Guest Interview n°59: Umberto Chiodi

How and when did you decide to become an artist? What did you aim for when you start this career and which were the most significant moments (or people) that shaped your path?
After the compulsory education I chose an art high school and afterwards I attended the Fine Art Academy in Bologna. I just followed a passion, which unfortunately entailed leaving other interests aside, such as my passion for music. I had a couple of stimulating teachers, despite a general penury of Masters. I remember with great affection the artist Gabriele Partisani, professor of “Anatomia del segno” (a course on the analysis of trace marks) at the academy, who passed away recently. In Milan, the city where I’ve been living since 2007, I met some fundamental people, among which the gallerist Enzo Cannaviello.

Your work developed year after year, allowing you to experiment with different techniques and media, but the illustration has always had a key role in your artistic production, would you like to tell me something more about this intimate relationship?
Maybe we should first define what the word “illustration” means. In ancient times it was a religious practice, then it became a suggestive adornment for the publishing industry, till it found application in the field of commercial advertising. Moreover much painting, above all the one from the past, could be regarded as illustrative, comparable to a window to the world that has its own internal laws of representation, narration of a text or a fact. The illustration, which my imagination refers to, is the one that was used in Europe for scientific, didactic and satirical purposes, from the end of the 18th century to the early 19th century. These images retrace, in a unique way, the spirit of the period when they were created. Looking at them today is as if they become bearers of short circuits, documents of the human beings’ modern neurosis. They can be scientific as well as grotesque, educative as well as misleading, influential as well as naïve. They are examples of illusions that only history and time can unmask. These images can be defined as popular and in these cases the fence of a page could become a very desirable place.

Which are the links between your work from the beginning of your career and the most recent ones?
The connections are, for example, the references to the collective imaginary and the unconscious, along with the attempt to fix the chaos. Other links are the manual labour, the crossbreeding of different traditional languages, materials and heterogeneous marks, the recycling of what is out of practice, things that had lost their original function.
There are continuous references to the childhood as a lost world or a possibility of change. In my latest series “Crossage”, as well as in the assemblages and in the collages, created in 2009, I gave the illusion of perspective up with the idea that the work could be read as a whole, as a play with different, conflicting levels and elements, which live in our physical environment in the form of objects.

Which are your main inspiration sources – in art, literature, theatre, cinema etc. both from the past as in the present? And what is your mood when you realize that you have had a good ‘eureka moment’?
Everything that surrounds me could be an incitement: the discovery of an object, a poetic dimension, but also daily news or a critic essay. The artistic intuitions are often the effect of a syntony, the proof of the idea of “Correspondences” proposed by Baudelaire.

For some time, there has been an on-going debate (with opposing points of view) about the modernity of painting as an artistic media; do you think that painting is really a dead language?
The main problem in art today, in my opinion, is the relationship of slavery and bulimia that we have with the Unconscious and the Messages. That said, there are still good illustrations and good “exercises in painting”, which depict the awkwardness of the contemporaneity or draw the attention to the time of Nature.

What turns an artist into a truly contemporary author (besides the civil registry) and what turns his/her work into something significant for a wider audience?
A contemporary artist must have the ability to create tension with his/her time, to call it into question and again to give signs that survive the trends. We should say that the more an artist is able to follow his/her goals, the more his/her work become significant for the audience, but it is hard to fulfil. Then dramatically it is the economic aspect that gives the final word in establishing the value of things.

What do you think about the blend among different professions that ever more often deconstruct established roles (artists/curators, auction houses that become galleries etc.)?
In the “flow” we are living in, everything is blended. Close to the issue of specialisation of knowledge, the problem seems to be in the annulment of variety and the flattening of everything into a big net. But the unstoppable catastrophe we are going for is due to the confusion between culture and marketing, between the idea of progress and the quantitative development. Could we trust in the fact that the artist will work for a curatorial project with the same responsibility with which he creates an artwork? I hope so.

