What inspires you?
Life itself is a source of inspiration, thoughts and matters, I am specially attracted by all sorts of things especially things that are usually hidden.
What do you hope to inspire in others with your work?
I am not sure how to answer to this, I think we all inspire each other as long as what we do is authentic.
What would you say drives you creatively?
A certain approach to the understanding of life, I would say philosophy and above all music.
What do you hope to communicate as a designer?
If you let me I would start saying that I do not like very much the word “design” nor “designer”, I like more the word ‘maker” and the word “thinker”. To design it means that you have two moments first you think, then you make. For myself I like to think and to make at the same time.
Do you model your own masks?
Mostly Yes but just because I construct them on myself , but I also model them on friends.
What drew you to creating masks?
The Mask project is one of the project I have been working on, it is part of a philosophical activity, a reflection on the practice of the “construction of the self” an exploration on “identities”.
Is there anyone you know who is interested in masks and wool in the same way that you are?
I would hope so!
Or is your work entirely unique?
We are all alike and we are all unique!
You’ve said that you use your needle like a sculptor. Are there any sculptors who inspire you?
I was referring to philosopher Max Stirner when saying that he was doing philosophy with the hammer; as for myself I was thinking that it is lighter to carry a needle in my pocket than to carrying an hammer...and since I believe that the highest act of creation is the construction of the Self I found in the needle the proper tool both as a sculptural tool and as a philosophical tool. There are many sculptors that inspires me: to mention two of them I would say the spider when he/she makes the web, or the birds when they make the nest.
Do you plan your designs before you start? What is your process?
I do not design, I work directly with the material and I follow it, sometime music gets in the way and I follow it too. When I work on 'three-dimensional' I always confront the work with the mirror, always looking at the process thorough the mirror.
Tell us a little about your journey into art? Where did you study?
I study Art in Milano a the Brera Academy of Arts and in Amsterdam at the Rijskacademie.
What first inspired you?
I think the need to find other way of communicating aside language , to overcome the state of confusion in which the world is in.
How would you define your aesthetic? Is there anything specifically Italian about your approach to art?
I was born in Italy but also lived in Madrid, Paris, London,Bordeax, Amsterdam, New York so I am not sure if my work contains something specifically Italian but definitely it contains traces of it.
If you weren’t a artist what would you be?
A music maker.
Please provide us with a brief biography:
Born in a small mountain village called Boffetto, study Art in Milano, moved to Amsterdam to continuing study with a Master in Multimedia, in between lived in Madrid and London , moved to New York for 10 years, moved to Bordeax and to Paris, then back to Milano.
Aldo Lanzini sits drinking coffee in the busy city of Milan. Although raised in the tiny village of Sondrio on the Swiss-Italian border by a family largely unfamiliar with the arts, his uniquely eccentric crochet creations exhibit an innate creativity that cannot be taught. He laughs openly: “I actually use a technique that makes experts on a crochet team look at me like ‘what are you doing?’ ... I cannot read tables of crochet and I don’t use a process like making a drawing or a sketch and then referring to that – I just work.
Completely at ease with this somewhat unorthodox approach, and taking a multitude of colours in his hands, Lanzini begins his masks by creating a small piece of crochet. He then positions this on parts of his body in front of a mirror until the piece finds its place. “Then I go from there,” he explains. By letting the material dictate the development, Lanzini does not consider himself a designer: “I just work and what comes out just comes out. It’s quite fun, because you never know what will come out.”
His designs are created instinctively, so it is inevitable that each mask exhibits elements of Lanzini’s own identity: “Due to the very slow process of making them, they become a container of your thoughts.” It is in contrast to many mask creators that Lanzini finds identity in the process, not the product. “I think the highest act of creation is the creation of the self,” Lanzini explains. “We are not born with ourselves; we are building ourselves, so it is a process of continuing creation.” His unique methods - “always adapting, always changing” - provide an apt metaphor for this ongoing search.
For Lanzini, identity is not something to be fixed. It is always transforming. As such, he does not present himself to the public through the media; instead, he chooses to remain anonymous behind his masks. “You can relate this decision to the work. The sense of the self being liquid, in constant change, I don’t want anything to fix that.”
Lanzini is also cautious when working with magazines: “I have tried some editorial but the final result is something else. It takes away the soul.” Detailing an experience in which his work was shown on a girl wearing fur, despite the fact he is a devout vegetarian, Lanzini is perhaps justified in stating: “I prefer not to do editorial unless I can have a big involvement.”
Although Lanzini wishes to maintain control and “keep a connection between every aspect,” he confesses his love for collaboration: “You create a connection. You bring something and the other person brings something,” he says, reminiscing on his time spent in New York creating costumes for his brother Kevin Aviance, and others on the alternative club scene during the 1990s. “Somehow you create a third thing,” Lanzini enthuses.
For Lanzini, the search for identity is one that remains ongoing. And yet, this artist does not look forward: “I think the future is not in the future; it is already here and it is in the past.” Ironically mirroring the kaleidoscopic crochets he creates, Lanzini adds, “in the end it all gets interwoven.”
In your artistic work you are – amongst others - strongly involved with the subject of „Identity“. In your piece of art 'The eyes are there where they see, the things are there where they are seen' you have crocheted a numerous set of masks that appear to be rather grotesque and preposterous. What is it all about? What was your incentive, what were your motivation to create these masks?
The subject of identity is the ground where I explore ways of enacting creative solutions, it intrigues me as I considered the essence of creativity itself. To construct oneself identity is a creative act, probably the highest one.
It is within this research that I have crocheted the face-masks ( tapping into philosophy, music, critical thinking).
The title I gave for this series of crocheted face-mask comes from a sentence from a Spanish Philosopher Maria Zambrano whose philosophical investigation arises from a lateral thinking, a poetical territory.
Would you rather call them „masks“ or „creatures“?
You are very intuitive in your process of work and you do not have a concrete imagination of the future and finished form of the object d`Art. In other words the forms grow within your hands while working on them. Does this also apply to the flamboyant and glaring colors you use?
Yes. Form and content are deeply connected. I skip the design part and I work directly on the body, the work builds itself directly on the body , the choice of the colors is also not planned, it is decided when need it in relation to the form that it will belong to.
What does disguising oneself mean to you?
It gives you the opportunity to see things from another perspective, it changes the way you perceive the things you have in front of you and it effects mental processes.
How important is sexuality for you and how does it influence your work?
mmm... not sure how to answer to this:
I dream of a bisexual approach to everything in order to bypass the limitation of a dualistic point of view.
You were born in Italy and you have later moved to New York. What was the reason for that?
When and how did you realize, that you want to express yourself through artistic work?
We all have artistic expressions, it is a characteristic of human kind.
Did you study art?
Yes and I keep studying it.
Who has inspired you to your artwork and artistic merits?
Many individuals but mainly I feed my inspiration through music and philosophy literature and science.
Do you have principals and ideals in life?
I believe the self is not a fix identity, it always changes, Marguerite Duras use to say : we are never the same as ourselves.
But some things are steady trough life, like the sense of friendship and a universal awareness of all things connected.
Why does the person Aldo Lanzini never appear in public without wearing a mask?
I like that when a work is done it takes of its own life, detached by the creator.
