Initially your artistic activity and that of environmental engineering were kept parallel, but in 2011 in New York these two researches merged. How did this happen? How do science and art relate in your work; is it about operating a synthesis of complex scientific concepts or is there space for an ideal dimension?
A: For many years I led a double life. As Andreco I carried out an artistic research and with my real name I worked as researcher in environmental engineering and sustainable management of water resources in different climate conditions. In 2011 I worked in a research group with Columbia University and NASA researchers and at the same time, as Andreco, I partecipated to several collective exhibitions and I prepared my retrospective “Contemporary Alchemy”.
After meetings with the research group, I used to come back to my studio in Brooklyn to paint. Scientific research has always influenced my artistic work, and for the retrospective I created the first “Green Man”, an anthropomorphic sculpture composed of selected plants according to a NASA study on air purification. Basically, it is a man made of plants that purifies the air polluted by men in flesh and blood. One day, my Columbia tutor called me at my studio having found, despite my aka, that I was holding a solo show at the Manhattan Lower East Side. I was afraid she would have been upset, but the works thrilled her, and she asked me why I had never mentioned my other activities. Before leaving she suggested I merge my two fields of research. A few years later my two research paths had completely overlapped.
“Climate Art Project”, your flagship project, seems to perfectly embody this union. What are the objectives of the project?
A: Climate is the first project I did which was born since day one as cross-disciplinary between art and science, and activism.
Climate is an itinerant artistic and scientific project on the causes and the consequences of climate changes and on possible strategies regarding adaptation, mitigation and resilience.
Climate consists of a series of interventions in several European cities, and it was presented for the first time in Paris in November 2015, just a few days before Cop21, the conference on Climate Changes of the United Nations, which later continued in the cities of Bologna, Bari, Porto (Portugal) and Venice.
Climate is the production of diversified interventions in the territory that include installations in urban spaces, wall paintings and seminars which link the artistic discipline to the scientific one in a dialogue that generates works which draw inspiration from the latest scientific research on climate changes.
The project shows the vulnerabilities of the territory where its actions take place. In Bari the main theme was the acceleration of desertification phenomena due to the rising of temperatures, while in Porto it was heatwaves and fires, and in Venice the rising of sea levels.
“Nature as Art”, this is how you have titled one of your artistic endeavours. Can you tell me more about it?
A: My works are neither abstract nor figurative but symbolic. They are the result of a research on form and they contain an intrinsic and open meaning. They do not hold only one interpretation but as many as the people who observe them. Their meaning is completed by the viewers. Despite this, there is a strong common denominator: all my works are inspired by chemical-physical processes, the transformations that occur in nature. From the creation of natural elements to changes in the state of matter, to oxidation. “Nature as Art” is the name I gave to my artistic practice for which I use elements of nature in the works, or as the real artworks. Nature becomes the artwork. This operation has the goal of moving the focus from anthropocentric to ecocentric, from the artist’s authorship to elements of the landscape and the ecosystem. Certainly, this practice is the heir of Duchamp, Land Art and Arte Povera, but with a strong difference. As Angela Vettese pointed out in a conference, my research no longer has the romantic vision of these predecessors, but is based on contemporary scientific studies.
Indeed, the elements of nature that are chosen to become art are often selected, based on scientific researches, for their beneficial properties on the environment or for the treatment of pollutants, in water, the air or soil.
I have used this artistic practice in quite a few cases, for example e.very time I have brought to galleries or museums Ferns, plants known for their property of absorbing metals from the land, or when I hung there a linden that according to CNR in Bologna is one of the local trees that can best absorb CO2.
On a larger scale, the practice “Nature as Art” is used when the landscape becomes the work itself as in “One and Only” or in “parade for the Landscape” or when, together with public sculptures, I plant climbing plants that slowly cover the sculptures up until the plant completely substitute sthe work I manufactured. This is the case of “Melancolia” in Catanzaro for the Altrove Festival, Landmark n1 at the greenhouses of the Margherita gardens in Bologna, or Natural Elements in Hamburg and Turin. Another example is “Living Mural” a green wall-mural done at the Fondazione Pistoletto di Biella, where the drawing is slowly covered by a creeper; the work has an ephemeral dimension given by the continuous change connected to the growth of the plants.
From the beginning you have chosen to establish a direct relationship with the viewer through debate, participating in talks and promoting interdisciplinary conferences. What importance does this have in your work?
A: Talks are for me a direct action. As a scientist I always took a clear position on the sustainable use of resources, openly condemning those who pollute and speculate against the environment and common goods. As an artist I initially preferred others to talk about my works, but when the topics became scientific, the same people with whom I collaborated in the art world suggested that I speak about it directly to avoid missing important details. The contents of my works come before their authorship, so when I can I try to talk about them. I am interested in people thinking about these issues. I very much believe in a transdisciplinary approach to knowledge, and as an artist I try to create bridges between apparently distant disciplines: visual art, science, spiritualism, magical symbolism, activism, libertarian philosophical thought, poetry, anthropology, dance.
Another aspect of your work regarding the relationship with viewers, although in a different way, is performances, often linked to projects of Participatory Art. In many of your performances there are flags you have painted or embroidered. What possibilities does the performance medium offer? What do flags mean for you?
A: Performances became part of my artistic practice about ten years ago. At first, I called musicians and dancers to collaborate with me, and then we created a real choreographic study. This slowly adding on of practices led me to performances.
Performances are a total work of art; they contains movement, music, visual art, and create an immersive environment, a situation, an experience. This is why they interest me so much.
My performances, like parades, are a collective ritual; empathy, suggestion and emotion come into play.
