From the book Manfredi Beninati, Cambi Editore, December 2016
(Toll of bells, one stroke. Music)
LORENZO POGGIALI: Let’s talk about Tiziano.
MANFREDI BENINATI: Tiziano who?
LP: Ha! Tizianoooooo Ferro…? No…
MB: Tiziano Ferro… I don’t like him… no, actually he’s good, he’s good
LP: What about Tiziano the artist?
MB: Tizianoooo Sclavi?
MB: Tiziano Vecellio.
LP: Tiziano Vecellio…let’s say the most famous Tiziano.
MB: That’s Ferro, that’s Tiziano Ferro.
LP: Well, of course in the age of internet people by now refer only to what they can actually touch (virtually, that is)…
LP: Pop stars.
MB: Iggy Pop…
LP: Pop stars!…Yes and Iggy Pop too.
MB: What has Iggy Pop got to do with Tiziano Vecellio?
LP: Nothing at all, actually…Let’s talk about Tiziano.
MB: Eh?…what do you want to know about Tiziano?
LP: Why you like him?
MB: Him or his paintings?
LP: The paintings…for now.
MB: Because the name’s like Tintoretto; I used to always get them mixed up.
LP: And now you’ve got them straightened out in your mind?
MB: You mean Tiziano Ferro or Tizianooo…
LP: Or Tiziano Terzani?
MB: Another great! …A great bobsledder, isn’t he?
MB: Yep the one who goes down on a bobsleigh. I like him because he’s macabre…but let’s not get diverted, let’s get straight to the point…start with the questions you wanted to ask me.
LP: But I don’t have any questions I wanted to ask you.
MB: So how are we supposed to have this conversation if you don’t have any questions?
LP: A conversation isn’t based on questions…it’s a conversation.
MB: Ok, but at least we need a clue…
LP: The clue is the Florence show.
MB: Which one?
LP: The upcoming project in October.
MB: Eh? …What?
LP: You are preparing works for Florence…do you like them, do you find them stimulating for some reason? Or don’t you find them stimulating at all?
MB: Do I have to answer that?
LP: Well, yes…. It could be a good start…
MB: You know…we’re doing these ad hoc works…together, essentially, almost.
LP: Yes. In fact it’s a situation that I really like, I also really like seeing you drawing right now…it brings out in me, on the one hand a sort of longing and on the other also a species of kindly envy.
MB: Ah, so you’re envious…
LP: I’m envious in a kindly way…I think of it as a great privilege…it’s something that I would have liked to do…
MB: Why did you ask me who I’m envious of? Of nobody. Why did you ask me who my models are? Do I have to answer?
LP: Those seemed like obvious questions…but, if I didn’t know you so well, I would actually be curious about that.
MB: Why are you asking me about Medardo Rosso? Why did you ask me about Medardo Rosso?
LP: Who asked you about Medardo Rosso?
MB: Ah, no, I thought…
LP: We were talking about drawings…Do you think there’s some link between Medardo Rosso and drawing?
MB: Yes. Absolutely. Drawing has just one point of view. It’s two-dimensional, Medardo Rosso thought in two dimensions.
LP: Is that why you’d like to cut in two (dissect exactly in half) that beautiful sculpture with the horse as subject that we have just carried whole from your studio in Palermo to the foundry: that is, to have a sculpture with a single valid point of view?
MB: Although his sculptures are three-dimensional, they have only one valid viewpoint, which has to be that one.
LP: I saw some recently at the GAM in Milan…
MB: With the added bonus that you can move around them and find other sculptures, but his sculpture is the one you see from the front.
LP: And so this is the aspect you’re most interested in?
MB: No, I’m talking about how Medardo Rosso relates to drawing: in both cases the reading takes place frontally.
LP: But Medardo Rosso’s sculpture is not just two-dimensional…
MB: It just so happens that he allows it to exist…except in the case of Madame X…which for me is the most important sculpture of the twentieth century…the head of a woman almost like an egg. Brancusi, for example, has made one with more or less the same characteristics…it looks almost like an egg, which he calls Bird in Space…Madame X is the only case in which Medardo Rosso sees sculpture three-dimensionally. And then you’re asking me about Andrea Pazienza…
LP: You bought this [a book by Andrea Pazienza just purchased at the newsagent’s] to thank the newsagent for having told us where the second-hand shop was…
MB: Ah! Yes…exactly, so that he didn’t feel he’d been wasting his time.
LP: So, as you see it, for an artist expressing himself today it is at least desirable that he has a clear idea of what happened up to now?
