillary Clinton Emails (detail) 2019
  • Kenneth Goldsmith, Rainbow Hillary 2019 Kenneth Goldsmith, Rainbow Hillary 2019
Milan - Interviews

About ‘A Friend’ with Ibrahim Mahama and Massimiliano Gioni

3 months ago

We interviewed Ibrahim Mahama (b. 1987, Tamale, Ghana) and curator Massimiliano Gioni at the opening of the site-specific installation “A Friend” presented by Fondazione Nicola Trussardi on the occasion of the Milanese Art Week, and the Milan Design Week. The installation was specially conceived for the two neoclassical tollgates of Porta Venezia in Milan.  

Mara Sartore: My first question is about the Occupation series you started in 2012 and the difference between the spaces you’ve selected for this project. In a recent interview you defined the Venice Biennale’s space as a doorman space since it has never before been used for displaying artworks, it is quite different to the location of Syntagma Square in Athens for Documenta or this space you are using in Milan which is completely different…

Ibrahim Mahama: The Occupation series I would define as a moment between 2012 up until late 2015 and it was essentially a project which consisted  of me going around the city and taking one specific site and dealing with it as it is. But after the Venice Biennale 2015 I became very much interested in this idea of technology, so I bought some drawn parts and assembled these and used them to navigate various parts of the city and different parts of the country in Ghana. So I began collecting all kind of objects such as archives, maps, chairs, part of trains. And I thought why not really think about this project I’m doing, putting into relation one site with the other. So there was a project I did in 2015 titled the Exchange, Exchange which involved working on 22 different sites at the same moment. It involved modernist structures built for student housing in the 50’s, the National Theatre of Ghana built in 1992, houses and buildings built in the 1960s, affordable housing that were built in the early 2000s and never completed…a lot of different sites, the idea was to draw an extensive relationship through the history of these sites, from a visual and philosophical point of view. At that time I was starting my phd so I was very much interested in the philosophy of painting through site specific interventions.
This project, “A Friend” is based on an invitation by Massimilano Gioni and Fondazione Trussardi and comes with its own negotiations. Differently the Occupation Series
 was based on independent research where I was investigating specific sites where I was trying to draw relationships to. When you are commissioned to make a work of art it is very much a different process.

Mara Sartore: In this case, in Milan, did you chose the location together?

Massimiliano Gioni: You know sometimes our projects start either from a place or from an artist. In this case it started with the place. At first we thought of working with the interiors then we went back to look at it in November, we were not convinced with the interior then later in December, we had this sort of epiphany and we realised that the interesting part was the exterior. It was immediately clear that if Ibrahim wanted to do it, it would be perfect. So in this case, it was the place that suggested the artist. The challenge was to see it the project was doable, the implications, permits and so on…

Mara Sartore:  I think it was a very good choice! Your art is very linked to the idea of border.
How did you deal with this space? As for the Venice Biennale, how did you deal with the space in Venice?

Ibrahim Mahama: In Venice I was invited to respond to a specific place that the curator Okui had in mind. It was my first time in Venice so I requested to look around different spaces, so I made a lot of different proposals for various different spaces. We were both keen on the Corderie and we had this realisation that this could work for it because I wasn’t so keen to work inside so I was happy to using spaces which are not necessarily made to show art.

Mara Sartore: How did you feel about working with this space in Milan?

Ibrahim Mahama: It was great because in Documenta there were these two similar buildings, that were also gates to a castle, so I already had some bells ringing in my mind and architecturally in relation to how they work with the city, I never make work based on decisions based on just the aesthetics sometimes it is based purely on pragmatic reasons, how the site itself is in relation to how it is used. So I said let’s try although I knew it was going to be very difficult because it is not something that is easy to get up and get permits to do.

Massimiliano Gioni: All things considered it was ok, first we spoke to the office mayor cultural commissioner and they like the idea very much then we spoke to the historical landmark office and they were ok as long as we didn’t touch the structure – there is not one single nail in the entire structure which is pretty crazy as it is all temporary and removable without changing anything so that took a lot of work with engineers to figure out and they came with certain parameters that it shouldn’t move with the wind. The ownership of the building is funny because it belongs to the city but the city has given it to the association of commerce and they gave it the association of bread makers! So it’s a very typically Italian story – where there are so many different levels of ownership. By March we had put together all the pieces, then we had to get the permit for the occupation of public soil, and they said that there is another request from another commissioner for the same area! No one had told us anything, so we went to the other commissioner and said look we’ve been working on this for months. Fortunately the landmark organisation did not approve their commission and this was the last victory!

Mara Sartore: Tell me about the title ‘A Friend’?

