Interview with the Italian artist PIER GIORGIO DE PINTO, coordinator of collateral events at the CACT Centre for Contemporary Art in Canton Ticino, Switzerland.
Jean-Marie Reynier, 4.11.2010, Skype
[04.11.10 14:03:56] Jean-Marie Reynier: A few days ago, our friend and colleague Anna Mazzucco posted the following status on Facebook: “Think of death as the liberation of everything used and outdated. In this sense, what is the best death you’ve never lived?” Your response was “Leaving Italy”. Tell me about your comment in more detail.
[04.11.10 14:07:22] Pier Giorgio De Pinto: Well, after spending my life in Italy, it was like Lucia’s farewell on the mountain in Alessandro Manzoni’s Promessi Sposi. In my heart, I feel no hard feelings or hatred towards Italy, but rather, a mourning, a death.
[04.11.10 14:08:51] JMR: Let’s talk about Italy, about your past then. Give me some more information about your training and your background.
[04.11.10 14:12:29] PGDP: I studied management and have training in human resources management. I studied mainly in Florence, but I’ve always been particularly interested in theoretical studies and other management courses, workshops and study days on topics relating to the arts, whether they be visual arts in the classical sense or whether they’re more closely linked to the contemporary concept of visual arts and transdisciplinary projects. I have attended a film school and a theatre school, taken contemporary dance classes and classes on contact improvisation to complete my studies of the body. I’ve also studied how to interpret and use the voice, with classes on diction, vocal technique, orthoptics, dubbing, transpersonal rebirthing and Breathwork. I’ve always worked a lot abroad and relatively little in Italy, not because I’m a “xenophile” but more because of the kind of work I do, which will always be a little hard to digest in Italy because of our bigoted and anachronistic moral standards in comparison with numerous other European countries. Let’s say that my work has always been highly censured and that it’s really frustrating always to see your work exhibited in small parts, and always the most flattering and accommodating parts of it.
[04.11.10 14:15:05] JMR: Now you also have the role of Coordinator of the CACT, under the direction of Mario Casanova, for organising collateral events to the main programme. What kind of cohabitation do you envisage between your artistic and curatorial work?
[04.11.10 14:20:28] PGDP: To restate what Mario Casanova, Director of the CACT, always says: we need to give artists the chance to reappropriate art spaces. And indeed, numerous art venues, especially the Swiss Kunsthalle, were born (at least in the intentions of the founders) as places for the aggregation, protection, exhibition and exchange of ideas among artists. Thus, my collaboration with the CACT is due primarily to the fact that I was one of the artists who took Casanova’s request seriously, and suggested a whole series of initiatives which were very warmly received by Casanova, hence the position of Coordinator of Collateral Events. Cohabitations of the kind to which you refer are necessary, I think, in a context where there is a vast amount of art on offer, but which is largely the product of nepotism and local mafias, since cohabitations give artists and not just the political custodians of art the opportunity to express themselves. A willingness, then, to reemphasise the principal actor, i.e. the artist.
[04.11.10 14:21:51] JMR: So the curator himself becomes an artist?
[04.11.10 14:27:19] PGDP: In the Szeemannian concept, yes, even if over time, things have changed from what the inestimable Szeemann proposed, hence the popularity of “starlet” curators in the art world, and especially in Italy, where I’ve worked with numerous curators who, in an uneducated and totally unprofessional manner, take the place of the artist himself, saying what he should or shouldn’t do.
Art in the service of a pushiness equal to that which you find in the idea of an American multinational. The curator is an artist and the artist is a curator; the difference for me remains in the approach you take towards the projects being presented. I don’t see anything wrong in an artist organising a collective exhibition of other artists, or following his own vision and presenting his own artistic work as a curator. Why do we still create castes and subdivisions? In 2010, do we really need to tear through the pages of an encyclopaedia to know who we are or to know who we should be in the eyes of others? For me, what means something is doing, taking action. That’s what counts.
[04.11.10 14:30:04] JMR: On this point, it seems reasonable then to ask you the fateful question, since you mentioned foreign countries. One might think of unmissable Berlin, cryptic Brussels, crazy New York, out-of-fashion Barcelona… But strangely, one never thinks of Bellinzona. Why this choice?