It also helps as a solution for a sort of shyness I have.
In which act, part or role would Aldo Lanzini feel most comfortable in?
In the student role.
What does identity mean to you?
Identity to me is a territory to explore, it is not given to us, we have to discover it, to built it and to make it fluid. As embodied individual (male or female) we are often directed by social and heritage layers, most of the time we need to un~layer things in order to start really building ourself selves.
One last question before we come to an end. Would you confess whom you would swap roles with for a day, if you could choose?
Something immaterial like the wind.
Do you have a main base or is your time split equally between New York and Milan?
I am in Milano, it has been a while since i have been in NY
Could you tell us about your previous work as a designer and costumier?
For me it was never a work, i did it mainly as a gift to the people i was admiring .I never consider myself a designer nor a costumier, I do not posses the eligibility for that.
How long have you been working with crochet and knitting?
I have stat crocheting in the late 1980s with Madame B (aka : Chiara Bianchi)
I only crochet, I do not knit. There is a conceptual gap between the two techniques , I myself prefer to use crochet,; it has a sculptural approach in itself that i find intriguing especially for what the technique is able to narrate : In knitting, each stitch is supported by the corresponding stitch in the row above and it supports the corresponding stitch in the row below. In crochet each stitch is only supported by and supports the stitches on either side of it. If a stitch in a finished item breaks, the stitches above and below remain intact, and, because of the complex looping of each stitch, the stitches on either side are not likely to come loose unless put under a lot of stress. I learn from this kind of facts within the work; they allow to start developing thoughts and metaphors to apply to the every day's life awareness.
Are you still learning new techniques to apply to your work?
Oh yes, all the time it is part of the fun, while experimenting I can make things I can not repeat myself, but I know almost nothing about the infinite stitches that crochet has, I am still a beginner.
What drew you to crochet and knit above other creative mediums?
Crochet is one of the medium i use : not the preferred one but I enjoy it a lot : I am affectionate toward the practice of it, a daily activities . It is layered with many metaphors and yet very simple that anyone can approach it and experience it. There is always a connection between what one do and what one think, I am learning of mental process while the work grows along the physical action of doing, to put it simple: the exploration of a technique such as crochet challenges the final result and the mental processes that it an-acts .
Much of your work seems to explore identity, how important is this to you and how do you hope to convey this through your creations?
There is a similarity between the construction of the self and the act of creating. It is something we all do all the time. It is about shaping the self. This attention though, conveys more through the process of the making. The final result should talk for itself.
Could you talk us through your working process? From the initial idea, how you choose your materials, the process that you go through both physically and mentally to create the final outcome.
Each technique and medium has its own working process.
Regarding the crochet this is how i do it: after looking through different tread of different color I pick one then I find a place to sit , it can be indoor or outdoor, when I find a comfortable place I simply start crocheting, and while I am crocheting I think about the shape of the work, the thought and the action grow together , also the vision of the final piece grows together with the process. This is a quite long process, since crochet grows very slow, so while working you can think about things and pretend not to be there .
Do you have any upcoming projects/exhibitions you’d be able to tell us about?
As now I have no calls.
Raccontaci di te, le tue esperienze, come hai iniziato a dedicarti all'arte...
Non so rintracciare un origine , trovare il momento iniziale , il motivo per cui mi dedico a fare cio che faccio. E’ come un appredistato continuo, un movimento rizomatico, come le radici che si ramificano sotto la terra.
É stata una vocazione o qualcosa di casuale?
Se per vocazione si intende l’azione di chiamare per il quale uno si sente chiamato ad operare allora forse si, se per casualita’ si intende che e’ per caso e non per deliberata ragione allora anche questo puo essere.
Tu lavori con maglieria, lana, feltro...come mai usi questi tipi di materiali per creare le tue sculture
Uso questi materiali perche’ li vedo come contenitori di metafore, il filo, l’intreccio, la trama, mi servono come ragionamenti sull’essere e sul fare.
Musil scrive: ‘Quel che ci tranquillizza è infilare un filo, quel famoso filo del pensiero di cui è fatto anche il filo della vita’.
Del feltro mi intriga la sua origine etimologica. Significa: battere , calcare. E’ un tessuto non tessuto che non ha diritto ne rovescio, e’ composto di lana o di peli agglutinati e compressi in modo da formare un corpo quasi impenetrabile. Gilles Deluze lo definiva “un territorio su cui si puo scivolare”.
Cosa rappresenta per te creare?
Non posseggo definizioni fisse, siccome tutto e’ sempre in cambiamento anche le ragioni per creare cambiano, forse e’ come l’ozio o meglio la pigrizia intesa come lentezza nelll’operare
Quali sono le tue fonti di ispirazione?
Guardo dentro il quotidiano.
Che processo mentale segui quando inizi a creare?
Metto allo stesso punto di partenza sia la materia che l’idea ed il concetto, li faccio partire assieme in modo che creascano assieme. Non ho prima l’idea e poi l’azione, le due si muovono in contemporarnea, si tessono a vicenda.
Segui sempre lo stesso metodo di lavoro per realizzare tutti i tuoi lavori?
Dipende da che tecnica sto usando ma sempre tralascio la parte cosi detta progettuale, non faccio schizzi preparatori o schemi da seguire, lavoro direttamente sul o con il tessuto ( o materia) . E’ un lavoro aperto che puo prendere varie direzioni nel crescere. Sempre ad un certo punto la visione si completa da se. Quando si ha sintonia con la tecnica si puo pensare ad altro. Diventare come dei recettori e se durante il percorso capita un errore non lo cancello anzi lo accolgo per vedere in che direzione mi porta.
Che tipo di influenze artistiche hai? Cosa ti influenza nella vita di tutti i giorni?
Un certo tipo di sentire, di ascoltare: sembra infatti che l’origine della parola “estetica” abbia piu a che fare con il senso dell’udito che con il senso della vista; una sorta di accorgersi delle cose che ci circondano udendole.
Di tutti i tuoi lavori c'è qualcuno a cui tieni particolarmente?
Non mi affeziono al lavoro in se’, mi affeziono al processo che lo ha portato ad essere, mi affeziono alla pratica , quella a cui son piu affezionato credo sia la scrittura.
Nei tuoi lavori il colore ha una parte importante... come usi il colore?
Non uso il colore, mi faccio usare dal colore.
Le tue maschere di animali/mutanti...da cosa nascono?
Nascono da una riflessione sulla costruzione del se ed i sui rimandi alle pratiche scultoree, questo e’ il pensiero di origine poi lavoro con i filati all’uncinetto e li faccio crescere sul viso, le forme sono suggerite dal filato, dal suo spessore e dal suo colore. Sono come i passamontagna usati dai rivoluzionari solo che queste servono, una volta indossate, ad attivare micro rivoluzioni personali.
Il tuo lavoro può essere considerato naif e pieno di intensità espressiva...come lo definisci tu?
Qui proprio non so rispondere, forse lo definirei : una ricerca.
In cosa stai lavorando in questo momento?
Sto lavorando su un uncinetto con dei filati peruviani dai colori quasi fluo.
Tu sei italiano, ma hai vissuto molti anni a New York, c'è un rapporto diverso con arte in europa rispetto agli stati uniti? Si lavora allo stesso modo nei due continenti?