Ibrahim Mahama: I took it from a novel because in the last few years I have titled my works after novels and also albums of people who have made music in the twentieth century. There was a book, So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ’ about a woman’s struggle, the writer only wrote two novels, it was something I had been looking at before, so when the project came along I thought it would be interesting to title the project in honour of her and when I sent it to Massimiliano he told me that when translated into Italian it means simply ‘a Friend’. I think that at this point in time we really need that.

Massimiliano Gioni: It is translated as ‘So Long a Letter’ in French and English, but for some reason in Italian it translates as ‘A Friend’. So Ibrahim said let’s just call it that, it is more simple and general. I didn’t know about this until this morning, but I over heard him to talking to someone, the first time he started thinking about the sacks was when he was going to meet a friend in Burkina Faso and he was at the border waiting to get the permits and visas and so on and he noticed the trucks with the sacks on top. I don’t know if it has anything to do with that but it struck me that you said you were going to meet a friend and the experience of that visit was very much connected to the experience of the border. Typically you think of borders and as a place where you define the enemy, so it is a beautiful contradiction by calling it the friend, and because there are two of them so maybe, in a strange way, maybe one is the friend of the other.

Mara Sartore: Your work explores themes like migration, labour, globalisation and social inequalities. How important do you think is it for an artist to be politically and socially-committed and why? 

Ibrahim Mahama: I think it is important yes, I don’t know anything else an artist can do, even if they make very beautiful work I think there is always some kind of political slant within the work and the way it is produced, because when I studied in art school I never made art for the sake of making art, there was always the incentive to change any underlying assumption of the history of art itself or any production system so as an artist I think it is always important for us to aim to change the underlining conditions of the systems of productions themselves or the way we look at the world so I involve myself with a number of projects working with the university back home, I decided to establish my practice by deciding to my phd there because it is very important to give the future generations a sense of belief in locally based artists who work on an international scale, building social spaces, studios and contemporary art institutions, science museums that brings back archaeology in relation to a modern history, so I am very much interested about making work in the longer run which changes the very nature of how we deal with our culture in this day and age and generation. I don’t think of myself as a political artist I think of the processes I use as politically motivated and most of the time I like people to read my work from that point of view. It disturbs me when artists don’t make gestures but they want to prove how political it is, I think we have to put more into the decisions and choices that we make, how works meet with the world, I think thats when we can start to really think about the political aspect of it.

Mara Sartore: Has the Ghanan art scene changed in the last 10 years since you have decided and live and there?

Ibrahim Mahama: Yes, it has changed significantly, the art we knew was very traditional mostly just painting and sculpture and the spaces art was shown in were all very limited. I wanted to always make work that would stretch the boundaries, even in regards to spaces we were presenting our works in, so in the last years there have been many artists because we have professors who are more open minded. The older generation inherited a British Model taught by colonial teachers so they never really liked British art. In Ghana it wasn’t until early 2000s that we had professors of a younger generation who encouraged students to be a lot more experimental and try things for the sake of things and has led to certain radical forms and new ideas within an arts context.

Mara Sartore: Can you give us some heads up regarding the piece that you will present next month at the first Pavilion of Ghana, at the Biennale Arte in Venice?

Ibrahim Mahama: It’s a piece I have been working on in the last 3 and half years using wooden objects that are used along the coast of Ghana to smoke fish, so it has a lot of sensory elements to it, there are layers of fish skin on metal wire, it creates barriers yet somehow they are ver transparent. I first tested the work in Malta last year and also in Berlin, when I did a residency there, the title of the piece ‘A Straight Line Through the Carcass of History 1649’. I know that all the artists are presenting very different work and mostly work that has never been shown before, so we’re really looking forward to that.

Mara Sartore

  • Ibrahim Mahama, Photo: Marco De Scalzi Courtesy Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Milano Ibrahim Mahama, Photo: Marco De Scalzi Courtesy Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Milano
  • Massimiliano Gioni and Ibrahim Mahama, Photo: Marco De Scalzi Courtesy Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Milano Massimiliano Gioni and Ibrahim Mahama, Photo: Marco De Scalzi Courtesy Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Milano
  • Ibrahim Mahama A Friend, 2019 installation view Caselli Daziari di Porta Venezia, Milano Photo: Marco De Scalzi Courtesy Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Milano Ibrahim Mahama A Friend, 2019 installation view Caselli Daziari di Porta Venezia, Milano Photo: Marco De Scalzi Courtesy Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Milano
  • Ibrahim Mahama, Ibrahim Mahama, "Out of Bounds", 2014-2015, 56 Biennale di Venezia
  • Ibrahim Mahama, Ibrahim Mahama, "Check Point Sekondi Loco, 1901-2030", 2016-2017, documenta 14, Kassel
  • Ibrahim Mahama A Friend, 2019 installation view Caselli Daziari di Porta Venezia, Milano Photo: Marco De Scalzi Courtesy Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Milano Ibrahim Mahama A Friend, 2019 installation view Caselli Daziari di Porta Venezia, Milano Photo: Marco De Scalzi Courtesy Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Milano
Venice - Interviews

Art Makes Us Look at Things in a Different Way: an Interview with Ralph Rugoff

3 months ago

Mara Sartore: The International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is today the most important international art exhibition in the world, which is the biggest challenge that the artistic director has to face?

