Conversation with the artist Nicola Samorì
Exactly two years ago I was graduating in Visual Arts at the University of Bologna. My thesis, entitled La Romagna dopo la fine dell’arte (Romagna after the end of art), came to life when I came across an essay by A. C. Danto, After the end of art(1); those pages, so fascinating and evocative, changed my perception of the contemporary. According to the American critic and philosopher, there is a date that marks the end of the narrative framework of art(2), 1964, which coincides with the exhibition of Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box sculptures at the Stable Gallery of Manhattan. Because of the strong involvement of my land towards art, I wondered whether Romagna, and hence its artists, had in any way felt this change. Follows an interview with Nicola Samorì (3), conducted on Tuesday 5 February 2019 at his studio in Bagnacavallo.
Arianna Pasini: My thesis is entitled La Romagna dopo la fine dell’arte. Starting from the reflections of Hans Belting and A. C. Danto on the boundary of art, I decided to outline a project on art in Romagna after 1964. What is your opinion about the end of art?
Nicola Samorì: I don’t think art is finished. What do you mean by the end of art? It may be the end of an approach to art, but saying that art is finished would be like saying that our habits and rituals, which we have been performing for thousands of years, no longer exist. I am not interested in those who approach such vast and complex systems in a categorical and resolute manner that is not entirely comprehensible. The end of art: what is art, when did it begin, when did it end, what is the boundary? It is such a broad category that I argue with myself every day. I have no idea when this relationship with the word art was born, and I don’t agree that someone can call it finished. How many times has it died over time? Probably, according to the criteria that change in different epochs, it has died many times. The substantial difference is that these changes were not recorded; today they are recorded immediately. Danto, after observing Warhol’s Brillo Box in the 1964 exhibition, must surely have been impressed and disconcerted, but he stubbornly tried to make the accounts, his accounts, add up. Obviously I think his observations are very lucid, and his insight was interesting. It is undeniable that there has been a transformation, but I don’t think it is a thesis that can be shared in its entirety. Where did art die in America? In the Europe-America relationship? Did it die at the same time among the Aborigines or in countries that did not follow Pop Art at all? The discourse is extremely malleable, fluctuating, and brings me back to one of the things that makes me more nervous, expressed by painters and curators of my time: the short-range view. Some say that we are witnessing a universal catastrophe, which we have been waiting for for a few thousand years. I don’t think so. I don’t think anything special is happening in art today, or at least not any more than in Tiepolo’s time in Venice. There is certainly a greater outpouring of words, a media industry has been built up that allows us to record what is happening with great accuracy, but the problems we face are not totally different from those of a good 16th century European author. It is not completely different, despite the fact that we have widened, at times exaggeratedly, the perimeter of art.
You asked me what I think about the end or death of art, but I don’t really know how to answer that. What I deal with is only an infinitesimal shred of expression; I think I know the practices of painting, sculpture and drawing fairly well, despite being subject to constant doubt.
AP: Do you think that being born in Emilia Romagna is an added value or an obstacle for an artist? Has the region stimulated and encouraged your artistic career?
