Crash in Progress:
Interview with
Giorgio Andreotta Calo
Uovo, no: 17 (June 2008)

Pelin Uran: Giorgio, you usually work site-specifically and this issue of Uovo Open Office is about site-specificty. An American theoretician, Miwon Kwon, talks about site-specificity when she asks, is "site" in site-specific art a geographical area, a representation of that area, its phenomenological experience, an institutional grid, or a community formation? In relation to the work you produce for Uovo, which of the sites have you engaged with?

Giorgio Andreotta Calò: The site in relation to geographical area is not the one that I am looking at. We are in Switzerland, and in a way it is quite similar to Italy. It is not like working in Bosnia or Lebanon. I do not see something new in Switzerland. I can feel at home here. I am more interested in working in the garage space that I am working in. The space Uuvo Open Office is using is under construction; it is in transition to be something different at least for a brief time. For this project, we are here as a group, not just me by myself. We are transforming this space to something else. I want to give my contribution as changing and transforming the space. That’s why I think that works already produced and put in this space cannot be the right choice. I think it is more in line with the Uovo Open Office to come here and start to transform the space. In a way, my practice reflects the the Uovo project. This is a process work for me.

PU: Is process more important than the end result?

GAC: Not always. In this project, process is more important. Or to put in another way, the end result is part of the process. In my other projects I do not integrate the process with the end result. What is important is the work at the end not the process.

PU: Your work can be described as ephemeral, transient and impermanent. Temporality, fragility and liminality characterize your work. Your work  usually  takes place at liminal times such as sunrise or sunset and in liminal places such as abandoned or in-between spaces. What potentialities does liminality provide for you?

GAC: There is something very personal in my way of working in abandoned spaces. Even as a child I was attracted to abandoned spaces and I was going with my friends to discover and to explore things in Venice. This image comes to my mind every time I go to these places. Even though these place are abandoned because nobody lives there anymore, I always feel the presence of the people who lived there. I always try to find a way to show what I feel. Many times my work is to re-activate the space, to give a new life or make something that gives another sense.

PU: Do you want to reveal the presence through absence or to change and bring another meaning to these spaces?

GAC: I think it goes together. Sometimes the history of the space and its identity is very powerful. So you cannot work without this history, and you follow the history of the space and you make a work very much in line with it. Sometimes, a place is without this powerful identity so you are free to bring new meaning to it.

The building I have chosen for the public project in Naples (It, 2005), for example, was an abandoned, but I decided to work with this building because of its position in the skyline of the city, not because it was a special building. On the other hand, with the work I did in the mental hospital in Sardenia (Sei, 2006), it was impossible to get away from the identity of the hospital because it was very strong. It was too strong, and hard for me to work there because I felt the presence of the people who had been hospitalized there. I really care about the history of the places. This is my way to relate to a space.

For Uovo Open Office, I started in the garage and there were some objects around so I decided to use them. It is the same process that is happening with this project Uovo Open Office. The magazine moved their location to the garage space, and they are transforming the space during the Basel art fair. I try to use the objects that already existed in the garage and transform it into an art piece.
For this project, we work on the border because maybe at the end it will be a failure. This is related to my practice of really connecting myself  to a situation. However, the space could have been totally another space like a bookshop or something else. It really does not matter in a way. The most important thing is the starting point, which was our being together to make a collaborative project. At the end, it is not important whether this dada fountain will be working, maybe it will be broken in a few minutes, but the process is important.

PU: Rosenthal Garage is more in line with the sculptural installations you made from 2002 – 2003, which were ephemeral sculptures made out of ephemeral material. However, your later, more conceptual works were born out of research and experience which has resulted in documentation rather than an object; for example, the walking experience Torino-Guarene, or Sei, the project you did in the mental hospital. What made you decide to do a sculptural installation in a space that allows you to  experiment as freely as you can?

