CRITICS

Title: Sendai City – Interview by Valerio Dehò to Marco Bolognesi
Author: Valerio Dehò

Year: 2014

This project is probably the most complex, important and arduous that you are carrying out. Do you consider it a point of arrival or a turning point? I do not think that in life there are arrival points or turning points, but more important situations, which will mark a moment in my career to remember. I deeply believe that this project is one in which I managed to express the complexity of most of my work; probably why I’m following so many years, and thanks to the museum and the opportunity given to me by this series of exhibitions, count for it reaching my audience in its structured form. I would not want my work to be remembered just for a single technique or a single medial support, my intent is to take in hand the various media, and this project is able to reveal all that work, all those insights, I developed during many years of research. So inside we find collage, installations, animated films, but also photographs, paintings and drawings. All these elements are part of my work, and a bit of my DNA.

Looking at all your work it seems that you had always worked around Sendai City and its inhabitants, is it an idea you had in mind for some time? Sendai City has developed over the years, and certainly there is a deep biographical aspect that binds me to this project. From the beginning of my career I have worked to find my own technique, a vision (and I speak of the early years, when I was very young, from 1993 up to 2003) until the end, I started to invent and produce the characters. From the beginning my research has been addressed on who we are, the defining identity, and at the same time I developed a different place, a parallel reality where my characters could live and breathe. All my projects start from a deep stratification, as if they were gradually digested, absorbed, modified, until the various aspects that make them up, which seemed to be going in different directions, slowly reorganize themselves around a common thread that holds them together. I spent many years of my youth in the hospital, in a reality that does not allow me to interact with the outside world in a normal and everyday way; in these situations, you’re almost forced to build a parallel world, in which to acclimatize your stories, your visions. This my tendency has continued to grow even after the move to London, when I was away from my country, away from my friends, and I had to rebuild another reality, another place to find somehow my habitat. So I think it’s obvious that my work has taken this route.  Since my return to Italy I realized that I needed to engage not only on the construction of these kinds of characters, but also the city, the place where they should live, giving it a collation, creating a story; I had to turn them into entities with their lives, and a thickness and in fact their environment.

Is this hyperbole of cyber punk today in a sense a tribute to something that no longer exists or do you think instead that it is a form of revival? I realize that the cyberpunk literary genre is one that develops in very specific periods of time, and that we can now consider it dead, but not its philosophy; you cannot forget how it highlighted and focused on elements that are still very contemporary, starting from the man-machine relationship. The machine is our present, it is in our body (through the peacemaker, through the prosthesis, through cameras that visit us, who control us): we are going more and more the way that the writers and the cyberpunk world had prophesied. The future is being realized and put into effect in bringing to the fore the issues that they had expected: energy conservation, water control, multinationals and market data. This shows that talk about cyberpunk does not mean to speak of something old but quite contemporary.  Cyberpunk has become a philosophy, which obviously over time has abandoned and changed some aspects, and that in any case it is renewed. Even my vision of cyberpunk is revised, updated: I take it and handle it just like I do in all my works of collage and in this way I claim it by force, the contemporary and the epistemological break with the past. For the first time it had imagined a different future from what was expected from Star Wars or Star Trek, that is focused on space exploration and technological progress as synonymous with improvement. With cyberpunk you start to think about the future in a dramatic way; and the positive and positivist vision vanishes, giving way to a dark future in which there are profound questions about the role of technology, the issue of DNA, and genetic manipulation. But overall, the thing that attracts me to this view, are the questions about human identity that arise from these assumptions: that we might be transformed, that we are no more than the human image to which we are accustomed. It is an obvious fact to all that man is evolving, just like all races of this planet, and we are all very scared.

What represents for you the city as a place and space, beyond the specific meaning of Sendai City and its history? I’ve lived in several cities: I was born in Bologna, now I live and work in Rome, but I lived for many years in London, where I still often go, and then in Vienna and Reggio Emilia. Cities very different for both architectural elements for the ratio of the population with its environment.  Cities are cultural containers, talking of a city is talking about a place where destinies are intertwined, interacting persons, stratify the story, it is the place which joins the old to the new, the ancient with technology, and these dualisms become characteristic and distinctive elements. I began to reflect on the landscape and the environment when returning from London, I began to review and rethink my persona, and I like to evaluate where and how I as an individual would have lived.For a long time I thought that my life would have been firm and would be developed in London. London has the characteristic of so many cities together (both in an architectural sense, an in culture); it is gigantic, seven million people, including many foreigners, and each person brings their own cultural baggage that somehow finds references within the metropolis.