Ralph Rugoff: Probably the scale of the exhibition, it’s like making a 10 hours movie instead of a 2 hour one because Biennale Arte is 5 times bigger than any other normal exhibition you might make. So you just have to try to keep different thoughts about different artists and how their work fits together in your head at the same time, but I think it’s more than one can hold in their head at the same time, at least more than I can! So you’re constantly revisiting it from different angles, which is good because then you get new ideas. The other hardest thing is doing in it in one year, because this is all the time you have. In terms of making your list you get less than that, for that you get around nine months.

MS: You have chosen a smaller number of artists (79) to show in both the main venues of Biennale Arte, Arsenale and Giardini, what guided your selection process and was there any compromise that you had to take?

RR: No compromises. The selection process was very interesting, I travelled all around the world, I think I looked at art by over two thousand artists and met with several hundred artists. Of course many of them didn’t end up in the Biennale and it’s not because I don’t think they are good artists, but because they didn’t quite fit in with what I was working on. I also asked the artists who I invited who they would like to be shown next to, so basically who they would recommend to be in the biennale also. It was very interesting because sometimes they were already on my list, which was good because it made me think I was on the right track and things were fitting together and then sometimes they were artists who I didn’t know, which was also really good because then I could meet and find out about new artists, one artist offered me 50 recommendations of who she would like to be next to, obviously I couldn’t show them all and most of them were dead, I was very interested in working with living artists whose work is somehow responding to this time, I think that’s the nice thing about Biennale Arte, it happens every two years, it’s like a clock and I like the idea that it is a way of taking the pulse of what’s happening in art but also in the world.

MS: When you say the artist is responding to “this time” what do you mean?

RR: Artists always respond to the times in which we live, as well as to the history of art and to history, but the history of art and history always change depending on your perspective and that changes as the present changes, so we look back and we see different things look interesting in the past, but I think people’s work responds to the times that we live in – and I say times because I think there are multiple times at any one moment, different trajectories that come together in different ways. I don’t mean that artists record it like a journalist does or they write about it like a historian does but they’re picking up on things about how people feel that have to do with things that are happening in the world. It might be with how we pay attention now that has changed and why that has changed may have to do with the different technologies we are using, different social relationships but I really believe in artists as people who pay attention, closer attention than most of us do and they pay attention to things that most of us don’t, some- times we don’t pay attention to them because we take it for granted, everyday things we don’t want to look at too closely, sometimes we don’t pay attention because we have a cultural blind spot and we want to ignore something. So one of art’s very valuable roles is that it makes us look at these things again, or to look at what we’ve been ignoring in a different way.

MS: What do you mean when you say that the artist you came across “didn’t quite fit in on what I was working on” when I have heard you previously state that you didn’t have a theme per se for this Biennale Arte?

RR: It’s very hard to describe, but something happens once you have decided on about 15 or 20 artists, the relationships between their work sets up a type of architecture of their ideas and then it begins to dictate what else can fit into it, it is like you are playing lego and certain pieces will fit in and other pieces won’t and sometimes I couldn’t even consciously say why. I would see something and think this is a really good piece of work, I should put this in my show but then a little voice would say “no, no that doesn’t fit!” Then finally I would agree! There are loose connections between the artists in the show, the most important thing to me was really that everyone’s work had this fluidity and openness and multiple possible interpretations and so sometimes I would see very powerful work but it was very obviously about one thing and so that wasn’t for me, it wasn’t right for this kind of show.

MS: How did the artist react to the proposal to present work in both venues, did they find it challenging or did they embrace the opportunity?

RR: That was the easiest thing! They themselves know very well that they can do very different kinds of things and that there is a kind of artificiality about coming to a Biennale Arte and going ‘here’s my big piece, this is what I am!’ It doesn’t make any sense. This approach allows them to show more of their practice, less about an individual work of art and more about how they work.

MS: In the closing sentence of your curatorial statement you say: “An exhibition should open people’s eyes to previously unconsidered ways of being in the world and thus change their view of that world.” To what extent do you think this is actually possible, given the fact that most professionals involved in the various art shows are very much driven by the economic aspect of the event? In other words can the art world find independence from this?