MB: Not necessarily…in my case, yes. I like that.
LP: How do you relate to Carrara and Pietrasanta? In a word, to this geographical area where working on matter is a value in which feelings, gestures, tradition and material smelled and experienced are all of a piece and represent a real discipline?
MB: Carrara, Pietrasanta…in a word, this area is stimulating because working in the studio – in your own studio I mean – starting from scratch and bringing to completion is very exhausting. So, every so often being able to cooperate with people who know what they’re doing, in this case regarding sculpture in particular, is very comforting, because these are works that are more conceptual than physical.
LP: And so it’s right that the physical aspect is delegated…
MB: Yes, every so often, yes…this speeds everything up and then accidental things also crop up, and so I’m enjoying this experience of Pietrasanta and Carrara greatly.
LP: Generally, you’ve always done everything on your own?
MB: Yes, I’ve always done everything on my own.
LP: But is that due to the fact that you’ve always done mostly two-dimensional works, or to what?
MB: No, I’ve also done three-dimensional works, but I’ve always made them myself in the studio…
LP: So, looking at your career, can we say that the sculptural works are numerically fewer?
MB: Yes, exactly: numerically fewer. In this case I devoted myself to sculpture in particular as a result of frequenting the Poggialis and the geographical area around Pietrasanta, with all the tradition that derives from it, most importantly in emotional terms…This exhibition is genuinely the result of harmony and active, real collaboration, step after step, between myself and the gallery owners…it’s an exhibition built together with you…
LP: Have you always been interested in sculpture?
MB: Of course…You bet!!!?? Enormously.
Installations are other occasions when I’ve had the chance to cooperate with other people, although only in the more complex ones with a project behind them that has been pondered and developed over time: that of the Venice Biennale in 2005, for example, which was actually made in Cinecittà and then reassembled in the pavilion in Venice…I designed the project down to the last detail and then entrusted the practical realisation to professionals – partly thanks to the major funding that had been put at my disposal – who then assembled it on site. And then there’s another installation that comes to mind, the one for the James Cohan gallery in New York, which was the design of a room to be built, which I found already made the day I arrived in New York…I’d been in correspondence with the technicians for some time and then they produced the whole thing in the most precise detail: measurements, areas and proportions…
LP: What does an installation represent for you? Is it the best way for you to interface with the art world?
MB: In the first place, those conceived through a broad and detailed project always have a great impact on the public, especially (to be honest) on the less educated public, precisely because they embody settings, places in which all of us spend our time…
LP: They are familiar…
MB: Of course!
LP: That is, the idea that such a setting exists is familiar…
MB: Of course! Exactly! The observer reads it almost like a game, and since the installations are full of details, objects, situations, crystallisations of moments lived by human beings experienced in that specific setting, one can play on it like an entertainment – like crosswords or picture puzzles…the third valency: the cinematic idea that derives from this experience because you can find your own narrative.
LP: And that also comes from your own experience, from your love for the cinema…
MB: Yes, it definitely influenced my decision to do these kinds of installations, partly because now anything can be called an installation…
LP: Indeed there is a risk that the meaning of installation is misunderstood, to the point that it is used to describe, for example, what is simply just a sculpture. . .
MB: Mistakenly, however, at least as I see it: for example the work of Zhivago Duncan presented last night in Pietrasanta [Six degrees of Separation, Ed.] is not an installation, yet I’m sure that many people think of it as one. It’s an installation only to the extent that it has been installed in that place. The installation is a work made up of practicable elements, namely that are around you or that require a space to relate to each other.
LP: So, as you see it an installation is always environmental?
MB: Yes, I also think that in Italian there’s a difference between the words “istallazione” and “installazione”. Installation: installing something on site.
LP: I’ve checked that several times: they’re almost always given as synonyms.
Do the installations interrelate with the paintings and the drawings?
MB: Yes. The installations come before the paintings, though sometimes the other way round too. For example at the Quadriennale of 2003 I displayed a very large drawing; then, when I was invited to the Quadriennale of 2008, I drew on it for an installation, visible behind a door, as is often the case in my installations. There are installations that are like sculptures: that of Athens, for instance, which we were talking about just the other day, was a house that has collapsed in a square, so that the people could move around it and experience it like a large sculpture. However, generally I prefer to give the idea of two-dimensionality as seen through glass.
LP: The installations can generally be experienced through interface, in other words they are not walkable?
