Filoworlds - An interview with Lorenzo Pezzatini (full text)
February 14, 2016
His hallmark is a thread of blue, yellow and red acrylic color. Each color corresponds to the length of his outstretched arms. With this particular practice he has invaded public places contaminating spaces usually dedicated to advertising panels, has involved student groups or persons in the production of installations, performances, workshops. He tried to change the relationship between artist and audience and artist and collector donating the Filo (the thread). The Filo connecting two points (ie its extremes) refers to an infinite imagination of ties or relationships but also support and respect because the Greek root of its name contains the meaning of love/friendship. Then a set of meanings and references that leads us directly into the world of Lorenzo Pezzatini, Florentine artist who has changed the traditional concept of painting in a time strongly influenced by conceptualism separating the color from the canvas and giving it an objectual and three-dimensional value, independent of the traditional support of the canvas. I took advantage of a pleasant day with Lorenzo Pezzatini and his family to learn more about his practice and his world and I report the interesting talk.
Raffaele Quattrone: because of the centrality of the Filo in your artistic practice can we start from this? What is the Filo?
Lorenzo Pezzatini: we are starting with a question to which I cannot give a definition. I can tell you how it originated, what it means to me and what brought me in life to make this kind of choice... but what it really is I do not know and I do not truly want to know. But I can say very clearly how it originated. And I think this is very important. The Filo was created in the 70s as a detachment of the color from the canvas/surface. After years of painting in 1976 I came to the conclusion that the representative, figurative painting was on my own come to an end, it was exhausted. I was in the United States where he began to paint with acrylics and doing a reducing search on color, on the surface, on the representation or non-representation I began to use primary colors eliminating the interaction between the colors up to the realization of so-called last painting, a true classic of modern art. From Malevič on many people have tried to give a personal interpretation and definition of last picture. For me the last picture had to be into close relationship with my body: it is what you see here in the hall, large as the width of my open arms, with 3 holes up to my eyes. From behind the picture I splashed on the front surface in a unique and peremptory gesture the three primary colors. The picture/object is then conceived here in a well-rounded way and not just as a two-dimensional surface. It was a unique, final and cathartic event and for me it has been a farewell to the history that I carried with me coming from Florence and living in the United States.
RQ: how did you develop this detachment of the color from the canvas?
LP: my intention was to distance me from the painting and its history that at the time created many problems to me. Those were years when you could see a lot of Conceptual Art: the galleries were empty with a little mark here and there. But I remember you that they were also the years of Analytical Painting and a general climate that led to the so-called dematerialization of the art. All those elements led me to consider painting and pictorial practice in its essential elements. For me who just discovered the acrylic it was natural to experience the separation of color from the canvas willing to detach me from my origins as a painter. How did I do? I carried out a separation: not using more color on the surface to represent anything but to exploit its properties as a matter/color. The acrylic allowed this because it is made of a polymer, a plastic substance that has a body and a specificity of matter. I began first to do a series of experiments with the tube of paint, squeezing it. The linearity of the Filo is from a squeezed tube. Once dried the color I began to make little marks above it, color on color, painting on painting, until I realized that these plastic worms needed a three-dimensional soul. I found a way to deposit the color on a cotton thread previously stretched and only then I realized what had happened: it was as if the canvas were frayed in its essential minimum constituent (the threat), and get the color I separated from the canvas. When I created the Filo for me it was an epiphany, a desire to make it continually and for six months I did only this: more than 1000 meters of threat. We are talking about 76/77s. The occasion was the exhibition in December 1977 at the end of my BFA degree course at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. It produced obsessively threat every day, every day, every day. But what could I do with this Filo? I had an idea that I think still interesting: to use the Filo as a painting space then with some cables in tension I began to wrap up the Filo to create spider web forms. With 1200 meters of Filo I created a 15 meters hallway that the viewer had to cross before to go out and watch other visitors to do the same experience. The idea was to paint the space, occupying it with the painting/Filo. But it was also a speech including the indoor/outdoor and the freedom to come and go, and communication. Title of the exhibition: "A Bridging Statement". This was the first show and then I had a big problem: how can I go ahead now that I have found something of mine, an unique, personal, distinctive sign? It occurred spontaneously to create this object that is a Filo picker, its home that back to me the Filo whenever I need it. So my practice allows me this: to collect/accumulate and to give/receive. This is my beginning. This is my "generative cell". It is the cause that allows me to act being at the same time a part of me, one with me. Over the past 30 or 40 years we find many couples in the art. The titanic figure of the demiurge-artist as Picasso has gradually crumbled and we felt more and more the need to work together, to interact with each other... Also I have followed this story but instead of having a real partner I chose a subject that identifies me but that also can stand in my pocket and take me into the world. An object of which I am totally responsible but at the same time happy to be so.