RR: There is a spectrum of art that goes from the very mar- ket-dependent to almost independent so there are artists who have practices, who teach, they don’t need the market, they make work that is not about selling, perhaps it’s about intervening in a situation or they get their income from fees or commissions. I know artists who work like this who are really great artists and they can’t make anything that can sell in the gallery but they have a big influence on other artists. Then at the other end of the spectrum you have people who make sculptures that cost ten million to produce and they’d better make sure that there is a buyer who is going to buy it so they can pay off the production costs. I am not interested in divorcing art from a market but I think that if you are not part of the market it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a close relationship to the art. If I read a book I don’t know how much the author got paid for, I don’t know what their royalty deal is, I don’t care, I am just having a relationship with this text and I think for most visitors who come to a biennale or even a museum, I think they are in the same position. I am all in favour of rich people spend- ing money on art, it is a good way to redistribute wealth! I also think it is very interesting, Nairy Baghramian, one of the artists in the show has installed this incredible series of sculptures on the outside of the Arsenale, and these are some of the most radical sculptures I have ever seen. One of the old technicians who was helping him put them up wanted to thank him for respecting his city with these sculptures, now you can’t imagine, these things are super radical, but he felt they had a correspondence and related somehow to the building and the environment and this is not someone who has an art background, I thought that was incredible and this is an experience I see happening all the time and this is why I say these things are possible, I don’t think you need to have a specialist knowledge to appreciate contemporary art, at least the kind of contemporary art that I like. Hopefully there’ll be more technicians falling in love with their artists!

MS: As contemporary art continues to become even more attractive to a wider audience, do you think that this changes the role of the artist and of the art? Does this entail a certain kind of responsibility?

RR: I generally think that artists don’t have any responsibility to their audience, other than to not do anything disrespectful to a particular group of people. I think what we do see happening with the rise of Instagram is people wanting to post images, artists becoming publicly known by publicising work that looks good on Instagram and I think that explains these ‘pop’ artists (not like Pop,Pop but “popular” artists) with 5 million Instagram followers that make work that I don’t find interesting but a lot of people do. I think there will always be artists making all different kinds of work. I hope that the work in this Exhibition is accessible to lots of different kinds of people, I think it is and I think it gives people pleasure, I think that’s important, often when we talk about art we talk about the intellectual side, what it means or what issues it is dealing with, it’s kind of boring because we read the newspaper for that, art has to activate somehow pleasure centres in your brain that you didn’t even know existed, or to play with them in a different way than they have ever been played with, and that makes you feel something different and that different feeling gives you the motivation to try to understand why that is happening and that’s when you begin to understand what the work is opening up and making possible.

MS: You have been coined as a “playful curator” in an interview with Farah Nayeri for the NY Times, do you recognise yourself in this title?

RR: I won’t object to being called playful, because I think most artists are playful, there is some work in this show that is very very serious, but it does involve a certain amount of play. It involves artists taking things from one context and putting them in another which is a serious kind of play, we think of play as something lighthearted and frivolous, yet that is a very limited definition of what “playful” can mean, I forget who it was, I think a few different people, who said we’re most human when we play and to me that’s an important part of what it means to be human. In the world of business everything seems to be about the bottom line, play doesn’t seem to have a part in it. Where does this part of humanity get to be developed? In your relationships with people and hopefully in culture….

MS: You have spent quite some time in Venice now, what do you think about life in this city and would you ever live here?

RR: Doing this kind of thing can be quite stressful, with all there is to do and things don’t always happen when you want them to happen, but being in Venice completely distresses me, unless I run into a herd of tourists. I really think there is no city in the world like this, it is the most magical place, it is very theatrical, I can see why opera developed here. It’s great having a job here.

Mara Sartore

  • Ralph Rugoff © Photo Andrea Avezzu, Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia Ralph Rugoff © Photo Andrea Avezzu, Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia
  • Ralph Rugoff and Paolo Baratta © Andrea Avezzu. Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia Ralph Rugoff and Paolo Baratta © Andrea Avezzu. Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia
  • © Andrea Avezzu. Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia © Andrea Avezzu. Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia
  • Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia
  • Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia
Venice - Interviews

The British Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale: an Interview with Curator Dr Zoe Whitley

3 months ago

We interviewed Dr Zoe Whitley, the curator of this year’s British Pavilion, represented by Glasgow based artist Cathy Wilkes at the 58th Venice Biennale. Whitley discusses this pivotal moment in her curating career, her experience so far in Venice and what she is most looking forward to at Ralph Rugoff’s Venice Biennale. 

Lara Morrell: How did you feel about being selected to curate the British Pavilion? What does this opportunity mean to you?