GAC: I like that you are disappointed. Maybe not disappointed but it is something that you do not understand why I do it. I like this kind of situation. I work with a feeling to do something. I did not decide beforehand what to do. I arrived and thought about what I could do. I think this a nice possibility to rise from the work that I do before. I wanted to do something free in order to enjoy the time I am spending here. That is something new. It has been a long time that since I have done this kind of work.

I thought a lot about what I could do here, and the answer was just around the corner. Just try to return to something that I did before, and see what would happen after some years. I am gaining a lot of experience one after another, and it is sure that each work has some residues from previous works. In this case, I take a work from the past. It is also a way to make yourself question to see whether you are still able to work in a way that you had once worked before.

PU: Since your recent works prior to Rosenthal Garage are more conceptual, I want to ask how important material practice is for you? How is the materiality of your work related to the ideas you are investigating?

GAC: I want to start again to work with a material practice. This is where I come from. I never forgot the material practice. I would say that I work in sculptural way more than I work in conceptual way also because I am not an intellectual. When I was working in Naples I was working with light and sound. The light and the sound were so powerful you could feel it in your body. The concept is an important part of my work, but not the most important I would say.

PU:  Did you try to connect the space spatially in Rosenthal Garage?

GAC: Something like this came to me at the beginning, but I also had thousands of ideas and unfortunately there are not thousands of days. However, to spend my time efficiently giving sense to the work was the most important thing. I started to connect the two spaces with a black tube and then I understood that I can use also the water. Then, I connected the water to the sculpture. In a way, it happened step by step.

PU: Another aspect of your work involves chance...  When we were talking about working together you had already planned to make a long trip to Spain in order to realize a project, but a lot of different things came along the way. Even though you don’t like to work in this way, how do you integrate these chance situations into your practice?

GAC: How I see chance in relation to my practice is maybe something that happens in between. I am very clear about what I want to do. I had a clear idea about my trip to Spain and I still have it. The only thing that will change is that even if I thought it would take a one month, maybe now it will take two months, but I did not lose my final objective. I continue on this trip and somethings keep continuing to happen in the middle. But I am focused on the arrival point.

It is beneficial for me to follow the chance situations I encounter along the way because it gives me new experiences. When you first told me you’d like to do this project together, I did not want to, but then I decided to do it because it does not affect my final objective. I also have to be flexible enough because I am at the beginning of my practice. At the end, I am happy to be here. It gives me energy to continue even if it is exhausting due to the short time span.

PU: Unfortunately our experience has been formed in haste; first the exhibition in Fondazione Sandretto, Guarene and now the second is this project. How do you feel about working in this accelerated way?

GAC: At the moment I cannot reject any proposal because I am at the beginning, so I have to take everything that comes along the way. I cannot say no because a system bigger than yourself decides for you. Stanley Kubrick says that time is the most important thing you can have when you are making a film. I think that is true, but you cannot really choose. Maybe there comes a day when you can say no, but that would be when you are established. If you have a lot of people working for you maybe you can do many things at the same time. But this is not the case for me.

At this moment, if you follow the flow you can have more possibilities than you can handle. It is like when you run, when you run a lot and you feel so tired, you cannot continue anymore. You stop because you simply cannot. Now, I have energy to continue in this way but I also want to stop and to reflect critically on my practice. Most of the time there is no time for this reflection. This happens for many artists.

PU: You are living and working in Venice, Italy. How do you see the artistic situation in Italy? Do you think that critical reflection exists in Italy since the art system is very much related to the gallery system? Is there enough support for an artist especially an artist who produces ephemeral works?

GAC: My personal experience is that the fine arts education system and the contemporary art scene in Italy are on completely different planets. They are completely separate. You study sculpture or painting in a school and when you graduate it’s like you are in the forest with a lion. The art school does not prepare you for anything in the outside world. Either you try to get by on your own by organizing exhibitions with friends and developing connections, or you change your plans and start to work in an office. It is very sad, and yet it is the reality. You can be a very good painter or a sculptor but if you do not understand how the art market works, especially in Italy, you have no chance. The art market system does not look for criticality. It is not important to be critical. When you start to work with a good gallery nobody cares about what you do. What counts is that you have a value on the market. However, it does not matter because it is about you at the end. You decide for yourself. It is you who chooses to make a good work every time because you know that one percent of these people understand your work. The other people do not care because they see your name and they relate your work to your name.

