I decided to interview Loredana Longo (Catania, Italy, 1967) on occasion of Victory, her fourth exhibition at Palermo’s Francesco Pantaleone Gallery.
As the interview reveals, the artist often tackles current issues, although she does it without ever using propagandistic or political tones. The media she uses—rugs, tapestry, clothing—come from her family circle and relate to her personal memories. The destructive energy we encounter in many of her works is, at the same time, creative energy as well. It contains its own opposite, just like the term “victory” which, burned over pictures of Chernobyl, inevitably hints at those who lose. In Loredana’s work I detected a lyrical note of beauty and terror, a gesture that expresses both violence and seduction at once, and it is on account of this that her works leave a mark that is never silent but, rather, powerfully highlights their meaning.
Mara Sartore: Let’s start with the title of your exhibit. “Victory”, as you say, “is a word that contradicts itself at the very moment it’s uttered: someone’s victory is always someone else’s defeat.” Would you explain how this concept affects your work?
Loredana Longo: The word “VICTORY” is an ancient one and it is now obsolete. Taking it back in time and contextualising it in a historic past, it has a different connotation, a “heroic” sense. Today, it is bereft of that sense, it only has the sad taste of someone’s defeat. Nowadays, heroes don’t exist anymore, only the self-assured.
The word “Victory” triumphs on my tapestry as if it were the title of a film. Instead, it is simply an affirmation of defeat, the cruelty of a destructive victory, which sometime backfires even against those who claim to have won.
M.S: Your work often takes on current matters pertaining to civil, social, and political issues. Within this picture, what do you think ought to be the role of an artist in such hard times as the current ones?
L.L: All artists are free spirits, every notion that is filtered and translated by their creativity can yield unforeseen visions: this is the artists’ role.
I don’t feel that I should criticise those who do not take on socio-political issues. At the same time, I can’t understand how the latter can be ignored. An artist must belong to her or his epoch. Moreover, I am not talking about extreme ecological or political propaganda or about defending human rights; I’m talking about knowledge and awareness of facts, about empathy with the world we live in and what is going on in it. I cannot live without being connected to all the things that take place around me. This does not mean giving up my life in order to become an advocate for all civil issues, I simply mean that one should have a critical sense.
I carry out my work along these lines. Right now, I am here and I want to be here; I do not retreat, even if that means showing all my weaknesses.
M.S: You have described your artistic practice as the “aesthetics of destruction.” What do you mean exactly?
L.L: How can one describe beauty? I believe it to be something personal and at the same time objective; it’s the aura of certain things. All the things that attract me the most have a destructive power hidden in them. I know that a weapon is a dangerous item, but at the same time I cannot but feel an attraction to it, as if I were attracted to a burning flame that can burn down a city, or to a thin mouldy layer on a picture frame. So we get touched more by a deposition than by a birth, by an old person’s tear more than by a child’s, because beauty is everywhere and it manifests itself even where you think it cannot exist. We feel an attraction to images of destruction because power is something we can’t retreat from, because it dominates us, so much so that a landscape made of ruins becomes something to defend, also and only because it is what remains of something whose lost beauty we envision.
Without destruction there wouldn’t be any rebirths, but only survival. The concept of destruction—which has a negative nuance for many and, at any rate, depends on the context—as a means of creation is not to be taken for granted. To me, it is necessary, it is a step that adds value. In this manner, the artist has endless power: by violating an object that is held to be precious, by destructing it, he or she gives it a sense of precariousness that in turn becomes its distinctive trait.
M.S: You often work with fabrics: you used rugs, items of clothing, flags… Could you explain your relationship with these materials and describe your creative process?
L.L: No one can escape family memories or one’s life, and I come from a merchants’ family, furniture manufacturers. I have always lived surrounded by furniture, decorations, fabric remnants. At fourteen, my grandmother gave me my first sewing machine as a gift, and I have not stopped sewing ever since. I started to combine various materials, clothes I created from photographs that I wore during my performances, fabric sculptures, flags made out of rags, clothes I blew up during my Explosion projects, work-clothes dipped in cement (Floors), rag cascades that covered cement accumulations in which young immigrants lay (The Block). Fabrics are always there in my work because they are part of my daily life, of my family circle, and they talk about us. I burned with petroleum precious Persian and Chinese rugs (Carpets) featuring sentences uttered by important Western politicians, words of protest against political adversaries. For my latest works—the Victory tapestry series in my upcoming exhibition at Francesco Pantaleone’s gallery in Palermo—I carved with an electric welder ruins, devastated cities, and pictures of famous buildings on the surface of precious velvets.
M.S: Your artistic interests coincide with two important topics (migration and climate change) that will be central to Manifesta’s twelfth edition, which will take place in Palermo in 2018. Would you describe your relationship with this city and what your expectations are for the upcoming Biennale?
L.L: Sicily is the first outpost for migrants coming from the North African coast. Images of boats full of migrants have been filling the news for decades. We’re talking about a flux that will never end or, rather, will increase, and this impacts on the conscience of every individual. Welcoming these migrants is necessary, but living side by side is difficult. Most of them, anyway, leave our island looking to making it to Northern Europe, running into walls of mistrust and walls made of cement and barbwire, behind which we stand, unwilling to part with any of our privileges, defending our little daily lives. This is my objective, my work: not the gathering of information concerning what has happened, no photographs with desperate faces, no pseudo-journalism looking for morbid facts about the past of these individuals, but discovering our fear, since that is what I experience myself (I can’t feel the migrants’ fear, I can only imagine it). That’s what I expect from Manifesta: diverse angles in interpreting the migration issue, avoiding commonplace interpretations.
I love Palermo, a city full of contradictions, opulent and decadent, which still has that exotic nuance that tourists love. Some streets “smell or stink” like in certain oriental markets, because Palermo is Sicily, a monstrous organism that survives notwithstanding its corrupt, indecent politics. And yet, this organism is full of energy and does not want to die; I see this in the energy of many artists and arts operators who, notwithstanding it all, manage to begin their careers with unexpected vigour because, as Friedrich Hölderlin said, where there is danger, there also grows the strength, the agency of salvation.
Victory, Francesco Pantalone Gallery, Palermo
Inauguration Friday April 22 at 6pm
April 22–June 22 2016
- Loredana Longo, Carpet #18. Courtesy of the artist
- Loredana Longo, Explosion#14 Honeymoon, Courtesy of the artist
- Longo Loredana, Victory, Aleppo. Courtesy of the artist
- Loredana Longo, Portrait
- Loredana Longo, The Block, Courtesy of the artist