Nietzsche defines nihilism as “the most disturbing of all guests”, do you agree or did it happen to you to have more unsettling “guests”?
I would judge other “guests” equally thorny, especially because of my nihilistic view or because of my idealism.

Are there any ideas or unfulfilled projects that you want to take on in the future?
Well, to say thank you to Prof. Schneitzhoeffer (junior).

The latest works of Umberto Chiodi are currently exhibited in a solo show entitled “Crossage” on view at Studio D’Arte Cannaviello in Milan until 10th January 2015.

Interview by Monica Lombardi 
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Anna Franceschini | Laws Of Attraction

Spike Island, a Bristol based international centre devoted to the development of contemporary art and design, hosts “Laws of attraction”, the first solo exhibition in the UK of Anna Franceschini (b. Pavia, 1979; living and working in Amsterdam and Milan), one of Italy’s most talented artists and filmmakers. Following her personal research path that focuses on cinema and exploits both analogue film and innovative techniques, Franceschini presents her work from the past five years to the UK public, including HD videos and silent and audio 16mm short films, some of them transferred to digital media and arranged in multi-channel projections.

Shooting places – workshops, factories, funfairs etc. –, objects, devices and methods of humans’ everyday life, the artist lingers on small details, isolating them from their contexts to bring out a new dignity and a unique poetic dimension. Anna Franceschini’s works are close ups of different worlds made of evidences of people’s existence, but without their clear presence, shot to return fragments of the forgotten or hidden to the viewer. In “The player may not change his position” (2009) the artist films an almost deserted amusement park where carousels start working with round and hypnotic lights, sounds and movements. Parts of light up chairoplanes, bumper cars and roller coasters are depicted in a melancholic, still bewitched, place that reminds of “a rec room, which comes alive soon after the children go to sleep.” But the contexts never disappear completely and keep on reminding us of cinematographic trickeries that turn reality into something more suggestive as in “The Stuffed Shirt” (2012) where clothes of a dry-cleaning factory are pumped up with air that pushes them to the limit of explosion and give them the look of a machine-like puppet, recalling the myth of Golem. Continuously paying tribute to the history of filmmaking through a wisely use of substance and fiction, Anna Franceschini gifts us exercises in participant observation, hanging instants where the human being is both missing and leading.

The exhibition will run until December 14th 2014.

Monica Lombardi 
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Charting Alberto Giacometti’s Course

Nearly everyone has had, at least once in their life, the opportunity to see the work of one of the greatest sculptors of the 20th century, Alberto Giacometti (1901 – 1966, Switzerland). And yet, for those who had not had the pleasure of encountering Giacometti’s creations in real life and happen to be in Milan in the upcoming weeks, GAM – Modern Art Gallery in Milan hosts an important exhibition of his work, curated by Catherine Grenier, director and chief curator of Foundation Alberto and Annette Giacometti in Paris. The exhibition was drawn from the collection of the Foundation devoted to the Swiss master, collecting more than sixty amazing masterpieces of the likes of Boule suspendue, Femme qui marche, La cage, Quatre femmes sur socle, Buste d’Annette and the imposing Grande femme.

The selection of works spans from sculpture, painting and drawing conceived and created between the 20s and the 60s, showing the artist’s path and influences, from the very beginning of his career: his studies in Switzerland, the encounter with Surrealists and research on the unconscious and imagination, along with reflections on the surrounding space and its boundaries, that result in Giacometti’s characteristic lengthened silhouettes. Giacometti’s distinctive walking figures are thin and apparently fragile (even if most of them are made of a strong alloys, such as bronze) and reflect perturbation and loneliness, though maintaining a formal grace, linearity and harmony of pure forms. The exhibition – the first of four major shows arranged at GAM for its set up museum devoted to sculpture – is articulated in five sections linked by different themes, accompanied by archival pictures, sketches and documents to help viewers contextualize the career of a genius beloved by masters of his time, from Sartre to Beckett and Genet.
The exhibition will run through February 1st 2015 at GAM in Milan.

