A dialogue on the structure and its absence and other things

Loris Cecchini interviewed by Marco Meneguzzo
Marco Meneguzzo: There is a structural and organic idea in your work, for example, if we think of Clouds, of modules, of a kind of growth. That type of modularity is almost biological, but at the same time is also something else: a potentially infinite systematic composition.

Loris Cecchini: Programmatically the organic concept was already in my work when I approached the idea of the object and the distortion caused by its intrinsic inability to support. During the productive moment, this made me look closely at the material, its fluidity and its organic nature. Being organic and fluid have multiple references, for example, to our behaviour in space and our ability to make language. Specifically the module gives me the possibility to develop my work in a minimalistic and organic sense. Minimalist because the module is an individual and completed shape, that starts from studies in 3D or to watercolour for the observation and suggestion of natural elements. However, I also look closely at the idea of diagrammatic representation that often takes place in other areas, namely the open diagram where we can place sculpture. Sculpture, intended as an open diagram, gives me the possibility to work on the expansion and contraction of a shape in space. At the same time, I am speaking of diagrams because I am fascinated by the designs that are found in different fields from chemistry to social sciences where, when the design is decontextualized, it remains an open diagram, which depending on the cultural baggage you read it with, generates more images.

MM: When you talk of a diagram, are you referring to a three dimensional structure? Let me explain: a diagram is basically an abstract and essential representation, of all types of phenomena, of which we try to identify a model of development or understanding through the most efficient outline possible. The x and y axes are those with which we build the observation ‘field’, but now the complex phenomena include the third dimension, since the fourth – time – pervades the entire model.

LC: Even two-dimensional. The performance of a fluid, the seismic movement, the molecular composition, are all diagrams that in each specific case can be applied and serve as the base concept for a definition, I decontextualize them and place them in an open field that generates other images.

MM: In every diagram, there is usually a zero point where the things all meet, as if it were an origin….

LC: Yes, if you are referring to Euclidean and Cartesian geometry. But, for example in the diagrams of the social sciences, which are circular with the various definitions and multiple lines arranged radially, there is a different origin…

MM: …Are you also fascinated by the graphic and schematic representations of phenomena that can take many forms, sets, lines, tangents, systems…

LC: By speaking of systems, we are moving into the constructive theme, which, as you know, is for me a very important element. The idea of building and the utopian form of architecture represent a form of symbolic tension for me.

MM: What do you mean by symbolic tension? Compared to building? It is as if you were presented with a brick and you see a house?

LC: Yes, we can see different houses, because the brick in itself is the module, the possible forms are manifold.

MM: I wonder if you played with Lego when you were a child

LC: Always, but I played with it in the countryside, so that I put the Tuscan experience together with a more pragmatic experience that comes from a city like Milan. I have a 360-degree curiosity and I like to measure myself with the possibilities of ideation in other areas too.

MM: You have taken things from other sectors and brought them into the language of art: transferring the idea of the diagram into an artistic language has become the core of your work. Has the opposite ever happened, to be able to carry the result of this transformation of language into another field that was not exclusively of art?

LC: I think so, starting with my photographic works and the use of plastic materials, to the traditional fusion and industrial production. The use of technology and technique is a form of knowledge that allows me to play with the things in life, fielding different projects. For this reason, from photography and rubber I then developed other types of work: Thinking about it, with an instrumental logic, I would have been able to make rubber objects for a lifetime…

MM: Some might see a rift between the initial work and that of today. You have already answered that partly with a reference to the internal structure of things and objects you have deployed. If I think of the ‘soft objects’ of your previous works, I think of things that lack an internal structure, and such are limp, inert, without energy, heavy as corpses: Today you are engaged with showing what they lacked, the structure, in fact. Probably this is the link between the one and the others.

LC: From the first idea of deconstructing a very familiar element that I wanted to express as a ghost of itself (a job I practiced for seven or eight years); I have gone from the idea of deconstruction to the necessity of reconstructing something. Perhaps the particulate, molecular aspect and the unit to be divided, responds to a type of material culture that is virtual, typical of my generation, where the medial elements related to virtualization are really part of the everyday life.

MM: Wasn’t your work still not part of this process of virtualization, of modelization? Was it a discovery?

