You work a lot with political topics: refugees, poverty, social inequality ... For me, working with such topics in contemporary art seems to be problematic, in a way. Art always performed reflections on political agenda and, eventually, we have all learned that everything is political. On the other hand, art that deals with sharp political issues of Western society is capitalized quickly and easily. No issues seem to be discussed so intensively at numerous panel discussions in the framework of another biennial. At the same time, I think the influence of institutionalized contemporary art on society and politics is very much overestimated. What tactical and strategic goals do you set for yourself, developing the topics in your works?
Fabio Santacroce: The political dimension of my work reflects, among other, the same perplexities highlighted in your question and rejects the exhausting debate, self-pontification in which a lot of contemporary art got jammed.
That emancipatory ability to create awareness has had a sort of side effect: it seems that the most consciousness produced so far concerns its own status of controversy. But this somehow became so normative and assimilated that it doesn’t constitute neither a disillusion nor a disincentive. And certainly, all art is political if we finally cease thinking about the art system, and more generally the term “political”, as if they were functioning default in a benevolent or romanticized left-wing orientation.
Even the most progressive artistic ambition ended up in being cannibalized and has perpetuated the dominant patriarchal western-centrist colonial model. We are all trapped and we are all contributing to a mythology that frantically tries to unravel itself, seeking for absolution and fortifications, between common sense, academia, institutionalization and mystification. In this system of value creation, the general public and, always more the artist end up being the less determining and relevant. Hence the art world’s ever-increasing exclusiveness, power structure and detachment from the vulnerable world, which is very often placed as a mere object for a radical chic plagiarism.
It is within this given frame (very well aligned to other cultural and labor sphere) that we deliberately inscribe, encapsulate our practices; in this negotiation/intimidation we stretch our postures and we are called to normalize its predominant inequality, dissimulate the animosity, set the right tone and garnish, sophisticate our stances. In this neurotic arbitrariness we consciously explicit, hide, shape and undermine our gestures.
Far from any sort of petulance or reverence/compliance, I firmly believe that there is still lots of fertility for great inspiration and galvanizing art. Besides every demonization and contradiction, we are and we will be still able to experience and crash into amazing art.
The desire of generating beauty out of brutality is where I stay mostly focused on. I try to navigate safely within the schizophrenic, over-fragmented and compulsive narrations of Postmodernism. Both as an artist and as a curator, I’m interested in the creation of works that chew my contingent experience, engaging with its mechanisms of oppression, optimization and self-redemption. Everything is staged through visual short circuits, in a seamless play between reality and theatre excitement and exacerbation, euphoria and exhaustion.
The topics you aforementioned exist for me as subtexts for the exploration of a more existentialist vision: this has to do mostly with the vulnerability and the resilience of the human spirit. I want my works transcending their political substrate, resisting the verbosity and living/acting plastically, but still sounding fomenting and visceral. Full comprehension is escaped on behalf of a more creationist visionary.
Vitaly Bezpalov: It turns out that the opportunity for art to speak unambiguously and consistently about something, whether it is beauty or vulnerability, is still alive for you. In a sense, this is a very ambitious position, which requires the visual language to return to the field of modernist gestures. I, in turn, really like the current trend of art to pretend as if it does not speak about anything specific, but instead makes only vague hints not clear of what. Indeed, when we talk about beauty or vulnerability in art, we talk about beauty and vulnerability, but not about art itself. Whereas art, which does not say anything definite, ultimately shows nothing but itself, reminding us that everything else is everything else. In your opinion, will something remain of art if it ceases to “talk about something” (is this even possible?), and if so, what exactly will remain?
FS: I don’t believe that art can eschew at all from narration or pursuing any sort of mutism or passive self-referentiality. Every formal choice underlies a narrative and condenses a discursive potential. Whether it speaks didactically, reticently, exhaustively, vaguely, materially or conceptually etc, art never abdicated its status of language. Moreover, in all its wide approaches, art proves to be unsatisfied with laconic, hurried and unequivocal statements. This is why quotes, borrowed urgencies and brain-teasers constitute the dominant syntax and seem to prevail over the works.