NS: I think I was lucky to be born here in Romagna; I can say that with hindsight, considering the many other places in Italy. I am a convinced supporter of this region and the artistic energy it has shown and is still showing today. I grew up in a region that has been home to many international excellences; just think of the painters Alessandro Pessoli and Margherita Manzelli, from the generation before mine, or the Societas Raffaello Sanzio of Cesena for theatre. There are also some equally interesting young artists, such as Luca Monterastelli and Riccardo Baruzzi. Romagna is a place that does not demotivate or demoralise when it comes to the arts. It is no coincidence that a giant like Moreni came to this place as a foothold to achieve his impressive goals. Perhaps it would have been easier if I had been born in New York or Berlin. But I don’t think it makes much difference whether I was born in the province of Ravenna or Milan. Italy is one big province, as Giulio Guberti used to say. In Romagna there may be a lack of resources, or disorganisation, but there is no lack of artistic talent and desire. So I don’t think it is a bad place to start an artistic career. The region has neither helped nor hindered me. The most important transformations and satisfactions took place in other places, but I have always felt at ease here, starting with my training at the Liceo Artistico in Ravenna. In any case, I believe that leaving Italy has benefited my work; abroad, not having experienced my growth phase and training flaws, they are impressed by my work. Here it doesn’t happen because they know my past well, they have followed me since my adolescent years. I think it is always more effective for artists to present themselves in a place as the result of self-generation. In Berlin, in fact, I arrived with my baggage of skills complete and mature. Here in Romagna there are not many organisations or structures to promote artists: in fact, most art-related events are self-produced. Just think of the complex and beautiful initiatives organised by Massimiliano Fabbri with Selvatico. Perhaps the weakest aspect of our region, which is rich in modern and contemporary artists and collectors, is the total lack of important private galleries.
AP: Have you ever felt the lack of belonging to an artists’ collective or a working group?
NS: The individual path is an obligatory dimension for me. I cannot be collaborative. I have tried several times to experiment with two heads, four hands, but I have never been satisfied. I don’t trust others and I don’t rely on their work. The only collaborator I can accept, as I often say, is a robot rather than an insect. Taking responsibility for the work in its entirety, from beginning to end, until it is dismantled or squandered, is part of the almost ritualistic dimension of my creative process. My work continually gains and loses shape, proceeding slowly and abruptly, abruptly and slowly; these dynamics must be consumed in my time and my direct action. I have not missed belonging to a group, because I am very attracted to the idea of the individual, even in a romantic way. I am an incurable past-timer, bound to the centralising dimension of the artist as a builder of his own identity. What excites me most visually is the achievement of the individual artist. I am not saying I do not recognise the wonder and orchestration of the many hands of anonymous art in ancient civilisations. I do find, however, that it is essential, when there are many hands, to have a very strong direction. I believe in the artist as the first craftsman. In fact, at the head of the largest and most successful workshops were personalities such as Giotto, Rubens, Rembrandt and Tiepolo. These great working machines were only efficient thanks to the masterly management of the artists, who had the greatest skills and made the most important decisions. This is the opposite situation to today’s art world. Today the workers are almost always more competent than the artists. This is a critical point of contemporaneity. The artist is no longer the first executor or discoverer of the dynamics that belong to the transformation of matter. The result is an obvious lack, which risks slipping immediately into the predictable.
AP: One thing that particularly struck me, as a musician, was your collaboration with different bands. I remember, for example, the cover of the album Total Depravity by The Veils(4), with your work Magdalene [fig.2], found in a record shop in Berlin about three years ago.
NS: I get requests all the time, the last one was two days ago; at the moment I only accept designs that are overseen by a good designer, that promise formally impeccable work. As for The Veils, I had already listened to them and was interested about, so it was nice to collaborate with them. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about Behemoth, despite the fact that they did an impeccable job from a graphic-formal point of view; the idea of my work approaching a Satanist and death metal mood is not what I want to convey. I understand that my works can lend themselves to this interpretation and that a niche of people perceive them in this light, but if this aspect were to become predominant, it would result in a failure of communication. That’s why I want to reduce these concessions to a minimum.