Dr Zoe Whitley: I was thrilled, it was the first time that the British Council issued an open call for a mid-career curator, I read the job description for this role and I was so excited about it, I told my best friend and my husband ‘my gosh, this is me!’ I waited for the reply in eager anticipation because I realised how much I wanted it. I was super delighted when the commissioner first emailed me and then called to say that I had got it! I applied in December of 2017 and so I was notified in the first week of January 2018, the panel that selected Cathy was convened at the end of that month.

LM: How much say did you have in the choice of Cathy Wilkes to represent the British Pavilion?

ZW: It’s a really interesting process. The idea is for as many voices to be heard as possible and for it not just to be the curator making the decision. Every country and pavilion has a slightly different way of operating. With us, a segment of the panel made the selection that put me in post as curator and then while I was privy to the deliberations and was able to talk about various artworks, when it came down to the vote it was the panel, a panel of museum directors, senior curators from all over the UK. I think that this is really important, so that it is not just a few Londoners making a decision, the intention is that it is as open and inclusive as possible, and I think that came through in the result.

LM: How do you define the role of the curator? And more specifically as curator of a National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale?

ZW: I honestly think it is different every single time but the one constant is being the artist’s advocate. I work with living artists and so the way that that takes shape is always different. In this case it might be interviews like this, getting people excited, talking to children and school groups. The format for invigilating the Pavilion involves British Council fellows, young students from all over the country, many of whom are actually coming to Venice for the first time, so empowering them to feel ownership over the building and the work as well as inviting other people to engage in the work, so I am one of the conduits that helps make that happen for them. There are a lot of different things, like the catalogue and writing the short text that’s in the main Biennale guide, just to give people a very small flavour of what we hope they’ll be able to experience in the pavilion, all those things are part of it.

LM: I know you recently convened an event with art educators from all over the UK with a focus on the a line from a John Berger’s essay, “What went into the making of this?”, tell me more!

ZW: John Berger, particularly in a British context but also with international ramifications, is someone who was able at a crucial moment to help to disentangle what it meant to engage with and appreciate art from certain class or political structures. He asked in plain English very important questions about the male and female gaze, all of these things that effect us so much today in terms of thinking about gender, identity, our place in the world and who has access to culture. One of his sentences was so key, in terms of being able to approach artwork “What went into the making of this?”. This was a helpful way for me to introduce Cathy’s work in an open and inclusive process for art educators from around the UK, to begin working through how we can begin to invite many people from all walks of life to think through Cathy’s work that isn’t a traditional way of thinking about a curated experience. So if you are not coming to Venice, we want you to know that this is happening and you can feel pride, whether in Glasgow or in Northern Ireland about what is happening somewhere else, in terms of what this British Representation means on an international stage. So we were able to have some very productive conversations around a whole lot of things, that I found very refreshing to speak about in the context of art, about labour and the notion of work. Placing emphasis on the fact the artists are working and the dignity and the fierceness of that, that really takes a lot of seriousness and is something we must take seriously. It is something that other people can relate to, the politics of care, having to care for young people, or maybe even being at a certain point in your life when you are having to take care for both your young children and also ageing parents. There are a lot of those kinds of incredibly human and relatable themes that reoccur in the work, so again it’s about inviting other people to the many entry points of the work, we would like to invite everyone to think about them together.

LM: How would you describe the meaning of Cathy Wilkes’s work and in what way does it respond to Ralph Rugoff’s title ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’?

ZW: I think that the two are complementary. There is no like for like correlation and that is not part of the brief, I do think however that there are synergies in the work, and Cathy also has a familiarity in the Venetian context (Representing Scotland in the 51st Venice Biennale as part of the exhibition ‘Selective Memory’ and at the 55th Venice Biennale, The Encyclopaedic Palace in 2015) so her work has had these protean ways of being engaged with the whole, larger endeavour that is Venice. For the pavilion we have Cathy being consistent in her own practice and that just happens to dovetail with the kind of seriousness and respect that Ralph has for artists, and in setting this theme with a lot integrity but which gives individual artists a lot of breathing room. So I think that this is something that people will experience in this space; the sense of Cathy being so very attuned to the environment and creating a very specific environment that harnesses, in a way that I have never seen in that space before, the very particular light that one has in Venice, so that really becomes part of the overall experience.

It has also been really impactful to watch how the installation has evolved throughout this installation process because, where Cathy is concerned, a sensitivity to space is more than just placing works in a room. It wasn’t a simple matter of shipping the works here and then they get installed – paintings have been repainted here, what we have in that space is in every way a site specific installation, the work will never exist in that way again, and watching this very considered and detailed process of thinking about how all of the works are composed in this physical space, is something that is very special and I think that her voice comes through. I’ve been saying all along that Cathy’s work is art that whispers rather than shouts, not every artwork has to be spectacular, these artworks can communicate in different registers and I think that what we have created in the pavilion will allow people, who are willing, a moment to slow down and to be out of time but also as you move through the suite of rooms and as the installation unfolds and flows from room to room you really get a sense of the passage of time, the light won’t be the same in the first room by the time you leave, the North facing rooms have a very different affect. The colour that is cast from various found objects or sculptures or the paintings in each room really impart a slightly different feeling in each room and I find that I want to spend quite a lot of time in that space, which is a good thing because I will be!

