A few months ago I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Luca Trevisani to discuss the topic of connection, namely related to his own work, amongst other things. As explained by the artist himself, Luca’s work explores the links between life, change and decay within the natural environment and the various species that occupy its parameters.Luca spends much of his time in motion and travels within – and outside of – Europe to attend various exhibitions, develop and produce new work, and absorb inspiration for future projects. His thoughtful process exhibits an awareness that moves beyond contemporary issues and devotes careful attention to relationships fostered within the environment. Luca can be found in Palermo, Berlin, Venice, and perhaps more often in the future, in Amsterdam.
Where does your story begin?
I believe that all of us are changing everyday, and even as I am telling my story now, it will be different tomorrow. My research is very diverse and I try to communicate the same sentence but look at it from a different point of view each time. I’ve always had this obsession with trying to figure out how things can develop while having a strong sense of its environment, and learning how to deal with what’s going on in our own surroundings. I started…with sculptures. I wanted to use this output to develop a strong relationship with the body. I wanted to involve the senses instead of the brain and only the brain. Moving away from conceptual art to something that’s able to embrace the body. By doing so, I was working a lot of with natural rules and regulations, natural elements. I wanted to do something with (the concepts of) living, changing and breathing, like humans. That’s how I found myself working in the video field. It was the best choice to develop my obsession with decay in a bolder way. But also, because I wanted to visit some natural places alone and film my experience. I am still doing the same today.
Is this theme of decay a recurring theme in your work?
More than a theme, I would say it is a part of the tools I want to involve (in my work). I really want to be interested in what I am trying to offer by involving natural, fragile items instead of marble, for example. I think it’s more interesting, stronger. If I give you something that’s fragile and that needs your attention, you really feel something. You don’t know how long it will last. Then you will really pay close attention. And also, there is a kind of musical feeling about it that I really like. Solid and eternal objects are kind of boring. After a while, you stop paying attention to it because it doesn’t require your care.
The musical aspect you mention, do you include this in your videos?
Yes, but also in the sculptures, every time. I think rhythm is very important which goes back to my idea of developing a dialogue with the body. There is a flux with the blood running into the veins. Even if a sculpture is made up of plaster, the rhythm is very important. This relates to the idea of the environment. For a sculpture, this means it is never finished, even when it leaves the studio. It’s a real dialogue trying to connect the body with its environment. This includes placing it in the room, deciding how to deal with the measurement of the room, the lighting and so on. (Each component) is very important.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Everywhere. I have been visiting museums since I was 5 years old. From traditions, from books, almost everywhere in my daily environment. I think it’s difficult to recreate a chain of sequences to define its source.
Do you find that you ever reach a point where you don’t feel creative, feel empty or drained?
I have been working as an artist for 12 years now, and in my early years I was really doing a lot of different things and visiting a lot of exhibitions; the momentum was very high. I realize now that my way of working was changing a lot in that period. Now I need more time to develop long-term obsession or travels, even if I am staying inside my studio. It takes a lot of time to be completely sure that what I am doing is more or less finished. My way of working is very digital. It’s funny, but I have never closed a file in my computer, in my studio, in my personal archive, in my storage or in my brain. I am always able to go back in time and look through the files again. In three or four years from now I want to be able to say ‘bury it, it’s over’. When you are editing in an open field, it’s much quicker. It’s also because you are investing more energy, more time, more economical efforts, more people are involved and you really need to say ‘this is it’.
Is it very difficult for you to bury something, to say it’s finished?
Do you have a personal attachment to it?
It has something to do with feeling stronger. Giving more importance to the output instead of paying attention to losing yourself in the process. Paying homage to the idea of processing art. After a while, what you really need to have is good output and a good result. That’s partially why I am becoming more obsessed with using the Polaroid (as a medium). It’s impossible to go back and work on it. And you have to be very fast. Everything is done in that moment, with the camera. You are cutting out post-production almost completely.
Using a Polaroid might feel very frustrating for someone who is used to having a lot of control with the final turnout of the image.
