27 June 2013
In response to great demand, we have decided to publish on our site the long and extraordinary interviews that appeared in the print magazine from 2009 to 2011. Forty gripping conversations with the protagonists of contemporary art, design and architecture. Once a week, an appointment not to be missed. A real treat. Today it’s Patrick Tuttofuoco’s turn.
Klat #01, winter 2009-2010.
A catalyst of energy and vitality, Patrick Tuttofuoco, after ten years of work, has decided it’s time for a change of key.
The witness to the change is the city of Berlin, one of the liveliest in Europe. Over time Tuttofuoco has acquired a very original artistic personality, based on a simple credo: art is above all a question of passion. After demanding projects like Revolving Landscape, that took him all over the world, Tuttofuoco has decided to shift to a more analytical, introspective attitude, employing the “mask” as a threshold between the self and the world, a focal point from which to begin again, on a new investigation and interpretation of his work…
Why did you decide to become an artist?
To be honest, I don’t think you decide to become an artist. At least not in the initial phase. You begin by responding to a desire, a passion, a curiosity. Then, later, when this need takes form, you have to make more precise choices. It is as if you were already inside a mechanism that sustains you and stimulates you, driven by a strong passion.
Before enrolling at the Brera Fine Arts Academy, you studied at the School of Architecture in Milan, at the Polytechnic. What made you decide to change your program?
I have always had a passion for art. While I was studying architecture I went to see exhibitions and paid attention to art. In that period, I didn’t think I could be an artist. At a certain point I began to wonder about what I was doing and I realized there was not any great emotional engagement in it. At the time, I felt like I had no energy. Then, conscious that I was not doing what I really wanted to do, I followed my real urge and signed up for art school. Put like that it seems like a very simple, banal passage. There are times when what you want to do seems very clear. From that point on everything was very easy and natural: leaving the architecture school, enrolling at the academy, dropping everything…
Was there a key person, a teacher, an artist who contributed to this change?
I was undoubtedly influenced by many friends I had then, people I still see. In that period I attended the lectures of Corrado Levi at the School of Architecture. Much of what I learned in that course definitely influenced me and convinced me to change. In the course Levi often talked about art, and he made many references to Alighiero Boetti, who was not so familiar to me at the time. His lectures were very moving, very intense. I have a very happy recollection of the time Corrado introduced me to Carol Rama. And I remember the lightness and simplicity with which Corrado communicated his knowledge and experience. That was a fundamental period, it was there that I understood that I could make art. Then, once I had arrived at the academy, I had the good luck to have some infinitely interesting classmates, and above all the opportunity to get to know Alberto Garutti, a very important moment for my growth and the growth of my work.
You didn’t graduate. What do you think today about these unfinished paths?
I had objectives then, or more precisely I had urges. I didn’t think it was important to get a degree at all costs. I won’t deny the fact that today, thinking back, I should at least have gotten my diploma at the academy. But I thought of the diploma as a formality, I didn’t feel any need for it. I wanted to concentrate on my work, and that took me in other directions, far from the classrooms of the academy.
Did you have the sensation of wasting time?
Yes. Obviously, this sensation of wasting time can be appropriate at a certain age. Today, on the other hand, I think it is harmful. Worrying about wasting time, in the end, is another waste of time, that generates frenzy. When I was younger I was more anxious and frenetic, now I am much less so.
Your early works had a clear aspect of participation, engaging the viewer in a playful way. Over time this dimension has become a fundamental factor of many of your works. Why this choice?
In the summer of ’97, for the first time, I felt the need to involve other persons in a work. I was at my grandmother’s house with my father. We were having some family problems at the time, nothing really serious, just ordinary issues. I wanted to go to London and I was worried, because for various reasons the trip was in jeopardy. I thought about how your family could alter and deviate your plans. One of my first works, Famiglia, of 1999, came precisely from these reflections: about how my choices, my decisions, depend on other people and are influenced by them. The actual photographic work came two years later, and in many ways it summed up the way I perceived life and reality in relation to my family. The work consisted in photographing the members of my family in a public place. At the time, I didn’t really know much about other artists, especially at an international level, who were reflecting on a relational aesthetic. I didn’t have any in-depth knowledge of the work of Nicolas Bourriaud, which spread these theories. I was very young and quite naive, there are many things I only discovered later.
In short, with over ten years of work behind you, how would you define art today?
