Daniele Puppi was born in the Italian city of Pordenone in 1970; he holds a degree from Rome’s Accademia di Belle Arti and currently lives between Rome and London. Among his several exhibitions we mention those at Rome’s Maxxi, GNAM museum, and Quadriennale, at Milan’s HangarBicocca and Triennale, at Rovereto’s MART, at Bergamo’s GAMEC, at the Melbourne International Arts Festival and at Buenos Aires’ MAMBA. Moreover, a few of Puppi’s main works of art are described, such as the “Fatiche” (labours), “Zero”, “Cinema Rianimato” (reanimated cinema) and “Happy Moms”. Some information on the works referred to during the conversation is given below.
The “Fatiche”(1996-2009) is a series of works generated by the artist’s encounter with space, in which Puppi performs a repetitive series of exhausting labours and tumultuous gestures that are filmed to be displayed on the surfaces of the exhibition space. “Zero”, an artwork produced in 2009, uses the whole exhibition space to act on the viewer’s perception playing with the rhythmic noise produced by the violent shutting and closing of the doors. The public is unexpectedly dragged into a dynamic space, becoming itself a part of the work of art. In “Cinema Rianimato”, the artist re-edits existing film clips to deform them, amplifying the score and contracting the image. The result is shown on maxi screens to expand the cinematographic image beyond the set limits. His work “Happy Moms” is an uninhibited video/sound installation shown at Rome’s Maxxi museum in 2013, in which women’s private parts are shown rotating at such a speed that the perception of what is being shown goes lost. The background of this conversation is an artwork kept by the artist in his studio – in line with his idea of dynamism – the purpose being that of creating movement from a static image.
Stella Santacatterina in conversation with Daniele Puppi
Conversation transcription below
Stella Santacatterina: Here we are in Rome, in Daniele Puppi’s studio, one of the most interesting artists in the new-generation of Italian art; his past career has been very intense and he is also internationally renowned. Daniele, you are very well-known for your first works, especially for the “Fatiche”, such as “Fatica N. 2”, “Fatica N. 25” and then “Frammenti” (fragments), which come as a consequence of said works.
Daniele Puppi: “Fatiche” is an adventure, a sort of conquest of space that started in 1996 and finished in 2009. It was an experience of hand-to-hand confrontation with architectural space, where my body would somehow become a mean to experiment space itself. Looking back, the “Fatiche” could be seen as a single work, where each space and each museum I was dealing with became a stop-over. In the end, it turned out to be a sort of adventurous journey in quest of myself.
SS: In fact, you could no longer intervene in any way within the same space and you couldn’t repeat yourself.
DP: Exactly, they were individual works in space where space itself would support the video projection, the score and the vibrations.
SS: Before discussing “Cinema Rianimato”, let’s talk of the work called “Zero”.
DP: In 2009, for “Zero”, I used for the first time synchronized and timed mechanical elements within a space consisting of 12 rooms communicating through a series of doors, windows and large windows, which were moved by motors. Space would become dynamic, somehow reanimating itself. You would no longer be in control of movement in space, it would rather be the latter that controlled you. The body would be forced to move and sort of perform within this space while it became dark or illuminated. Consequently, you had to find the right moment to move from a door to the other, or else the door would shut on you. This was the idea.
SS: So even the sound produced by the slamming doors and the play of lights and shadows generated textures…
DP: Sound wasn’t recorded; it was actually a sort of percussion of space, a downright concert for doors and windows. This is the reason for the given title, “Zero”: the two possibilities were to open or close. I would like to dwell a little longer on this work as a successful attempt at staggering the public in order to give it the chance to let itself go within this space and actually experience something. This is one of the several elements that I always try to convey in my work. First of all, there’s is nothing I want to communicate, because the way I see it art is not communication but conveyance. My idea is to convey a sensation through an experience.
SS: It was the same with the “Fatiche”, as the public couldn’t be a mere spectator but had to somehow react. It would be completely overwhelmed by this no-escape experience and come unstuck. But using doors required more physical movement on the side of the viewer, which would feel involved not only mentally but also physically.
DP: In fact, I have always been looking for this type of relationship with the viewer, trying to convey an experience through a major concept: that of sensation. The idea of creating shock by using sound stratagems such as very loud amplifications, or through images that appear in unexpected places, deals exactly with this kind of desire. I’m interested in staggering the possible visitor – myself – for a few instants and in creating a sort of void, in zeroing routine thinking. The goal is to open up impression and therefore perception and enable one to let go, even if only for a few moments that are nevertheless essential, because that’s where the transmission channel between the work of art and the viewer is created. This is very important: there’s nothing to communicate, nothing to know; even Piero Manzoni thought so. Only being is required.
SS: Before we start talking about “Happy Moms”, exhibited at Rome’s Maxxi, I would like to dwell on “Cinema Rianimato”. For instance, I noticed a sort of continuity between “Cinema Rianimato N. 3” and the “Fatiche”, the difference being that context is no longer a space, a physical location: it’s the film that becomes your space and all is distorted by a sequence of actions.