I think it’s the opposite. There is definitely a sense of control…you know there are going to be causal effects, and you choose the framing and the construction of the image. You have to (consider) everything in the same moment. You cannot go back and change the light. You really have to do as a photographer, as a visual artist, or – I want to say – an image-maker. You really have to do this before clicking the button. And it’s very inspiring for this (day and age) when everything is edited after the click has already happened. There is a fantastic sentence by Wolfgang Tilmans, I don’t know if I can re-phrase it properly, “I’m taking a picture but I am never taking the picture, I am making the picture”. That’s what I really like about the Polaroid; you are really underlining that you are making something. I started using the Polaroid at first with (my girlfriend) for the sake of keeping memories, instead of keeping all of our images on the hard drive. That’s something I really can’t stand because you never paying attention to the images if they are not printed matter. I find that really sad, but I think it’s also something very impressive about modern culture. I think that many people who are not really into…digital processing, they are dealing with ghosts. After a while our hard-drives are going to go out of business. All of your personal memories will turn into ghosts.
I wonder how often most people actually go back and look through their digital photos.
And I wonder how many people are actually aware that our hard-drive’s are not forever? This concept of the Cloud is very smart and it’s very fast, but I find it a little scary. For my most recent project (in Sudan), I chose to bring the Polaroid camera to keep track of my memories. I realized it was the best choice because I wanted to create a visual cast of the last living male White Northern Rhino. Using a Polaroid to take these images made the most sense. Individual Polaroid photos are unique, like the Rhino, and you are immediately avoiding the notion of a replica. It’s a very old technique, and so is he. They are very stupid little treasures (these photos) and they are unique. As an artist, I wanted to set up a memory of this issue that’s really about being lost, in a very simple and funny way.
Why did you choose to document the last living male of this species?
As I said before, I am interested in relationship between human things and the environment. I wasn’t talking about environmental issues, such as global warming and so on. The attention (to such issues) is really interesting to me, as an artist and as a person, because it is really underlying how we are looking at nature or the idea of nature as an ideology or a political issue. They are trying to teach us what we are allowed to do and what we are not allowed to do…As an artist, I really wanted to see and understand the darker side of this aspect, of the extinction that this species is about to face, which further defines our need as a society to define what we should do and how we should handle it. We know he is the last living male of his kind. We already have the sperm but there are no remaining female white rhino’s that are capable of reproducing. We need to protect him, and by doing so, we are doing something that is very far removed from nature. So that makes me think further to what nature really is. In my opinion, nature is something of a mirror onto which we are projecting our personal opinion. It’s a philosophical task for me to travel there and to make an interview of this animal.
What can we anticipate from the project?
The final product will be something like a film, 10 minutes long. The focus will be very low, so that only the small details of the living animal can be seen. I also did a series of approximately 20 Polaroid (photos) which will be a part of this film. Each photo is unique and belongs to the unique inquiry of this body of work.
When do you expect to be completed?
A few months. The editing is nearly finished and then we still have the post-production.
That’s interesting, that you still have to follow through the post-production, even when you are working with the Polaroid film.
It’s necessary for the video and audio components. Digital film is funny in the way that it attempts to replicate, step by step, the same process as an analog camera would. It’s like you really have to go back to the dark room, but instead of entering the dark room, the process is completed on your computer screen. Low lights, color change and so on.
And why do you find that step important?
It’s something you really have to do, for high-quality digital cameras. You are shooting in low-quality surroundings, and sometimes the colours are (distorted), everything is grey, you really have to work to reach a certain level of definition. It’s a similar process with the audio work. There is no music this time and there are a lot of mosquito sounds in the background.
Going back to when you said that you have been working as an artist for 12 years. How has your process changed from your start 12 years ago until now?
Slower. I quickly realized that the methodology of the artist is not the only thing present in the atelier. It has always been clear to me. But even when you have a clear idea, putting this idea into practice takes a lot of time. After a year, I began working with others in community-based projects. In my opinion, the difference between a video and a film is that the video can be done alone if you have a really good camera, but a film experience is something that you can only achieve with a bunch of people. You need someone to handle the lightening, or someone might be giving you advice on how to film. Someone is helping with the writing or the post-processing. It’s really like a small community; it helps you realize what you want to achieve before getting started. I take great pleasure in working with materials; wood, paper, or digital things. Sometimes it’s very healthy not to start working immediately and waste money, time, and material, but to wait and to clear your mind and establish what you really want to do. Involving other people in the project helps me slow down, smell and understand the proper path. Teaching is a very important piece of the final product.