My idea on art, on what it is, changes over the years. Today I might say that it is a very useful tool for understanding and decoding, in a very special way, what happens in the world, in reality. Art is a tool with incredible potential, capable of interpreting many aspects of reality that could otherwise not be translated. In many ways, it is like music: certain thoughts, ideas, concepts can be decoded and communicated only through artistic expression.
Is there any one work, even an early one, you consider particularly successful, or to which you are still attached?
I’d say it is definitely Grattacielo. In this sculpture, for the first time, I began to become aware of the relationship with form, combined in an inseparable way with the relationship with the people who contributed to its creation. In many ways, this laid the groundwork for many other works. At the time, I understood I was doing something that would be important for me. The project was a large sculpture that had to fill and saturate the space under an overpass in Pescara. The result was a structure capable of generating not only spatial but also human relations, because the project called for the involvement of other artists (Riccardo Previdi, Massimilano Buvoli, Christian Frosi, Massimo Grimaldi and Davide Minuti), with their own styles and points of view. The interaction of many different minds and ideas was positive, generating a unique work. This work was a fundamental phase, leading to the works that came later.
Regarding that work, critics often mention the utopian architecture of the 60’s: Archigram, Archizoom, etc. How are those experiences connected with your projects? What interested you about their research?
I was very attracted by those studios, and I am still fascinated by them. They struck me, also on an emotional level, when I discovered them. They influenced me and in many ways I identify with many of their theories. But I have never tried to apply them scientifically to my work, my works. They were the suggestive starting points I used in a very spontaneous, direct, almost instinctive way.
In-depth analysis by Jens Hoffman (Flash Art Italia, April-May 2003) has emphasized the social and relational aspects of your work. Engaging the audience, making them active, as in Velodream, of 2001 – where you built 10 pedal vehicles with a Futurist look –, seems to be one of the things that intrigues you most. Are you still interested in creating “aesthetic alliances” between your work and the viewer?
In that work, as in many others, by making the audience participate I felt involved myself. Now, after over ten years, I have undoubtedly changed. In my recent works I am more interested in the way in which single individuals relate to things. The process of viewer engagement is still there, but it is no longer direct. There is interaction, but it is mediated, open to various possibilities of interpretation. The relationship is more cognitive than physical. I try to construct objects and visions of reality to interpret, open forms, works whose meaning is constructed in relation to the individual viewer. Before, I tried to grasp and channel this process of interpretation, now I prefer to scatter it in a non-linear, less predictable flow.
In 2003 you participated at the Venice Biennial, when you were not yet 30 years old. How do you recall that experience?
The Venice Biennial was one of the most meaningful and exciting moments in my career. A very complex experience. I may have been one of the youngest artists at the event, and for Massimiliano Gioni, the curator who invited me, it was his first important curatorial experience. It was a sort of proving ground for us artists of La Zona. The work I brought was Brazil, which called for direct viewer participation. It was a vivid experience in many ways, including the climate: perhaps you remember the stifling heat that almost prevented people from moving. I clearly recall that inseparable mixture of happiness, excitement, fear and, at times, terror, which I often felt during the days of preparation of the show. Undoubtedly, I was much more ingenuous than I am now, and I probably lived that experience in an amplified way. In any case, it was a very important event that definitely helped me to grow, with some new awareness.
Where curators are concerned, at times they stimulate the creative process, but other times they can be a cumbersome, problematic presence. Have you had any particular experiences?
A lot depends on the relationship you establish, case by case, with curators. I have never had big battles with the curators with whom I have worked. In the end, I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. One example might be my experience with Francesco Bonami for the Enel Contemporanea project in Rome, in 2007. I was faced with a complex situation, full of potentially critical points. To work in a public space like Piazza del Popolo is thrilling, but it is also very difficult, and in that context Francesco operated with immense ability and intelligence. This made it possible for me to proceed without obstacles and without – at least I think so – losing my lucidity. In any case, apart from that experience, I mean it when I say that I have always worked with people with whom I have been able to discuss things, to achieve more or less successful results.
Your gallery of reference is Studio Guenzani. How did that relationship get started? How has this collaboration with an important gallery changed your perception of the art system?
