Interview #64

Giulio Scalisi

* The following text is an excerpt from an interview made in 2016. The original version is published in PANORAMA (DIORAMA editions).

Giulio Scalisi (Salemi, 1992) studied at NABA (Milan) and ÉCAL (Lausanne). His work has been exhibited at Le Botanique Centre Culturel (Bruxelles), Sonnenstübe (Lugano), Tile Project Space, T-Space e Lucie Fontaine (Milan), Galleria Umberto di Marino (Naples), Fondation Ricard (Paris), Gasconade (Rome).

You have speculated a lot on the aquatic imaginary, in your first personal exhibition as well as in your most recent works.

I always enjoyed exploiting the evocative power of certain elements, and then use them in a metaphorical sense and stress the topic I want to set out with my work. Water has different values in my respective works: first I saw it as an environment to dive in, but also as a surface that stores the images it reflects – a filter that mediates life, as in the case of Alghe Romantiche (Romantic Algae). More recently, the same element has taken on a different value, that of the resource; the water sprayed by the fountain is emptied of its intrinsic values and is instead seen as a resource that may be wasted for social pageantry.

However, your fountains are specific impersonations.

I like how the symbolic elements that I select can also be animated and characterized. In the case of the fountains, each of them was different from the other, for both the design and the way it spoke, impersonating different political ideas.

In your artist statement you talk about information ecosystems, and how the elusiveness of these flows implies a statement by a visual artist…

In the first years I studied at the academy, I always tended to look for a general rule, an abstract point of view, a way to bring order to a reality that was elusive and difficult to define. Then I realized that this confusion is simply the basic condition when observing the contemporary. I became aware of the fact, that the role of art, or at least of the art that fascinates me, is not to create objective truths, but extracts of a lived experience, however precarious and muddied by personal experiences. In this way you can anchor the thought to a moment, a place or an identity, to use these tinsels to observe a contemporaneity that continues to change, and that, when viewed in generalist way, would tend to volatilize. At the same time, I never believe that the individual point of view can be a constant: what we are, what we do… often this does not depend on us, but on external influences. And these external forces are what I would like to analyse with my work. I believe that what makes us happy or unhappy tells a lot about the present.

You have created Phantoms and Notifications, a video for iPhone dated 2015, thinking about how the peculiarities of this device escape the standardized relationship we have with objects.

This special video is part of a wider research I was conducting during my years at the Écal. At that time, I was looking for alternative methods to structure reality. The animism of the Native Americans, the Shintoist and then particularly the technological one they allowed me to experiment on the elements that make up a “living” object. I am particularly fascinated by cell phones as they appear as hybrid entities capable of escaping the Western system of categorization of thought. Our cell phones, just like our computers, become talismans with which we create anomalous forms of relationship. A relationship that is formed between the owner and his machine, but which, by connecting to the internet, overcomes this simple dichotomy and creates an entity half human and half machine that almost seems to have taken on a life of its own.

You are interested in the process of creating images, symbols and icons. Are there any particularly significant ones in your work?

I do not believe that there are any symbols or images I consider fundamental on my path, perhaps because what attracts me in them is not a sentimental value, but the potential of certain images to emphasize certain meanings or to assume new ones. For sure, there are some that I found very effective, like the hare that gave rise to the Balzo della Lepre (The Leap of the Hare), a discourse on how virtuality has changed our perception of time. I now perhaps would like to do some works presenting pigeons as a symbol of decadence and invasion: they spoil the harmony of the urban composition, they transgress the vertical rules of power on which our cities are based and defecate on the sculptures of the great poets in the squares.

You have made several comics in recent years.

I read Japanese, Italian and French comics since I was a teenager, and it is probably because of this that I started to develop a thought about drawing. Studying in the academy I wanted to experiment with other mediums which I believed closer to what contemporary art should have been; I then returned to comics and started to understand their potential by making one in collaboration with Tea Hacic, Gallina Sgualdrina (Slut Hen). We had no proper artistic ambitions; the goal was entertainment – but while making it, I realized that perhaps there was no need to separate art that makes you think from entertainment that makes you smile. I saw in the comic potentials similar to those of a video that I approached because of the temporal and narrative component, which I later rediscovered in the comic.

Gallina Sgualdrina was very close to Milan and its clichés. You were born in Sicily, you lived in the United States and in Switzerland; after a few years of stay, what are your impressions of this city?

I think it’s a city that has the potential to be portrayed, written and narrated. A city where people join because they share interests that go well beyond fashions and trends. A somewhat strange hybrid of a city, theoretically international, at least in inspirations, but still populated mostly by Italians. This is what motivates me to stay here and to believe that I can do something meaningful by being here.