“I don’t know how to answer this question,” says Alessandro, smiling, without hesitation, if asked how and when he understood that “when he grew up” he would be an artist. Because, as he often repeats when he talks about his work and art in general, there are things that cannot be explained with words. Born in Messina in 1987 but raised in Como, Alessandro Di Pietro creates his works using different materials and techniques, mixing installation, video, environmental design, drawing, writing, mixing references to the world of cinema, literature, but also video games and comic. , building “monsters”, as he calls them, that seem to come from a future that comes to us in the form of an artifact, as if his works were traces of a past that has not yet occurred. In this invented space/time, the artist wanders like a dishonest documentary filmmaker, creating artificial atmospheres, memories of events that never happened and stories that have never been told.
Works such as “Tomb Writer (solve et coagula)” (2016), “Downgrade Vampire” Towards Orion – Stories from the backseat” (2017) and “Felix” (2018), for example, make up a mysterious quadrilogy, in which the exhibition environments and sculptures to evoke presences, functioning as scripts and sets without characters. The series “Vampirelli” (2021) is made up of monstrous portraits of his friends: heads that, however, turn their backs on us, we can only guess at their deformed features. His recent artistic journey mixes presence and absence, familiarity and detachment, as in the work “Ghost Writing – Paul Thek Time Capsule and Reliquaries”, dedicated entirely to another artist (he also talked about this and other projects on the cover of the autumn issue of flash art, “Enjoy all the monsters.”) Paul Thek, who died of AIDS in 1988, was a painter, sculptor and author of large-scale environments and installations. Among his most significant works are the “Technological Relics”, made between 1964 and 1967: in practice “self-relics”, that is, plaster and wax molds of parts of his body (face, arms, legs) enclosed in shop windows. between minimalist aesthetics and that with a Catholic core. A project that ends in the definitive “The Grave (Death of a Hippie)” (1967), in which Thek reproduces his entire body, or rather, “his corpse”, on a 1:1 scale, representing himself as a hippie, with an open mouth and a blue tongue, two psychedelic medallions on his cheeks and the fingers of his left hand amputated and scattered over his body.
The work, however, no longer exists: we only know what it looked like thanks to the photographs of Peter Hujar (the photographer who also died of AIDS in 1987). Di Pietro decides to revive the ghost of Thek’s work: “Race of a Hippie” (2020), made with the No Text Azienda collective in the form of found footage, is a video-document about the artist’s appearance (as it appears in the opera, with blue tongue and all) in a forest. There is literature, because whoever has read it will think of Aliens and anorexia, in which Chris Kraus (also) talks about Thek’s work but there are also MTV videos mixed with cinema (the beginning of Gus Van Sant’s Last Days). And there are all the roles of the artist, who is also a director, biographer, artistic ghost writer, inventor and creator of ghosts and haunted spaces. However, when we went to visit Alessandro di Pietro at his studio, we talked about practical and real things: the day-to-day life of his work, the city where he chose to live, the pleasure of working with other artists.
ⓢ Who are your favorites besides Paul Thek?
Mike Kelley, Rochelle Feinstein and Liliana Moro.
The project about Paul Thek was the protagonist of an exhibition at The Watermill Center in New York, now it goes to the CAN Center d’art in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, then returns to Brescia at the Palazzo Monti, in Turin a screening at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo , in Rome at the Nicola Del Roscio Foundation, and will finally be acquired by Madre de Nápoles. We met in Milan, where you live and work. Why did you choose this city?
I have been coming to Milan since I started frequenting the Art Institute to buy ugly clothes and see the exhibitions and theater at the CRT. Then in 2007 I enrolled at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts and I have lived there since 2010, so more or less I have always been here: I didn’t have money to leave, I stayed (laughs), but without too much sacrifice, Deep down I like living here. We’ll see in the future.
ⓢ The artist’s work is risky and, at least at the beginning, lacking in certainties (especially economic). How did you handle stress in the early years of your career?
I trained in 2008, in an artistic context with no money. But I didn’t want it to be the excuse for not doing what I wanted, on the contrary. Stress is a constant for me that is almost impossible to contain, so I might as well look for ways to use it.
ⓢ Do you consider the artist’s work as a solitary effort or as a union of forces?
I started working alone but over the years I realized that I really like joining forces. From videos to performances to the technical production of a sculpture, it is always a collective effort. I love the idea of having a directing role but, for example, when it comes to the Thek project, I couldn’t have done much without Ginevra D’Oria, Paola Clerico, Cornelia Mattiacci, Edoardo Monti, Peter Benson Miller, No Text Company Not to mention all the technical workers like Patrick Vaghi from the foundry where I make the bronzes or Anna Grassi and the GR10K team who always help me with the fabrics. The architecture studios Armature Globale and KärlandrÆ. Milan has always been individualistic but in the last 10 years the scene has condensed a lot. I often talk about life and art with my “colleagues” and with my friends, but I also collaborate as in the performance project “Monsters Against Ghosts” with Enrico Boccioletti in 2018.
ⓢ Where do you get inspiration for your works?
I don’t like the word inspiration… my research is based, so to speak, on different disciplines such as cinema, good and bad, the comics of Daniel Clowes, a certain type of American literature like Chris Kraus but also Dodie. Bellamy, Sonic Youth and Placebo, a bit of fashion too. But above all, art itself is the most important influence. Despite being linked to a double knot with the debate on contemporary issues, art always claims its linguistic autonomy. Even the artist, despite being immersed in the particular Zeitgeist of an era, always has the freedom to adhere or resist its historical, cultural and political context.
ⓢ How important is it, especially for a young artist, to be able to stay true to yourself and develop your own type of art without being influenced by others?
I think it’s actually very important to be influenced by others. I don’t think it’s possible to avoid it. However, there is an essential core from which as soon as you deviate you feel bad: a feeling that is difficult to express in words (but everyone knows what we are talking about) that reminds you that you are a little far from what you should be doing, that you should be. Your critical sense is always social, and it is what you learned, from another person whom you loved as much as you hated, and it is what makes you unique and collective at the same time, precisely because, if you keep it in mind, someone else demonstrated it.
ⓢ What do the materials you choose to build your works have in common? They seem to share a certain “hardness” and convey slightly sinister and disturbing sensations.
I have always been a big fan of dry materials, in fact the only technique that uses color that I use is (colored) pencils, so nothing that has to do with water. The materials I choose for sculpture are always burned and dehydrated materials. Then I like when something can be a commonly used material, such as a reflective fabric, a laminate used for a desk, or even a classic material like bronze, in short, materials that maintain their familiarity with the viewer, but at the same time . At the same time, due to the way in which they are used, they give the idea of something anomalous, which seems like a ready-made but is not. Something monstrous that cannot be fully deciphered. And when I talk about monsters I don’t mean strictly in the nineteenth-century sense, but I’m more interested in the monsters of our time, like us.