I was still at the academy when I had my first show at Studio Guenzani. I was lucky, because at the time my only concern was to work on my ideas, not to look for a gallery. My perception of the art world has definitely changed a lot: I was happy to be able to work with Guenzani, it was a dream come true. On the other hand, my relationship with the Haunch of Venison in London – the gallery where I did the show Chindia, the same year, 2006, as my solo show at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, in Turin –, has been different. The context was very different. There were many positive aspects, but also many negatives. The experiment with Haunch of Venison has not led to developments. Their expectations were different than mine. In some ways, my work was not represented the way I would want it to be.
Speaking of the show Revolving Landscape, of 2006, at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. It was an ambitious project, in which you traveled around the world in 80 days, visiting 17 cities. Much has been written about the show. An inverted question: looking back, what would you avoid doing in that voyage, or what would you change?
Were I to do it again it would be completely different, even if I would visit the same places. My eye would record different things, other elements of reality, other stories. Actually there is nothing I would avoid doing again, apart from the mistakes. I would do it all again, with the same people, but ten years later, to see the immense difference in the results. Maybe the only thing I would change would be the number of stops. I would add one: Africa. When we were organizing the trip for the show in Turin, we had planned to stop in certain African cities: from Brazil it would have made sense, before reaching Europe. But certain logistical and technical problems prevented us from doing it. The alliances between airlines have their rules, so to go to Africa we would have had to return to Europe first, and that couldn’t be done…
An attraction to the Orient is clear in many of your shows. I’m thinking about the show WalkAround, of 2002, or Chindia, of 2006. What fascinates you about that place?
My first experience in the East dates back to 2000. I went to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Southern China. That trip led to the show WalkAround. Then I returned, for Revolving Landscape, and I was able to look further into the aspects that interested me. I am very attracted by the radical diversity you find in the Orient in terms of thought. Just consider the extreme difference between us and them when it comes to the conception of the spirit. But also the relationship among human beings, their idea of reality, spirituality and matter: everything is governed by absolutely different dynamics, distant from occidental culture. Coming into direct contact with certain manifestations of all this, I reinforced my perception of myself in relation to the world, losing many of my points of reference. During the last, crazy and frenetic trip, my companions and I, in many ways, lost our center and our senses. In situations that are often difficult, without references, you concentrate on yourself, becoming your own center. In those occasions, disoriented, I understood how to exploit and concentrate my energies, without wasting them.
In 2004 an important collector, Pierluigi Mazzari, opened his home, inviting you to My Private #2. Were you influenced by working for a patron? What was that experience like?
I was not conditioned, in fact I worked with the greatest freedom of action. The relationship with that collector has helped me a lot. More generally, collectors help Italian art: they are its salvation. Collectors are the reason for being of art, in many ways. From my experience, I must say that it has only been thanks to the collectors, who have helped and supported me, that I have been able to continue working. An Italian artist has a very close relationship with private collectors, much more than with institutions or museums. As far as I’m concerned, when a collector buys one of my works I often have the sensation of being catapulted into the life of another person. When you find yourself in these situations it is strange, because you become aware of the fact that your work comes to life in another place, and you hope the collector or the art buff will love the work as much as you do. Authentic collecting, driven by passion, becomes a magical, profoundly important thing for the development of art, in the loftiest sense of the term.
Do you collect art?
I wish I could… For the moment, I just have the works other artists and friends have given me. I have one work I am particularly fond of, a gift from Alessandro Pessoli. It is a little plasticine head that has a sort of little cigarette in its mouth, and petals. I am very close to this object because it is a gift from an artist I think is very generous, as a person and a friend, who I admire very much. There are many works I would like to collect: not well-known, unusual, made by artists I like.
Is there one artist, also from the past, to whom you feel particularly close?
Among the artists of the past, lately I have looked a lot at Medardo Rosso. I have always loved his work. I had a teacher in high school, Paola Mola, who was fundamental for my artistic training. The first times I got a real thrill, studying and discovering the history of art, were during her classes. She managed to ignite a special interest in me. Besides being a teacher, she is one of the leading experts on Medardo Rosso. Since then I have always been interested in this artist, especially recently, in relation to my latest show at Studio Guenzani, First Person Plural. I have tried to get a better understanding of a work like Ecce Puer, studying the face, the physiognomy. I am interested in his way of representing faces with material. In the future I would like to make a sculpture with a material that changes over time, like wax.
Your interest in the changing qualities of sculpture materials is quite singular. Perhaps there has been a bit too much talk, for too long, when describing your work, about the contamination of art, design and architecture, overlooking the aspects more closely linked to the language of sculpture. Don’t you think these interpretations are a bit obsolete, also in relation to the new works you have produced?
