Let’s start with “A Quiet Life”, the exhibition at Kamel Mennour during FIAC. Could you tell us some more about the artworks you are showcasing for the occasion?
I don’t usually like talking about projects, I think that the works should follow their own path and have their own discourse. In this case, however, there was certainly an idea which continued to persist, with a dual origin: one which is linked to my own work and the other to another artist, Bruce Nauman. I have often visited my studio at night and from these nocturnal visits, “Remanences”, a series of black pencil on black paper drawings, was created. Drawings that come to life by passing in front of them, with the changes of light and the reflections of pencil and crayon. I see them as nocturnal visions of my studio. I have always worked where I live. They are nocturnal visions that come to you only at night when everything is dark and confused. I have always kept in mind a video piece by Bruce Nauman in which he films his studio during the night, on watching it you have the impression that nothing is happening, yet lots is going on: a busy fly, a howling coyote, a passing train. There is a microcosm that comes to life at night in the studio, when the mechanical activity of the day is at rest. I liked the idea of continuing this thought process about the way things work in an artist’s studio, there are finished works, but everything continues to exist on the same level, with the same importance, both the materials and the finished work. In the atelier everything depends on the other, creating a microcosm. The exhibition does not reveal the exact state or process of things: there are bags of materials that become stone, bronze, some finished works seem to be drafts. The relationship between the materials and the finished sculptures is confusing and the borders are not clear. Everything appears as a three-dimensional drawing.
What does the title “A Quiet Life” allude to?
The title comes from the song by Teho Teardo and Blixa Bargeld where the lyrics in the first refrain are “a quiet life for me”, while in the second part of the song we hear “no quiet life for me”. Hence moving from a quiet life to a restless one, recalling a series of my drawings called “Intranquillity” which also deals with the “The Book of Disquiet” by Fernando Pessoa. The state of being caught between two worlds:a quiet and restless life, worlds that merge to generate new dimensions.
You mainly work with sculpture, drawing, and installation. Many of your early works incorporate architectural interventions which were not always visible to the viewer. Could you tell us about the development of your practice and of your spatial interventions?
My first pieces were little worlds, installations made from glass or plexiglass. Translating a flat image into an installation and contextualising it, this is very important to my work. From the glass dripped liquid, facades from which you could see the world as a three dimensional sphere, work which was thought about to create a dialogue in different spaces, so not to place the public at a distance. Now however these installations have taken on a greater spatiality, because I make more and more works intended for open spaces, not for galleries or closed spaces. I play with elements that confuse themselves with nature, so that it has the chance to regain possession of itself.
Could you tell us about your practice and the creative process behind your work? Do you have a daily routine in your studio?
I don’t have a daily routine as such. There are long periods in which I am inactive, but these are probably the most useful, when I do my research. I don’t really have a methodical approach to my work.
You were born in Italy and lived in Senegal and Holland. In 1995 you established yourself in Paris. Why did you decide to move here?
Before Paris I lived in faraway countries which were culturally diverse from one another, which has surely had an impact on my life. I was very young when I went to Africa. I arrived in Paris having lived in Holland for a period and I arrived by chance, I absolutely didn’t think I would stay. I came for an exhibition, after that other projects began to take shape and they made me stay. I think it was my work that brought me here, it wasn’t a personal choice. Now my life is in Paris and I am happy. It was my work that chose the city for me.
What was the art scene like when you first arrived in the city and how has it changed over the years?
Young artists travel a lot, they are constantly moving to Paris, artists here come from all over the world. What has changed is that we no longer stop, we do not settle for long. Even young French artists leave and return frequently. Moving, flows and migration to and from Paris is a cultural richness, and I think this is fundamental for today’s art scene.
Are there any concessions from the part of institutions? Do you think these are directed positively and in a sustainably towards artists? Is there public involvement?
Yes, very much so, and it has always been this way in France. Many museums, like the Beaubourg, for example, usually buy works at the beginning of an artist’s career. There are many initiatives dedicated to art initiated by young artists, including new spaces, young galleries that have taken over the 20th arrondissement. It is a vibrant scene and is inspired by the Berlinese model, and this inspiration has brought with it a little more space to breath and some vitality, enriching a Paris that was once classical, middle-class and tied to fashion.
