1. What word, symbol or object, in your view, captures the essence of this moment for artists, especially Italian artists?
ARTURO CASANOVA: Since in contemporary art – both in Italy and abroad – philosophical speculations about new languages are rapidly evolving, I don’t believe in the most advanced trends very much and I would add that the word “contemporary” – prior to the most commonly-used expressions like installation, performance or video-projection, does not mean a lot in the artistic sense tout court.
LUCILLA CAPORILLI FERRO: Contrary to many “young” countries, where it is possible to have a clear image of the contemporary art landscape, in Italy it is difficult to find something, apart from our classical tradition, able to convey with equal effectiveness the state of contemporary art. Unless we want to take Lambretta and Ferrari as works of art….What happens in Italy today, I suppose, also happens in the rest of the world, especially if we think about the most successful art exhibitions (performances, installations, acts of information and denunciation). If we want to find something really Italian, which reminds us of our great painting tradition, of our national identity and contemporary culture, I think we should turn to the well established, but always effective, “Made in Italy”, a synonym for creative authenticity and quality.
DAVIDE DORMINO: Contemporary art has a vocation for questioning symbols, objects and words concerning both the individual and his/her relationships. Contemporary experimentations change according to the countries, codes and settings where artists operate, challenging the very idea of “being”.
FRANCO SAVIGNANO: I think one word could be “mystery”, which refers to the enigmatic aspect of a work of art, implied in the code or in the message conveyed, regardless of its formal evidence. There is a sort of magical relationship between what is portrayed and an attentive observer willing to investigate this mystery and find out the very essence of a work of art. Art, especially in Italy, could actually be regarded as a sort of visual philosophy: while investigating the world and the contemporary human thought, it inevitably gets entangled in a labyrinthine philosophical mystery. Among Italian artists, the conceptual research is in fact a well-established trend, even though my work tries to go beyond that.
2. What could this present period be named in terms of a movement or theme in art?
ARTURO CASANOVA: More than an artistic movement, I prefer to mention a theme in which I identify myself – the non-monument cult – or, better said, the new vision of a monumental sculpture getting its inspiration from a urban-poetic model with the aim of interacting and communicating with the current society.
LUCILLA CAPORILLI FERRO: In the last few years, the various artistic expressions have been imbued with an environmental strain, with themes related to the preservation of nature and the safeguard of species threatened with extinction.
DAVIDE DORMINO: If I had to find a common denominator, I’d say that a major trend in contemporary art is the increasing process of dematerialization of the work of art, which intends to highlight its conceptual character, rather than its aesthetic qualities. A common practice is to shift the meanings of the objects by de-contextualizing and re-contextualizing them, a habit inherited by the ready-made. Personally, I think this attitude is likely to compromise the possibility for the work of art to reach a poetic, sublime level. As an artist, I am still sensitive to “beauty”, with all that this implies.
FRANCO SAVIGNANO: Due to the huge explosion of contaminations in the art field, it is not easy today to clearly define a contemporary art movement and, therefore, a leading theme. The variety of expressive languages used by artists today makes it quite difficult to identify collective reference themes. Among contemporary artists, a leading motive could probably be the human self-investigation, or the human insight into the world and the things that surround us. What is quite clear to me is that art has opened up to increasingly individual experimentations, where artists absorb, in their research, all the different languages and expressive means at their disposal. So, if I had to name the present artistic movement, I’d probably label it “full contamination art”.
3. How can contemporary Italian artists cope with the great Italian art heritage? What does it mean to make art today in Italy, after Michelangelo or Botticelli?
CASANOVA: There is a scene in the movie Good Morning Babylonia (1987) by the Taviani Brothers that is a true act of love honoring the great Italian artistic tradition where the pride of two Florentine stonecutters of the 20th century defends the national genetic heritage. The script says, “These hands have restored cathedrals in Pisa, Lucca and Florence. We are Michelangelo and Leonardo’s great, great grand-sons. You, who is your father?” With this, I would like to say that modern Italian artists continue to keep alive the sense of belonging to an ancient tradition notwithstanding the difficult moment the country is facing. We can only continue to do so.
CAPORILLI FERRO: Our great artistic tradition is surely a richness for us, but also a heavy burden, which, over the years, has somehow “drugged” whoever tries to venture into the Italian contemporary art. The first artists, and probably the last ones, who tried to get rid of all of this, though replacing it with equally strong and peculiar motives, were the Futurists, who gave a major boost to the development and establishment of contemporary art in the world. Unfortunately, today Italy seems to have forgotten her own fundamental role in the production and diffusion of art, and this has caused a sort of homologation and levelling of taste, in favour of trends coming from abroad that seem far from our identity, but well represent our contemporary world (business, technology, standardization of feelings). I think that making art today in Italy means to bear in mind our roots and our identity, in order to take nourishment from our past and project ourselves into the future. This obviously does not mean to banally reproduce past images and ideas, but to consider what has “nourished” and built our body and soul over time.