LC: I took this stance because in 1995/96 there was the “slide” from analogue to digital, first with photographs and followed by the use of increasingly virtualized instruments. Today from a single element of design to an entire piece of architecture, we pass through many areas of virtualization before producing the pieces. And especially in those years there was a strong culture of the simulacrum, meaning a difficult identification of what reality was: if you remember, in that period Jean Baudrillard and Paul Virilio who have always tried to define the borders of our being in space and our relationship with objects.

MM: They – and especially Baudrillard, even more Guy Debord – did it coming from a quasi-ideological generation of the sixties and seventies, the simulacrum was a false aim, something that wasn’t reality even if it could have become so, there was an almost negative meaning.

LC: This is no longer the case; the simulacrum is like a part of the perception. Going back to those years I started to use a digital camera to look for a certain type of landscape, because I felt painting at that time had very little grip on the viewer.

MM: Was it a clear choice for you not to be a painter, even if you could have done so?

LC: I tried to make pictures using the electronic collage because in that environment of simulation I was able to best capture the perception of the observer in that real interval.

MM: The discourse worked, but if one wanted to be provocative, one could say that you started with the photograph where there was a narrative aspect, then you went on to moving objects – that brings us back to Pop Art -, where the strength lies in the object itself, and then suddenly this change takes place with the modules….

LC: It was no longer an object! Because what you saw, was the replica of an object. That object made with traditional features, those which Arnaldo [Pomodoro - editor’s note] still uses in his work, is not the object removed from reality as Duchamp did, I remade the object. I made copies trying to change the structure, and then I felt, concerning a continually changing cultural landscape, that that action was no longer enough. After pianos, chairs, bicycles and radiators, I risked remaining with my head in a noose. In 2003 at the second exhibition at Galleria Continua, I presented two architectural models, two machine interiors (which were both objects and spaces) a large distorted space that was a sort of play on the Euclidean box, and then a double distortion of mathematics that bends like objects bent.

MM: That is much clearer; the strength of the object was still very much present even though it was a replica. The narrative aspect intrigues me because the module that you are making now could represent the opposite, but your photos suggested a narrative. The photo itself is a narrative, you always think of a before and after, of relations between people, of what will happen and what has happened, in short you go looking for the story.

LC: Of course, I came from there because the narrative aspect in the 90s was important, just think of Jeff Wall and Thomas Demand and many other American photographers, just like at the start of video, that I never practiced, but if you remember at the 1993 Biennale, there were lots of them. My work came out in 1996/98; hence, I was seduced by the fascination to recount plausible but fundamentally surreal situations. A landscape created in the studio, where real characters gave rise to plausible but almost absurd situations, gave me the possibility to work as a director and at the same time with photographs and its two dimensional images, in which I was looking for a quality of work, an aesthetic language, which I still tend to do today. In this sense, I am very Italian.

MM: Do you mean a formal quality with that cultural and geographical adjective - “Italian” -, something that Italians should lay claim to?

LC: Yes, a formal completeness. I think that the greatest interest, for me, between 2003 and 2006, was architecture. For me it was the best way, giving me the possibility to start with watercolours, passing by computers and then from the object trying to characterize the space where this small or large object was found. For example, the caravan, curved spaces, the corridors crossing with film, still act as levers to make space through an object.

MM: The idea of architecture as construction, transition, and modular creation, seems evident to me, almost a point of arrival, as for various artists such as Alberto Garutti. For you, instead it is a crossing point, which allows you to get where you want.

LC: It is a workflow, identified by two simple words: micro and macro. If you think of my first compositions – when I was twenty-five, twenty-six years old – everything started from the construction of a landscape in a studio on a table full of debris, taking pictures with the macro lens that I have always used in photos. This use of the macro, also happened with the considerations that took place with the modules, a form seen in the economy of a thousand pieces, of fifty thousand pieces, then it transforms itself into a multicellular structure. I find there is a parallel with photography, for example with the latest series that are images of minerals in the foreground where I can read their structural and chromatic qualities and their metaphysical radiance. They are Tuscan formed, the end of this work is always metaphysical, and they must act as a bridge with another vision: if before they were narratives now they are abstract, featureless, and structurally highly complex, they have to keep this metaphysical vision, otherwise they are reduced to nothing.

MM: Summarising this, first, you seize on a visual situation in which the observation was on an everyday human scale, then, with these modules, you change the scale, you penetrate into a sort of microcosm: paradoxically you could make one of these modules 30 metres big, but it would still remain micro. In the sense that only the scale is gigantic, but it is the magnification of a microscopic observation.