[04.11.10 14:35:32] PGDP: My arrival in Ticino came about primarily due to logistical demands, which is to say that my work has always been highly appreciated in Northern Europe, and living in Switzerland allows me to travel more easily to wherever opportunity and my projects might take me. I like challenges and settling in Ticino seemed the most appropriate choice. And I say “challenge” because of the fact that Ticino suffers an inferiority complex towards the rest of Switzerland. As someone who has only been here a short time, I notice this particularly when I travel to the rest of Switzerland. Perhaps due to its connection to theatrical and sanctimonious Italy, perhaps because historically more has been done elsewhere, and with greater energy, it’s a fact that Ticino is struggling to make an impact on the contemporary art scene, and that the actors in the sector in Ticino have a harder time demonstrating their vitality compared with their counterparts in the rest of Switzerland. Yes, I think I’m in the right place. What I like is to overcome things, to sweat to achieve them, to achieve things by hard work. Coming to Switzerland to knock on the doors of art institutes for subsidies, funds and study grants isn’t for me. I first want to demonstrate that I deserve them, and then I’ll knock on doors here and there for subsidies for my ambitious projects.
[04.11.10 14:39:21] JMR: Ticino is a place that I’ve known well for years, and for some time it has seemed to me that many things are moving in the right direction. But unfortunately, that’s not something that’s acknowledged to a fair degree. Looking at the relationship with Italy, and the role of the federal Switzerland, as much geopolitical as cultural, what conclusions can you draw? What can Ticino do or has it done – for better or for worse – to find itself in this position?
[04.11.10 14:48:00] PGDP: When I was in Italy and talked to my “artistic colleagues” who took advantage of the prosperity in Switzerland, I was horrified. This is explained by the fact that they would tell me how for years that had lived practically without working, in the biblical sense of the term, by which I mean: I plough, I sow, I water and I plough, in order at the end to harvest the potatoes. For a person like me, who is used to working hard and sowing much to harvest a single, miserable potato, this was truly offensive. My dear colleagues explained to me how they would reap the Federal Art Awards, funds from “generous multinationals”, even foreign companies with their headquarters in Switzerland, long artists residences of up to a year, and how they would then have the bad taste to present some inanity at the end of the residence to justify their presence.
The geopolitical situation is absolutely a matter of chance and doesn’t determine success or failure; on the contrary, the proximity to Italy itself would be much better exploited if, and let’s be open about it, not everything was made into a comparison with Italy. A marvellous Italy exists, full of serious people, full of good will, and who, on their small scale, still have the courage to produce without making political compromises and compromises with the curatorial institutions. And the same thing is happening, I believe, in Ticino. The thing is to help all this fervent activity to emerge, the new work which is finally emerging in Ticino. I myself am “publicising” here the work of many colleagues and actors on the Ticino scene. It seems to me fair to help one another, transcending stale and century-old enmities. It’s time to work together to show how strong the offer is, and how interesting a visit to an art venue can be.
[04.11.10 14:50:16] JMR: Staying in Ticino, before returning to universal issues, give me an objective look at the cultural offerings which are worth being mentioned.
[04.11.10 15:03:05] PGDP: First of all, the CACT, and not just because I’m working with this organisation but because it’s always offered a programme that’s vast, international and very interesting. And now, with the collateral events, the CACT will truly be a point of reference, not only within Switzerland but also on an international level. We can also safely mention the Ticino Kunsthalle. However, don’t forget that the CACT is at the beginning of its life at the heart of the circuit of Swiss museums, being recognises as an art institute equal to the Kunsthalle and other national museums (all you need is to look at the list of these institutions on the CACT membership card). And then the original and sometimes surprising Sotterrainei dell’Arte, directed by Jean-Marie Reynier: here’s a good example of how to be an artist, a curator, an art critic and a human being, all in a single person. Each time I have the chance to visit I Sotterranei I’m surprised, since each event is different from the last and you don’t know what to expect next time, while at the same time there is a conceptual coherence and a courageous curatorial policy.
Then, I very much like the ArsPolis initiative, organised by Michele Balmelli, owner and curator of the eponymous gallery in Lugano, and Al Fadhil, another very interesting artist and curator. As I said in person to Al Fadhil and to Balmelli, the first Edition Zero of the ArsPolis event was important, not so much for the selection or non-selection of particular artists or venues in Lugano rather than other ones, as for the fact of organising something.
And I’ll repeat the importance of doing rather than talking…
Other venues come to mind, but their offer is so dull and sporadic that I sincerely can’t find any objective reason to mention them.
You need more energy and in particular more passion for art, more sense of participation and interest for the work of others, too, it’s not enough to add fuel just to your own fire if you want this Ticino to emerge.
Those venues I’ve cited have the desire, passion for art and energy to sell their projects – we’ll surely see some nice things there in the near future.
[04.11.10 15:05:59] JMR: Coming back to you… on your website, on your Facebook profile, I find: Franko B, Warbear, Pasolini, gender, humanism and irony… what are some new developments for you and Ticino in these areas?