All of us, when we are visiting Venice, feel compelled to see as many things as we can because that is why we are here, but there is a different pace that I think has been established in this space that I am hoping people will welcome, even if it is momentary, this sense of slowing down that there are things that are worth looking at closely and the sight lines are slightly different, the eye-line, everything is there to have you have a slightly different relationship with the works on view, and the space itself recedes.

In the current British order, or lack there of, Cathy Wilkes’s work and its tendency towards ambiguity which leaves one with open ended questions, feels rather apt. Will the current state of things in Britain seep into the work presented at the Pavilion?

I would say again, just to reiterate, what Cathy has done in accepting to represent Britain in the 58th Venice Biennale is true to her own practice and true to herself, I don’t want to overwrite or to ascribe any other meaning on top of it, but I think that exactly relates to the point you were making about how it might intersect with what Ralph is creating in the Giardini and the Arsenale. I think there is a wonderful refusal to engage in a soundbite or a 140 characters or fewer kind of culture, there is a space for an in between-ness and a not knowing and there is a beauty in that – even if it feels slightly de-stabilising, it isn’t something that is trying to heckle or shout for the sake of it, just to be seen. There is a fierce integrity to Cathy’s work, a very uncompromising position in terms of thinking about what is happening in the relationships between the paintings, between the sculptures, between object placement and within that you have everything you need and so there is, for whatever period of time, something that damps down the noise around it, I think that there is something that is really helpful about that because there are so many things that feel distracting and uncertain and frankly upsetting right now, it has the courage to be its own thing and the work is so unmistakably Cathy’s, I really appreciated and respect that approach.

You have recently been appointed as Senior Curator at The Hayward Gallery, it seems like quite a pivotal point in your career as a curator!

Yes, very serendipitous, I am really excited about joining the team, I saw Ralph briefly on via Garibaldi the other day! I start at the Hayward on the 15th April and my first project will be in Summer 2020, so I have got my thinking cap on! I am certainly in an ellipsis period, I finished at Tate after 5 years, I’m now focusing on the Pavilion, and whilst back in my air b’n’b I am furiously taking notes trying to formulate ideas, because next summer will come soon!

Where did it all begin, how did you first get into curating?

Well! I was just in LA for the opening of Soul of A Nation at the Broad (The Broad presentation is curated by Sarah Loyer) with Mark Godfrey (who I originally co-curated the exhibition with), Sarah did an amazing job and all of the artists were there and it felt like a real family reunion with all of these people whom I have grown to care about over the years, and I got to spend time with the two women who really set me on my way; the senior curator, Sharon Takeda at LACMA in the costume and textile department and then one of the curators Kaye Spilker. In 1999, I had a  Getty Multicultural Undergraduate summer internship there, they taught me how to do my job, that long ago, twenty years ago! I feel like I have to give credit to amazing women who were generous when the didn’t have to be, I mean I was an intern, they could have said go and photocopy this! But they gave me interesting work to do, they helped me learn how to research, I know it was just one summer but they took the time to read what I had written and gave me feedback and literally said to me, we see in you an ability to do this job. They recommended the MA programme I ended up doing in London at the Royal College of Art. There is something about the sense of someone empowering you or just saying that this is something that you can do too, this isn’t something that is obscure and exclusive and that there is not space for your thoughts and your energy. I try and thank them at every opportunity and then there were women at the V&A (Margaret Timmers, Gill Saunders and Rosie Miles) who offered me that same thing and my first curatorial role there. That was my first time working with living artists, knowing that was even possible, that you could be cataloguing a work by someone and they might come in and you could actually talk to them and ask them questions, that was the most mind-blowing thing, it may seem simple or everyday and its the best part of my job but when you are young and learning it there is something about not being able to collapse that distance between the artists and the artwork and start to learn how to listen, the times when I am quietest is when I am listening to artists because I have learnt so much from them.

So all of those different building blocks, that summer at LACMA, I ended up being at the V&A for 10 years from 2003-2013, first as an assistant curator and then as curator of contemporary programmes, which is a department which doesn’t exist in quite the same way anymore, but we did site specific commissions around the museum and we ran the Friday Late programme. The way we worked then – there was no distance between you and the audience you were serving, we heard directly from people what they think is brilliant, complaints and understanding logistically about how things work and the difference between theory and practice, we learnt a lot on the job in those early 2000s and Friday Lates is still going strong!