In part I relived this feeling, in a very different way in Vienna, a city that I thought would be my new home, with a new language, with new challenges and a new vision of the future.  Reggio Emilia gave me those elements and the social network that I had lost and that a big city cannot give you: the personal relationships that I needed, their importance, that I had somehow forgotten in London where within the mass people you become a number, not even a surname. This my biographical horizon is the starting point from which have developed the thoughts and then the ideas that gave rise to Sendai City. To build my city I examined and I wanted to mix many different cities: the initial architectural inspiration I took from Metropolis and Gotham City, then I used important buildings of the 900s, and taking inspiration from Moebius I saw the buildings and their forms; I finally glimpsed at those very futuristic buildings in which the design is developed by enlarging simple elements, magnified in height, where the circle becomes a big ball, the triangle can become a great pyramid, and then these elements are mixed with each other . Another fundamental element is constituted by the tubes. Tubes that contain energy, and become quite confusing elements such as motorways seen from google maps, or the streets of the photographer Olivo Barbieri, large arteries that somehow revolve around everything. The streets are pipes that distribute the energy in this city-world, in which there are no more borders or small towns around where everything is a single city, a world city, a city-planet.

You have always collaborated with great people from Lucarelli to Sterling which has interested you the most and why? In my career I had the good fortune to work with many different artists. The last two, in chronological order, are Lucarelli and Sterling, but at the beginning of my career I have with the poet Roberto Roversi, with Guido Crepax, I embarked on a short collaboration with Dario Fo and in Rome I got to know many other directors. With each of these people that I met in my life, I have recently started a comparison that has enriched me with knowledge and divergent views, each in its field helped me to broaden my creative and artistic horizon sending me a bit of their cultural baggage and giving greater value to my work. For this reason, it is impossible for me to choose one of them. Carlo Lucarelli, already in 2008, has agreed to write a story about the world that I was building. It was the first time that the narrative came so strongly in my art, and the result was the Protocol, my first graphic-novel, then in the series published by Einaudi Stile Libero. Carlo helped me a lot to develop my world: he created this story noir, a genre of which he is master, using my classic characters, but setting it in a place that I was still building; his questions as well as his ideas were the first structured critiques, I was forced to pull out of my head what until then was still a lot of ideas and some drafts. Bruce Sterling was a thrilling encounter, he is an enigmatic character and I was very fascinated by his syncretism; all my training on cyberpunk was passed also above all from his books, and get in front of the great master who, with his wife, Jasmina, director and performer, speaks and writes of my work has been a great gift. I know Sterling also served to remove that aura of myth that sometimes you create around authors, giving him a human appearance; it was very easy to relate with him, to discuss and debate, it has given great lifeblood to my knowledge of cyberpunk and the vision of my work included in a wider context, within that world.

Are you really convinced that the Italian B movies are so important to the history of world cinema?  In common parlance, the cinema b-movie is the kind of film that is considered second-class due to lack of budget, the choices at times a bit too bold or a lack of political correctness. For me it is much more: it is clear that the budget is limited in those productions, but this creates the need to develop in different directions than the movie box office, finding alternative ways, mixing genres, and adopting creative solutions. When I was a student at the DAMS I started to get interested in the silent film genre and those science fiction movies where you could see over the effects, in which the falsity of the film was evident and the staging was king. Instead, I have always had little love for neo-realist documentary films, finding them deeply boring.  And this “taste” that I developed in those years is what leads me to say that the movie b-movie is full of charm and a lot more pervasive than we think; in my opinion it is obvious that it came to be part of our culture. Firstly, it is a cinema of “clones”: for example, by “Rambo” or “Commando”, these films successful worldwide have inspired many films, and culture “a la Rambo” is the product of that tide of films that has succeeded and transposed, much more than the original. The b-movie then, has the advantage of producing a great mixture of different genres, for example, Escape from the Bronx by Castellari, has certainly inspired the union of the bands The Warriors with the Mad Max trilogy. Taking from different genres of film, and amplifying the clichés of both get to touch the grotesque, but because it affects a vision of the political and historical moment. And here’s another issue that is very dear to me: the interpretation of the contemporary political and social reality to me so obvious in this type of film. Think of all the cinema exploitation from which they were born only sexploitation, the cannibalploitation, but also the spaghetti western in which the stories narrated were no longer cowboys versus Indians, but cowboys versus cowboys. They were telling the tale of America, aiolent and bloody, one in which the line between good and evil was not marked as precisely, and through these spaghetti westerns, this violence, it was labelled even homegrown terrorism. Meanwhile the detectives proliferated the 70s, even their exploitation, full of bloody shootings not too far from the climate of fear that we lived on our streets. We’ve all seen and reviewed b-movies, and even “cultured” cinema cannot afford to ignore them. Pasolini himself in the film “Salo the 120 Days of Sodom” is inspired in some way by Nazisploitation. It is a high and erudite version of these images, but the view is the same.  Then of course the fact that a Mr. Tarantino arrives or a Mr. Rodriguez, who take the b-movie, quote them explicitly and with this create a great revivial of contemporary cinema, it gives me a confirmation that the strength and importance that I attribute to this current is well recognised in the world; the b-movie Italian, Bava, Margheriti, Castellari, just to name a few, are all directors who were sold in America and Japan, and this kind of cinema today has become a cult to the point of being reviewed and cited like never before.