RQ: since then how do you develop your practice?
LP: after this initial effort also linked to my studies I went ahead in an adventurous, interesting and also rich in surprises life because I never followed a specific plan. I had no special strategies. I had no people behind me, no characters from the art world as galleries or critics to guide or influence me in some way...
RQ: how did this freedom facilitate you?
LP: In effect, this allowed me to enjoy a great freedom of movement. Surely at the beginning of those 80s if I had been successful I would be channeled in a certain direction. But I was free and I had a dignity of language, a language also innovative because I was presenting me as the ''artist of the Filo". So I began to develop the form of the "Artist in Presence", I as an artist, in the presence, with my Filo I am here in front of you for a day, two days, three days. You have to interact with me. You can exchange if I want. And from there we can proceed together, perhaps for a new definition of the Filo and art. Then I will give you my version of the Filo. It worked even if a simple thing. There was a lot of curiosity and the public responded with interest and attention. The interaction was interesting: perhaps for the fact that I put me on the same level of the viewer. For example, in the summer of 1981 I did an “Artist in Presence” action in Carpi, in the central square, for a month. After making the Filo for a month, with my tools, the apron smeared with color, my little cart in the same square it came the local Festa dell'Unità. I installed a banquet in a part of the square sorting a 50 pounds bologna. I distributed 100 sandwiches a day for four days by dropping a piece of Filo on each sandwich. Title: "Natura Morta - Still Life".
RQ: the Filo connecting the two ends can be understood as a means of communication, a tool that links two parts. In this your ramble outside the studio the Filo you created becomes an instrument of connection and communication. Am I wrong?
LP: from this point of view the Filo is fantastic. The Filo if you really want to reduce it to a minimum it is a communication tool. But it has a material, sensual, artistic and original essence and to be born it has to be made. It can be cut and tied again, it can be donated, and falls out of the economic dimension not because I do not have costs to produce it but because the cost of making the Filo is part of my essence of being an artist, of my being who I am. I do not know if I was clear enough but this is an important point. The Filo itself comes out from the economic sphere to return to the symbolic exchange one, to the communication that transcends its pure physical and material essence without being able to ignore this because it is also matter. I cannot please me with something produced industrially that I can buy in one way or another. No. Its making and making again is a part of my life, of the events of my life. Because that ritual that I put in motion with myself gives me that energy necessary for communication. I have to always find a way to be that person who finds pleasure in doing the Filo, in producing art. And to be honest the enthusiasm in making the Filo consisting of those main colors did not change over time. Today I still do it with the same enthusiasm and the pleasure of the first time. To introduce myself out of the studio meant to show me as I am with nothing to hide. I was and still am not interested in the studio understood as a mystical place where no one knows what the artist does. Do you want to know who I am and what I do? Well I have no problems and I give you the opportunity to do it, there are no copyrights or patents. Maybe at the end of the 70s with the beginning of the post-modern the artist exhausted the strength of tycoon, of the demiurge, the creator. This kind of artist did not make sense because the relationship with the audience was lost until to make it completely incomprehensible. Perhaps the return to painting of those years served to acquaint the public. I just looked at this, to re-establish a contact and I made this baring me: I am in this way. Probably in this was I could re-establish a contact with the audience that we have lost.