Non mi sembra ci siano differezze sostanziali, e’ vero pero’ che a NY la creativita’ e tessuta dentro il quotidiano piu che in altri luoghi o perlomeno e’ piu evidente.
Hai un progetto particolare per il futuro?
come scrive Franz Kafka: lascia dormire il futuro come si merita.
Dove ti vedi o cosa ti piacerebbe fare tra dieci anni?
Mi interessa il quotidiano. Visto dagli occhi di De Certeau: la vita quotidiana agisce come un processo di bracconaggio su un territorio altro dove ci sono regole e prodotti gia esistenti nella cultura in un modo influenzato, pero ‘mai completamente determinato,.Il gioco sta nel trovare quelle aperture dove potersi iinserire per attuare l’atto creativo della costruzione del quotidiano stesso.
Meglio quindi usare strategie che tattiche, perche la strategia agisce sulla situazione reale ed immininente , la tattica idealizza a lungo termine.
C'è qualcosa che non hai ancor fatto che ti piacerebbe fare? sia lavorativamente che personalmente...
Gli incontri sono la scintilla di tutto , se ci si apre all’incontro si aprono anche direzioni impensate.
Il "monotema" di LAMONO di questo mese è "insane"...cos’è realmente poco sano per te?
Preferisco pensare a politiche di riduzione del danno, cio che non e’ sano puo a volte essere un essenza insanabile e se veramente e’ poco sana, non essendo cancellabile, potrebbe essere smussata con la consapevolezza.
When did you start crocheting masks? What kind of wool are they made from?
I have been using the technique of crocheting since the beginning of the 1990 but i did "master it" when i move to NY.
For me crocheting has a sculptural physicality quite similar to other sculptural techniques .
I use all sorts of treads, from high quality wool to rope or simple cottons.
Crocheting masks was a natural development of philosophical ideas around the construction of the self.
Creating masks is for me an extension of the thought processes around the construction of identity.
You told Vogue Italia that the pieces represent "the condition of contemporary man, some kind of conscious schizophrenia." Can you give some examples of why you think that we are now consciously schizophrenic?
Please; granted that i am not a philosopher i will try to explain: I am referring to some concepts developed by Deleuze and Guattari , they related schizophrenia to capitalism exploring the links between the occurrence of conscious experience and its very floating nature.
Much more now in the new century of global connections schizophrenia is an introverted and extroverted mode of perception. A way of relating to the world or a state of consciousness involving an extreme empathy. Since in the globalization of society the point of view can not be centered we need to embrace fragmented positions in order to change point of view as we need.
What events, forces and/or people are at work in society that are creating this schizophrenia?
it is the essence of the contemporary. The way things and events are layered.
Do you think conscious schizophrenia is a good or a bad thing for everyday people. Why?
Well... The schizoid has no "me" and hence does not have an unconscious that is preoccupied with; we should all try to get out of the dualism system : conscious / unconscious, good/ bad, men/woman and so on ... to get to a form of freedom (already experience by the Pre Socratic) that embrace every single things as it is not as the opposite of something else.
It is contemporary because it is liquid or more so it is 'pendular' in a vast nodding movement, it is fragmented the way web links and hyper-links are... it is this condition that makes them work and have a sense.
This state of conscious schizophrenia really aloud us to get our hands on the construction of our own identity (which is always part discovery and part creation).
Lei è un artista lombardo ma dal respiro internazionale. Vissuto molti anni a New York è noto per le sue spettacolari maschere all uncinetto, veri e propri talismani per la gioia, e per i suoi Illegal Aliens, creature in feltro capaci di strapparci un sorriso anche durante le giornate più buie. Le sue creazioni sprigionano una grande libertà di ricerca, ma sempre pratica, con le mani in pasta, direttamente nei tessuti e nei filati.
Allora Signor Aldo Lanzini De Agostini D'Aviance, sessantottino inside (ho scoperto che siamo coetanei) ci racconti la sua "prima volta" con un uncinetto, un ricordo in particolare:
In realtá non ho mai imparato l’uso proprio dell’uncinetto, ancora oggi lo afferro in un modo che non é propriamente corretto e mi aiuto con le dita spesso quando la catenella non esce bene, non so leggere uno schema e menneno conosco gli svariati punti che la tecnica dell’uncinetto possiede ... in un certo senso non só raccontare una ” prima volta” perche’ sempre ogni cosa che nasce é una prima volta. Comunque le prime impugnature dell’uncinetto risalgono alla fine degli anni ottanta.
Da allora c'è stata un'evoluzione continua che è passata da una esperienza decennale a New York ai suoi Illegal Aliens le sue creaturine coloratissime in feltro che l'hanno fatta conoscere in tutto il mondo. a proposito ci può parlare come parte e si sviluppa l'idea degli alieni illegali?
Il progetto IllegalAliens nasce nel 1995 e da allora si é pian piano stratificato di contenuti per riflettere sul tema dell’estraneo, sia in direzione filosofica: dalla costruzione dell’identita’ all’ esplorazione delle diversitá, sia in direzione giuridica sulle definizione dello straniero//forestiero .
Per me gli Illegal Aliens sono contenitori di pensiero, sono tautoligici in quando il processo del crearli e’ composto da elementi che sono fra loro sinonimi.
Tralascio la parte del design e lavoro direttamente sul feltro (che il filosofo francese Deleuze utilizzava come metafora per spiegare il contemporaneo: il feltro è un tessuto non tessuto, non ha dritto ne rovescio, è un materiale sul quale scivolare.)
Ma torniamo all'uncinetto e alle sue creazioni uniche che sono state ospitate in tantissimi musei nel mondo e performance, come ad esempio le trenta maschere all'uncinetto che hanno accolto gli ospiti della sfilata S/S 2011 di Missoni. Lei afferma che "l'uncinetto mi costringe a pensare tridimensionalmente", sembra un modo per tentare di scrollarsi il piattume di tutti i giorni. Cosa intende con questa affermazione?
Mentre il fare la maglia ha per me una concettualizzazione bidimensionle , l’uncinetto ne ha una tridimensionale la considero una tecnica scultorea. E’ un atto creativo del quotidiano che possono fare tutti e a mio parere ha un affinita’ con la piu alta forma creativa: quella della costruzione di se stessi, ad ognuno nelle forme proprie che si sviluppano dentro la quotidianita’ ( attraverso intrecci . connesioni, nodi, buchi, strappi. ricuciture ect)
E' innegabile il senso di meraviglia che si prova davanti alle sue opere, alla capacità unica di trasformare e reinterpetare un filo e un'arte antichissima, di distruggere le convenzioni usando l'uncinetto. "In tasca l'uncinetto è più leggero del martello" ha affermato in una intervista. Concetto molto interessante, ce lo può spiegare?
Mi riferisco alla filosofia di Max Stirner pre nietzschiano definito come il filosofo con il martello per la sua “ impugnatura” della filosofia come capace di smontare un pensiero preconcetto. Uso l’uncinetto nello stesso modo; non ne rivendico la tradizione semmai ne rivendico il senso intrinseco di quotidianità che questo tipo di tecniche hanno nel quotidiano, dentro la creazione del quotidiano.