Do you think cyberpunk is really a popular culture? According to me cyberpunk is a popular culture in how it has become today in our society; detached from the literary form now abandoned by most, and transformed into philosophy and especially in approach, I think that cyberpunk is within our society in important ways. Starting from the literary scope blended with cinema, music and antipositivist social criticism, becoming common use: the iconography of man-machine interface, human cybernetic robots, cyborgs, are now part of us, we cannot deprive ourselves of it, because we take for granted.

As an artist, what role do you assume? Do you works with a factory, taking installation pictures, videos, drawings, in which direction are you moving? I built “my factory” because it is an idea that I find very stimulating and fruitful. My art making is first of all an exchange between me and the environment that surrounds me; interacting with my surroundings and then with the people who work with me helps my inner growth, the development of my thinking, the birth of new ideas. I saw, for the first time, this way of working in Cinecittà, in the days when I was a volunteer assistant for the film, and there somehow I began to develop the idea, to imagine it. In London, I built my studio as the place where the artist co-ordinates several employees that help to design, produce, build and communicate. Art is a job, to be thought of as a business, and as such, each project must be set as a production co-ordinated and followed in its various phases. This does not mean that the artist does not do anything. The photographs I make them myself, I build the installations, drawings I draw them, but behind the installation are technicians, the great masters, who help me in the implementation. Through these collaborators, the artist becomes a kind of art director who builds them with the objects created, it becomes a brand. In London I got to know the agent of Damien Hirst, the Chapman brothers and some people who were in charge of the communication of Banksy, who showed me that behind all these characters in the British art was a large number of assistants, co-workers, people who were responsible for building the communication for their work. Take for example Damien Hirst: you think that he was the one who captured and preformed the shark? The important thing is the idea, and if he found the greatest embalmer of animals and created the shark in formaldehyde is a genius, it is extraordinary, and that’s what we want to know. In my small way I am trying to build the same formula, because I believe that the choice of an assistant in a project is key to building your works exactly like the choice of a pencil or a paint brush is to make a picture.

In the Italian panorama you occupy a special role because no one works with your method and your entrepreneurial vision. How does this diversity affect you? I believe deeply that in the art world I managed to find my place not so much by focusing on diversity, but rather on an international vision, it certainly helped by having lived in London and Austria. I consider myself a citizen of the world and as such I have to build projects that will give me the opportunity to work on social networks on an international level, present my work as much as possible abroad, so there is, behind this way of working, a particularity, it is not for me to say.  The art world, let’s call it, “classic”, based on a very conceptual view, from my point of view it goes nowhere and is very hypocritical. I think especially for the Italian market: it is a very limited panorama, very true to itself, not for lack of talent but for lack of vision and organizational criticism. When I say that I mean the artist is an entrepreneur who has to make his work known through social networks, advertising; the romantic artist, very bohemian no longer exists, he cannot find more space because the crisis has greatly reduced the strength and ability of the galleries to give visibility. Not even fifteen years ago we had dealers who promoted a lot more work, but now, even for the lack of resources, they expect artist autonomy in the face of much of that work. The role of the gallery is not to promote the artist’s work, but only to sell his pieces. The artist must promote it alone, if you expect there to be another entity to do the basic work, obviously you do not have a contemporary vision of what is going on. The artists that I have known in England and in America use a large international network, so that their work can be promoted through different channels. Define and develop the elements that are remembered by the masses, because the recognition is important, the users are the same in some way to need it, and the repetition of brand recognition becomes.

You have several collaborators, can you tell me how do you coordinate all the different activities, how you managed to put together a group so extraordinary? The construction of each project is based on the choice of collaborators and assistants suitable for the job, so that they are able to bring an enrichment, their plus points. Each project is a production, and each production becomes a challenge and a great inner experience. How to follow a road to the end from which the project will be finished, but the path is a great opportunity for interaction with these people, you make friends, becoming a group that has a purpose, and I live that as a way of life. They are people who I seek in the world of cinema, comics, and in environments that normally I attend because it is from them that my inspiration is born.

Is it true that we are at the end of the future?  The vision of the future was often imagined as the moment of a great new hope, the time in which technology would help man to live in peace and prosperity, away from disease and pain. Today, this no longer exists, we have a much more sombre vision; thanks to the cyberpunk we understand how technology is not always good for the man-machine interface and how men can become harmful. It is a fact that the posthuman poses big questions. The end of the future is the end of this hope, the end of time and the beginning of the answers to the questions. And I refer to a lot of technology that comes into our lives, to the manipulation of man and the fact that the individual is no longer just what Mother Nature has created. We are facing big questions, we need to reconsider and rethink how to direct our evolution and understand the everyday life is changing under the pressure of progress.  How are we transforming? And above all, what are we becoming?

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