I find that there is a substantial difference between music and painting. When we talk about music, we know that it is necessary to communicate to a very wide audience. A musician, or even a filmmaker, if does not generate thousands, millions of forms of curiosity, of attentive eyes and ears, cannot have a future. In art, on the other hand, I see that the currency is that of a rejecting asceticism, which cannot become law. I am not satisfied with communicating only with insiders, with a restricted group of people, and this also links me to my earlier statements about Danto. I don’t like the fact that one person, or a small group, who proclaim themselves, can decide what works or not. A painter today, unfortunately, can survive and get rich with just fifteen or twenty admirers; all it takes is a curator, a couple of gallery owners and a dozen collectors to become a successful artist. A sort of bubble is created. The contemporary artist, today, wants to live in a form of purity, he does not want to relate to the “stupid” and “vulgar” eye of the public who are looking for something known and reassuring. I believe that this has made us forget a centuries-old history that moved in another direction, and has led us to self-referentiality. In my opinion, even in art, we need to stop protecting ourselves in galleries, and start asking ourselves the problem of the other, of the heterogeneous public, and above all expose ourselves to criticism. I find that an antidote can be collaboration with other artistic expressions. I like to get involved and collaborate with theatre, music, literature and cinema. I did a book with Antonio Moresco, an author I love very much, and I am really satisfied with it. I also collaborated, in a small way, on Guadagnino’s film Suspiria. The idea that my work can reach many people, in a circuit that is not purely artistic, so not only a small group of curators, critics or collectors, stimulates me a lot.
AP: How is your relationship with the virtual world? Do you personally manage your Instagram and Facebook social profiles?
NS: I don’t manage anything, I just occupy the floor to avoid someone else taking it over, as happened to me some time ago on Facebook. I have gradually withdrawn. On the one hand, it’s a matter of character; I don’t like sharing my personal facts with others anyway. If I am in a certain place and I am doing something nice, I am so selfish that I want to keep it to myself. The principle of sharing, in my case again, is reduced to a minimum. On the other hand, it is false what I am saying, because if it were only like that, I would not produce images all the time. I find it rather embarrassing to try to gather attention through the use of one’s own image and likes. I have a deep uneasiness towards these practices; that’s why I can’t put myself in the public eye. I also don’t want to be conditioned in my choices by a larger or smaller group, through their virtual approval rating. I don’t tolerate interference of any kind during work. That’s why even my partner doesn’t see me working; there’s no one there, except for completely transparent technical and mechanical figures. If you have taken on this commitment, this responsibility, to build something, to have your say on such a complex story, it is useless to beg for advice from others. You have to be ready to accept positive and negative feedback, continuously. Nowadays reactions, even if they are not asked, come faster than ever. I like these tools, I am convinced that they are extremely educational and revolutionary. They allow us to shuffle the cards. They get us out of that one-sided Danto reading we were talking about earlier. I believe that platforms like Instagram, if exploited in a positive way, can help us go further. I’m tired of the predictability in museums. I am thinking, for example, of the disorientating and almost embarrassing predictability that we continue to see in most European contemporary museums, where we already know we will find a pop section, a kinetic section, two or three elements of the transavantgarde and arte povera. Is there really no other art? In my opinion, Instagram is the key. On this platform there is everything, not just art that is considered official. There are no more preset rules, which have become doctrine, about images; they seem to be free again. They do what they were born to do, so they move optical and mental sensations. I have to thank these virtual realities because they have helped me grow. If something strikes, it bounces instantly to the other side of the world. Certainly, there are also worrying episodes, which we do not know what may lead to in the future; I am referring, for example, to people who simulate the way you work in the Philippines, without having your background, because they were struck by images found on social networks. This has always existed in the past, but not with this speed; the revolution has been there, therefore, in the means of communication. A revolution that will probably take us back to what we were before.
(1)Arthur Coleman Danto, Dopo la fine dell’arte, Italian translation of After the End of Art. Contemporary Art and the Pale of History of 1997, Mondadori, Milan, 2008.
(2) Cfr. Hans Belting, La fine della storia dell’arte o la libertà dell’arte, Giulio Einaudi, Turin, 1990.
(3) Nicola Samorì is an Italian artist born in Forlì in 1977. He has received prestigious awards such as Morandi (2002) and Michetti (2006), and has exhibited in important international solo and group exhibitions, such as at the 54th and 56th Venice Biennale (2011, 2015). The first anthological exhibition in Italy, SFREGI, will be open from 8 April to 5 July 2021, at Palazzo Fava in Bologna.
(4) Total Depravity is the fifth music album by New Zealand band The Veils, released on 25 August 2016 by Nettwerk Productions