Andrew Smaldone: When looking at your practice as a whole, I can’t help but think of Alan Kaprow’s thought from the late 1950s that artists were no longer painters or poets but rather artists were simply “artists”. Would you say this thought still applies to your artistic process today in 2012, or do you prefer to think of yourself as a sculptor who explores a variety of media?
Marco Chiandetti: You know I have worked in various media, and I think when you are at art school you kind of search around for your form. I do think I have quite a broad practice and it’s interesting you mention Kaprow, and I am very curious about his work. He was one of many artists who really opened up the artistic practice. I studied with and have become friends with the fluxus artist Geoff Hendricks who has had a real effect on me. My work has really developed into having a performative aspect to it. I mean as artists we are performing when we make the work, we are bodies in motion. I have always enjoyed watching those film clips of Pollock working, the way he would dance around the canvas. It is performance. Watching any artist working is a beautiful experience. The term sculptor means something different these days I think. It’s so much broader. Sculpture in the expanded field perhaps. It doesn’t necessarily mean we have to be sculpting an object. It’s like the title of that book on Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time. I think the borders of these terms like sculpture, architecture, music are so fuzzy these days and there are plenty of artists who have this broad practice, Alÿs, Orozco. I think “artist” is just fine as a term to use, though most of the time when you say you are an artist, most people have some strange concept of what you really do. Nowadays I think people are used to seeing artists who work across different mediums. Ultimately what the artist is talking about is usually the same thing, but in a way by flipping the medium you can look at an idea from different angles. So I do like the play between mediums, but lately I guess I have been playing with more solid “sculptural” forms in what are seen as fairly traditional mediums and how these objects relate to us or me physically. I like sculpture that can be performance, or performance that can be architecture.
AS: Sound seems to play a major role in your work, or perhaps it’s the importance of the body in your practice, and therefore you are exploring an aspect of your self through sound. Could you elaborate on the role of sound in your work?
MC: You know its strange you asking that. I don’t think of myself as a sound artist. There are artists who are dealing very specifically with sound like Haroon Mirza for example, whose work is amazing. But recently I was thinking about objects, solid sculptural objects, and wondering if they could be translated into sound, what sounds would they be, how would they resonate in that way? It’s kind of curious and I don’t have an answer and it’s interesting to think about. I wonder if someone with Synesthesia can experience a solid form as a sound? I think sound has been a by-product of some of the things I have made. When I made the collapsing house piece in Beijing, I never realized that of course if would make sounds, creaking as it collapsed as the timber hit the ground. But it was exciting that it did and I embraced it. Plus the motor made such a tremendous awful noise but I quite liked it. It sort of cut through it all being too aesthetic.
To bring it back to the body, because actually one thing my work is about is the body and I’m interested in the body, is that we all make sounds. As our bodies move in time and space we create noise, we can’t get away from that fact, and if we are lying still in a silent room we can hear our internal organs glugging away. We are collectively adding to the sound fabric of the world quite unintentionally. I quite like that idea. Silence doesn’t really exist as Cage proved. If we are making sounds we are creating vibrations, emitting vibrations into the world all the time. I think that’s amazing. I wonder whether these vibrations have an effect in the world. It’s a curious thing to think it might be.
AS: Collaboration also seems central to your performances. In “Temporary Architecture” (2011) with Hektor Mamet (performance at the Swiss Institute in Rome) you place soft objects of different shapes and sizes between your bodies in a way that signifies that you need each other’s support. Is your intention to demonstrate that both art and life are supportive processes? Or is that too simplistic a reading on my part?
MC: I think art and life are supportive processes. I was at the wedding of an artist friend not so long ago who has a disability and he quite frankly stated that his art supported and saved his life as he was trying to deal with a very serious disability. It was a very moving speech he gave. It doesn’t have to be quite as acute as this situation though. When it comes to the Temporary Architecture piece it was really not the intention of the work or the thinking behind it. That was quite a strange project and I really enjoyed it. Hektor and I studied together at Chelsea, and we have very different practices and I was quite surprised when he asked me to collaborate with him in Rome. I jumped at the thought because actually I find great joy in collaborating with artists. It opens up one’s head and one’s practice. I have a long-term collaboration with the artist Melora Kuhn in New York. When I got to Rome, it was quite funny as for the first few days we sat around saying _ so hmmm, what we going to do then. And then we spent some time riding around on a Vespa and finally went to a huge sports shop and looked at things there. Sports shops are really strange, we are sort of used to them now but you look at the things they have in there and you take them out of context, those things become really weird. I guess what was important and what really came to the forefront in the work is that we are all participants. We are all in a relationship with each other and we all have to take responsibility for making something work. What was also so strange which I never realized until we did the performance was how extremely intimate it was. Through these strange foam objects between us I got a really strong sense of Hektor’s body, his physicality. As he moved or I moved the other person had to accommodate to that. I found it quite a powerful experience in my body. The body is a vital medium or action and perception.