[04.11.10 15:19:50] PGDP: In Ticino, I’m continuing with the themes which are close to my heart, I certainly haven’t changed register, on the contrary, here I feel yet freer, in a civilised country, which, still, incredibly, enjoys direct democracy (for an Italian like me, that’s pure science fiction). The names you mentioned bring back memories and experiences which are still alive for me, since they are, by chance, friends whom I still see. Franko B is one of the most incredible people I know. I could spend hours listening to his humble, simple but always attentive manner, an intelligent manner, too, for presenting art, love and sex in a total mixture which is life itself.
On a personal level, I’m extremely happy about the project at the PAC which unites us around a common destiny, i.e. the path of mankind towards a “post-technological society” as Casanova called it. The partnership with Franko B will certainly continue. As far as Warbear is concerned, another friend of mine, another strong personality who, with his concepts, reflections and dispatches challenges the convention, and, as has been said on more than one occasion, his reflections and provocations create these magnificent cerebral discharges which should be the brain’s principal function. Unfortunately, today there are really very few brains with active cerebral discharges, we’re still waiting for someone to hold a brainteaser above our heads to make us react.
Pasolini came to mind the other day, and on this topic I’ll copy/paste what you wrote on Facebook to another great friend Massimo du duo (anarcocks) Massimo & Pierce of Black Sun Productions.
Massimo had posted an image which recalled Pasolini 35 years after his death; we read the millionth unfortunate tirade by Berlusconi on “I’d rather look at girls than be gay”, so I posted to Massimo: “Oh yes, it seems that history really teaches nothing, my dear Massimo…” He hasn’t quite got the idea, whoever posted the image, and instead it’s history which leaves scars on us… but someone seems too used to looking at other people’s bodies rather than his own body and thus forgets to touch the old wounds which he has, since we all have them. What sadness. I’ve a small but precious book on Pasolini on the Bologna Cinematheque, purchased at the mythical bookshop Il Mulino in Bologna: Pasolini’s TV. With these few lines, we meet the great and prophetic Pasolini, who was already talking about TV à la Berlusconi back in the 1970s. If we think that here we are at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, it gives us an unpleasant shiver to read certain statements made by a prime minister. An accolade.”
Gender, humanism and irony, I would like to combine them in a single word: life.
As I’ve already said, we no longer need an encyclopaedia to define ourselves, neither in our own eyes or in the eyes of others. These are all themes which are close to my heart and which I continue to study thanks to my projects.
[04.11.10 15:23:59] JMR: An interview on Skype, Facebook references, multiple identities, virtual identities… As the final question of this interview, what can you/do you want to say on these new media? On flexible boundaries?
[04.11.10 15:37:38] PGDP: I think that the arrival and development of Web 2.0 has really called into question the concept of space time. Many people, still too many, haven’t yet understood the potential of how much it offers us each day, due to the active position it has finally given us when we sit in front of a monitor, which shouldn’t be that of a passive TV experience. For the rest, we are at this very moment in the middle of exchanging ideas, concepts, words and also files, digital documents and still other things in real time. It’s a vast domain which I personally love to explore through my projects as well. A gift for you, for example, is the first case where you can download one of my works free of charge via a QR code and exchange it with others as you see fit.
Or also my very recent project Faccia Libro, offered to all subscribers to the CACT fanzine. It’s an entertaining project created entirely by hand and which will be much talked about and though about. Flexible borders which thus aim to bring people closer to each other. For the contemporary art world in particular, this remains a vast and unknown territory, still to be lived and explored. A territory which often scares people since it confronts us with archaic fears and languages and other “products” which we’re unable to explain. When I hear a visitor say “I swear, I really don’t understand anything about modern art (to use the term many people use to refer to contemporary art),” I always give them a big smile and say, “Sir, you don’t have to understand art, you have to live it. You should have the same approach as when you listen to a piece of music, classical music, maybe. Perhaps no-one ever told you that you need to know how to read a score to appreciate the marvellous force and harmony of classical music? There you are, so let yourself be transported by your emotions, abandon dogmas, stereotypes, preconceptions and enjoy the truth of the human being inside of you, free of all conditions dictated by society, of all morality and above all of political or religious doctrines of all kinds. There, you’re ready now. Now, you know all there is to know about contemporary art.”
[04.11.10 15:39:59] JMR: Great, thank you very much, do you have anything you’d like to add which is close to your heart?
[04.11.10 15:41:32] PGDP: Yes, it’s been a great pleasure for me to have had this opportunity to talk about not a profession but a great passion, “making contemporary art”. Thank you very much and thank you to Daté for this opportunity.
(Published with the courtesy of the author and Daté Magazine.)
November 18th 2010 <
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