I try to be very critical even if the system that I am working in is not critical. Because contemporary art market has developed very recently. So, you cannot relate to this aspect if you want to work in the long terms. And I want to look beyond that. What I want to do with my work is to stay longer than myself. On the other hand, the heavy presence of the gallery situation in Italy can be a good way for some artists just because it can allow a lot of possibilities. But it is not my case. Therefore, I want to move somewhere else to see what is happening elsewhere.

After all, in Italy it is the same case for any kind of research; there is no funding.

PU: I would like to talk a bit about originality and hybridity. From very early on in your career you worked with very established artists like Marjetica Potrč and Ilya Kabakov you did your thesis on Gordon Matta-Clark. Some of your former works can be seen in relation to the ideas of Gordon Matta-Clark and in your recent works you have been utilizing the Situationist dérive to explore your territory. In this project, you are interested in the way Swiss artists work. How do you think these prominent figures are shaping your practice?

GAC: I am sure that we are in the time of recycling. We absorb so much information that we cannot come out with something original. We do not have the time to understand things we see and that’s why we are mixing things around us. For me, everything is connected to my personal experience. The walk that I realized from Torino to Guarene was a response to my understanding of time. Not everything has to be seen in an art context. I just go from one point to another. I think in relation to time. I wanted to suggest that people who saw the documentation make the same because you do not need to be an artist to do that.

PU: This project also reflects you interest in Swiss artists. Do you think your work for Rosenthal Garage can be seen as a tribute to Jean Tinguely?

GAC: I was trying to understand what made Swiss art. I tried to connect the elements from one to the other artist.

PU: Who were those artists?

GAC: Fischli and Weiss, Tinguely and Thomas Hirschhorn. When I first came here I went to Tinguely Museum and saw a video. Then, I see the connection to Fischli and Weiss. In Switzerland they are so perfect with the mechanism. The videos of Fischli and Weiss are like a Swiss clock. So perfect but on the other hand they need to come out of this perfection, things that do not make sense in order to take a break. In Italy we do not need that.

PU: Why do you think that Italian artists do not need it?

GAC: Maybe because we are completely the opposite. There is so much chaos and confusion so that in the arts we try to be very clean and precise. If you look at the works of Arte Povera and Gino De Dominicis it is so light and so soft; secco come la lama di cortello.

PU: In your installation as well as the materials you found in the garage, there are also candles. And this brings Italian poetics to my mind. When you were talking about Italian artists  trying to be as precise as they can, I was thinking about the poetics and aesthetics of the works. Did you also find the candles in the garage?

GAC: I found one and I bought the others. However, I like the candles. All the elements in the installation started to have a sense together; a sense out of nonsense. Or maybe they have a sense in relation to the space.

PU: Will the sculpture be kinetic?

GAC: The beer cans attached to the pipe will move and they will make a noise. When the water is turned on the beer cans will move and make noise. And probably after two minutes the sculpture will break. But the important thing is everything about the sculpture has a short time span like the project of Uovo here in this space. Perhaps I will ask the visitors to demolish the piece because I am curious about their reaction.

PU: You not only work within Italy but have made some projects in Sarajevo, in Ljubljana and very soon you will do a project in Beirut. If you are asked to compare the projects that you produce for these places and the one for Uovo Open Space in what ways is your approach similar and in what ways does it differ?

GAC: Places like Serbia, Lebanon and Slovenia are very different from my country. For me, there are more questions there. Being completely an outsider, I have a clear vision perhaps more than people living there.

PU: Since most of your works are placed in public spaces as opposed to a white cube situation, how important is accessibility in your work?

