An Interview with Roberto Savino, Italian Curator from Milan
Arte de Ardere: Visual Art blog based in Milan
R.S. Can you describe your work?
M.S. The work reflects mythologized subjective and collective interpretations of current events, history, social communication, and subjective and objective layers of identity. My work hovers between the use or juxtaposition of different materials and media, including painting, photography, film, video, performance, and architecture. My work constructs narrative strategies and artistic discourse concerning representation. The Recurring Dream (2007-8) is a large-scale panoramic painting (2.5 meters high, 4 meters in diameter) that depicts the famous dream sequence from Cold War film classic The Manchurian Candidate (1962). In this scene, the camera pans 360º around the room transforming an elderly women’s tea-time lecture on gardening into a brutal Communist display of mind-control. The ambiguity of this scene mixes perception and hallucination, which was not only at the center of the language of nineteenth century panoramic painting, but also refers to current media practices in fabricating patriotic and illusory perceptions of conflict and torture. The installation Get Ready to Shoot Yourself, 2009 is based on a film set from Orson Welles’s film The Lady From Shanghai (1947), which features the aftermath of a shootout in a mirror maze. It is essential to the concept of the installation that the publicity still photograph that was the basis for this project was purely for publicity purposes only and did not appear in the film, it was in fact a lost staged moment outside the fictional narrative. I was immediately intrigued with the idea of pushing this 2-dimensional tableau image back into 3-dimensional space, re-constructing the image and fictional set that encapsulated the film’s complex narrative. In the installation the viewer walks directly intothe space of the image taking on the roles of both actor and interpreter within the reconstructed, yet broken mirror maze. Allowing the viewer to wander with their own image constantly displaced, reflected, and shattered suggests a contemporary fear and desire to “reside” within images. This is a homage to Manet, to Velazquez, and to the mirror as metaphor and as another space, where “I am here, but I am also over there,” as Foucault describes it.
R.S. What are you working on currently?
M.S. I’m currently working on another large-scale project, a film, and series of paintings, sculptures, collages, and photographs all as part of an on-going multi-disciplinary and complex project I started in 2009 called The Choreographed Accident: Objects, Images, and Artifacts from the Pavel Avorsky Museum, Warsaw, 2009-present. The work collectively examines the British Secret Service agent Paul Avery’s (aka Pavel Avorsky) series of clandestine “Warsaw Notebooks” that investigate top-secret British military research into time travel. Avery, the son of a brilliant Polish physicist who worked in the early 20thcentury with Einstein and R.B. Jeffries on time displacement experiments, discovers and explores his father’s scholarly work. The work is part documentary, with 2 newspaper clippings (see links below), photographs, documents, and artifacts lent to me by the Pawel Avorsky Museum in Warsaw. I've also made works in specific response to Avery's writings from his Warsaw Notebooks; I've made paintings, collages, photographic light-boxes, sculptures, and a multi-media installation. I like the idea of a story that takes 5 years to tell, and this ongoing narrative reevaluates cinematic forms of mythology. The content of this project continues to grow creating the need to reevaluate everything learned from a previous experience with the work. The story firmly sits within the genre of the Cold War spy movies with double agents, scrambled communication and evidence that unfold in a “wilderness of mirrors.” It is a dystopian sci-fi, detective thriller that is “stranger than fiction” in the models of Solaris, Alphaville, Notes from the Underground, and the writings of Kafka, HG Wells, George Orwell, Grahame Greene, and the mazes and labyrinths of Jorge Luis Borges. The Choreographed Accident describes a socio-political framework of totalitarian oppression where the individual is a non-person in a psychologically suspicious, paranoid, and neurotic society, where artists unconsciously censor themselves communicating metaphorically, and where improvisation is inhumane. The complex network of object, images, and artifacts loaned from the Pawel Avorksy Museum materials creates a kind of conceptual cinema that plays out in the imaginations of the viewer. In a digital age where the manipulation or staging of events is always possible, images that document history don’t have to be truthful, they just have be believable.
R.S. What inspires your?