Una sorta di ragionamento sull’essere e sul fare.
Torniamo alle sue creazioni. Oltre alla valenza "filosofica" ci sono dei richiami, delle sensazioni particolari, dei ricordi durante la creazione delle sue opere?
Il momento del fare é un processo aperto; mi spiego con le parole di Marguerite Duras:
“Non posso, scrivere una storia coerente, portarla a termine, partire da un soggetto e svilupparlo in tutte le sue conseguenze, dalle prime alle ultime. Questo è finito. Non so come esprimerlo chiaramente. Posso solo dirLe che per tentare per esempio di esprimerlo, sono costretta a passare per un'apparente frammentazione dello scritto, dei tempi che lo strutturano, e soprattutto di disorientare costantemente la direzione delle sue componenti.“
Cosi mi muovo tra la tecnica dell’uncinetto partendo dal lavoro stesso, incorporando gli errori anzi invitandoli ad accadere.
Agatha Christie diceva che la creazione deriva direttamente da un certo ozio, forse addirittura da una certa pigrizia. cosa rappresenta per Aldo Lanzini creare?
Io non lo so ancora cosa vuol dire creare ma l’affermazione di Agtha Christie mi trova daccordo , pigrizia nel senso di lentezza nell'operare! pigrizia differisce poi da pigrezza: la prima consistendo nel non volere. La seconda derivando dalla natura del non potere.
Doing and creating is the same thing for Aldo Lanzini, but not out of necessity. It’s a natural and spontaneous process that manifests wherever and whenever, crossing over territories and breaking down barriers.
Who is Aldo Lanzini Aviance?
Marguerite Duras used to say you’re never the same as yourself. If I tell you who I am now, I’ll be excluding who I will be in a moment. Just today I noticed a mark on my face that wasn’t there before.
Have you been influenced much by being born in Italy?
My roots are definitely Italian. The way I express my thoughts, that’s been shaped by language itself, by my mother tongue. Having said that, I hate these concepts of nationality and belonging. When you grow up it takes incredible effort to shake off certain cultural attitudes that mold your mind.
Handcraft is an integral part of your creations, why is that?
I am fascinated by techniques more than by craftsmanship (which has its origins in tradition). I love working with my hands, I learn by doing rather than studying techniques – I observe and I try until I find another way of doing things. I research and follow techniques not because I want to conquer them, but to interact with them without possessing them, otherwise it would just be an interaction with myself.
This kind of work is always an encounter – to quote Luce Iragaray: “I don’t integrate you into my world, but I move to a place where we are both free from ourselves; a place which is neither mine nor yours.” Actually, mastering a technique allows me to forget the technique itself and think about something else. Beyond the final result (that becomes public) I am intrigued by open creation processes, with blurred edges, nomadic but also oscillating (I am referring to the Oscillating Thought of Francesca Rigotti) ... so while I’m doing things, I’m “changing”.
You were born in a small town in Valtellina, you’ve lived in New York and then Milan. What have these places left in you?
Really it’s all mixed and interwoven. Sitting next to a big tree, I noticed that lots of its roots were sticking out of the ground. This means that even roots (taken as a metaphor and symbol of a beginning, of foundations and the possibility of a return to the origins) are never the same as themselves. Roots grow, some die, some grow out of the ground, others go deeper and go in directions you never dreamed of: the Deleuzian rhizome.
Deleuze uses a metaphor to try and explain what is contemporary (and what you are) by comparing it with felt (a material I used to sew my Aliens, tautologically speaking). Felt is an unwoven material, if you look at it under a microscope you can see lots of small bits that are connected almost irreversibly: it has no direction, no right and wrong side and it is almost impossible to get it back to its original shape. As I said before: all things mix, weave, in fact they entangle.
Your creations develop in different directions: installations, dresses, sketches, puppets, visual poetry... why is that, what is the connecting thread?
I think this kind of diverse production is pretty common - it’s the state of being human today, the ability to develop a kind of conscious schizophrenia (referring to Mille Plateaux) – a fluid movement, that takes the most appropriate shape in certain circumstances and could take a different shape in other circumstances.
Your work doesn’t follow a projected plan, it just creates itself - like your crochet work, for example. Can you explain how this happens? How are the masks and dresses born? Each one of these objects is really an individual with its own life. Do these individuals take charge of the work? Your pieces are often works in progress - why is that?
When I work, I ignore the planning part of it (I’m interested in tactics, not strategies) - I don’t start from a sketch or a pattern; those techniques have their own autonomy. Within a technique, I try to find that moment of opening, that window where I can slip in and come out again with something that I wasn’t looking for.
It’s like building the self, which is the ulti- mate act of creation. In creating your own identity you’re never static (part creation and part discovery, as Quentin Crisp used to say), you keep shifting between inside and outside, between past, present and future. With the crochet work I always stay close to the body: I start with a piece and then I bring it close and move it around until it finds its position; and I go on from there, sometimes everything goes upside down, but in the end I find the best shape. It’s a personal experience.
My work is unique in the sense that I don’t just put separate pieces together - everything grows together along a path which I see as similar to the building of the self.
Philosophy and literature - how important are they in your daily life and in your art?
I read a lot, but quite often I don’t remember what I’ve read. Philosophy has helped me perform a sort of mental gender swap. In short, the feminine thought (produced by the female body) has shaped an opening in me that the male-centered thought completely prevented.
Colour and music - what feelings do they provoke in you, how important are they in your work?
I have no answer for the reason behind my use of colors (in Crochets and Illegal Aliens) - maybe to avoid a particular kind of investigation within the world of art that puts the dark, the gloomy and the deep on a level above everything else.
Music on the other hand - that’s one of the expressions that overwhelms me most often.
Oliver Sacks’ studies on the effects of sound and music are fascinating.
When I was a child in Milan I loved Gianni Sassi’s festival, where sound took many different forms. Then in New York, I danced for hours on end. We used to go to see Junior Vasquez play at 4 in the morning and we were still on the dance floor at 2 the next afternoon – we did that for years!
I do particularly like electronic music (it produces some sort of electricity in me), but I listen to everything from Britney Spears to Virgin Prunes.
The Illegal Aliens project - can you tell me how these creatures were born?
It’s a project that started in New York in 1995 as a tribute to all forms of clandestinities, be it physical or mental, a tribute to the foreigners, the aliens, whatever is far away from you.
Again in this kind of work I go straight to creating with the fabric without any preparation or sketches. With no pattern, everything I produce is unique. The accent is on being unique, being an individual.
This ignorance that’s spreading everywhere regarding aliens, strangers – it makes me so angry! In Italy, the Bossi/Fini law on the crime of clandestinity is unacceptable, medieval and primitive; an indicator of how closed some minds are, how ignorant and how very cruel. If you are unlucky enough to be born in certain countries on this planet, you have nothing except a hard and terrifying way ahead. So everyone cultivates their own orchard and fences grow.
Why do Illegal Aliens get adopted, or is it them adopting us?
To highlight the situations that an individual can be freed from, with the help given by another. In the end it’s really them adopting us.
Connecting to the previous question, Illegal Alien is the anglosaxon term used for illegal foreigners. You lived in New York for many years - how was it being a foreigner?
I’m grateful for the experience. Thanks to that situation, I have understood who I am.