AS: I’d also like to take this opportunity to ask you about your going to the British Museum when you were starting various sculptural pieces some months ago. What is the relationship between how looking to the past (literally at ancient sculpture) influences your practice and ideas about making work?
MC: I spend quite a bit of time in the British Museum. I really enjoy it there, and any museum of that ilk. These places stuffed full of strange objects. I’m always amazed that these things are dug up from somewhere, where they can lie dormant for centuries, and then they suddenly see the light of day again and how we use these objects to try to understand who we once were. It’s an amazing process. Then you come across some forms and objects which are so crackers and strange and you really have to think why does this thing exist, for what reason? Strange simple pieces of technology or bits of sculpture that have broken off larger objects and you can just wonder what the rest of it might have looked like. Then you have objects that supposedly have magical powers. For us in the west that seems ludicrous, but you know why not, for some cultures some objects do have magical qualities, and we may think otherwise but they may just have that.
I think in relation to what I am doing, or what I am interested in is that 99 percent of the objects at the British Museum are probably made by hand. I think this is amazing. And I am working with some processes, like bronze casting, where I am casting my own work, and the process hasn’t changed for thousands of years. All of a sudden time collapses. The understanding of the process and how the material works is exactly the same from someone pouring bronze today and someone thousands of years ago. For me that’s like magic. It crushes through time and cultures. Sounds romantic and maybe simplistic but I do think these things are important It’s great these museums exist with all this stuff in them. So when we have eradicated ourselves as a species from this earth and we no longer exist, the aliens will come in spaceships and see our museums and see what we made and hopefully they will understand something about who we are. As human beings we leave traces of ourselves throughout life. These traces remain after we go. These museums are full of those traces – traces of human creativity over the ages.
AS: You mentioned a few weeks ago that you’d be showing some sculptures and drawings for your upcoming two person show at Bruce Haines’ London gallery Ancient & Modern this spring. What other (if any) preparations will go into putting on the exhibition?
MC: There’s no bit preparations. The work is finished and just figuring out how to show some of the pieces. It’s a nice gentle process at the moment. I hate to rush, I like to finish work far in advance and have time with the work to meditate on it a little.
AS: Over the years you’ve traveled the world: India, China, and Australia just to name a few countries you’ve lived and worked in. You’ve often mentioned Australia to me in emails, but I’ve never really got a handle on what it means to you to visit and work there. You’ve also got an upcoming group exhibition in Melbourne, so what is it about Australia that keeps you wanting to return?
MC. Travel is important when we get a chance to do that. A friend just gave me a book made up of travel quotes and it really shows the complexity of why we travel and how we feel about it as human beings. I have traveled and worked in other places and it has opened up a wealth of possibilities for me and opened up my mind and my practice. Australia is an interesting place. It’s not like Europe with thousands of years of art history on its shoulder. Australia doesn’t have that weight which can be such a burden. I felt a great sense of openness to making work there and also seeing it. It was like a breath of fresh air. I really enjoyed it there. It felt as if there were so many more possibilities. And it sounds cliché but the light is so beautiful there – so bright, with huge skies, and such an immense space – it’s quite extraordinary. In comparison, Europe is so congested. There are so many amazing artists and gallerists there and it is a shame a lot of the work there doesn’t get an opportunity to travel. So I am really delighted to be included in a show at Utopian Slumps in Melbourne.
AS: There was a time back in 2005 (if I remember correctly) that you studied with Ai Wei Wei. You were at a residency in Salzburg, Austria along with artist Gordana Bezanov. Ai Wei Wei wasn’t the art god he is today, and I believe in Europe at the time it was primarily the Swiss and Germans who knew of him. Is there anything in particular you learned from that experience?
MC: Wei Wei taught me how to make Chinese dumplings. He was very particular about wanting to show me himself how to make them. The first few I made were a disaster but soon I got the hang of it and I made perfect dumplings. I showed him and he put his hand on my shoulder and said, I have nothing more to teach you. It was really all about the handmade. Wei Wei enjoys the idea of things made by hand.
AS: Despite all the travels, however, London remains your home base, and you’ve always spoken of the city and the British in the highest regard. What changes for better or worse have you seen and experienced in London over the past ten years?
MC: Though my parents are Italian, I was born in London and I feel very lucky. I have always lived here. I really love this city. Perhaps not the most beautiful city but a good one nonetheless. Yes it has changed and drastically, especially over the last few years. It’s become a real hub, culturally, which is exciting. I was having a conversation with my partner the other day about Britpop. Britpop was one of the factors, amongst others that made London cool back in the 90’s and it’s snowballed since then. There’s been an influx of people into this city, which makes it vibrant. This also has a negative side that it makes it more congested, harder and more expensive to live here. Class divisions have become wider and for some people it has become very difficult to live here. But maybe this is more across the board as we are going though a global financial crisis.
AS: Is there anything else you’d like to say?
MC: Not at the moment.
Images courtesy Marco Chiandetti
© Andrew Smaldone, Marco Chiandetti, Fisk Frisk magazine
Editing: Eloise Ghioni