Monica Lombardi – Images courtesy of GAM 
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Cecily Brown | The Rule Of Paint As Flesh

Cecily Brown (b. 1969, London) holds a place of honour among contemporary artists who work with painting, contributing to its continuous rebirth and experimentation. Praised in different cultural environments and able to get great market quotations – tough job for woman, even today –, Brown is an extremely expressive painter whose work is characterised by an intense chromatic language, mid-way between abstraction and figuration. Dialoguing with the history of painting, the English artist creates tangled compositions where distinctly identifiable and loosely outlined human figures sink and emerge from a chaotic, physical background. The distorted naked bodies with their fleeting nature and the overall structures reveal the influence of several artistic experiences, from Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon to Willem de Kooning, El Greco or the Impressionists, giving life to a piercing, gestural and layered painting. Brown’s wild, animal-like dimension is both suffering and joyful, there is no space for romanticism, while sexuality and eroticism prevail in most of her works. Sex and death are connected in acts of orgiastic pleasure, carnivals where rude and sharp emotions seem to carry on and enhance the “De Kooningesque” rule of paint as flesh.

For those keen on deepening their knowledge of Cecily Brown’s work, GAM – Civic gallery of modern and contemporary arts in Turin has arranged a significant retrospective devoted to the artist. Curated by Danilo Eccher, the exhibition follows the previous show organised at Macro in 2003. The exhibition counts about 50 works realized with different techniques such as large-scale canvases, ink and pencil on paper, gouaches, watercolours and 7 monotypes that encompass Brown’s complex research, giving the viewer the unique opportunity to admire pieces coming directly from the artist’s studio, besides the ones belonging to European and American private collections.
The exhibition will run through February 1st 2015 at GAM in Turin.

Monica Lombardi 
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Paris Photo 2014 Returns to the Grand Palais

After the latest successful edition of FIAC closed its gates back in October, the huge glass exhibition pavilion of the Grand Palais returned to the centre of contemporary art for a weekend dedicated to photography with Paris Photo. As in the previous years, the well-regarded fair (now in its 18th edition) brought new trends and historical landmarks of photography world to the French capital. 143 galleries and 26 international publishers coming from 35 countries, took part in a rich program of exhibitions spanning different approaches, schools of thought and media: from reportage to still life, from fashion to manipulated photography, from fictional and dreamlike narratives to reality.

Among the big artists and young talents we counted the names of famous Düsseldorf school members Thomas Struth and Candida Höfer, as well as William Eggleston, Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David LaChapelle, Bettina Rheims, Ed Templeton with his striking street photo-installation, Vic Muniz, James Casabere, Cristina De Mittel, Marwane Pallas, Massimo Vitali or Ren Hang, just to mention a few. International galleries and publishers of the like of David Zwirner, Gagosian, Galerie Dominique Fiat, Pace/MacGill, RoseGallery, Carlier|Gebauer, Thaddaeus Ropac, Zilberman, Hatje Cantz, La Librairie du Jeu de Paume returned to Paris Photo or were here to present themselves for the first time in an ever evolving and growing international showcase. Italian players were present, too, even if in little less imposing numbers, since the photography market is still feeble in the country: Guido Costa displayed a selection of small black and white vintage prints of Nan Goldin, a brand new series by Paul Thorel, Carlo Valsecchi’s “Factory Series” and Boris Mikhalov’s small dyptich from his iconic “Brown Series”; Photo & contemporary focused on international research and the promotion of Italian artists abroad, and Paci contemporary showed the irony and audacity of Leslie Krims in a bold solo show.