Do you gain something from teaching others? Is it something that you believe results in their benefit or does it also give back to you?
I think it’s both. One of the strongest links between being an artist and doing art is a long process that is against the idea of fast success that we (encounter) these days. You can never judge what you are doing now and how that will affect others 10-15 years later. Teaching is a similar process. There is a very warm fever in teaching contemporary topics, from creative art, design, architecture, to fashion. It can sometimes be found in contemporary television as well. Schools want to host shows or exhibitions to prove the quality of each student very quickly, almost immediately. On the other hand, the teacher plants the seed in the soil and doesn’t expect things to happen so quickly. Going back to the initial question, it’s very hard to measure whether what you are doing now will have an effect in the future. For me, it’s (a positive experience). Some students …show great potential, but how long does it really take to create a personal point of view?
Do you find self-satisfaction in teaching?
A lot of satisfaction. It also grounds me as an artist because I really have to go back to the basics that I believed were already clear in my mind. And every time I have to go back, I discover something new from my memory. Young people are always able to pin you with your shoulders against the wall. They can be very confronting.
They can be very direct and aren’t afraid to ask questions that somebody of experience might not dare to question, or might think they know the answer to already. They are more curious perhaps.
They hold a very healthy aggressiveness against what maybe for us is already clear and conquered, so you have to be willing to redefine your point of view or perspective.
They are still in the position where they can be moulded, whereas many adults already have an idea of how this works.
This is something that is very important to me. I don’t want them to see what I am doing as an artist. I am never showing them any examples from my personal story or my personal exhibitions, or people I admire as artists. I aim to build a recipe of examples for them to set up their own personal vision. It’s like going to a gym; you need to have a precise formula or set of exercises to follow.
And you want them to leave your class with the right tools to do this themselves.
I hope they are able to develop their own taste and tools. It’s about being able to be independent.
What came first, the art or the teaching?
The art. I was already an artist and hosting personal shows. At that time, I was working as an assistant at a university where I was teaching architectural history and design. Now, I lecture ‘Laboratory 3’ and I design the curriculum for the term.
What do the students think they are signing up for when they sign up for your class?
It’s a mandatory course. In the morning we are usually busy with theoretical topics and in the afternoon we are working and putting theory to practice. I am forcing them to develop their own personal language and interest. It’s very demanding because I am not entering the class with a set formula, but for each one of them, I am really trying to listen to what they are doing, and what they need.
What are some of the biggest challenges of your work at this moment?
I always liked and was proud of myself for putting on a successful solo show, not closing myself into a formula that was very easy to follow. On the other hand, to be a professional artist, the formula is very clear. You have to achieve a very simple and very easy-to-recognize signature or shape and go on with using it in every piece. I don’t want to lose my interest to being open to change. But I want to (refine) the results.
Is that challenge also reflected in your teaching?
Pretty much. I am very clear with my students. These days, being an artist is about dealing with communication. Sometimes it means going against clear communication and listening to your inner voice, but that’s something you have to confront yourself. I remember being in New York in 2010 – I was living there for a while – and there were many advertisements in public transport stating ‘if you see something, say something’. (That statement) has a lot to do with being an artist. You really need to be able to say something, of yourself, of society, of political issues (through your work). It means you have to develop and consider what your message really means. It has a lot to do with being effective in your message and being visible.
What is the biggest challenge in your opinion that many artists are facing today? Is there a challenge that unifies you?
If you compare the amount of money, time and people involved in the contemporary art field during the 1970’s-1980’s to what is going on now, it is very fashionable to belong to this fantastic catwalk (of the art world). As an artist, you really need to keep focused on what you are trying to communicate. It’s a long-term process and if you are spending all of your energy, and your vision on fast success, that’s maybe not what, in my opinion, being an artist means. Protect yourself from (falling victim to) this vision. Nothing against fashion, but this is something else. If a very good fashion director is able to leave a lasting impression, this can be more important than what an artist attempts to achieve with a short-term goal, this fast process.
What impact do you hope to make with your art?
Something that I don’t know how to judge is the number of people reading into the art produced, and how much, and for how long. I’ve always been quite sceptical about political art, art that wants to be political in a really flat, bold and easy way. I really believe that art can be very critical by changing the way you view reality, how you see and design your life. What if an artist is able to touch very few people but very deeply? I think this is really enough.