MB: No, they’re not walkable, they can be experienced via interface: you stay outside and the interface is a flat, two-dimensional surface, which could be the surface of a door, a window or a frame. Thus, there’s this dual value of both two-dimensionality and three-dimensionality at the moment you bring your eyes close to the surface.
This is something that even authoritative journalists writing in specialist journals (Art Forum, etc.) have frequently misunderstood, because they stopped at the surface of the glass, thinking that it (dirty glass, for instance) was the work, citing the idea of the hologram.
LP: As if it were a photo that you shoot from 5-6 yards away so that you see only the two-dimensional side?
MB: Yes. It’s the opposite concept to that of Alberti’s camera obscura: the frame is fixed using lenses, so that even if you move the image remains still, whereas in this case as you approach the glass and move along the glass surface you change your perspective on the installation. It is like having many versions of the same painting, many implications. I really like doing these also as a way of understanding things, in such a way that I myself can exploit this knowledge in other activities, which could be painting, or drawing.
LP: Have there ever been human beings in these installations?
MB: Yes. The first one that springs to mind is that of Salonicco where there were two mannequins, a simulacrum of a human being, and then in the same way in the Hamptons in New York where there was a man made of sand. Then in Liverpool1, for the Biennial, there are photos of the installation which consisted of a very large living room, at least 10-12 yards square, at the end of which was a door opening onto a dining room and on the other side French windows opening on to the garden with a tropical sunset beyond it. All this was visible from the street. We took photos of the empty installation and of the installation inhabited by three human beings: father, mother and son performing totally normal everyday activities. For example, you could see the woman pouring tea in the dining room, the man sitting in the room closest to us, reading the newspaper, and their son – right in front of the window through which the installation was viewed – lying on the ground or using a hammer to build a toy theatre.
LP: Did you act as director?
MB: Yes. Using these photographs populated by human beings we created posters that were pasted up around the city, and everywhere you went you could see this interior that would have been entirely realistic were it not for the tropical sunset, which in Liverpool is obviously impossible. One of these posters was put up above one of the apertures used to view the installation. This poster showed the interior, and immediately below the same place vacant. There were the remains of the scene shown in the posters. These were advertising hoardings covered with posters stuck over each other; the window through which the room could be viewed was made out of a slit in this huge advertising hoarding. Looking through you could see the same scene several minutes later: the newspaper the man had been reading was now lying on the ground; the teacups were no longer where they had been in the poster but had changed position since the tea had been drunk; the tools that the child had been using were in a different place, and there were signs of progress in the construction of the theatre.
To enhance understanding of Beninati’s work, the Liverpool Biennial published the following review, taking its cue from the installation on display:
Manfredi Beninati’s (b. 1970, Palermo) installations transport us to fictitious worlds, redolent of dreams and half-forgotten memories. Interiors furnished with all the signs and hints of human occupation lie vacant and beyond reach, tantalising us with their half-told stories.
In To Think of Something (2008) a site-specific commission for MADE UP, behind the facade of the apparently abandoned building, Beninati revealed to us a secretly inhabited apartment. The boarded up windows of a derelict burnt-out house played host to a poster, but a gap in the boarding offered a stolen glimpse into an altogether more domestic scene.
Through the blocked-up facade we peered into the small living room of a middle class apartment. The room, comfortably furnished, seemed to have been recently vacated, the remnants of breakfast were left on the table, and a half-read newspaper lay on the floor next to the sofa. A door at the back of the sitting room stood slightly ajar and offered a partial view into a dining room beyond, while through a window we were presented with a rather disconcerting sight of a ‘real’ tropical sunset. Like a stage set that had just been vacated, or a novel denuded of its characters, Beninati’s installation set the scene for a rich variety of fictional encounters.
Whether in painting, sculpture or installation, Beninati’s work often draws on personal memory as well as the instruments of memory, in particular photography. His first installation, made in 2005 for the Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, titled, “Taking notes for a dream that begins in the afternoon and continues through the night …” was based in part on memories of his great grandmother’s house, though now completely overgrown by plants and weeds. The strength of the piece lay in the transformation of personal memory into universal experience. The scene was at once strangely familiar – as if we could walk into the vacated world of Lampedusa’s The Leopard; and frustratingly elusive – promising entry, at one remove, to a world of dreams and fiction.