Paris Photo 2014 completed its full schedule with an exhibition arranged by the LINK NAME featuring a selection of recent acquisitions, and with painted photography from India and Southern Asia of the Alkazi Collection of Photography. For those who are interested in artists’ books, “Hidden Islam” By Nicolo Degiorgis won in the Aperture Foundation Photobook Awards, while “Imaginary Club” by Oliver Sieber is the winner of the Photobook Of The Year and Christopher Williams with “The Production Line of Happiness” won in the new category titled Photography Catalogue of the Year.
See you next year, Paris Photo!

Images from top to bottom: Ed Templeton, photo-installation of 28 photographs, curated by Emeric Glayse for Galerie Dominique Fiat, Paris / Courtesy Roberts&Tilton, Los Angeles / Copyright Ed Templeton; View of the Grand Palais, courtesy of Jérémie Bouillon for Paris Photo; Recent publications of La Librairie du Jeu De Paume; View of the Grand Palais, courtesy of Marc Domage for Paris Photo.

Monica Lombardi 
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Richard Tuttle: I Don’t Know or The Weave of Textile Language

Richard Tuttle (born in 1941 in New Jersey) came to prominence in the 1960s, combining sculpture, painting, poetry and drawing. He has become revered for his delicate and playful approach, often using such humble, everyday materials as cloth, paper, rope and plywood. Two major art institutions in London – the Whitechapel Gallery and Tate Modern – are currently showing a comprehensive survey of Tuttle’s work through a retrospective exhibition, a specially commissioned project and a new publication, titled “I Don’t Know, Or The Weave of Textile Language”.

Taking textiles – the material that is most commonly associated with craft and fashion, yet lies hidden behind many of the world’s most acclaimed works of art – as the starting point of the project, the exhibition investigates the importance of this material throughout history, across Tuttle’s remarkable body of work and into the latest developments in his practice. The Whitechapel Gallery presents a major exhibition surveying Richard Tuttle’s career from the 1960s to today: showcasing works selected in close dialogue with the artist the exhibition centres on his use of fibre, thread and textile, all positioned in a formal relationship with each other and in direct response to the architectural framework Whitechapel Gallery’s historic exhibition spaces.

Alongside this exhibition, Tate Modern presents a newly commissioned sculpture in its iconic Turbine Hall. Principally constructed of fabric, it is be the largest work ever created by the artist, measuring over twelve metres in height. It will bring together a group of specially-made fabrics, each of which combines natural and man-made fibres to create different textures in bright colours. These will be suspended from the ceiling as a sculptural form, contrasting with the solid industrial architecture of the Turbine Hall, to create a huge volume of joyous colour and fluidity.

Rujana Rebernjak – Images courtesy of Andrew Dunkley 
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Sigmar Polke | Alibis

For the third time in twenty years, Tate Modern devotes an exhibition to Sigmar Polke (1941-2010, Germany), a master by many considered one of the greatest artists of all times. Titled Alibis, the huge retrospective organized by the London-based museum pays tribute to and retraces the extraordinary career of an experimenter who was able to play with a wide range of subjects, media and materials. Starting his artistic path in the ‘60s, when Pop Art was taking over the United States, Polke used the image of widespread symbols and characters of mass culture as a source of inspiration for his artworks, reinterpreting them in a personal and unconventional way. His work is more than a mere reproduction; it is a process of layering of mechanical and manual reproductions, which can be added in order to exploit most of the diverse options at the painter’s disposal.

Painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture and drawing were just some of the vehicles employed by the German artist to dissect the differences between reality and its appearance. With a mocking, always clever, humour, Polke put on unpredictable parodies of political, social, moral and religious issues, as well as of their forms of authorities. In Alice in Wonderland (1971) we see the patterns of banal commercial fabrics stretched on the canvas and showing the movements of vigorous soccer players over which is painted a silhouette of a volley ball player put side by side to an image of Alice, accompanied by the caterpillar smocking a mushroom with its distinctive hookah. The reference to Alice’s growing and shrinking is connected with drugs experimentation (apparently figment of the artist’s experience) as well as the physical power and elasticity. While in the evocative series Watchtower (initiated in the ‘80s) there is a clear remark to the barbarities of the Nazism with its concentration camps and observation posts, symbols of past often denied and rejected.

