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Milan from an Artist’s Perspective: an Interview with Adrian Paci

3 years ago

Adrian Paci (b. 1969, Shkoder, Albania) is one of the artists who live and work in Milan and that have been selected by Francesco Garutti for My Art Guide Milan 2016. Among his works we have chosen “The Line” (2007) as the main image of the online special issue dedicated to miart.

Our choice has fallen on this artwork given that it is related to a theme which happens to be very topical and powerfully expresses the limbo-like experience of migrants who find themselves suspended between the world they have fled and the one they are aiming to get to.

Mara Sartore: We picked “The Line” as the main image of our special online issue on Miart. Could you tell us how the idea behind this work was born and what it represents?

Adrian Paci: “The Line” was born as part of a wider project, “Centro di Permanenza Temporanea” (Temporary Holding Centre), a video I produced in California in 2007. We were shooting in San Jose’s airport and together with the film makers there was also a photographer who documented the project. Looking at the photos he had taken, I found that these two pictures were somehow related. They capture the essence of the “Centro di Permanenza Temporanea” and depict its enigmatic dimension in a subtle and silent atmosphere that has an elegance of its own That queue of people, waiting for something and not sitting down, in a place where usually you would see the airplanes (as actually shown by the video of the “Centro di Permanenza Temporanea”) on the airport’s runway. The combination of these two works caught my attention and I decided to make an artwork out of them. The people in the queue are in the wrong place and at a wrong time; an airport, however, is also a place linked to the idea of traveling and hence displacement. Background latent questions generate the sense of suspension that the image evokes: why are these people there? What are they doing? This is why the photograph seemed in line with the project and also related to a theme that I wanted to investigate: that interstice inhabited by unanswered questions that creates a sense of estrangement even if daily life seems simple and normal.

MS: Is there a particular source of inspiration for your work?

AP: The source of inspiration is some kind of enigma for us artists. I say “us” because I suppose that other artists as well cannot really answer this question. In my specific case I didn’t decide to work on a specific concept: my works are often the result of personal experiences but, at the same time, my goal is not to describe them but somehow to investigate the deeper dimension that these experiences can convey. I don’t explore just the experience itself but also the language with which I can express it. The dimension I investigate shows how an image, a story, or a gesture coming from an experience somehow absorb a dimension of potentiality. This potentiality, once identified, becomes the object of my investigation. By so doing a question emerges and regards how potentiality can be narrated and acquire a form – the attention focus is shifted, from the experience to the construction of the artistic language.

MS: This work we have chosen dates back to a while ago. Did you go back on the subject of migration recently, given that nowadays it is a very dramatic issue?

AP: I arrived (in Italy) in 1997 and I worked on “The Line” in 2007, when I had managed to take distance from my own personal migration experience. I believe it’s necessary to address issues from a certain distance, at least as far as my way of creating a work is concerned. I need this distance from the themes I work on in order to be able to filter them, in order to see what’s left of the thing itself. The theme of what is left is a very important topic for me, considering the general sense of transformation and displacement that we experience: some things disappear and some other things emerge. I want to reflect on what’s left, therefore I need time and detachment. In particular, when images dramatically impact on us, I believe that art should take a step back and leave the stage when its power can’t sustain tragedy. I was never interested in migrations as a piece of news; mine was rather a general reflection on what happens to identity when contexts change.

MS: Let’s talk about your relationship with the city where you now live, Milan. Did you choose to live there? Is it working for you?

AP: I have a really long relationship with Milan because I had already been there in 1992 with a scholarship, before then moving here in 1997. I’ve lived it as a student and then as a worker, as a clandestine and then as an artist. I’ve lived it from different perspectives, I was able to discover different aspects of the city and at the same time I have changed with the city. It wasn’t a relationship between two established entities from the beginning, the dialogue has progressed during the years. I didn’t specifically pick Milan because when I choose to move I wasn’t in the condition to choose but circumstances brought me here. I don’t mind staying in Milan, I believe it’s a city with the right balance between a Mediterranean aspect and a northern one. When you get to Milan from Stockholm you feel in the Mediterranean and when you get here from Lecce you feel in the North. Milan has an hidden beauty, it’s not a city that jumps on you shouting you either love me or hate me, I like its discretion.