Parades also make sense in public spaces; they are an urban practice, an intersection, often they connect ideally and physically two places of a city or landscape. They are born around precise concepts, and over the years their choreography has become increasingly complex. I organized the first parade with the help of Allegra Corbo, to connect Ancona’s museum in the center of town – where the presentation of PopUP! 2008 festival was held – with the graffiti I had made in the port. I was interested in leading the museum audience in the historic center, to the urban and popular suburbs, with its workers, to the port where my wall was and those of the other artists of the festival.
You created many works in public spaces. What made you work in common areas? How did it start?
A: Art is not just for the public of galleries and museums. Art is for everyone, it is food for the mind; acting in a city means creating an unexpected visual obstacle that sabotages the visual routine of everyday life, a door to the elsewhere.
Since the beginning I have combined exhibitions in closed spaces to actions in public spaces. In the nineties, up to the beginning of year 2000, it was mostly drawings sometimes accompanied by sentences. I was influenced by international situationists, by the flux movement and by the libertarian, punk and anarchist movements, by the ecological struggles. I’ve never made graffiti, I preferred political and sometimes visionary writings; I was fascinated by what Hakim Bay called poetic terrorism. In the mid-nineties I had witnessed the presentation of his book TAZ, and counterculture and self-management have radically influenced my way of acting. I hung material during political demonstrations and during the night. Then this relationship between closed and open space, legal and illegal, interested me so much that I decided to dedicate a project to it, “Escape from the Gallery”, by drawing a flow of whales that came out of the exhibition space and crossed the city to connect closed and legal spaces within the city. A project that lasted from 2006 to 2009.
Later I became more interested in the city from an environmental point of view. In particular, I think about the contrast between urban and natural landscapes, between what is built and uncontaminated and the role that human beings have in the ecosystem. Here the greatest references for me are Land Art especially Richard Long, Arte Povera, especially Penone and Joseph Beuys for social sculptures and political commitment and Barucchello for the Agricola Cornelia project.
Today, art in public spaces means paying homage to nature and moving opinions on the importance that the ecosystem has for the existence of all living species.
This is a movement that is still evolving, a story to be written. The best is yet to come.
In your works there is always a balance between exposing an environmental problem and the “solution to the problem”, which most often comes from plants. Do you think that art today can really play an active and effective role in raising awareness on environmental resources?
A: I think that art has its own language, different from the scientific, political or advertising one. A language based on perception and emotions, less direct than others, but able provoke questions and to touch other sensitive strings of the viewer. That is why I believe that art can indirectly play an awareness role. In the sense of “stimulus of the sensitive” anesthetized by the cynicism of the capitalist society in which we live. Art is a language less authoritarian and less imposed than others, which is why it can excite and bring about new thoughts. I do not believe that art alone is enough to raise awareness on environmental issues, but it certainly can contribute and support the other languages used for this purpose. To increase environmental awareness in individuals, we need a cultural revolution involving the entire society and a radical change in the productive, administrative and institutional system.
Regarding potentially “good environmental practices”, as a scientist I worked in the field of “green infrastructures”, of “Nature Based Solutions”, those solutions that use natural processes to solve problems created by human beings. Phyto depuration and phyto remedy are part of these solutions; in fact it is known that some plants, more than others, can purify water and polluted soil. These topics have always fascinated me, many of my artistic works draw inspiration from my scientific studies.
“Adaptation” is the solo show that you are preparing at Galleria Varsi. The title refers to the ability of organisms to adapt to unfavourable environmental conditions, tolerability and the ability to resist that characterizes them. What did you learn (and what can we learn) through time?
A: For many years we screamed about the risk of climate change and nobody believed it. Today it is too late, the world as we have known it will no longer exists; the consequences of climate changes are manifesting violently on a global scale. Extreme weather events, floods, tidal waves, rising temperatures, droughts and frost can no longer be avoided. The only thing we can do is think about how to adapt to these conditions, training for resilience and preparing for the impact.
Every living organism on earth, including human beings, will pay the price. This exhibition is a tribute to living organisms that must adapt, to plants suffering from drought or being submerged by storms, to marine corals on ocean floors, to changing landscapes and geologies. Ladies and gentlemen “Welcome to Antropocene”. Or rather welcome to Capitalocene, post Climate Change Scenarios.
On your website the images of your artworks are always accompanied by a detailed description. Many of your works are described as a “tribute” to specific plants such as “Biancospino Illegale” (Santarcangelo, 2015) and “Melencolia” (Catanzaro, 2017). What feelings and awareness do these tributes contain? Can this exhibition also be defined as a tribute?
A: Most of my work is a tribute to nature. As explained in “Nature as Art”, the conceptual operation inherent to many of my works, deals with the shift from the dominant anthropocentric, ethnocentric and specist vision to an ecocentric, internationalist, antispecist, visionary, poetic and multicultural point of view. This exhibition can be considered as a tribute to those organisms that an Aristotelian vision may consider second to the human being. I publicly announce the repositioning of the latter at the top of the ranking.
I aks for the destruction of the top-down concept described in the “Pyramid of the Living,” from “The Book of Wisdom” of Charles de Bovelles (1509), that places humans on top of the pyramid, then animals, then plants and at the bottom minerals.
For this reason, it is many years that I have stopped depicting human beings, while instead I draw, in an iconic way, minerals, geologies, clouds and plants. I want to pay more attention to them; it is their turn to get into the limelight.
Many of my works have been influenced by Elisé Reclus, a libertarian geographer of the late XIX century, in particular the performance “Rockslide and the Woods” that I made for Centrale Fies in 2016. Reclus in one of his writings said that “man is nature that becomes aware of itself”. Until we humans have reached this awareness, I will continue to depict the other elements of nature.