Focusing on the quality of your work, not the quantity.
Have you ever heard of Henry Darger? He was an American artist. He hardly ever left his apartment, and spent (the majority of) his whole life making fantastic drawings of these Vivian girls. They look a bit like cartoons, with vivid colors. They were a way to design his own reality during the American Civil War. His way of thinking was far removed from conceptual art because he was never really seeking an audience, he was never working towards reaching success. As an outsider artist, he unknowingly asked the question of what it means to be a successful artist. And now, everyone is really lucky to have access to his work. (His paintings) are really outstanding, and full of interesting content. If you are doing something very complicated every day of your life, it’s interesting to consider what his motives were. He was not seeking an audience, but an audience is still in place, even today. He was not really concerned about meeting the taste of the spectator.
Sometimes it means going against clear communication and listening to your inner voice, but that’s something you have to confront yourself.
Perhaps this simple act of painting was enough to make him happy. How would you define happiness?
I’ll be back in an hour (laughs). I don’t know. I am a very fast person. I am always trying to look for what’s next, or to read reality, and seek out tools and inspiration. Happiness is something that can really move me to stillness.
Does it happen often?
Yeah. But I’m not really able to enjoy it.
So that moment of happiness you experience is more of a fleeting moment.
No, it can be quite long as well. But then, sometimes you are asking yourself, how can I make this moment longer, deeper, bigger. And instead of cultivating this stillness, you are already asking yourself how can I modify this moment, this feeling.
Would you equate that with being in the moment? Living in the present? Or is it different?
No. Living in the present means moving, because the present has already begun.
That’s an interesting take on it. I haven’t heard of it as being defined in that way. Most often ‘being in the moment’ is defined as living in the present. Being in the moment, and thinking about nothing aside from that moment. So it’s interesting to think about the moment as being progressive, because it suggests it’s not something you can hold onto.
Yes, that’s true. I worked on a blog – which is actually, in my opinion, more of an online magazine – and I was posting images, various kinds of content that I could grab from reality and post on the web. I was asking a lot of friends and fellow artists to make a proposal for new posts. The name of the blog is Latecomer Forerunner. It seems quite appropriate for the question, that’s why I am mentioning it to you now. I think it’s important to make it clear that this has nothing to do with society living these fast lives with a bad feeling. It’s part of my own being and its not necessarily a bad thing. It’s not against slow food or enjoying life.
You’re still able to enjoy it just as much while living quickly.
Yes but I think it has something to do with living now and being alive. I think it resonates with all human beings.
I agree. Fast living has received more of a negative reputation in the recent years. With the introduction of technology people very quickly embraced its arrival but now some people feel that this wave is moving a bit too fast and we want to slow everything down.
It’s about cultural stereotypes and obsessions. There is always a time that we wish our society was different and we continue to discuss changing it one way or another.
Do you think that it might be a craving for the past in some ways, a nostalgic feeling for something we no longer have, bringing the past to the future?
That’s something I really can’t stand; not being honest with a nostalgic desire. We need to listen to it but we also need to look at it between the eyebrows. I still remember 10 years ago I was reading a biography of Albrecht Durer. I read that he was travelling so often, it was a lot for him, and actually a big deal for all artists at this time to be moving around so often across Europe by boat. I think it took about 4-5 days to move from Munich, to Venice and to Bologna. We look at ourselves and think we are moving too often, but actually, it has always been like that. It has something to do with our need to feel special, as human beings. We can travel the globe, we can turn back climate change, we are so powerful that we can destroy the world. I am not negating the human effort, but our need to feel powerful.
It relates to our need to belong to something, especially the feeling that the generation we belong to is going to be the one to change the world. Do you think it’s important for people to confront their past?
Do you mean personal past?
Well, an awareness for the past. I think some people find it less important, or scary to confront their own roots. They just want to move forward and move on, but they don’t have interest in where they came from.
I can compare that to a very silly sentence. What I really like about American art is that American contemporary artists are bold, strong, and like a gun. Simple to handle, loaded and easy to use. What I don’t like about American art is that there is a very big lack of sophistication and it’s too easy. So maybe that’s a good answer to your question?
All images are courtesy of the artist. Please visit his website for further details regarding the individual works and related projects.