In your opinion where does the Parisian art scene stand within the European context?
Paris is a very expensive city but it is certainly well placed on the international artistic front. There are important galleries like Gagosian, Goodman and other international galleries that have settled in Paris. Paris, as well as another 5/6 cities in the world are undeniably renowned for their international art scene. I do not live in the centre of Paris, it would be unthinkable to work in the city. I live in the suburb, in the suburbs like almost all the young artists and even the established ones. If you need space to work, Paris is impossible and I think it’s also the same story in London or New York. Montreuil, the area where I live, is also called the Brooklyn of Paris as it is a cheaper neighbourhood, where you can afford large spaces without paying exorbitant rents. These are areas where many young people create dynamic and stimulating businesses and cultural startups. All these suburbs will be included in the city because they will be part of the Grand Paris 2022 project. Demographically, Paris is growing more and more rapidly and the city is adapting to these changes.
What is your daily relationship with Paris like? Does the city itself inspire your work? Do you have artists friends here and do you happen to visit artists’ studios?
I have lots of friends, in every shape and form. I also have lots of artist friends who come by Paris and then leave again. Now there is a different approach to work. In my opinion up until the 90s there was more stability, artists met in the city, they had their meeting points whilst now the situation has changed. I often visit my artist friends whilst they are putting up shows abroad, for example. This is the type of experience which is becoming more frequent in my life.
Does Paris inspire me? I live in the suburbs and it is a completely different world compared to that of central Paris. Paris to me is a very borghese reality, tied to an elite, inhabited by well off people, collectors… creativity doesn’t thrive within the centre. Artists need space and isolation and Paris cannot offer this. The creative processes take place elsewhere, on a journey, reading a book, they are not tied to a single city, it is never a place, but a series of things related to ones interiority. Paris, however, is a place to see many exhibitions and this is exceptional for artists. While outside Paris, in other cities, there are many structures called “Frac” that have very sophisticated and avant-garde art programmes that express a positive cultural policy dedicated to contemporary art in France. Thanks to these structures, which were born in the 80s and which are still very active, even those who do not live in the capital can enjoy a vast programme dedicated to art.
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 Paris? And could you recommend something that shouldn’t be missed during art week?
There is variety of places I’d like to suggest visiting in Paris, among them these are my favorite ones around my area. La conquête du pain (47 Rue de la Beaune, 93100 Montreuil), an organic bakery self-managed and opened in Montreuil on 2010. It is a very nice place with real ethic and social values; Les Instants Chavirés (7 Rue Richard Lenoir, 93100 Montreuil), a concert venue located in Montreuil and dedicated to experimental musics. Here you can discover very interesting projects in particular during the Sonic Protest Festival that the Instants Chavirés welcomed every year; L’Observatoire de Paris (8 61 Avenue de l’Observatoire, 75014 Paris), an astronomical observatory created by Louis XIV in 1667. It’s an fantastic historical place in Paris who played an important role in the astronomical history and where have been made important science discoveries; After 8 Books (31 Passage du Ponceau, 75002 Paris) a library previously located in the independent exhibition space Castillo/Corrales. Here you can find a great international selection of artist books and theoretical texts; Shanaynay (78 Rue des Amandiers, 75020 Paris), an artist run space running by a young and constantly moving team of artists. It presents a very interesting emerging and international art scene; Treize (24 rue Moret 75011 Paris), the oldest artist run space located in Paris. The organisation welcomes a program of exhibitions as well as music shows and published also books and records since a couple of years; La Recyclerie (83 Boulevard Ornano, 75018 Paris), a wonderful restaurant located in an old train station in « La Petite Ceinture » in the 18° arrondissement of Paris; Le Chinois (6 Place du Marché, 93100 Montreuil), a club and a music venue located in Montreuil and who presents a very eclectic programme (from jazz to electro, including rock and world music events).
Any upcoming projects?
Right now I’m working on my next solo show opening in April at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University (MSU Broad) and then I have an important exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo, a collaboration with the paleontologist Jean Michel Geneste on prehistory, programmed by Jean de Loisy. It is a very particular project that will allow both to create a dialogue around this theme.