Are there any projects or pavilions you are particularly looking forward to seeing at the 58th Art Biennale?

So many! I am American and Martin Puryear is representing the United States and he is also an artist we had featured in Soul of a Nation, I am delighted to see what he is doing. My two closest allies in this are Lynsey Young who is doing Scotland in Venice with Charlotte Prodger and I just met Sean Edwards yesterday through Marie-Anne McQuay, respectively, the artist and the curator of the Welsh pavilion. Feeling like you are part of this thing that is bigger than you is really exciting! The Ghana Pavilion – I am absolutely thrilled about! One of my roles at Tate was joint lead on our Africa acquisitions, so for Ghana to be here for the first time is amazing and then the fact that nearly all of the artists in the exhibition are known to me and I am fans of theirs! Lynette Yiadom-Boakye I know is in it, John Akomfrah is showing the piece that was at the Imperial War Museum that was so phenomenally touching, Ibrahim Mahama who presented such a forceful installation during Okwui Enwezor’s Venice, he is doing so many interesting things. Felicia Abban, thought to be Ghana’s first woman studio portrait photographer, I think will be a revelation to a lot of people. Team Cathy with every fibre of my being but I’m also excited about a number of other things. There are also artists in Ralph’s show who are dear friends – Njideka Akunyili Crosby. Sometimes I know what’s coming, I’ve seen some of the works in the studio and I am so excited for other people to see them. Kahlil Joseph is going to present something really impressive here, there’ll be a lot for people to appreciate, Larissa Sansour representing Denmark is a really talented artist, too many good things!





Lara Morrell

  • Dr Zoe Whitley Curator, British Pavilion Dr Zoe Whitley Curator, British Pavilion
  • Cathy Wilkes. Untitled, 2012. Mixed media. Image courtesy MoMA PS1. Photo by Pablo Enriquez. Cathy Wilkes. Untitled, 2012. Mixed media. Image courtesy MoMA PS1. Photo by Pablo Enriquez.
  • Cathy Wilkes. Installation view LENTOS Kunstmuseum, Linz, 2015 Ph. Reinhard Haider. Courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow Cathy Wilkes. Installation view LENTOS Kunstmuseum, Linz, 2015 Ph. Reinhard Haider. Courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow
  • British Pavilion. Ph. John Riddy British Pavilion. Ph. John Riddy
  • Cathy Wilkes Untitled, 2016 Oil on canvas 76 x 122 x 2.5 cm 30 x 48 x 1 in Photo: Keith Hunter Courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow Cathy Wilkes Untitled, 2016 Oil on canvas 76 x 122 x 2.5 cm 30 x 48 x 1 in Photo: Keith Hunter Courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow
  • Cathy Wilkes Untitled, 2016 Oil on canvas 76 x 122 x 2.5 cm 30 x 48 x 1 in Photo: Keith Hunter Courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow Cathy Wilkes Untitled, 2016 Oil on canvas 76 x 122 x 2.5 cm 30 x 48 x 1 in Photo: Keith Hunter Courtesy of the Artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow
Milan - Interviews

“Milan has Different Souls”: Liliana Moro talks about her city and practice with Agata Polizzi

4 months ago

Agata Polizzi: The last time we met we were in Milan having breakfast in a “dopolavoro” (working men’s club) in a former factory near your studio, everything had remained relatively authentic and intact considering the time past. Not far from there in Milan things are progressing at a very different speed and moving in a different direction, we talked a lot about your city and how strong your bond is to it. What remains of the Milan of the Nineties? The decade in which a lot happened to you. How much has this city changed?

Liliana Moro: Until a few decades ago the area of Precotto was a peripheral and working class area of Milan, a few kilometres from Officine Breda, Pirelli and Falck, a place where people stopped to meet one another, to play “bocce” (bowls) after work, in places just like the one where we had breakfast. Only now there are tables instead of the garden, but the atmosphere has remained the same, a working class neighbourhood where at the end of the day they would meet for a glass of wine or a coffee in an all embracing space. This is a Milan that I know well and from which I have never strayed too far. I like this feeling of authenticity, I prefer the more underground and less glossy side to the city. Milan has always been a city with many different souls, it has always offered a lot in terms of cultural spaces, public, private, but also those that are independent and outside of the official circuits.
The thing I love most about Milan is its capacity to take advantage of these differences, and its ability to adapt and change with the times. The 90s were dense years and even more so were the years that preceded them, namely the years of the economic boom, of fashion and economy. I was twenty years old when “Milan da Bere” raged.
It was then that the artists’ vision was liberated thanks to experimental projects such as Corrado Levi’s exhibition inside the former Boveri Brown & Cie factory.
The trauma of “Tangentopoli” (Political corruption scandal in Italy in 1990s) brought about an awakening of public conscious and left an indelible mark, this was the prelude to the phase of change that over time led the city to becoming what it is today.
I really like Milan and sometimes I don’t think I could think otherwise, it is a city that complains little and does a lot, it is productive and has great energy. It is also historically democratic, welcoming and forward thinking.
What binds me most to it, however, is its apparent character of being extremely reserved, that attitude of hiding yet then revealing a great depth. I recognise myself very much in this characteristic.