What made you come back to Italy?
AL/ I followed the whole bureaucratic process to obtain Naturalization status and residence in the States. I got a series of negative responses, so I appealed to the Superior Court in Washington, which decided I was not suitable, and forced me (by starting a deportation process) to leave the United States. I was banned from returning to American territory for 3 years. So I came back to Italy in 2004 after being away for almost 15 years. I could be somewhere else instead of being here, that’s almost irrelevant.
What is an artist in your opinion?
It’s a position you are recognised for and appointed to by others.
There is a page on your website where you list the people that you like. Did they influence you? Who are they and what do you have in common with them?ù
Really the list is endless but there’s not much space for it. What you see on my website is just the beginning.
I could do what Miltos Manetas did – he listed all the people that had influenced him in his life, and then left it up to Google to explain who they are.
Some of your creations are dresses. What does fashion mean to you?
Works of art are usually taken very seriously – so making one you can wear lightens things up a bit.
Fashion, art, design...they’re closed terms, labels that don’t interest me. I go wherever I’m most welcome. It’s an old problem that Duchamp already solved: it’s the context that decides the value. If you wear a dress, it’s fashion. If you frame it or put it in a museum, it’s art. It’s an old issue, and there’s no solution because really there’s no problem.
Fashion, and all that revolves around it, often has a transient nature, and that suits me down to the ground. It’s a world that’s usually more welcoming than others.
Thinking about the name of our magazine, in conclusion: what’s your favorite pizza?
Alessandra Galasso: We have known each other for over ten years – we met for the first time in New York when I was working as a curator at ps1 and you were living in the East Village. I still remember your little apartment on Houston Street, with the huge work table full of beads, multicoloured strings, sketches, drawings and cut out photos, sequins, bits and pieces and accessories by Hello Kitty and Vivienne Westwood, fairy lights and coloured pencils. Each time I visited it was like entering the home of a magician’s apprentice, and coming across alien creatures, strange garments and drawings, like apparitions, and a cute pixie who welcomed you in with the customary question: «Coffee?»
I am glad to be interviewing you on occasion of your first monographic exhibition. As I am well aware of your aversion to linear approaches, and that the very attempt to document your creations in a kind of chronological inventory, or provide ‘logical’ keys to interpret, them makes you shudder, I have decided to approach our conversation like an exercise in free association, with frequent references to the characters who most influenced your artistic vision, and as a consequence, your vision of the world. So the first question is this: who most influenced your decision to become an artist?
Aldo Lanzini: I’m not sure how to answer this question. Frankly I don’t know if becoming an artist was a conscious decision, and who might have influenced it. I can however provide you with a stream of names of people who are currently important to me, or have been in the past: Marguerite Duras, Gastone Novelli, David Robilliard, Gertrude Stein, Carl Sagan, Yukio Mishima, Friedrich Nietzsche, Carmelo Bene, Gina Pane, Yoko Ono, Vivienne Westwood, Chiara Bianchi, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Kevin Aviance, Peter Murphy, St. Francis, Loredana Bertè, Marc Almond, Jean Cocteau, Giacomo Leopardi, Guillaume Apollinaire, Charles Baudelaire, Quentin Crisp, Rosi Braidotti, Luce Irigaray, Adriana Cavarero, Dino Campana, Arthur Rimbaud, James Purdy, Louise Bourgeois, Joan Jonas, Rudolf Schwarzkogler, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Lisetta Carmi, Diamanda Galas, Lee Bowery, Silvana Mangano, Lydia Mancinelli, Lindsay Kemp, Klaus Nomi, John Cage, Walter Marchetti, Madonna, Heraclitus, Daniel C. Dennet, Manlio Sgalambro, Hello Kitty, and myself. As Leopardi wrote: «I may be wrong, but it seems rare in our age to find a widely praised person whose own mouth is not the source of that praise».
AG: I like the way you emphasize the fact that you attended the Beato Angelico School for Church Decoration and Ornament in Milan. What memories do you have of those years? Do you think that your Catholic upbringing has had a particular effect on you?
AL: I agree with Salman Rushdie that monotheism is an aberration. Though I must admit that Catholic imagery has fascinated me since I was little. Woody Allen once said, «I've read the Bible. Nice, but the protagonist isn't much credible».
When I was a boy I used to go to church in Boffetto in Valtellina, with my grandmother Eva. I liked being surrounded by all the astounding imagery: the gold and yellow Baroque decorations and the appeal of the rituals, songs and prayers. Apart from the actual meaning, I liked the tender atmosphere of this world almost entirely inhabited by women. I would say that my memories are of a loving, very tolerant environment. I was intrigued by the metaphysical aspect of the images, so much so that I asked my mother Anita to buy me a book on the lives of the saints. I loved St. Francis, I always imagined him as a crazy character walking the earth and greeting everything on his way – trees, flowers, animals and insects. Maybe it was due to him that I became a vegetarian, because I too believe that all living beings have dignity and self-awareness. Images of saints like St. Sebastian by Guido Reni (which aroused the admiration of Mishima), St. Rocco, nomad and traveler accompanied by his dog, and St. Joseph of Cupertino – the saint dear to Carmelo Bene who possessed the gift of levitation – represent an enormous melting pot of visions and idols. I also like the message of Jesus’s gospel, and the hope it offers humanity, through faith and love. And St. Augustine, who believed that faith was ultimately a quest, not a submission to an external dogma. Humans doubt and in doubting they recognise their errors: this is a statement of being a finite being and also possessing the concept of an infinite being. I also like the idea of the vale of tears that men and women are destined to. Luckily for me I later came across Zarathustra, and his vision of humanity freed from original sin, and then Klossowski on the loss of the concept of identity following the fall of divine transcendence, and the death of God, protector of the ego.
When I was at the Beato Angelico School, my life was a mixture of carefree teenage attitude and the sensation that I was weighed down with a heavy cultural baggage, something I needed to get rid of in order to understand who I really was. That was when I discovered the work of Marguerite Duras. I was also fascinated by the existentialists from the beginning of the twentieth century, and by goths, part of the youth culture of that period. I was the only student at the Beato Angelico who boarded in the school for a while. When lessons finished I was left alone in a huge warren of classrooms, laboratories and endless corridors; there were a few nuns and a priest or two, an old priest who was a painter, a priest who was a philosopher and theologian and a friar sculptor. I had a tiny room of my own which I thought of as inviolable, until one day after lessons I saw that the giant poster of Loredana Bertè I had put above my bed had been taken down. And that was in ‘cosmopolitan’ Milan! Punks and Goths used to hang about in the via Torino area, and the first of them I plucked up the courage to talk to was JP. Even back then I considered myself an atheist, a kind of natural follow-on from my childhood, and after reading Nietzsche and his revelations on the death of god. I think the reason I understood Nietzsche was because my attachment to religion was of the emotional kind, and Nietzsche aroused more powerful emotions in me, because his writings enabled me to shed a whole set of impositions.
Now I can weave the wind.