Can I read something I wrote for Artext?
A reflection on the origin of Filo 35 years ago takes me back to the highly politicized artistic climate of the ‘70s in which Conceptual Art offered the fertile ground for the so-called dematerialization of the art object. At the time I was an art and painting student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and my first contact with the New York art scene made me soon realize how hard and unfruitful the road of painting would have been in a situation populated by semi-empty galleries characterized by a kind of art that would later be ironically defined as “push pin art”. But painting did not want to abandon me altogether. I was intimately, emotionally and culturally involved with it, and my Florentine origins did not allow me to definitively leave it behind. Using acrylic paint I understood that colour had lost the mystic aura of its interpenetration with the surface and had become lay, secular, dilutable with water and, once dried, it revealed its plastic and malleable essence. Thus acrylic colour turned into matter and therefore object, and it broke apart from its mother canvas-surface, encompassing its constitutive and archetypal element: the Filo (thread). Its peculiar identity made of primary colours tied it to 20th century Modern Art history (and to childish play), and its minimalist and three-dimensional essence allowed it, in the years bridging the 70s and 80s, to embark on a voyage into the vast Post-Modern territories, undertaking its own story and mingling with the various realities proposed from time to time by its companion and alter ego.
RQ: late 70s, early 80s were years decidedly unfavorable to painting. How have you lived those years?
LP: coming from the United States I was not very close to the experience of the Transavanguardia but I was more familiar with the conceptual, the performance, the body art. When I returned to Italy in 1981, I realized what was happening and I had to live this new field of painting in the time I just adapted my practice to the new international system at the end of my studies. The last picture I did was right a neo-expressionist one so if I continued down this path I would be in the wake of the Transavanguardia. But I had found my way (my Filo), and I was aware of not finding market for those works but that my economic resources could arise from projects like the “Artist in Presence” and the production of jewelry that in the early 80s gave me the money to live in NY. This is perhaps the best part of my job that leaves me free and independent enough mentally so that I can express myself in ways quite different as in the case of pins and billboards.
RQ: here in which years are we?
LP: here we are in the early 80s when I lived between NY and Rome and after the achievement of a M.F.A. at the University of Massachusetts. In Rome I had a major exhibition at the Gallery Lascala together with representatives of the group of Piombino, although they interested in social interactive actions. The gallery was and is still managed by Mariangela Scroth, an American who at the time had a strong interest in these things, and for a while time I inserted myself in that situation. Basically at the beginning my speech occupied whitespace billboards thus left between an advertising and the other. I made hundred billboards in both Rome and Florence. One of the last actions in 1995 overlapped literally Oliviero Toscani advertising for Benetton. After removed it I used it as a backdrop during a performance at the Venice Biennale where I was near the entrance dressed as a Filo militant soldier.
RQ: take a step forward. Let's go back to our days. After the permanent installation at the SENSUS Foundation in Florence where we met you've just finished a project in Sardinia is it true? What's about?
LP: a Florentine art dealer, Rosanna Tempestini, invited me to an art festival where there were artists, sociologists, linguists. There I chose to continue my research with this tape that I called Filotape and I use since 2000 as a signal impromptu in the city context. Currently I am looking forward to use the scotch Filotape on the ground forming complex geometries reminiscent of medieval cosmatesche. With the help of four secondary school children I have done this circle that I called balloFilotondo in honor and celebration of the Sardinian round dance with the figures of men and women holding hands and forming a star. The difficulty in this case, has been to make an installation outside, with the guys circling disbelief but intrigued. But the beauty of the road is this: either you let go, you have to adapt and become a character of the road or start a fight. Generally, people are always interested in the presence of the artist available to dialogue and this is a long story that I carry around for almost 40 years. So maybe that makes a difference. Dialogue is immediate and with the public. Being in the world for me is to be with this companion.