Freud often likened the human subconscious to a collection of ancient artefacts preserved in a tomb, waiting to be discovered and interpreted by an archaeologist. Beninati’s buried interiors too speak the language of archaeology and the subconscious. Like the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, they reveal the remains of domestic life perfectly preserved in all its minutiae; and cast the viewer as archaeologist, rewarding the senses with the thrill of discovery, and inviting us to uncover the stories preserved in his objects. Beninati’s installations make sense in the way that dreams do. They momentarily transport us somewhere palpably real. It’s only in recounting the detail (such as a tropical sunset in Liverpool) that we realise that we had stumbled upon a dream world, where reality was refracted through the prism of subconscious memory and fictional invention.
LP: What is the point of these scenes characterised by a progressive temporal dimension? Is the idea to make the viewer ask himself questions, to stir him or her out of an apathetic, acritical attitude before the work of art? In a word, that the viewer is stimulated to something more than a superficial aesthetic “I like it” or “I don’t like it”? Is your aim to get the viewer to reflect more deeply?
MB: Two points: as I see it, and as you said before, the idea that someone fails to stop or to question and just goes past, writing the installation off as simply a two-way mirror, is almost a joy to me, because I find the idea of making a selection extremely satisfying. Things don’t come free, you have to earn them: even simply discovering that behind the window there’s a world that opens up to your amazement. What I mean is, you’d never think that behind the glass set into the wall of a modern museum there is – or there could be – a room dating back to the eighteenth century, covered in dust and dirt and so forth…
LP: The wonder and the amazement represent a type of poetics…
MB: Well, no. It’s not that really…It’s rather that I like the idea of showing people that they aren’t in control, that they don’t have mastery over the world. People take for granted so many things that are not actually the indisputable facts they take them for. I like the idea of the selection, that’s the point. I don’t like this consumer notion that in this world everything falls from above and no-one takes any responsibility, and that everything comes more or less equally to everyone, and this undermines interpersonal relations. There are people who have more of things – whether it’s time, money, access to information or something else – and there are people who have less, and this already causes discrepancies within society.
Returning to the question of time, to the passage of time, which you asked me about. At the MACRO on the Martedì Critici evening when we got to know each other, at a certain point the director of the MACRO, Federica Pirani, said that she noted in my work, in the paintings and drawings in particular, numerous points in common with the Renaissance artists who, as they were painting were, as she put it, possessed by a sort of collective obsession about how the colour on the surface of the painting would have changed in one or two hundred years. She was, in fact, calling into question the practice of restoring Renaissance paintings, disputing its appropriateness in many cases, since a sort of slow metamorphosis had already been planned for by the artist himself. She argued, for example, that in the case of the large drawings [the ones that you have, such as Domenica (Sunday), Ed.] I was going directly to the next 200 years. There is, therefore, this temporal dynamic that fascinates me, which is in fact represented in my paintings by layers of glaze, of drippings, erasures and overlapping elements that vanish and then reappear. It’s a play on time: playing at predicting the ageing which was, more or less, what Federica Pirani was saying.
LP: The aspect of the installation that progressively records different temporal passages goes in this direction …
MB: Yes, exactly. It’s the same thing that happens in my paintings, my drawings. . .
LP: That’s partly why in Florence there will be two installations…
MB: Yes, if we manage to do them…one is not complete without the other, or at least the suggestions are different, perceptions that ricochet between them, as happened with the Biennial of Mardin in Turkey (also developed in Syria and Iraq): there I had two sites, one in the main building of the Biennial and one along a road in the Kasbah. In the former I reconstructed an office, at the entrance to which was a nameplate: “Alì Kaya [like saying John Smith in English] designer of rockets and UFOs”
LP: What sort of customers does someone who makes UFOs have?
MB: Well…through a window you could see desks and tables on which there were models of rockets and missiles, UFOs and flying objects, even made of cardboard. It was like an obsession he had, he even had photos of UFOs and spaceships hanging on the walls and hand-drawn designs on the table. Instead, the other space showed his house which, like all the other houses in Mardin, was carved out of the rock along the side of a road, with just a bed at the back (we just used one of the real grottoes at random). Through the letterbox on the door, which had Alì Kaya written on it, you could see this bed at the back of the grotto with drawings and photos of UFOs, as well as lots of UFOs hanging in mid-air, made from the metal plates that the people of Mardin use to eat, fastened together in pairs to make UFOs. He was so totally obsessed by UFOs, by aerial engineering, but deprived of the most elementary rudiments to make them that, not only had he opened the shop – evidently without customers – but had also recreated a world in his home, the most Spartan place imaginable, where there was just a bed and UFOs. He was clearly an alienated individual, living in his own little world.
LP: How much are the worlds you describe affected by your passion for protohistory, which comes before history and is not prehistory? Can this protohistory be discerned in your paintings and drawings?