AG: In your work it is possible to identify a number of different ‘bodies of work’, that at first appear quite different and distant, so much so that some might be tempted to think you had some kind of personality disorder: installations, clothes, drawings, dolls, visual poems, accessories… But I think that it is not difficult to capture the coherence and stable continuity of themes and methods that runs through all your work. For example, one of the things that strikes me most is that you never do any studies, prototypes, models or designs for your works: they come about, take shape and get completed ‘in progress’. It recalls the principle of automatic writing that inspired the surrealists, and the improvisation of free jazz. Do you agree with this vision of things?
AL: Yes, I would say so. My way of working is very similar to automatic writing techniques, though without all the psychological and para-psychological implications, which are of no interest to me. It is an automatic process based on the mastery of techniques, and therefore, in some way, consistent. What fascinates me about this type of automatism is its openness (see John Cage), which enables me to operate using a work in progress approach, ‘in absence’. With regards to this I would like to quote Paolo Ferrari, founder of the Centro Studi Assenza in Milan: «The art of absence has an ongoing correspondence with reality; it is not an imaginary phase or a hypothetical version of form or concreteness about how things in the world are progressing. It is constantly coupled with that state of things which hardly ever comes to the fore, being supported by the laws of evidence». Ferrari sees art as a way of mediating a new universe, which is predominantly characterised by being ‘empty at the centre’, capable of incorporating errors and intuitions as it goes. This is not however a method which is employed totally unconsciously. What interests me is gestural automatism: drawing with a black pen, doing crochet, sewing; the gesture and the thought, the thought and what comes before the thought. The mastery of the various techniques allows me to ‘go on to something else’, to ‘not concentrate’ on it, to ‘let it flow’. André Breton viewed automatism as a technique which would free the mind from inhibitions, with the aim of fostering a free association of images and ideas, letting the unconscious come to the fore. In my case, not working to a proper, formal design lets me discover the future; an open, open-ended work, which may also take off in unforeseen directions. Obviously when I work I am using my memory, or rather my ability to perform certain techniques, and my knowledge of them. In any case it is not a passive state (like para-psychological automatic writing), more like just not being around at the time. It is not a complete absence of thought, as the operation is brought to completion by personal will or technical skill. Carmelo Bene, for example, talks about ‘counter-technique’, developing Heidegger’s concept: ‘the essence of technique is nothing technical’. It swings between the conscious and the unconscious, technique and counter-technique, ‘in-stasy’ and ecstasy.
In my drawings the surface of the paper is the element which comes to the fore; the rest, the setting, space, is obsessively covered up. My work is to outline the subjects, which while figurative, are indifferent to the working process; the subject represented is not touched, or filled in or coloured. I just work around it in the space, filling it with the black pen. I like using a black pen because it is irreversible: once the mark is there on the paper it can’t be cancelled.
AG: Your works include what you call your illegal aliens: hand-sewn felt dolls (puppets) that you give up for adoption. This is the legal term commonly used to indicate a person without a residence permit, of a different nationality from the country they are in. The term includes both the adjective ‘illegal’ and the Latin origin noun ‘alien’ – foreigner, or outsider. As an adjective alien means strange, unnatural or repugnant, the opposite being native, familiar, national. What is your vision of foreignness?
AL: When we look up at the sky, we only see a tiny portion of the universe: no more than six thousand stars are visible to the naked eye. Carl Sagan calculated that there are probably around ten billion trillion planets in the universe. In this wider vision, how can we define foreign? What is the minimum distance required to call someone foreign? Around 4.4 billion years ago, an object the size of Mars crashed into the Earth, taking out a chunk large enough to form a sphere: the Moon – it would in fact appear that most of the Moon’s substance is material from the Earth. So is the Moon foreign? We view it as such, but it actually comes from here, from our planet. Foreigners are closer to us than we think, and this is true of everything around us. Human beings have this overweening presumption of being a cut above all other things and living beings. Edoardo Sanguineti, for example, asserts that man must acknowledge that he is a self-tamed animal, and that becoming ‘human’ is a difficult, even ‘brutal’ struggle, as if every person had to relive the history of time. According to Darwin, genes are not eliminated, but simply disactivated: things cannot be canceled, only rewritten. And you have to be sensitive to that, like Tommaso Campanella’s concept of ‘sensing how to sense’. This means being equipped with an innate sense of self and the ability to sense all perceptible exterior changes. And Campanella attributes this innate sense of self to every object, every natural being. Forget yourself and you forget history. In some American states they have prohibited schools from teaching the theory of evolution, probably because they reckon that people shouldn’t know they were preceded by monkeys.
I sometimes wonder if the notion of foreignness is a political invention aimed at safeguarding or removing other cultures. People jealously guard their own traditions, and use them as a currency for cultural exchange with their peers, creating reference points for identity. Being open to otherness is however an innate characteristic that adapts to the circumstances. While being ‘foreign’ often, if not always, has negative connotations, I find it extremely interesting to experience it first hand – as an individual forged and influenced by local characteristics. Living as a foreigner has enabled me to develop another ‘eye’, and it was as a foreigner that I began to understand my matrix, my culture and my vision. As a foreigner my point of view was turned on its head.
AG: The concept of ‘the other’, present in your illegal aliens, as well as being a fundamental issue in what used to be called feminist theory and now goes by the name of Women’s Studies, represents a central theme in the works of one of your favourite authors: Marguerite Duras. Even Jacques Lacan himself, who has been credited with coining the concept of the ‘Other’, officially paid tribute to the French writer, acknowledging the huge influence that she had on him (see Homage to Marguerite Duras on the Ravishing of Lol V. Stein, spazio 1964). Recalling Freud, according to whom the artist always precedes the analyst, Lacan writes: ‘This is exactly what I recognise in the ecstasy of Lol V. Stein, where Marguerite Duras proves that even without me she knows exactly what I teach’. I find that this is similar to your artistic approach, when you state that your main sources of inspiration come from literature. Do you too believe that artists, and writers in particular, have the capacity to foreshadow philosophical concepts, cultural phenomena, scientific discoveries, that in some way they divine the human intellect and emotions?
AL: In Summer Rain Duras’ main character Ernesto refuses to go back to school, as he says «in school they teach me things I don’t know». Analytical forms of knowledge hinder the process of discovery, stop you getting close. And it is this getting close that interests me. I am also on a quest to get close to myself, which I view as being mid-way between my own perception of myself and how others see and perceive me, what Quentin Crisp calls ‘the change in our make-up’. Crisp asserts that «it involves a journey to the interior, not all together a pleasant experience, because as well as totting up what you consider to be your essence, you also have to take a long look at what your friends call the trouble with you, and the synthesis of these two opposite opinions would be your identity». Approaching this is only possible if you acknowledge the irreducible differences between one and the other. Artists explore territories which do not belong to them: they are arti-ficers, always learning. As identity is a creation and the creative act is always a mystery, as such I respect it and I keep it as a refuge: we live in dis-appropriated, disenfranchised territories.
A work of art is an en-counter: Luce Irigaray describes a meeting without ‘appropriation’, where neither person integrates the other into his or her world, but both approach a point where they are free of themselves, «in a place which is neither mine nor yours». When we meet we become subjects in transit, decentred and with shifting boundaries.