Topical facts are ingredients of an art – an undisputed example of conceptual painting – which wondered about its own nature, the perception of mass produced objects and the meaning of stealing or appropriating other artists’ identity, overlaying images with other images. Creating canvases that range from small to large scale, Sigmar Polke treated painting as a hybrid, which carried established conventions and innovations, figuration and modern abstraction, high and low culture.

The exhibition organised by the Museum of Modern Art in New York with Tate Modern in London will run until 8th February 2015 and it is a must-see!

Monica Lombardi 
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Sophie Calle | Make Your Life A Masterpiece

For those who don’t know her, Sophie Calle (b. 1953, Paris) is one of the most celebrated French conceptual artist of our time, even though it would perhaps be more accurate to define her one of the few active “total artists”. Indeed, there isn’t any division between Calle’s personal life and her works, which come from a complete symbiosis between all aspects of her existence. Since the end of the 70s, the artist’s poetics and the resulting projects arise from her everyday, where intimate life is turned into open narrations that people can experience and embrace as theirs own. Through the use of different media – from photography to video accompanied by writings (what is recognised as Narrative art) – art and life are blended and become indistinct, and are exhibited regardless of the issues of privacy that their deep autobiographical inclination may prompt.

Sharing the secrets of her soul and the ones of people close to her, Calle looks without filters into the issues of private feelings, confidentiality, death and separation from beloved ones, whether they are parents on the brink of passing away or fed up lovers. In “L’Hôtel” (1981), Calle asks to be hired in a hotel to photograph the rooms left by clients thus collecting their traces, while in “La Filature” (1981) she hires a detective to photograph her and at the same time keeps a personal diary in order to compare the two points of view on her everyday life. When called to represent France at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007, she surprised and intrigued the viewers by displaying an installative work with a strong emotional effect entitled “Take care of yourself”. Once again exploiting different media, Calle invited 107 women from diverse fields to analyse, interpret and comment a letter (ending with the words “take care of yourself”) addressed to the artist by her then boyfriend who wanted to break up with her. The role of bonds and the value of memories are present in “Raquel, Monique” as well, where Calle eulogizes the life and death of her mother, Monique Sindler (Rachel was another name by which she was known.), while in “Voir la mer”, the artist catches the feelings of happiness and dismay of people in Istanbul, led for the first time to see the sea despite living in a city surrounded by it. The works of Sophie Calle, though characterised by a clean and essential style, tend to cause a sense of voyeurism and intrusion – a sense that has become ever more common in our present time.

While getting closer to its 30th year of activity, Castello di Rivoli, the museum of contemporary art of Turin, devotes a huge exhibition to the French artist. In MAdRE – the show curated by Beatrice MerzSophie Calle features two of the above mentioned long term projects (“Rachel, Monique” and “Voir la mer”), meant to dialogue with the historical, amazing spaces of the castle. Calle offers a good excuse to visit one of the most beautiful (even if recently a bit snoozing) art venues in Italy. The exhibition will run until 15th February 2015.

Monica Lombardi 
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Ryan Trecartin | Site Visit at KW Berlin

Having participated in many important events around the world – not least the 55th Venice Biennale curated by Massimiliano Gioni – and despite not being “Younger than Jesus” anymore, Ryan Trecartin (b. 1981, Texas. Lives and works in Los Angeles, California) continues to excite the art world with a first show in a German institution – the cool KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin.