GAC: I do not work in a white cube situation. In a gallery space I usually show the remains or documentation of a performance or an action that I do in a public space. It gives me much more possibility and stimulation to work outside of an institution or a gallery space. The white cube is an abstract space. I feel comfortable and free to work in a place like Rosenthal Garage. In a huge space like this I can work from different angles as opposed to a small gallery space. This is an amazing possibility. In the process of making the sculpture you can see from different perspectives. That is the reason I decided to make a sculpture in a space like this as opposed to project a video etc. I am changing it all the way. I add things, it is becoming more complex. Even if it does not work at the end it does not matter. I am very young so I can afford to experiment. I need to continue to make something different and new every time.

PU: Is it because in a way you don’t want to feel comfortable?

GAC: That is exactly the point. To try every time to make something different. To push the limits and continue in this way. I try to make something difficult in order to develop my work. The second day I arrived here I told to Chiara Figone that maybe I would go away without doing anything because I was stressed. But in the meantime I was also thinking of this situation as an opportunity.

PU: I would like to ask you about your working method. Before working with you, I had a preconceived idea that you were open to an experimental approach. However, working with you has revealed that you really prefer not to work like that or that isn’t the ideal situation you want to work in.  If you reflect on the two projects that we have been working on together, one of which was an exhibition in an open format and the second one being with Uovo, where again time has been limited, how would you describe your experience? Can you talk about your doubts about the experimental approach?

GAC: It is like this interview. If we had had two weeks to talk you would know much better about my practice. And if I had had two weeks to work on the piece that I am working on maybe it would be become more complex. I cannot go faster than myself. However, it was satisfying at the end.

PU: Another question that I am dying to ask is about the collaborative approach. Since I had to follow you almost like a shadow for this project and figured out during this time that you are a solitary artist, what are your thoughts about collaboration? How do you feel about our collaboration?

GAC: At the beginning of my studies, I was working with a collaborative called crash in progress for three years. We were together in a fine arts school so we founded this group. The idea was that we stay together to organize a show but everybody will continue to do his/her personal work. This approach was good for two or three years. We did a lot of projects together. But at one point we also crashed.

PU: But if you continued to do your individual projects, why did you crash?

GAC: Because each of us wanted to be the main figure. So, we did not continue to work together. It was stupid because at the end when you work in a group you have to forget yourself in a way. But for sure I did not want to work all the time in this way because I needed my space to do what I have in mind. I cannot have compromises. I have to decide by myself. Because I know what I want to do and I know that it has to be done in this way. However, it is my personal view. If I am in a project, from the beginning to the end I know what I have to do.

PU: What you are saying is contributing in your personal way to a collaborative project. My question is can you think other ways of collaborating? Like our collaboration...

GAC: I think at the moment the only form it can take is this because of the time limitation. But I think it does not stop here. It is probably just the starting point for a long-term collaboration with this group. With some people working for the project I feel very connected and with others maybe not.

PU: Another important thing about the Uovo Open Office is the documentation aspect since all the performances will be documented. Documentation is very important for the ephemeral works such as yours. It has been very important since the 1960s and since then the boundaries of what constitutes a work and what constitutes documentation have blurred.  How important is the documentation aspect for your work and how much control do you have over the documentation of your works?

GAC: The documentation happens is in order to fix the moment because if you do not have something to show after this, it is as if it does not exist. The documentation is important in this sense for me.

PU: However, there are different alternatives to documentation. One of them can be storytelling. By storytelling, it can pass from one person to another.

GAC: Yes, you are right. There can also be different ways to document but I know how to deal with the camera, I know this media that I work with. The documentation at the end is important for me as a way to utilize the media is in relation to the media that I use. If my camera is broken for sure I will start to find other ways. Maybe in the coming years I will find a different way to document. I think the important thing for me is what you do and not how you document it because maybe in fifty years the photo will disappaer but what will stay is the action that you do. If you do something powerful enough it can survive without documentation. People also can use their imagination. I believe in what will be constructed around what I do. I want that what I do can stay after me. All my work has been done in this direction.