I have always been fascinated by Marguerite Duras’ linguistic talent for describing emotions. Her writing captures me, wrings me out and leaves me washed up on a dry river bed (river-bed or riverbed?), like the detritus carried on the water. Her writing crumbles away, is removed and has this seductive self-oblivion. «It is said that when you write you concentrate. I would not say so: when I write I have the sensation of being completely deconcentrated, I no longer possess myself, and I become une passoire [a sieve or strainer]». «It is a generous form of writing, because no-one is more generous than someone willing to destroy themselves.» (Carmelo Bene)
It is true, as you say, that most of my sources of inspiration come from literature, the written word, philosophy, and also music. At the Accademia [Accademia di Brera], our professors always told us to go and see the shows, but I preferred to spend my time reading. To get back to books, I find that Luce Irigaray’s critique of linguistics and the difference between sexual beings stands out from so-called Women’s Studies for its potency and originality, and is capable of altering obsolete, outdated currents of thought. The sensitivity of these female writers gives rise to flesh and blood characters which offer completely new interpretations of the concepts of identity, integration, community, creativity and contemporaneity. These are characters that abandon the desire for stability.
Take the nomadism of Rosi Braidotti (nomadism as an intellectual practice); the conceptual observations of Yoko Ono, which aim to change fixed mindsets, like saying, «seeing is not believing, but believing is seeing»; and the caress of Luce Irigaray which means taking possession of nothing and is «an awakening for you, me, us». And Adriana Cavarero, who writes stories like the one where she says that we are all unique beings which approach the world in different ways; and Oprah Winfrey, whose first talk shows were based on the idea of picking random people out of the audience, with the certainty that each of them would have a life-story worthy of a whole programme. I have learned a lot from these women, and from women in general, as well as from trans-sexuals, poly-sexuals and gender benders, with their detachment from the phallologocentric (phallo-logo-centric?) point of view.
You could be right to see artists as diviners, but watch out for the sycophants.
We should ‘de-think’ things, like Carmelo Bene. Give up our will, let things speak for themselves. Be willing to abandon our will. Pure will, without an object. ‘I exist where I do not think, and I think where I do not exist’, dissolving the Cartesian union of thought and existence. Technique against technique. Blurring the edges. When I work I ‘pursue’ techniques which I use indifferently in my sewing, crochet, drawing and writing. It is almost a parody of the surrealists’ automatic writing. The focus is on inviting errors into the work and then taking those on to create an in-stasy (in us and between us), rather than an ecstasy (outside us and distant from us). This gives rise to imagery of which not even I know the provenance.
According to Klossowski the imagination is the transition from the speculative to the specular, namely the imaginary. The image establishes a rapport of resemblance with reality which leaves room for what is left unsaid, recalling it through the unique sign. The importance of the word over experience is inverted in favour of a form of realism in the context of which we can access the inexpressible nature of emotion.
AG: There is another theme, fairly recurrent in the works of Marguerite Duras, that we have already talked about and which you ascribe great importance to in your artistic vision: the concept of failure. For example, when she talked about her film productions, the writer described them as a ‘quantitative failure’, a sub-category that I find rather interesting. In general the entire oeuvre of Duras can be summed up as the attempt to compensate for the failures of language, which is incapable of describing the great human tragedies, joys and desires, if not through the mediation of recounting one’s own personal experiences. This brings me back to another of the gods in your personal olympus (Olympus), Quentin Crisp, who constructed a life style out of his failures. Crisp considered unpopularity as his main gift, and described himself as being «like a hospital, entirely dependent on voluntary contributions». Despite having been considered a total reject for three quarters of his existence, he asserted that, «If you have love you must give it to the unlovable, anything else would be unfair». I personally see many analogies between yourself and Quentin Crisp: the refusal to belong to a social minority which through specific forms of social aggregation, lays claim to its own political and social role; the choice of New York, and the Lower East Side in particular, as your home (you lived a few hundred metres from Crisp’s house for over ten years)... And then there is Crisp’s book, Resident Alien: The New York Diaries (1996), which in many aspects reflects the spirit of your illegal aliens… I would like to know what you think your elective affinities with Quentin Crisp are.
AL: I met Quentin Crisp many times; he was open to everyone. He would spend entire afternoons sitting at a table near the window in the restaurant Cooper Square on 2nd Second Avenue. You could offer him a coffee (and at times a cheese omelette) and listen to him talk. He was always dressed very elegantly, with a hat and bright pink lipstick, eye make-up and lots of blusher. He had a delicate demeanour that was neither male nor female: as he said himself, «I am not really a human being». Studying some of the most innovative ideas in contemporary philosophy I have come across many of his statements, for example on the issue of identity, «Identity is an artifact, part discovery, part creation». And in particular his approach to life and his idea of happiness – which according to Crisp lies in being yourself, after finding that ‘self’ by means of introspection and the acceptance/construction of the self. In terms of identity it doesn’t matter what you do, especially if what you do is just a way of killing time, and it doesn’t even matter for the artist who creates art (work is a mistake!). For Crisp the only reason for existing is in order to construct oneself, a process requiring constant attention to the rapport between the internal and the external worlds. For example if while you are doing something, even accidentally, in your process of self-assertion, you spark off a positive effect which leads you to identify yourself as a unique being, you should then attempt to reproduce that consciously, and make it a part of your life style. This is how you go about practicing the ‘profession of being’.
Quentin Crisp was the very essence of camp, to the point where he became its stereotype. If you add his adoration of the unknown and his taste for entertainment, which are typical traits of a certain cosmopolitan cultural setting in New York, you can understand why he became the best known and most loved character in the East Village. Until a short time ago the East Village was a microcosm, a world in itself, within the city. When I lived on Alphabet Street, for months at a time I didn’t venture further than 14th Street (and in any case I lived in New York for ten years without ever visiting any other city in the States). The East Village was so self-referencing and free. The over-riding sensation was that of being free and not having to answer to anyone – unwanted observers like culture, family, conventions. Each single individual represented a catalyst for interchanges and communications, and the powerful energy issuing from each individual linked the inhabitants to the district. Legends sprung up around many of them (the most aspired-to epithet in the underground scene in New York is ‘legendary’, and Quentin Crisp was most definitely legendary!).
In spite of his delicate appearance, Crisp was pure punk! When he died Miguel Andover made an overcoat out of the material from the mattress Crisp had slept on for years – a truly fitting memorial.
AG: I would like to go back to the concept of failure for a moment: in my view it is one of the biggest taboos in contemporary society. Nowadays the very concept of identity itself is increasingly bound up with work – in other words, what we are corresponds increasingly to what we do to earn a living. Professional success has become the defining criteria for judging another person, just as its opposite, failure, discriminates against you. In the United States (and not only there), ‘loser’ is the worst insult you can give or receive, a stigma that can blight or damn an entire existence. But while we live in an era where many believe in (and apply) a form of social Darwinism, it should be obvious that failure is just the other side of success – and rather than being vilified it should just be accepted as part of the picture. I fully agree with the words of the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman: «Postmodern politics which aspire to the creation of a dynamic political community must be guided by the three-fold principle of Freedom, Difference and Solidarity», as «without solidarity, no freedom is secure», and «the freedom of the free necessitates, as it were, all to be free». (Zygmunt Bauman, La società dell’incertezza, Il Mulino, Bologna 1999). What are your thoughts on the notions of success, fame and failure? What category do you feel you belong to?
