mercoledì 12 maggio 2010

Clara Peters - interview - part 1&2

I have always held a strong passion for images and their meanings. They are such powerful things that can portray very strong meanings, yet they are also created and manipulated with intention to offer a specific perspective. I find that the truth and beauty within every image is found within the intent of the creator. This to me is what makes Serafino’s photographs and words so special. I met Serafino while doing the translation for his documentary film on the Italian author, Raffaele La Capria. (“Raffaele La Capria – scrittore d’acqua” 2005- published by Fandango ed. 2009) I became immediately interested in his work, not only through the images, but also through the words. I found a special truth of my own life and emotions within his photographs and writings. To me his works cannot be taken in completely as visual concepts but rather as stories, lessons, or poetry. Each piece offers some very honest truth about life, which encourages one to see every day objects in a new light and fresh beauty. As a graduate of John Cabot University in both Communications and Italian Studies, Serafino has offered a lot to my education and individual development.

Clara Peters

Part 1

Serafino, what is the significance of your works? What are the primary issues addressed in your work?

I have been involved with art since I was young. At that time I didn’t know what my real interests were. During secondary school, when I was fifteen years old I started taking pictures. I bought my first camera when I was sixteen. I’ve never taken pictures without a project. I’ve always followed a constructed idea. I’ve rarely taken pictures by chance, I’ve always searched for a connection between things, and before taking pictures I normally know what I want. In contrast to traditional Italian photography, I tend to focus on photo-writing rather than photo-painting. I would say that I was more interested in writing then in taking pictures. The result of this approach was that I produced several projects in which the images are not the primary topic. Sometimes my photography is a means of writing, even if I wasn’t aware at the time what I was doing. The content of my photography, as many other photographers, has always been that of nature contemplation, human behaviour, and environmental change.

Where are you from? Has your upbringing had an influence on your work? Was anyone else in your family involved with art?

I was born in Rome, but my parents are from Naples. They came to Rome in the beginning of the fifties. I was born in 1958. My parents were not involved with art. My father was a professor at the University of Rome, my mother a housewife. I would say that I was an ordinary boy until 10 or 11 years old. At that time I got fat. I think that my fat physical condition was one of the first important things that happened to me. I began thinking of myself as different from the other boys. I didn’t like to play the same games as they did…I didn’t enjoy the aggressive games that they did, I didn’t play with dolls, but I didn’t like killing small animals either. When my father fell ill with Parkinson’s disease he was only forty-five. I was thirteen years old at the time, I didn’t know he was sick, he didn’t tell us about it, but I felt that something strange was happening at home. I think that his illness, over the course of about 30 years, influenced my way of seeing things...

I asked you about your upbringing and how it has influenced your work... and you are telling me that the most important aspects of your youth are your "fat physical condition" and the illness of your father?

In fact, it sounds strange but if I think about it, it is not far from the truth. Because my attitude towards things is constructed by the idea of the body. I would say that I am always inspired by the physical approach to things... I need to be in touch with things before I create works. In this sense, I think that the physical influence of the body conditioned me more than the concepts of say culture, society, or other outside influences.

Have you only worked in photography? Or have you experimented with other art forms?

I worked in theatre when I was about 20, but I didn’t like the sense of loss that one feels and sees in some actors or some directors at the end of a project. I also used to paint, but I don’t think I would have been a good painter…as I’ve already told you I can’t stand being in a studio. Photography permits you to be outside…to be in open air.

What is it about photography, as opposed to other art forms, that inspired you and appealed to your interests?

For a long time I wasn’t sure what I was doing, I felt something strange in my behaviour and interests. I was interested in something that was half mind and half body and all of my artworks and projects were influenced by this feeling. I felt like a man divided in two pieces, and photography was a means of reducing this inner dualism. At that time I was unsure of my interests. I remember a work that I did with translucent paper, the same paper used by architects, which I covered in transparent glue. For months I cut 10x12 cm pieces of the paper, until I had cut a great number of pieces. I didn’t understand what I was doing… but one rainy night I was awakened by a noise, not of the rain, but of the paper that with the humidity was changing form. I was really surprised by the capabilities of this paper to catch the humidity and change form, as I then noticed that it also does with the touch of human hands. It seemed as though the paper itself had a sort of psychological sensitivity... After a few months I decided to count the pieces that were on the floor and I counted 8,000 pieces. This was an important discovery because it made me realize how many pieces 8,000 really are. For the first time in my life I realized that we as individuals in society, have lost the sense of singularity and the sense of what quantity really means.

We normally speak too liberally about quantity of deaths in history without truly understanding how much that quantity really is: have you ever counted 200,000 deaths in Dresden? Or 6 million Jews? Or only 3,000 deaths from the Twin Towers? I suggest that you try.

When did you realize that you were an artist? What do you think it takes for one to be able to define himself as an artist?

