Andrea Galvani / The participatory universe

Andrea Galvani on his multidisciplinary practice, rigorous research and his current monumental solo show at the Mattatoio in Rome, in conversation with Maria Abramenko.

How and when did you decide to become an artist?

Being an artist is a commitment that you renew every day of your life. It’s a call that gravitationally pulls you simultaneously inward and outward. There is a growing biological need: the need to know, compare, observe, expand, and evolve. It’s an ongoing, cyclical, and relentless process of learning, discovery, experimentation, struggle, grit, failure, and success. Professionally speaking, I began my career in the late ‘90s, progressively gathering momentum. I moved to the United States in the early 2000s, receiving recognition and support for projects that became exponentially more ambitious. I grew my international practice, opened a second studio in Mexico City in 2013, and never stopped.

Your research seems to encompass a number of diverse fields of study, like philosophy and mathematics, politics and science, history and geography, among others. What inspires you to engage in so many different disciplines?

I’m interested in the innate desire, the unstoppable drive human beings have to journey into the invisible dimension, the unknown: to collect data, synthesise information, attain knowledge, and create meaning; the socio-political context that catalyses events; the natural phenomena and geological capsule that constitute the environment where everything happens. American physicist and philosopher John Wheeler (1911-2008) introduced the idea of a “participatory universe”—that existence emerges as an articulation of the connection between cognition and reality. We are not external observers, we are part of that which we seek to understand. Many of my recent projects emerged from this idea of the relationship between human intelligence and universal consciousness, as an intrinsic and necessary part of natural processes.

Your most unforgettable exhibition: where, when, and why?

Each exhibition gives birth to the next exhibition. Like a Russian doll, one contains countless more within. They’re all special and unforgettable in their own way. Though separate and distinct, they bleed into one another—a series of autonomous parts that ultimately coalesce as a cohesive conceptual whole. Each exhibition contributes to the construction of a growing personal alphabet, opening new questions and bringing me new answers.

Can you talk about your project currently on view at the Mattatoio in Rome? How did you conceive and orchestrate such a monumental and complex show during this difficult time?

The exhibition was conceived as an open laboratory, an experiential environment in constant and continuous evolution. I envisioned a live intervention with a three-month performance that gradually unfolds over the entire duration of the show. I thought of something that has no beginning and no end, that does not correspond to a specific space-time, but is simply the cross-section of a process.

I am collaborating with students from the Departments of Physics, Mathematics, Neuroscience, Astrobiology, Molecular Medicine, Biochemical Science, and Electrical Engineering at the Sapienza University of Rome, as well as researchers at CERN and Virgo data analysis group (part of the international team that discovered gravitational waves in 2015), using active processes of scientific research to build a living architecture that the public can enter and inhabit. We worked hard for two months to select a team that was able to work incessantly inside the Mattatoio over the course of more than 90 days of programming, and could develop a research project adhering to their field of investigation. They use the exhibition space as an Athenaeum, carrying out their daily study on a monumental scale. It was certainly a challenge to organise the exhibition from my studio in New York when travel was impossible during lockdown. I rebuilt the interior of Pavilion 9b in 3D—I measured, modelled, and virtually navigated the space for weeks, simulating every detail of the project before proceeding with production and logistics, in full compliance with the new public safety regulations. Over 1,000 sqm of exhibition space were unified by painting the walls a specific grey pantone, as well as the architectural elements, technical tools, and stairs that I designed to accommodate the performances. The project was designed to enhance the imposing verticality of the Mattatoio’s iconic historical architecture, and to visually enlarge the central axis of action. An intricate network of steel cables was installed in the last room to support the sculptures that were suspended several meters above the audience, who is literally immersed in a numerical jungle.

What are you working on at the moment?

It’s a dynamic moment for me. The silence and solitude of months self-quarantined at my studio in Brooklyn generated an introspective environment of reflection, defeat, ideas, uncertainty, dreams, and hope. With the global pandemic and escalating racial tensions across the United States, the need for structural and systemic change has taken on a renewed sense of urgency. Our priorities have rightly shifted, and hopefully we will carry what we are learning and experiencing now into the future. There is a lot of energy in this time, and I think it’s seeped in the psyche of anyone who’s alive and paying attention. As an artist I’ve taken it all in, confronted important questions, and endeavoured to make the most of this strange and surreal period. I’m working simultaneously on several projects, in the final stages of production on a new photographic series, some sculptures, and public art commissions. I have big plans for shows at galleries, fairs, and museums in the USA, Mexico, Asia, and Europe throughout 2021 and into 2022. I’m also building a new studio, which I’m really excited about. The next step in an ongoing process of geographical and intellectual expansion.

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