DP: “Cinema Rianimato” still comes from a basic idea, which is to say from a personal consideration. I was wondering how come that 150 years since the birth of cinema we were still locked into a very static approach where images never goes beyond their limit. Apart from a few experiences of expanded cinema in the 60s and 70s, the limit imposed by the image or the format itself – CinemaScope, 16/9 and what have you – is never exceeded.
SS: This brings to my mind Hans Richter and Fernand Léger’s stance, according to which the idea that cinema and therefore films descend from theatre or photography is rubbish. Cinema should drift towards a neoclassical experience. This was cinema’s initial ambition, which was then redirected towards narrative. But the dream was there, in filmic language the highest ambition maintained by pioneers such as Léger is that films should aim to a plastic language.
DP: The image should pour out of space. In cinema, the concept of motion is not achieved through the format itself, but rather is expressed within narration by means of a sequence of static images. My idea was therefore to create a sort of image movement that would invade space itself causing de facto a suspension of sense.
SS: Therefore a horizontal continuity of the image following the image.
DP: Exactly, the purpose of creating this sort of internal fragmentation was to give the image the chance to expand to the outside, creating movement. My goal was to create a new type of cinema viewing where the public could no longer remain seated, but would be actively involved in following the image in space and the sound. The whole body becomes therefore dynamic, to enable the active perception of something that is moving and is difficult to follow even from a physical standpoint. This gave rise to a series of artworks aptly called “Cinema Rianimato”, where said dynamic component is very strong. The image oversteps its boundaries and invades space, while sound, fragmented in certain ways, is distilled and follows the image, or rather it is the image that follows the sound. An important element in all of my works – which can’t be over-stressed – is that an image is basically always a pretext, since it’s sound that is the driving force of an image. I see sound as a sort of deviation, a rhythm on which I then rest the image and on which space subsequently rests too.
SS: We can then say that sound, that vibration is the supporting skeleton. In your work on show in Rome’s Macro museum, not only images are distorted, but sound too is altered. You always conduct the character (or characters) to perform things that don’t exist, therefore the film’s scripting is totally twisted.
DP: It’s totally twisted because the film is re-edited, even the film selection is peculiar. I go for films that I believe originally had a very strong potential that was not expressed as I think it should have. I pretty much re-edit the film, remove all the parts which contain dialogue, completely cancel any type of narration and create my work, leaving in a sort of suspension of sense. The film thus acquires a new dynamic that is completely suspended, which is to say there’s no longer a signifier to look for and a meaning; sense is suspended. In the latest work exhibited at Rome’s Maxxi museum called “Happy Moms”, a static image becomes dynamic by acceleration. In this sort of very strong centripetal force, the human eye cannot withstand vision at this speed and therefore the viewer is forced to leave or lose control. The moment you lose control, you enter a vortex of images, which is de facto also an acoustic and vibrational vortex, where the helix component is very strong. Moreover, I used a very low frequency − 433 Hertz − which recalls the frequency of the Om, with deep vocals and consonants that would recall the idea of meditation and create a sort of journey inside this hole or vortex. This was like a space voyage within the image’s colour that would become anything, as speed is capable of transforming an ordinary initial image in something never seen before.
SS: The art public received this work very well, it was actually very successful at the Maxxi; but when it was uploaded on YouTube it was censored. What’s your take on this?
DP: Such censorship rather surprised me, because there’s everything and more on YouTube. The strange thing is that they censored a certified artwork that had been on show at an important Italian museum, which is by the way the only one recognized abroad. It’s probably because of the title, as “Happy Moms” calls to an audience of mothers. Happy mums probably rebelled, not wanting to be happy.
SS: I’m thinking of those american TV serials of the ’60s starring all those sexy moms, for which being censored was a point of honour.
DP: The funny thing is that, within a week, my video had been viewed 2500 times before it was reported and subsequently censored.
SS: Why did you call it “Happy Moms”?
DP: Because I really liked the idea. The work was actually created using both repertoire images of former girlfriends and images taken from the millions available on the Internet. It’s a very strong work because it succeeds in transforming “pornographic” images – although to me pornography is something else − in something sublime, namely in something that is no longer even a figure, is not figurative and becomes something else.
SS: It becomes an abstract image, what with this play of colours like a carousel…
DP: With very strong colours, with sound and with this whirling helix.
SS: Thus, iconography is removed.
DP: This is exactly the point, how to transform.
SS: So it certainly was not censored because of this, also considering that you see all images as a pretext; using recognizable and easily available images is then the easiest thing. It’s clearly scary, they hate a view they can’t follow, they’re not used to it. In any case, YouTube is a bit strange, because the museum’s public understood your work.
DP: Indeed, YouTube is a strange thing. This type of censorship would actually almost deserve to be worked on, although censorship doesn’t exist in the West. And before we finish, I would like you to listen to a very interesting piece of music that to me is Gioacchino Rossini’s last masterpiece (“Duetto buffo tra due gatti”, editor’s note), before he left music. Just give me a minute and you’ll hear it.