Anthropological purity

In conversation with artist Emiliano Maggi.

Italian artist Emiliano Maggi in conversation with Maria Abramenko about his interest in the beauty of human tradition.

Where does your artistic practice come from? 

My entire practice comes from the study of costume and the body that inhabits it. I attended the “Centro Sperimentale” in Rome where I studied costume and set design, which gave me a fundamental basis for my future research. My dream was not to be a costume or set designer, I had other plans for my future, I wanted to move to New York, but after being accepted at the Centro Sperimentale I decided to undertake an almost anthropological study. By studying costume from art history books, I learned the various artistic trends and a total view of a people’s society, culture, and politics by simply looking at the world in which people dress. The costume is part of anthropological study, like the study of folk traditions that change from place to place, from nation to nation. Also, for me, real-life experience, of traveling, meeting people, and being in uncomfortable situations that make you change your way of being and thinking, is fundamental. Experiencing the world live to make sculpture, painting, and contemporary art is not an exercise that is taught in school but a practice related to building one’s own sensitivity.

What is the relationship between beauty and ugliness of the body in your work? 

The issue of beauty is relative. Beauty is everything alive and present, even in the most deformed and uncomfortable thing there is beauty. After having undressed the whole body, after having studied the whole costume, I now look at the naked body, where pure beauty can be found, even in what is defined as imperfections. To create and produce a work of art there must a priori be suffering, without suffering, without feelings a masterpiece is not alive, there are few totally happy artists.

How important is the concept in your work?

The concept has a double significance in the artistic process used to produce a work. When a work is far removed from the possibility of understanding it, for example, an abstract painting, you perceive the concept after you have completed the work; it is the final form that gives you the possibility of elaborating a concept.

Whereas in the case of ceramics and my works, the concept is very important, it starts from a more sophisticated intuition, because you have to know the material really well to create what you have in your head. When you sculpt with your hands to arrive at the imagined form, you have to know a basic sculpting technique. When you start from nothing, it is the material that leads the artist to idealize a concept a posteriori, instead, when designing a work, at the moment you idealize, you have to think about it, you have to understand what techniques to use and how, at that moment, the concept is conceived. 

What inspires your performances? 

My performances are constantly evolving, they start from anthropological discourse, from popular traditions, folklore, and mythology. The actions start from the concept of possession on the tree element described by Roberto Calasso in his text “La follia che viene dalle Ninfe” (The madness that comes from the nymphs). In particular, I am interested in the figure of the nymphs who hid in the trunks when they were curious about the world of men and came out of the water and used the trees as a refuge to get in touch with the human world. The first performance was at the Mona Museum in Tasmania, where I had a tree taken from the side of a river with one side charred from a fire. Like a parasite, I took possession of this dead body and used it to build a musical instrument capable of giving this tree a voice through sound. These actions are capable of bringing a body back to life through transformation. 

What are your future projects?

I am planning an exhibition in Florence this coming winter. But, above all, I want to discover and study every technique, because I think an artist must try all the instruments to have a complete vision. I would like to publish an audio archive with performance pieces and audios that I have recorded in analog during the last 10 years. I would also like to make video work, a film, or a play, maybe direct it and do the costumes and set design, so that I can go back to my origins and my studies because my family has always worked in show business and cinema, and I have been used to disguises and staging since I was a child.

Emiliano Maggi / Anthropological Purity


Artist: Emiliano Maggi / @emi_maggi
Editor: Maria Abramenko / @mariabramenko
Assistant: Camilla Di Pasquale / @micalliroe

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