Much of the so-declared disengaged or “casual” art sounds to me as much ideological and protocol as its counterpart and it doesn’t provide any better alleviation or self-exoneration, emancipation. It will still depend and will still exist within a reference system necessary to its own declaration/convalidation, in opposition/alternative to something else. I feel like my work lays between this reciprocal intolerance: restive towards braggart/nonchalant art and pretty bored by those conceiving it as a superior wisdom or as a sacrificial practice.
Beauty and vulnerability are immanent, they resist every chronology and are still very relevant and prolific to me. I like to think of art as a latent force, an exponential plane. Or as a sort of reactive agent, a lyophilized compound that takes shapes when comes in contact and conglomerates itself with other external agents.
NS: Seems like it turns out that art which you describe is some kind of a buffer zone through which streams of narratives and meanings pass, continuing further, never stopping for too long. These streams begin and end somewhere outside, while art eventually plays the role of a sort of checkpoint. It doesn’t exist—instead, there is only a buffer zone which can do nothing but distort the input signal. In your opinion, what will we have if we remove this distortion module from the chain? Will we still have beauty or truth and if so, what kind of beauty and truth will it outline?
FS: You are delivering a vibrant visual scene out of a discussion which tries to negotiate and alleviate the ineffable condition of art. But as we can prove, we are still confined/attached to our tangible reality, going through existing materiality, linguistic registers, reconfiguration and sensory solicitation. Buffer, checkpoint, incubation, procession, reflection, sound, surveillance, transiency, violence depicted in your question are very attuned to my artistic scenarios and urgencies. This elliptical un-ending fluctuation of tensions and narratives permeates the work. I see it as one of the possible solutions and conditions, but definitely the most congenial to my practice. Given this frame, I would say that art exists.
The removal of this distortion module would give us back a ductil, porous world, rhizomatic and endowed with beauty, truth, lies, horror, etc.. everything equipped with multiple skins and multi layered images of the same. Following this condition of exponentiality or reactivity expressed in the previous question, art penetrates into these sub-structures and unveils, extrapolates its own one, providing its specific paths of intelligibility and experience. Among other things, this is how I figure out art.
In my recent works, for instance, this process applies to pop aesthetics, displays and rituals concerning celebration decorations, DIY crafts, gift ideas and domestic art. Commercialized objects depicting current trends, such as shabby chic, nautical decor ideas and its emulation, or school/home-made crafts realized via online tutorials, are incorporated, reproduced or reconfigured in larger installations and sculptures dealing with notions of anti-monumentality, sentimentalism vs idiosyncrasy. I’m very fascinated by the formal quality and the symbolic value dispensed. There is no cynical or romanticizing attitude but more a contemplative will and kind of negotiation/owing concerning sorrow and relief.
The buffer you mentioned is therefore placed within this specific sphere of decor/beauty intersecting with everyday life, leisure and festivity, which I tend to exacerbate and dry out.
VB: Among other things, you mention that world with no art is doomed to be filled with ‘multi layered images of the sameness’. Continuing our attempts to provide art with a certain set of characteristics, it can be said, according to you, that art is what allows images to differ from each other. Art brings variety into the world. This can take place within the same object (for instance, regarding the commercialized objects whose meaning and appearance you turn over when making them objects of art), or serve as a distinction between several objects that would be doomed to merge into a certain indistinguishability without the involvement of art. What allows art to possess such power of differing things among themselves, and how does it become possible to distinguish an object of art from any ordinary one?
FS: In my specific case, the process of decontextualization, extrapolation concerning ordinary objects is always triggered and carburized by an impetus, visionarity and enduring experience. I set a kind of empathy through observation, scrutiny and deconstruction, before incorporating them into my artworks. I don’t mean this as a special grant of major value and usually I stage them without laborious alteration.
Generally, I prefer my work to not get lost in the sophistication of intricate manufacture, excess of details or visual congestion. I want to pursue a dry and as much minimal as exuberant appeal through a very terse gesture.
As mentioned, I employ objects that belong to a specific sphere and that populate my social background. Some constitute a trend which I see significant and eloquent within my narrations.
I think that it is this very process of prior "familiarization" or obtuse affection/collision that enables the translation from the every day to the realm of art. The monolithic identity or objectivity undergo a fragmentation. It is necessary that these objects are somehow imbued, charged with a form of obsession or any sort of intellectual tension.