MS: What do you think about the art scene in Milan? About the artistic context, your artist friends and the galleries? Is it a stimulating place or do you prefer to travel and find your inspiration elsewhere?

AP: I believe that it’s very difficult to talk about a local art scene, nowadays we travel on a double or triple trail. An artist lives in a place but exhibits his work elsewhere, he moves, does residencies in other places. It’s difficult to discuss about the art scene in Milan, I don’t feel part of it. It’s not an ideological choice, it’s just like that. I have my studio in Stezzano, close to Bergamo where I share this experience with some of my ex students that now live in that area. My gallery is in Milan but I also have one in Zurich. I built a house and opened an art space in Albania therefore I travel a lot to go there and to do exhibitions around the world. In Milan I teach in a school which is international so I don’t know if it can actually be considered part of the Milanese art scene. I’m not denying the existence of an scene in Milan, I find it very interesting what is going on here now especially with this Studi Festival, an event during which artists and non profit spaces have decided to open in a sort of alternative system to the galleries one in order to create a moment of sharing with the public. The Festival feels like a very important initiative in a city where there’s no strong system that can offer a dynamic situation, therefore the artists need to create alternative moments and spaces.

MS: What about alternative spaces in town? This is something we ask to artists: if you were to suggest five places in Milan, not necessarily Museums or Galleries, where an art lover should go in Milan, what would you suggest?

AP: I remember once when the curator of the Istanbul Biennale came to Milan and asked me where she should go. I told her to go and visit places where ancient art could be found. A place I would suggest to anyone is Cappella Portinari, where you can see beautiful frescos by Vincenzo Foppa. Another unmissable place is the Biblioteca Ambrosiana where they keep wonderful drawings by Leonardo. For the contemporary art spaces I’m thinking at HangarBicocca which is not to be missed because they have been doing great exhibitions for a few years now. The venue itself is friendly, the admission is free and there’s a nice bar and a library. I would also go and visit a place where you can find students, I teach at NABA and I feel like it’s a dynamic place, I would suggest it in order to understand the energy that these young students have. In addition to all of these I would suggest to pick an artist and go and visit him/her in his studio. I believe that artworks shown inside an art fair loose part of the potential: not for the work itself, but what’s missing is the artist’s research. If an artist does a serious and deep research a fair is not enough in order to understand it, sometimes a show at the gallery is not enough either. To the art lovers I would always suggest to go and visit an artist in his/her studio.

MS: Is there a place in Milan where artists meet?

AP: I don’t know if there’s a specific place, however I see an alternative, or rather self-managed, art scene which is very present and interesting. I think it’s a way out of the gallery system which risks to become self-referential and closed due to the fact that the market is not going well and no one wants to risk in experimenting because there are expenses to sustain. In Milan there’s a blooming scene of self managed art spaces which represent an alternative to the system. For example some of my ex students, together with some of the ex students of the Accademia di Brera, have founded a space called Spazio77 where they are doing an amazing job with the freedom of a young space where you don’t expect to find a masterpiece with the best set up but where there’s a dialogue. As part of Studi Festival I have started a project at the Fondazione Pini, where I am part of the scientific committee. I’m really passionate about the idea of proposing young artists. For five days there’s a project which is continuously in the becoming: four young artists are building and deconstructing their exhibition and, at the same time, they are welcoming people in the space to start a dialogue.

Mara Sartore

  • Adrian Paci, photo by Carlo Beccalli Adrian Paci, photo by Carlo Beccalli
  • Adrian Paci, The Line, 2007. Courtesy of the artist and kaufmann repetto, Milan/New York Adrian Paci, The Line, 2007. Courtesy of the artist and kaufmann repetto, Milan/New York
  • Adrian Paci, The Line, 2007. Courtesy of the artist and kaufmann repetto, Milan/New York Adrian Paci, The Line, 2007. Courtesy of the artist and kaufmann repetto, Milan/New York

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