Giorgio Andreotta Calò: Venice through an Artist’s Perspective

by Mara Sartore
May 3, 2017
Mara Sartore
Giorgio Andreotta Calò

Mara and Teresa Sartore: The title of the Italian Pavilion “The Magic World” is inspired by the anthropological work of Ernesto de Martino. Can you tell us how it came about? Which came first, the title or the selection of the artists?

Giorgio Andreotta Calò: I think that Cecilia Alemani recognised, in the practice of a few artists, a reference to a way of investigating reality inspired by the dimension of magic. Here, “magic” has a deeper and more complex anthropological reference with respect to what we have grown used to in everyday language. Magic is a way of recognising the world that surrounds us, or at the very least, it is a way to rationalise it where the tools of scientific investigation can’t give us an explanation.

MTS: After finding out that you were selected to represent Italy at the Biennale, how did the idea of the work that you will present come about?

GAC: The work began with a trip in September 2016 to l’Aquila because I was interested in studying scaffolding…

MTS: Why were you interested in studying scaffolding?

GAC: I needed to see some architectural structures like scaffolding. From l’Aquila we then went to Amatrice, where the earthquake had hit a week earlier and the road to get there was completely empty; there were only Civil Defence supply vehicles that were on their way out, there was a very strong sense of anguish. When we got there I didn’t recognise my town: it seemed like a war was going on, there had just been a catastrophe, houses had completely collapsed. It was a very hard sight to see, very distressing. In front of such a strong image I wondered: “what can we do to exorcize it?” The seed of my work is contained in this question. Inside of us we need to resort to something stronger than an explanation, at times the tools that we have are not enough to face something like this, for that we need to move in another dimension, otherwise we succumb.

MTS: It’s a way to survive reality…

GAC: It is magic that manages to take us back to the rational dimension via other routes. De Martino’s work is interesting in this sense because it delivers a rational “historical” explanation to what would otherwise have been relegated to a folkloristic fact or mere “belief.” The studies that he carried out in Lucania gave a voice to populations that otherwise would have lived in complete oblivion and isolation from history because they would not have been understood.
Magic is the manner by which even whole communities are founded and on which political life is also structured; it is the way in which a single individual succeeds in finding their own physical and spiritual integrity, whereas in a moment of crisis this is less so. De Martino was involved by believing that the aspect of magic should be investigated on a sociological and political level, finding it within the practices of several artists. Personally, I find that in a moment of crisis such as this, the call to magic isn’t intended as a way out or a way to escape the reality that surrounds us, but on the contrary, it’s a different way of investigating it and to be able to give back a rational vision of what is happening, since this rational vision is, by now, lost and gropes around in the dark.

MTS: On your journey, what has been your relationship with magic, if there has been one?

GAC: There hasn’t been one directly, but I have realised that through some works this aspect has indeed been investigated, even if only unintentionally. The inspiration and form of a work are something that you can’t always completely control. Only when the work is finished can you look at it and to try to understand its genesis. In the moment in which it is in progress some mechanisms are almost unconscious, of course you start with an idea and you want to make it happen, but in the middle there is that creative journey of constructing the work that can end with different results. When it is finished you can think about it, look at it, revisit it. At this stage you can also find some answers or ask yourself some new questions.

MTS: So, to face this theme in a “conscious” way was also an opportunity to look at your work in a different way?

GAC: Absolutely, in some works it is very obvious that there is a call to the magic dimension, however, let me repeat, always understood in its deeper, anthropological meaning. I have studied different works by De Martino and “La fine del mondo” (The end of the world) particularly, I found very interesting. All of his work has given me ideas to work with.

MTS: A year ago you returned to Venice with your family to begin this work. In the past you have described this city as a mother’s womb, an amniotic fluid that envelops… What has it been like to come back here to live? Will you remain here or will you leave? Have you found it changed, does it still manage to surprise you?

GAC: What I have felt most strongly in Venice this year is the climbing movement of the tide, which has followed me with both great fullness and great emptiness. Also, the form that my work takes is connected to the possible sceneries of this city, where, I feel there are strong warning signs and signals that must be heeded and that also tell us how to treat this place, how it must be preserved, and that speak of its biorhythms and of the dynamics that govern it, and that we are climbing over with both feet, that recount its identity and all that has made it possible.