I have always drawn on different disciplinary spheres, usually close to the world of art. I have always wanted to analyze them, to understand their mechanisms and functioning. In these terms, I have often used energies that come from other realities. For example, architecture has always fascinated me because it is produced by man, a work that springs from the need to organize the space of a group of people that have settled in a territory. Forms and structures are produced that condense a flow of vital energy. In the exhibition The Circle, at Studio Guenzani, via Melzo, in 2005, I utilized a typical residential typology of Milan, the courtyard house with balcony access, involving space and people, like a single organism that contained its own complex of different realities and individualities. They all combined to determine a single organic structure. In many ways, these themes are also found in the exhibition First Person Plural, but in this case a multitude of individualities are condensed in a single subject. It is an inverse way to talk about human beings and their complexity.
On the subject of your latest show, First Person Plural, at Studio Guenzani: it was very different from the previous shows, in terms of both content and materials. Can we see it as a turning point? In what direction?
The starting point of nearly all the previous shows was the interpretation of reality. I put myself into a situation where I could take a long trip, or work in places that are very intense and full of energy, to accumulate information about the world. The information was then transformed into works, sculptures, videos, etc. Reality was the raw material, the basic element. In First Person Plural I focused, instead, on the strategies people deploy when faced by reality, rather than its interpretation. Whereas previously the starting point was outside of me, in reality, now the center of gravity is halfway between me, as an individual, and the reality that is there, outside. Hence the mask that has appeared in my work, with its symbolic density and its very long, detailed history. The mask represents the visage, or the threshold, the diaphragm between the individual and reality, between the subject and the world. Through the mask, my work has moved in other directions. I have been working now for almost ten years, and I felt a need for variation. The move from Milan to Berlin was very useful, in this sense.
Regarding Berlin, why did you choose precisely that city in which to live and work?
I changed cities because I wanted to transform my work. Berlin is less difficult than Milan, and it is livelier from an artistic viewpoint. I wanted a more direct relationship with my work, to have a studio in which to experiment. All that was feasible in Berlin. There are not many places in the world where you can be immersed in an artistic debate and a scene of international scope. This city responds to my needs. When I go back to Milan, I feel the city is very distant. It is a weird sensation, given the fact that Milan is the city where I was born and where I lived until two years ago.
Is there anything you really can’t stand in the art system? Something you wish you could change?
The art world is a system like any other, made of human beings. There is an infinite series of things I can’t stand. There are logics, attitudes, ways of behaving I think are terrible. In art, but also in other fields, a narrow circle of people decides what is right and beautiful and what is not. Being on one side or another can have a radical impact on your life, it can transform it. This is very irritating, especially if you are on the so-called wrong side. But the art world does not stand out for some specific negativity. It is just one of the possible worlds in which men organize, work, produce. And when human beings gather in large numbers things get complicated, almost always. In the art world, in any case, you can find many people with great passion, with a real love for art. Both those who make it and those who look at it, experience it, collect it.
What direction will your work take after the exhibition First Person Plural?
First Person Plural concludes or opens, depending on your viewpoint, a period of reflection that lasted about two years. I think it is one of the most important things I have done. It is the first show in which I see a bit of the change I was talking about, and it is the first time that change has been manifested in a concrete way. The possibility of having a studio has given me a different kind of contact with the work, with the processes that generate my works. An aspect I had lost touch with in the recent past. In many ways I have gotten a hold back on my work, to bring it in a different direction, transforming it and making it evolve toward different results. With the exhibition First Person Plural it is as if I had created a precedent for new expressive outlets in my activity as an artist. In the exhibition in London last September, at Pilar Corrias Gallery, I also concentrated on similar aspects, typical of sculpture.
Your latest project?
In November I am participating, with Diego Perrone, in the project Fisicofollia, Performa 09, in New York, curated by Barbara Casavecchia and Caroline Corbetta. This edition of Performa is on the 100th anniversary of Futurism, so the themes focus on this important historical current. Perrone and I will present a synaesthetic work on the Dance of the Machine Gun by Marinetti, a section of the Futurist “Variety Theater” manifesto (1913, editor’s note). It is a great opportunity to experiment with a language, that of performance, I have seldom utilized, and to have some fun working with another artist.