Resuming his collaboration with fellow artist and long-time creative partner Lizzie Fitch, Trecartin presents “Site Visit”, a show curated by Ellen Blumenstein and Klaus Biesenbach that features a new multi-channel film and a site-specific sound installation. Defined “the most consequential artist to have emerged since the 1980s” by The New Yorker, Trecartin uses a versatile approach, based on skilful use of different media and distinctive involvement of complex characters, to create films and multidisciplinary works strongly connected to the aesthetics and social codes of contemporary pop culture. Wary of half-measures, both in terms of form and content, Trecartin exploits the sharing process among his collaborators in order to display and analyze feelings underlining youth culture. Thus, he shows “over-positivity”, anxiety, nihilism or the effects of uncontrolled consumerism: “We don’t act inside or outside of consumer culture, entertainment, or art culture, we consume and translate, we’re a by-product of it.” At first glance bothersome and sometimes even disgusting, the power of his images is only appreciated by the viewers after a longer period of interaction.

Trecartin’s bizarre characters are certainly freaks (though, in all honesty, they are not that far from personalities we can find broadcast on TV, Internet or in video games on a daily basis), exaggerated simulacrums of our society, flavored with a caustic humor, which overwhelm the scene and make us reflect upon an entire generation dominated by media consumption. These players are part of chaotic stages where kitsch rules and the dramatization of thorny social issues is always around the corner. “Site Visit”, in tune with other Trecartin’s projects, bodes to be an engaging experience that won’t leave you emotionless, for better or for worse.

The exhibition will run until 11th January 2015 at KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin.

Monica Lombardi 
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Glitch | Interference Between Art And Cinema

On the occasion of the 10th edition of “The Day Of Contemporary Art” – the annual appointment introduced by the Association of Italian Museums of Contemporary Art to allow a larger audience to visit art venues for free –, PAC opened its latest show with the evocative title “Glitch. Interference between art and cinema”. It was Saturday evening and the area surrounding the art space was teeming with families and groups of people of different generations (mostly men), decorously queuing to see a joint exhibition, which bodes to examine the actual overlapping among disparate languages and expressive mediums, putting in contact contemporary art and cinema. The crowd in and outside the museum is striking and cheerful – certainly the free entrance, the eye-catching design of the event and the summer spirit help to attract visitors –, but the situation doesn’t really allow to enjoy the exhibited works, especially the videos, so we opt for returning to the venue the day after.

As expected, Sunday morning is calm as it is clearly autumn and the number of people seeing the show is much more reasonable. Following a structure based on three levels – cinematographic, installative and performative – the exhibition presents three projection rooms arranged with red curtains, black walls and aligned chairs, while long corridors in front of the garden and first floor are devoted to installations, prints, sculptures, pictures and books developed by numerous participating artists (mostly Italian or living in Italy) invited by the curator Davide Giannella. The list of more or less well-known names is extremely long; sixty-two artists were asked to share their peculiar research, which redefines the increasingly undefined boundaries between different expressive languages, united by a common passing of established classifications.

Among these artists we want to point out: Yuri Ancarani (b. 1972, Ravenna), who presents his trilogy devoted to extreme jobs including “Il capo” (2010), “Piattaforma luna” (2011) and “Da Vinci” (2012); Meris Angioletti (b. 1977, Bergamo) and her multidisciplinary approach; Rosa Barba (b. 1972, Sicily, lives and works in Berlin) with her moving sculptures made of light; Rossella Biscotti (b. 1978, Molfetta, Bari), who displays a video, an installation and a set of pictures based on the figure of “Donnie Brasco”, and Adrian Paci (b. 1969, Scuturi, Albania, lives and works in Milan) with his “Electric blue” (2010), a video we already talked about a year ago in occasion of his show, also held at PAC.

It’s hard to mention all the artists that are worth being mentioned, even because it would take a full day to see nearly half of the videos that are projected at alternate days, thus the experience has to be repeated at least twice (there is a season ticket that gives the opportunity to visit the show several times until its end). Even though the set-up is clear and captivating, maybe decreasing the number of artists would have made the exhibition more fulfilling (“and to think that usually we complain about the lack of content…”). “Glitch” will run until 6th January 2015 at PAC in Milan and it definitely deserves a visit.

Monica Lombardi 
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