Observe the background

In conversation with Gian Maria Tosatti.

The artist representing the Italian pavilion at the Venice Biennale this year in conversation with Maria Abramenko.

I had the great pleasure of meeting you at your opening in Venice this year. I’d like to ask you about your installation for the Italian pavilion. 

The installation in Venice is a high fidelity portrait made to the Western World from an Italian perspective. Of course we decided to use the industrial landscape as an analogy of our society, but I think that this work is, above all, an intimate project.

Your artwork from Odessa, created so many years ago feels relevant today more than ever, please tell us the concept beyond it. How do you feel about the current situation in Ukraine?

It is hard to say these things in words. After the war, many people in Ukraine told me that the vision I created was some sort of a prophecy. In general I say that if you make a very precise portrait of somebody you will be even able to know what is in its future. It is like a medical observation. If you look in the depth you will be probably able to see the evidence of some disease that is growing under the skin.
At that time I couldn’t really imagine this evolution of the war. The artworks are not the result of a rational process. I see things and I just put them into an image. Then, the image must be interpreted. The beginning of a war gave an interpretation to the vision I had, but I’m sure that it allows even other perspectives to be told.
In the meantime I follow this war on the newspapers. I’m helping many Ukrainian artists to come to Europe and continue their researches that have been brutally interrupted by the war, but in these days I’m even hosting a Russian friend, who is an activist and cannot come back to her own country. For biographical reasons I feel very close to both of the cultures, Russian and Ukrainian. Both of them have so many connections and it is very sad that this war will separate them forever. A man with no culture poisoned the banquet through which two wonderful cultures fed them reciprocally for centuries.

In one of your interviews you define yourself as an observer of the status of world democracy. Where does this statement come from and what is your actual background?

This statement fits for every artist. I make portraits. Like all the others of my order. Then you can portray an inner landscape or a political landscape. I decided to focus on the current state of our civilization, and democracy is its operative system. It is 5 years now that I run a project called: “My Heart is a Void, the Void is a Mirror”. It is the framework through which I try to give a sense to my observations. What I see after these years is the picture of a West that gave democracy for granted for too long, until it has been lost. And now it is still confused about how to get it back.

Would you consider your art politically related, if yes could you tell how and why?

Everything is politically related, even the way we put the garbage out. If we divide plastic and paper is political, since it means that we can recycle them and have a different impact on the planet. Art is one of the most powerful tools to make people think. How couldn’t it be political?

You previously spent many years in NY, how’s the artist’s life in the US differ from Italy?

It is very different. New York is an industry. Italy is a bar on the beach.

What are you working on at the moment?

A lot of my time now is spent on the projects for Quadriennale, which is the Italian national institution for research on Contemporary Art and its international promotion. I’m the artistic director and I wanted to have this role in order to make the Italian art system a little more functional for my colleagues. I consider it some sort of civil service. Yet I’m still working hard with my studio to the visionary projects that I do. The next one will be in Milan at HangarBicocca, then I will restart working on my project “My Heart is a Void, the Void is a Mirror” that will take me to Jerusalem, Paris, Turin, Berlin and maybe Warsaw.

Gian Maria Tosatti / Observe the background


Artist: Gian Maria Tosatti / @gianmariatosatti_studio
Interview: Maria Abramenko / @mariabramenko
Assistant: Camilla Di Pasquale / @micalliroe

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