* The following text is an excerpt from an interview made in 2016. The original version is published in PANORAMA (DIORAMA editions).
Diego Gualandris (Alzano Lombardo, 1993) studied at Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera (Milan) and Accademia di Belle Arti G.Carrara (Bergamo). His work has been exhibited at Fondazione Baruchello, ADA project (Rome), Tile Project Space, Current and Mercatino Via Zuretti (Milan), Maccagno (Varese).
I got to know your work to the exhibition Vorrei non vederti oggi per vederti tutti gli altri giorni – I do not want to see you today to see you all the other days, in September 2015 in the Mercatino di Via Zuretti. It was a painting from the series U.a.M. (2015 – on going) and had an amazing evocative power. Would you tell me how this series was born?
Almost by accident I found a site that sells magic items, anthropomorphic candles, kits for propitiatory rituals. I fell in love with the promotional images of these products which already had an unsettling aesthetic power. The advertised items were cut out in a frame that embellished them and was meant to reflect the supernatural quality of the product in an unconscious and a little trashy manner. So I chose an image around which to build a kind of myth through a series of paintings, presenting every piece of it contorted and mutilated. In the beginning I only felt the need to compare myself with these images; the thought around the work built up in time and its conformation has been defined gradually. At first there were some elements which interested me and which I wanted to coexist, and then I realized that they were all equivalent in the sense that there was no working thought, but a horizontality of values.
One of the functions of art, at least in its Western history, was to stimulate a disorientation caused by a sense of wonder, followed by an allegorical and informative, more textual function. It seems that you are more interested in the first: the aspects related to persuasion. What role does it play in your work? It is used as a tool to your purpose or is it problematized, criticized?
Persuasion, but even more suggestion and auto-suggestion interest me because of the creation processes of sense springing from the will to believe, or to lead one to believe, to a spiritual doctrine, a corporate vision, a way of seeing things and build your own self. Lately I am quite fascinated by systems such as network marketing, which exploit these methods and present themselves as spiritual reformers; I’m thinking about the vision of Herbalife: “to change people’s lives”, that I saw written on a poster during one of the training sessions I attended; the explicit promise of a redemption led me to read it as the pagan evangelization of the dream of a brand.
Would you tell us how these issues find space in your current research?
The companies that use the network marketing or direct sales system assume that anyone can make a career in this field without having prior qualifications, becoming an independent contractor who can handle the resale of products almost at will. This means that companies organize continuous training and motivational meetings, readings of dedicated books or manuals which narrate the great entrepreneurs of the past, or still alive, portrayed in an almost mythological way, like P.T. Barnum, Napoleon Hill or Donald Trump. Starting from this material I am developing a series of works; on one side they will aim to translate aspects and contents of these texts in visual motivational, iconic and training narratives, on the other hand their integration in a space dedicated to art will make them almost a formal abstraction.
Did you encounter resistance, when “infiltrating yourself” in this world?
I happened to conduct interviews where the other party – who could be a simple dealer or a business administrator – felt uncomfortable when I asked questions containing words like “capitalism” or “religion”; I guessed that noticing the very obvious gestures of annoyance or pseudo answers like “but what does that mean – capitalism? This is unrealistic talking!”. And it was somewhat naive of me to try to discuss the religious aspects of a company with the human resources manager of Amway, when the very Amway has had and still has a number of legal problems in many countries because of its uncertain pyramid character and of the fairly widespread suspicion that it is a sect, if not a real religious group, in fact it is often called “Scientology, but with soap bars”.
Is there a reason that resides in your training, in your biography, for the fascination regarding the recurring themes in your research?
As a child I would have liked to become a priest. I grew up in a very religious family and I started to cultivate a sense of the sacredness that I re-evaluated, after having left any doctrine behind, in the course of my artistic research. When I was nine years old, right after the first communion, I decided to steal a host to allow my six-year-old brother to take the sacrament in advance. Looking back it was a desecration, or maybe it was a sacred desecration.