MTS: Indeed, this has been a very peculiar year for the tide. It has been very small, reaching some historic lows. There were some days when there was almost no water in the canals…

GAC: This too is worrisome… I believe that to feel this city means to become part of its organic life, of its operation. This year I really felt it a lot: I have perhaps been too in sync with Venice, I have become Venice. I think this can be dangerous because it means that you also absorb all the tragic and unhealthy aspects of an overloaded and exploited city that is so neglected. Here there is a continuous passage, as the tide enters also flows and masses of people enter, like the oysters attached to the canals that swarm everywhere like the plague. This type of tourism is so damaging. I came back in April 2016 and the massive waves caused by the cruise ships immediately began. I found the streets completely changed, the area where my parents live has changed, new economies have sprung up, a use of spaces that is also surely connected to money laundering.
There are also some positive aspects: Venice is a place where you can still measure modernity, even if, paradoxically, it seems stuck in this past from which it doesn’t look like it can escape.

MTS: For us, Venice is the city of the future…

GAC: Venice condenses the present, it can be seen in all its worse aspects, but also in its best ones.

MTS: What are the best aspects of Venice for you?

GAC: The best aspects I find where only a few manage to go. The night is a moment in which Venice / cadaver is left to the cockroaches. I remember an image: one night I was walking Arturo, my dachshund, next to Piazza San Marco and from the stairway of a church I saw loads of cockroaches, the whole staircase was black and moving, but suddenly they disappeared, returning to the cracks from which they came. The masses of people that invade Venice are like those cockroaches, it is as if they make their way to a carcass to eat it then all of a sudden they disappear into the folds of the city; like the water that fills up and then empties. At night, until dawn, Venice is calm, emptied, silent, you can still see it: the city stratified by time and shapes loses itself behind a mask.

MS: When they told you that you had been selected as one of the artists for the Italian Pavilion, did you already have an idea of what you would have brought with you before moving here? If yes, how has that changed thanks to the tide and the influence of Venice?

GAC: I had thought a little about what I would have done if they had called me one day. I wondered how I could approach the physical space that, for a few years now, has been fixed at the Arsenale, but for a long time was at the Gardens and then was also empty. They are difficult spaces because they are oversized. For me, it was interesting to make a strong, simple and symbolic gesture because even when I had taken part in the International Show in Carlo Scarpa’s Garden of Sculptures, I was interested in finding a simple dimension that had a layered reading, but at the same time, also one that everyone could understand.

MTS: Have you given a title to the work that you will present?

GAC: No, it doesn’t have a title. In reality, I have one but I don’t know yet if it will be the one I use because I must see the finished work. It’s like when a daughter is born, you have a thousand names in your head but you must see her first before you decide.

MTS: I imagine it’s difficult right now to think about what happens after, but when the work is there and you will step back from it, do you think that you will stay in Venice?

GAC: Definitely, when the Biennale ends I won’t stay in Venice and I don’t know if I will go back to Amsterdam. I would have liked to stay, also because I made a big effort to return here and to get used to it again, to find my own space here again. You can live in Venice, but not as a Venetian. Venetians don’t exist anymore.

MTS: I would like to ask you if there is something that you feel you could wholeheartedly recommend to the people who will come to Venice for the Biennale?

GAC: If it were possible, I would say to stay for fifteen days, one month, more time, not the usual two days… To try to live the city. It’s a suggestion that I would give in general, but here it becomes a necessity. An image of Venice has been created to easily sell to the herds that come here to graze, a business that facilitates the commodification of this image. This isn’t the true Venice, it is something else, but in order to see it you have to look for it, it is not found quickly, it isn’t easily caught, luckily.

MS: Is there a place in particular that you love? Is there a place where you find yourself most at home?

GAC: In the lagoon there are different places, when it’s hotter I like to be in the shallows. They are submerged places that emerge at certain times and you can walk there, like in the rice paddies, to collect clams. They are places that, luckily, can only be reached if you have a boat and if you know where to go. I think that the most beautiful places are the less accessible ones and with less accessible I mean everything that is within reach but that you don’t see because it has been disguised, like Venice.

Learn more about the Italian Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale.

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