…an incomplete list in no particular order: concepts of the underworld in mythology, literature, and painting, subways, grottos, mirrors, mise-en-abyme, Siennese painting especially Sassetta, getting lost in Rome and Milan, Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Aventura, L’Eclisse, Red Desert, Zabriskie Point; Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, Lady from Shanghai, Mr. Arkadin, Godard’s Alphaville, Hitchcock, Jacque Tati’sPlaytime, the writings about photography by Sigfried Kracauer, Susan Sontag, and Roland Barthes, Jacque Ranciere, Jorge Luis Borges Labyrinths, Exactitude in Science, etc, etc, Walter Benjamin, Adorno, Slavoj Zizek, Helio Oitcica, the spatial and organizational plan of Mondrian’s 1913 Paris Atelier, Tacita Dean, Rudolf Stingel, Joan Jonas, Anri Sala, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Ilya Kabakov, Marcel Duchamp’s Etant Donnes, Robert Gober, John Heartfield, Andy Warhol, The Velvet Underground, The Plastic Exploding Inevitable, Dan Graham’s Rock My Religion and his conceptual architectural model “Cinema”, Gordon Matta Clark, the anatomy theaters in Padova and Leiden, the 1930’s German Total Theater of Erwin Piscator and Walter Gropius, Kurt Schwitters’ Merz concept, Tatiana Trouve, Bob Dylan’s Boots of Spanish Leather, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, It’s All Over Baby Blue; Los Carpenteros and Frederick Keisler and Imaginary Architecture, the film Russian Ark, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Gilles Deleuze’s Cinema I and II, Kubrick’s 2001 in relation to Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Miles Davis soundtrack Filles de Kilimanjaro, Bitches Brew; Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, the sound of Nico’s voice, Thierry de Duve, Jeff Wall, Richter’s October 18, 1977…
R.S. What do you hope to evoke from your viewers?
M.S. Whether on a canvas or within a participatory installation, I wish the viewer to find themselves confronting their own identity, occupying a specific spatial context as both a character and interpreter of the parallel space, narrative, politics and time. I’m fascinated with how the digital age has completely shifted how film is experienced, and how viewers have taken ownership of cinema as a modifiable consumer product in which the temporal and spatial elements can be re-ordered with the simple tool of the remote control.The typical viewer has become a kind of undeclared VJ within our culture. I want to give viewers the same freedom within my installations to perform and interpret the work based on the own terms.
R.S. How has your work grown and changed?
M.S. When I studied at the School of the Art Institute for my MFA, I was a die-hard painter. I dabbled a bit in video, but it wasn’t until I came to the Rijksakademie where I truly explored a variety of materials, media, and narrative strategies. I started with juxtaposing spoken narrative with a series of paintings. I then created my first film My Baby Just Cares For Me, 2001-2, which examined the profiling of immigrant Muslims that began to take form in the early 2000’s throughout Europe. The film featured an American architect at a Brussels train station watching a Muslim couple from a distance and immediately questioning whether the young man is mistreating his girlfriend. The story was written while I was living in east Amsterdam in the Indische Buurt (the East Indies Neighborhood) in a Turkish and Moroccan neighborhood. Although I have a Dutch citizenship I found myself feeling more at home in my neighborhood than among the Dutch. My own Post-Colonial Dutch and Indonesian cultural identity, as both Christian and Muslim, was certainly beneath this exploration. Since leaving Holland in 2004 my work has continued to deal with the questioning of identity but through the collective means of popular culture. The Silva Screen is another painting series that deals with the concept of a questionable cultural identity.
R.S. Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?
M.S. I constantly explore process and materials to find a direction for the most relevant, enigmatic means to tell a story.
For example, I had the opportunity to create a performance for the Bergamo Film Festival, I collaborated with an Italian drummer Tiziano Riva who created a new drum solo soundtrack for the video Last Breath on the Mirror, 2009, the video playing within the Get Ready to Shoot Yourself, 2009 installation, creating a new conceptual and temporal relationship with the film sequence. Tiziano Riva performed his drum solo on the film festival stage, with The Last Breath on the Mirror projected above him. The reference to music as a silent film accompaniment was clear enough, yet I decided to have Riva take the stage in the role of Buster Keaton, as idea that could only come to me after I met him and I noted his uncanny facial resemblance!
R.S. Can you tell me something about your residency at the Rijksakademie?
M.S. My experience at the Rijks was full of amazing experience being in close contact with a remarkable cross-section of international artists, global and personal political concerns, and conceptual strategies.
The advisors were fantastic, and the opportunities to show my work to a larger audience was very helpful and led to some direct professional contacts. It was a great learning experience, however, I feel that my time there was a very transitional period. It wasn’t until after I left that I began to really shift my work into site-specific installation, performance, and narrative space. In fact my sketchbooks from that period are full of drawings of installation ideas, many of which I only explored much later. I've leared to trust my instincts as an artist.
R.S. Is there anything else you would like to add?
M.S. Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you and your readers.
I wish you all the best with your blog and your future curatorial adventures.