For a long time I used to say that couldn’t consider myself artist. The word “artist” in Italian is so full of significance and it is difficult at twenty years old to say to yourself, “I’m an artist”. It took me many years to be able to call myself an artist. To be an artist is a way of defining ones work and personal attitude, being an artist is a way of life and a way of seeing things. At the beginning, in my work, I felt it was necessary to remove rather than to add. When I used to paint, I would draw particular shapes, for example a shirt, inside which I could then paint shapes. I normally used to use the same translucent paper that I talked about previously, with glue but a larger size. I used to paint with watercolours on both sides. The transparent paper maintained the transparency and the work could be seen either side.

What are your personal interests? Do your interests influence your work?

My first interest is living. I’m really interested in life and everything that offers me a sense of “humanness.” I would say that the work I do is almost always influenced by my daily life. I love being in nature, and I need to be outside. I don’t like to be closed in and work in a studio. Every day I follow the changing light and if I must be at home, I feel like a prisoner. The light and air are necessary for me to produce good things. I try to see everything possible with my eyes, hearing as much as possible with my ears and I try to translate the information about life with my work.

What do you enjoy most about your work as a photographer? How is it rewarding to you?

Rewards? What do you mean? There are no rewards.

When you decide to do an artistic work you never think about rewards.

You do your work because you can’t do anything else. You spend a lot of money and a lot of time doing something not really useful. I think you feel an inner need to express something that at the beginning you don’t really understand.

In the beginning you probably would like to become a recognized artist and in a few years the dream is lost…but not your need…

I don’t think you understood what I intended by rewards, I meant to ask how is it fulfilling. Not as in a physical reward, but rather how does your work reward and enrich your own life.

Yes that’s true… my knowledge of the English language is not perfect… but I think that misunderstanding is an important part of my work, so I ask you not to remove my wrong answer. Most of my work is focussed on a sense of incorrect understanding or evaluation, I would say a sense of arbitrariness… I mean, I think that the result of any artwork, picture or writing is the extraction of an imprecise perception of things, which produces a sort of short circuit of the meaning.

Would you elaborate a bit further?

When I began my work, “I fogli dei giorni” in 2003, which is still in progress… I was interested in photographing absolutely common subjects. People working in the streets, common traffic areas, and small, useless things that can be found in everyday life. In this work, the images become a sort of archive for future emotional inspiration...I want to say, that every image responds to both my individual interest for the subject, as well as “a container for meaning.” I don’t know how clear it is, I mean that an image can activate the construction of a new future meaning.

Could you give an example?

Do you see this photo? I took it, on a normal morning, in a place where I passed by chance. It isn’t a particularly nice photo. The result has a very real effect, “two street cleaners, are preparing for the job, to remove graffiti with water jets at high pressure.” If I had printed the image in that moment, it wouldn’t have had any particular significance. Instead, I put it aside for a little while, and when I saw it again, just looking at it, it had a new meaning, it made a new statement for me. An absolutely arbitrary perception from a completely real context. When something or someone captures our attention, even a phrase heard in passing on the street, we archive “new significance.” Almost always this perception disappears and dissolves itself like a cloud of vapour, other times, when we least expect it, we construct something new. This is what I do when I capture these “useless” images.

It seems to me that autobiography is a strong component of your work.

I surrender! Autobiography is a very strong component of my work. I was expecting you to comment on this observation. I feel that autobiography in one’s work can sometimes be considered a negative thing. In this case, could you ask this question in the form of an accusation: “How can you justify this excessive use of autobiography!?”

Serafino! How dare you use autobiography in your work!

I would say that if you walk freely carrying yourself upon your legs, and you feel completely connected with your heart and mind… feeling fully aware of all of your senses at once, it is inevitable that the tales that you tell and the work that you do, will represent this… As you may know, in Italian we say: “essere in sé”…

Yes, in Enlish we would say “to be present”

“Essere in sé”, or to be present, is to have a strong perception of oneself, of the world and things. Inevitably everything that you say passes through you. For this reason I like to be clear minded, lucid, in the creation of my work, even if sometimes this can seem bizarre.

Can you give us an example of a bizarre work that you’ve done that you feel is a sincere representation of your state of being at a certain point in time?

I could give you an endless list! But the first example that comes to mind is the video series “racconti a vegetali” (2002). In this work, I talked to plants and the plants responded! I know it sounds strange, but we I will come back to this later. You should look at the first and second videos. In the first one I tell a tale to a wild plant by the side of the bicycle path, a place where I go frequently. In this tale, I talk about a story inspired the day of September 11th. In the second one, the dialogue is with a strange seemingly prehistoric plant, coming from another era. The video is a dialogue between an entity that “lives” in another dimension far away… but also close, and looks at you and talks with you in a paternal and affectionate way. As if to say, “you, who know so few things in life, come to visit me in my garden. I will listen to you, sweet creature…” Have you ever lost someone really close to you?

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