RQ: in your career did you make “strange” actions, what do you remember with more affection?
LP: The action on the occasion of the Venice Biennale in 1993 was not bad! I was in a stand outside under the sun. I was not a guest artist but one of those who use the space outside of the Biennale gardens in the days of the opening. Strangely if you go to see the artist list at Biennial '93, '95 and '97 you will find my name. So perhaps the organizers have been interested in it. However there were many press articles. So in one case I was a living sculpture, in another I was a soldier defending the art world and in the last I was dressed as a mechanic and I created the Filo in public. In '95, the triptych final, I wanted to point out that I was the one to do the Filo... slowly and regularly. I had with me all the tools to be independent and representative of do just like I was a craftsman. My parents were artisans and probably something I took from there or from Florence where still there is an air of craftsmanship.
RQ: you have used also the photography, haven't you?
LP: I've also created pictures like this where you can see my hand and the Filo. Up you can find a pic where I wear a watch that I discovered also Joseph Beuys wore and I liked this reference. It is the first watch battery that works electronically a Bulova Accutron. That watch was given to me by my father at age 21, the age of majority and I wore it until I made this series of photos.
RQ: Beuys embodied the artist-prophet, the shaman... does his way to be an artist far from the kind of artist you are and you have told me? How do you reconcile these two types so different?
LP: indeed my practice with that of Beuys has little to do. We had shared a watch then measuring the time before I decided to follow the career of artist. The intentionality and ways were different even though his icon has always fascinated me.
RQ: Which artists have influenced your practice?
LP: besides Beuys Michelangelo Pistoletto has always interested me: the street actions in 70s, the political actions, the interest in socializing. This interest seems to me a simple and straightforward way to make my audience to touch an essential element of my art making. Suggesting and urging a creative potential that each one might have. In other words: if you are able to do this also I could find a creative aspect bringing new energy to the world... It is like if you gave a creative potential in someone's hand. It is a fuse. And it is powerful because disarmingly simple
RQ: back to the Filo. Why do you use colors like blue, yellow and red?
LP: I have always had a tendency for primary colors, for my choice just on a visual level. As I proceed with a reduction I use primary colors. I always start from the blue then the yellow and finally the red. In doing so I use a system to chain reminiscent of a non-organic and tactile element expressing its organic created by the manual. A kind of cultural DNA.
RQ: how many kilometers of Filo you've made?
LP: it is a question that many people do and it is interesting. Very few, however, are interested in the quality because there is a quality given by the individual touch that is repeated a thousand times and always different, creating the principle of the difference in repetition. You think like a field of grass where each blade of grass is different from the others.
Can I read another writing?
“Filo is never painted but always made, created in the infinite sequencing of unique morphological moments and forms that give origin to a qualitative and quantitative growth aimed towards infinity. The Filo form rises from the deconstruction of the canvas and the extrusion of colour-matter from the orifice of the paint tube. From this indissoluble pair a new episode of the eternal subject-object dialogue springs out, a sort of lay epiphany that unravels in space and time. Filo becomes the medium through which colour transforms itself into an object of the world and allows the maker to know and experience the world itself and his personal relationship with reality in the eternal play of life. All this through the pleasure of a continuous discovery of the form and of the possibility for creating a “loving bridge” with the others. Since 1981 the Artist in Presence Projects have been conceived with the intention of establishing a sort of bridging process with the viewer. Ultimately the Filo wants to reach a 0 degree in the relationship between the artist and the user. Its purpose is to give birth to an atmosphere of magic and playful parthenogenesis, “virginal” in its intentions and therefore detached from the economic sphere. If the encounter is positive, a vital lymph feeding the roots of memory will be drawn out, generating pure and profound energy ”.