DORMINO: Today’s imagery transcends the national borders as well as the artistic boundaries. Making art after, and together with, such artists as Richard Serra, Fred Astaire or Tom Waits, is still always making art.
SAVIGNANO: As Italian artists, our relationship with tradition is one of respect. We regard it as something well established and known, because that’s where we all come from. The art of our great Renaissance masters, as well as the whole history of our art, is part of our memory, and is brought back to life in our art, in our attempt to carve a different path for ourselves. We aim at having a Renaissance of our own, questionable as it may seem. We try to preserve a creative freedom that allows us to question, cross and draw on traditional experiences, which we eventually come to manipulate so as to overcome the past and investigate, understand, and interpret our present time, in order to find our own way of making art.
4. What are the difficulties and opportunities of making art today in Italy, also in comparison with other countries?
CASANOVA: I prefer not to comment such a long and important topic but would like to use a slogan: DO NOT BEND ART.
CAPORILLI FERRO: I think one of the greatest problems for an Italian artist in Italy, today, is not only to make a living with art, but also to turn the heavy legacy of our rich heritage into a valuable resource for the future, without any rhetoric or commonplaces, but through profound insights and interactions between our identity and the contemporary world. As for the opportunities, I think that the most important, and probably the only one available in Italy today, is the chance to be in touch with the great masterpieces of the past. I have the feeling that in other countries there is a more in-depth knowledge of contemporary art, and a deeper awareness in the approach to it. This makes it possible for contemporary artists to be more easily appreciated and perceive themselves as an integral part of their society.
DORMINO: Those of being Italian.
SAVIGNANO: I think it is not difficult to make art, neither in Italy nor in other countries. What is really difficult is being an artist, because the art world is made up of circuits established by a system that makes it quite hard for an artist to emerge and to let other people know his/her work. Nevertheless, there are many opportunities for an artist here in Italy, even if the mechanism is quite complex. Sometimes you are lucky enough to meet the right persons. It happened to me a few times, even if it is not that easy. Getting to know the right persons may help an artist make himself/ herself known or enter the circuit of the art galleries, which are the main promoters of contemporary artists. I think in other countries, such as America, this mechanism is much easier and there are more opportunities to show one’s work to the art professionals. It is actually widely known that America, contrary to Italy, is a country that pays more attention to the artists’ work, so you have more possibilities to make yourself known.
5. Among your works of art, what do you think is your most representative piece, and why?
CASANOVA: It is almost impossible for a polyhedral artist to chose a work that best represents its philosophy. As an effect, I usually prefer the latest. However, there is a work – in particular for its sizes and complexity of design and carrying out able to unify different themes and disciplines. It’s the Fieramosca project, the big bronze helmet dedicated to the hero of the famous ‘Barletta’s battle’ that you can see at the 54th Biennial Art in Venice in front of the Italian pavilion where the work will be installed serving the purpose of a technological center of communication and memory transmissions of our current days.
CAPORILLO FERRI: It is very difficult for a painter to decide what his/her most representative works are. It’s just like asking a mother what her favorite child is… However, I could identify more than a work able to represent, in different periods of my research activity, my own way of making art. One of the constants of my work, both at a conceptual and formal level, is probably the search for “transparency”, for a deeper level of “profundity” below the surface. If you don’t have an overall idea of how my paintings have developed over the years, it is hard to understand it. Anyway, today, my paintings are the result and the expression of a number of transitions, each encompassing the conditions for the next one. In particular, the stratification of red shades and materials represents the sense of an “ancient” thought that finds its contemporary value and significance through its scientific “repetition”.
DORMINO: With the work Senza Titolo (Untitled), 2008, I managed to reproduce the silence that invades space and time. There are 33 sheets of paper, just like our spinal vertebrae, which support us in the same way as memory does. The blank sheet of paper therefore becomes the place for an active projection of the personal world of whoever comes in contact with it.
SAVIGNANO: There are many works of mine that could well represent my art. My experimentations draw on a variety of expressive means, ranging from painting to sculpture, multimedia installations and videos. I try to intertwine them, to make them coexist in a conscious and effective balance. I have chosen two pictures, which are particularly representative of my work: the first is the pictorial work Body Mind. It portrays an unidentified figure dominated by a sense of infinite, which can’t be categorized into academic classes, and lives in a suspended world belonging to our mind and memory. The other is a digital picture of a video titled Image and Body, a journey into the human mind, with a suspended shape of a head in the foreground. On the inside, there is a convergence of multiple perceptions, signs, numbers, remains of visions and findings that allude to the indecipherable paths of our thinking.
Laura Giacalone is the Associate Editor of the Italian Journal.