AL: Failure is when you set yourself goals that you do not reach, and you become so burdened by these that you are left permanently deformed. Failure is not something that affects those who do not watch out for it. What I mean is that success and failure co-exist, and that one evokes the other. As if failure were ever-present alongside success, to the extent that when you do something, potential failure can even represent a further reason for deciding to do it. Aside from this reciprocal evocation, failure can no longer be considered as not completing or achieving something. What you say about the idea of the loser is true. It is an extremely negative concept in our culture, attributed to those who do not act at all, who do not produce, who cannot be identified through what they do, who are not successful. I remember when I started the procedures for obtaining American naturalisation, on an artists’ visa, I was turned down because I wasn’t able to prove my artistic success in terms of the monetary commercial value of my work. And I quote from the criteria for recognising an artist of ‘extraordinary ability’ drawn up by the American Department for Justice, Immigration and Naturalization: «the price commanded for an artist’s work is an accurate indicator as to whether the individual is an artist of extraordinary ability».
Failure is fascinating because it lays things bare, and strips them of added, unnecessary value: it is a return to the origins. Philosophically speaking, failure comes close to the origins of existence, the origins of communication (the word), where in order to put something into words, something gets lost... and vanishes into thin air. What I mean is that failure is an intrinsic part of the quest and the desire to comprehend the origins of our existence. Communications are doomed to failure (as Giacometti knew well), in so far as, and also according to Lacan, anything – thought, pre-thought, feeling, sentiment – loses something when it is verbalised... communicating is therefore an intrinsically flawed practice. However it is in this void that we forge ourselves as original beings. Failure does not exist for the artist who has other ambitions, even when Nietzsche lost his mind he was not a failure, «he deserved his madness!», as Carmelo Bene proclaims.
During the last days of her life Marguerite Duras said: «I wrote all my life. Like a fool, I did it. But it wasn’t bad. I have never been presumptuous. Spending a life-time writing teaches you how to write. It doesn’t save you from anything... I am chilled by madness.
«Y.A.: Do you want to add anything?
«M.D.: I don’t know how to add. I only know how to create. That’s all».
(Taken from That’s All, the last book written, or rather dictated, by the author just before she died, and when she was no longer able to write.)
So how can failure exist in the creative context? When it comes down to it, my works correspond to my need to understand myself. Failure is not part of the picture if we reject a linear vision of things. I go forward, then back, then forward again, in a state of pre-thought, just like the void that Ferrari and Bene talk about.
In The Wisdom Paradox Goldberg asserts that art, like science, is largely a cerebral activity, but that, unlike science, it helps us understand the world in a very indirect way. He stresses the fact that art does not develop by progressive advancement.
Quentin Crisp, for example, went further than Warhol’s promise of fifteen minutes of fame for everyone, asserting that when failure is a conscious thing, “You can transform it into your very own life style, which makes you so like yourself”.
Failure, and its alter ego success, are part of a hierarchy which serves authority. We should free ourselves from this mindset.
«Not being able to rid yourself of a thought is only human; and if I do not look after my own things, I have to be happy with what others are willing to concede me.» (Max Stirner)
AG: Alongside your drawings and your illegal aliens, many of your works are crocheted, in the form of garments. When did you start making these and what do they have in common with your other works?
AL: I began crocheting when I was in love with Chiara Bianchi and we lived in Milan with her parents Gabriella and Emilio, and her grandmother Enrica. Then I took it up again in New York to make clothes/sculptures for The Queen of the Night, Kevin Aviance. I inherited the job from Jean Marc Arnaudé, who made wonderful jewellery for Kevin, and who passed it on to me one day while we were walking forlornly around the streets of Lower East Side, before he left the States. Kevin was my muse. I made clothes and accessories for him and in the middle of the night I used to deliver them to the club where he performed. He was pure energy, especially when he cleared the dance floor and turned it into a kind of stage for catwalk shows and dance battles between the members of the various Houses (Extravaganza, Aviance, Milan, Pendavis, Ninja and Duprée), and anyone else who was brave enough, while Junior Vasquez hypnotized those present with subliminal messages and dj sets up to fifteen hours long.
It was an ecosystem where individuals could escape from their daily lives on the dance floor, which was a venue for meeting people and asserting your identity.
The technique I pursue (or follow) in crochet is an emotional one; I don’t work from a pattern or design, and the work comes together along the way (or in progress). I practise (and aim for) a form of abstraction, even though the finished work fulfils a purpose; in other words it is not completely abstract because the result is a wearable garment. In this way I remove a certain level of superiority, that art often does not confer on things which are functional, like design or fashion.
Crochet has also taught me new forms of geometry. In 1997 the mathematician Daina Taimina of Cornell University made a crochet model to demonstrate her theories on the geometry of space (The Hyperbolic Space). According to this scientist, by ‘crocheting’ and increasing the number of points, the result obtained is a kind of flounce, a wave, that like space, does not move in a linear fashion, nor closes in on itself – it actually grows and opens up. These notions could change the Euclidean concept that space is intrinsically formless and infinite, by asserting that space can actually have forms, albeit strange ones.
AG: A number of academics believe that there is a link between fashion and identity, as clothes are a vital component in the social construction of the self, an extension of the body rather than a shield. While Roland Barthes asserted that fashion is a cultural system of meanings, in his novel Model Behaviour, Jay McInerney portrays the fashion world as a combination of boundless enthusiasm and soporific boredom, and Kant, a known icon of good taste, believed that it was always better to go mad according to fashion rather than against it. What are your views on fashion?
AL: To tell the truth, fashion and its mechanisms do not interest me a great deal, except as a contextualized vehicle, or a communicative eccentricity. In the eighties my friends and I used fashion as a form of transgression, or to play with identity construction, to exhibit elective affinities. Fashion does not possess semantic codes, only aesthetic ones. The most interesting kind of fashion is the diy kind, which has an expressive value and becomes a way of asserting the self. Coco Chanel said that if after a first date with a woman you remember the dress, it means it was an ugly dress; if you remember the woman wearing it then it was a good dress.
In the part of the world we live in, fashion imposes identities and therefore at the same time prevents you from having one of your own. By means of purchasing symbolic values (brands – fleeting ‘values’ which quickly lose their clout), and due to the constant process of change (the principles of fashion demand rapidity) fashion renders superfluous anything that could represent a genuine novelty. I must admit that I find this aspect intriguing: by making itself so ephemeral, fashion becomes a self-defeating process, proposing “values” that it then demolishes, disowns and recycles, and so forth. Fashion interests me when it influences ‘conformity’. Vivienne Westwood has declared: «The only reason I'm in fashion is to destroy the word ‘conformity’. Nothing is interesting to me unless it's got that element».
AG:It is not difficult to see that the titles of many of your works come from music, phrases almost always taken from pop songs. What role does music play in your life and work?
AL: To answer your question I will quote from a PetShopBoys song:
Music is our life’s foundation
and shall succeed all the nations to come
I hope it’s gonna be alright
‘cause the music plays forever
(for it goes on and on and on and on…)
The year three thousand may still come to pass
but the music shall last
I can hear it on a timeless wavelength
never dissipating but giving us strength
I hope it's gonna be alright
AG: So all we have to do is open our eyes… and dream!