AP: Your work has always transmitted a great sense of control, freedom and even acute irony, how important are these elements for you?

LM: I try to be essential in my work, control is a fundamental tool for me, in reality I am interested in only saying what is “strictly necessary”, because my work emits my point of view but it is also an unambiguous vision, a process of some-what extreme cleansing, allowing for greater concentration. Observation helps me to put everything into focus, with apparent simplicity. The often concealed, subtle irony is an interesting possibility to lighten reflections on contemporaneity, those that are often very hard and complex.
Many define my work as eclectic, I prefer to think that my research revolves around the contexts that define who we are, art keeps pace with history and this leaves a great freedom of observation, in this sense it really is contemporary.

AP: You have taught for years at the Academy of Fine Arts, the relationship with the new generation is a powerful tool for understanding the changing present, what is your exchange with your students like and how do you think the teacher/student relationship has changed? Also from the point of view as a student yourself and your relationship with Luciano Fabro?

LM: I believe that young art school students, despite the enormous stimuli they receive today from the contemporary world, need to work hard. The excessive possibility of accessing information is sometimes paralysing. If I think to the days when I attended art school, there is an abyss of difference. There remains an ever profound uncertainty on being an artist, because then, as is the case now, it remains a point of fragility, perhaps the journey was more difficult for us then but it certainly was clearer.
Technology has distorted the approach to things, one has the impression of being able to skip steps that are mandatory and fundamental to personal growth, one must be hungry to learn and be curious.
Regarding my relationship with Fabro, among his greatest teachings was his constant nourishing of the habit to “see everything” to understand what happening, to observe what others around us are doing, to confront each other and if necessary be critical.
This outlook has been lost, I think. As a teacher I keep repeating the mantra “see everything”, as I tried to listen to the talent of my students and cultivate it, encourage it, provide the ingredients to grow and strengthen their visions on art. Then everyone needs to be free, this is a necessary conquest.

AP: Liliana Moro, I have been fortunate enough to work with you on several occasions and I have always admired the way you “suggest” different points of view whilst leaving ample room for reflection and entrusting the autonomy of the viewer. Is this generosity of yours an attempt in some way to encourage an open dialogue with external reality?

LM: When I think of my work I believe that it is not possible to separate it from myself, from what I am, so this way of living work as a “world” allows me to deeply share my vison with others. For example, I almost always entrust my work directly on the ground without interference or intermediation: for me, to put work on the floor means creating zero distance, I like that there is continuity and also a relationship between my work and space, so it is as if a flow has passed through different elements, without interruption whilst maintaining open communication between them.
Sometimes I am surprised by art’s enormous capacity of allowing a concrete relationship with reality, much more than one can imagine.

AP: The next Biennale 2019 arrives after many years of research that separate you from the 1993 edition, what has changed in recent years to Liliana Moro’s system and vision?

LM: I don’t think I have changed much except that I’ve grown up, and aged!
I certainly feel great excitement but am less foolish than I was then, I am more aware, more confident. The context has changed a lot too, Milovan Farronato has entrusted us with the joy of working at the Italian Pavilion with enormous responsibility, this implies an attention that is totally absorbing, absorbing all my energy.
It’s a great feeling but it’s also a great challenge, and I thank him for it.
My relationship with Milovan is one of great respect and esteem, an exchange between two people who have known each other for a long time, this umpteenth experience together I consider an important step forward for both myself and

My Art Guides Editorial Team

  • Liliana Moro, Photo by Delfino Sisto Legnani. Liliana Moro, Photo by Delfino Sisto Legnani.
  • Liliana Moro, Carne, 1992 Liliana Moro, Carne, 1992
  • Liliana Moro, Ouverture , 2017. Courtesy the artist and Francesco Pantaleone Arte Contemporanea Liliana Moro, Ouverture , 2017. Courtesy the artist and Francesco Pantaleone Arte Contemporanea
  • Liliana Moro, né in cielo né in terra, 2016. courtesy the artist and Francesco Pantaleone Arte Contemporanea © Renato Ghiazza Liliana Moro, né in cielo né in terra, 2016. courtesy the artist and Francesco Pantaleone Arte Contemporanea © Renato Ghiazza