LC: If there is one feature that has distinguished my work for ten years it is distance. In my work there is a thread that leads me to suspend things, the fact of looking up as in the structures of trees or clouds. This places you in state of observation with different sense of distances, because the raised point of view immediately creates a form of separation from that which is happening on the ground. Calvin’s poetics are perfect, it is the desire to build possible worlds through one’s own imagining, that I too would like to trigger in the spectator, lifting your feet from the ground, creating a metaphysical suspension. The approach and the poetic distance remain the foundations of art, as opposed to a socio-anthropological artistic conception, where the artists become witnesses of a more politically defined condition.

MM: The political or ideological aspect has never touched you…

LC: I was never interested. I need to bring people to a planet that they do not know or do know but want to see again. It is also a question of revision. The fundamentals concern aesthetics, the formalization and an ancient knowledge, something which sets us apart as Italian. A poetic and scientific knowledge that does not necessarily show us political events as a fundamental aspect of our existence.

MM: From this interview but also from knowing you, I note – strangely for an artist of your generation – that you often repeat the word “Italians”. As if you distinguish a characteristic that was important in previous centuries that is becoming more and more lost. How far has living in Berlin made you more aware of this, observing it from the outside?

LC: I think I have always had this kind of perception. I have travelled enough. Therefore, I was in the position to measure myself against other countries, from France to the United States, from England to Spain, even as far as China, long before I went to Berlin. Moving to Berlin was not an escape but was part of my work, part of the way of moving, something that artists have practiced for hundreds of years. The identification of some Italian qualities came after some time; frankly, I use this as a lever. In his book Franco La Cecla writes that we eat many types of pasta and pizza: there are over two hundred and sixty types of pasta. I do not say this to bring up the disparaging formula of “Italians-spaghetti”, but rather to remember that we “eat shapes”. It is clear that we are linked to landscape, to food, to be surrounded by the history of the shape. The international language of the last twenty years has flattened the thought, but I still believe in the peculiarity, I firmly believe in it. The capacity to translate and interpret is an important factor.

MM: Have you ever glimpsed these features in your colleagues

LC: As a position, absolutely. If I think of Gianni Caravaggio and Diego Perrone, there are some very specific characteristics. Living in Berlin you can really feel the conceptual and practical framework in everyday life, also in the decisions. This setting is perfectly felt in Germans; each of them is a point in well-organised and orthogonal grid, and even puncturing a small point means that the grid opens and no longer works. In Italy, but also in Mediterranean countries, the grid is made up of curves; we come from a baroque style construction of space unlike the northern countries. It is certainly the evidence of a position, because aesthetics are the translation of a process that concerns everyday life, the structures that associate people.

MM: In your opinion, is the quantity of these cultural typologies and behaviours fixed? That is, can you determine how many associated possibilities there are or instead are they simply reduced to an orthogonal or curved structure, as in the diagrams that you like and inspire you so much?

LC: I think there are two of them, obviously speaking metaphorically. Perhaps other realities exist, I have never thought about it...

MM: It is obvious that when you speak of curves, the mental association is that of the curves in the diagrams. Taking the figure which we have just talked about – diagrammatic too – of the relationship between culture, now defined by curves, now by straight lines, grids and points, we know that the diagrams involve curves that stand on the lines in order to define how far they move…

LC: Points always define the curves.

MM: …But to identify the movements you need to place them on a grid.

LC: Yes, of course. Anyway, my reference was to Europe, but if you think about the grids that Orientals may have, the structural modalities are very different, for example, between China and Japan, also for Africans, the approach changes according to the zones.

MM: Do these differentiated structures remain, compared to a levelling globalization and apparently the same for everyone?

LC: Yes, Lately I have been interested in aniconic work in both the West and the East. For example, in Arab countries the module is an element that is very near their culture. I get there having fun by seeing the formulas or the developments of natural elements, as nature and mathematics touch the base functions of the representation, that act on all the latitudes leveraging different cultures.

MM: To these basic functions you overlay or interpenetrate your story and your culture, otherwise the base functions would be the same for everyone…

LC: Exactly.

In Milan, in my kitchen 22 January 2014

© Fondazione Arnaldo Pomodoro 2014