MB: Yes, recently, more as a joke than anything else. It interests me like other aspects that I come across every day. I’m extremely curious; I have been ever since I was a child.
LP: And therefore the subjects of your works are extremely disparate?
MB: Yes. I’m not a hardliner, I’m not monothematic.
LP: And not even monotheist?
MB: Yes. I am that, or actually I’m egotheist.
LP: That is, you believe in yourself?
MB: Exactly. In myself, full stop.
LP: You have had the chance to frequent prestigious artistic arenas. Who is the figure in the art world that most impressed you? Could it be Sun Xun, with whom you’re working on a two-man project?
MB: Yes, could be.
Kiki Smith and Jaff Wall immediately come to mind. In fact not only are they are two artists whom I greatly admire but they are also amazing human beings, and both of them are collectors of my work as it happens.
LP: As we said, in 2005 the installation at the Venice Biennial was done exactly as you wished, a practice you feel at ease with, whereas – if we can put it that way – you were less satisfied with the 2009 participation?
MB: In 2005 I had prize money which I had earmarked for funding the production of the installation, the cost of which was very high. It was the first time that I had done an installation, because my gallery-owners at the time were, obviously, more interested in having art objects more suitable for sale: paintings, sculptures, drawings and collages. You have to remember that I only began my career as an artist in 2003 after a bet that I made with my brother Flavio when I claimed that in a very short time not only would I have become an artist but, within a few years, I would also have taken part in the Venice Biennale. As a result, from 2000 on I shut myself up in my studio in London working like crazy. However, it took a while before the process began to get off the ground in terms of relations, despite the fact that my studio was from the start frequented by critics and gallery-owners who immediately displayed great interest. Planning in terms of products to be exhibited was called for. Through the Prize for Young Italian Art (Premio per la giovane arte Italiana), which I won and which was connected with the MAXXI museum, which was in some way twinned with the Biennale, I was indeed invited to display at the Venice Biennale. Thanks to the Prize I had the chance to produce this installation which, at the end of the Biennale, was reassembled at the MAXXI. And soon, I imagine in 2017, it will be exhibited again at the Rome museum, because they intend to gradually display their entire collection, which also includes my drawings on panel which they purchased at the time. The curators were very satisfied with the project, and so, for the realisation in Venice I got in touch with my friend Matteo De Laurentis, the film producer, who put me in touch with the best scenic designer he knew. This was Francesco Frigeri, who I believe also won an Oscar that year. I showed him my artist’s design drawings, and he in turn contacted his trusted carpenters, showing them my designs which he had in the meantime translated into scenographic terms. The carpenters then created the whole thing, meticulously and amazingly, in wood and fibreglass.
Once they had finished the work, close to Cinecittà, they then travelled to the Venice pavilion by boat, heralding their arrival with innumerable phone calls for the coordinates which contributed to heighten my anxious wait. Then, when I finally saw them arrive via a tiny service canal, it was like a fairy tale for me: I truly experienced the emotions of a child. During the days of my stay in Venice I enormously enjoyed working with Lara Favaretto and Loris Cecchini.
Lara and I in particular lived together for at least ten days and together we completed my installation, rendering it lived in and abandoned for at least 200 years through the use of dust, weeds, spiders’ webs, broken glass, bird excrement and dirtied windows…
Then came the icing on the cake of the Public Prize when it was chosen as the best work: another prize in money.
LP: A knowledgeable critic would say that the installations aspect reinforces the conceptual framework of your work. I don’t know if you subscribe to that: many critics consider painting an anachronistic decorative exercise.
MB: Painting is and will always be art. Art is painting. Unfortunately, however, in the times we live in the art viewers are not sufficiently cultured for painting.
LP: You mean it’s easier for them to toe the line?
MB: Yes. Painting is seen as almost obsolete, because in the last thirty years all over the world we’ve seen it all, and even earlier, since Manzoni (the cans of shit) – so that’s what the modern is, with the result that painting is seen as classicism, tradition. Over recent years, on the other hand, painting has made a comeback, also through the YBA [Young British Art], the movement that put petrol back in the art engine.
LP: Do you feel closer to them than to the Italian experience?
MB: You bet! Yes. Totally! I like them much, much more!
LP: Do you feel that they are closer to you too?
MB: Yes. But I don’t like them more in terms of their production, their work.
LP: You mean they are not aesthetically more satisfying?
MB: No. Actually, in most cases they are artists of lesser quality. I like them more in terms of their freshness and courage, their arrogance and their total lack of reverence.
LP: To be irreverent in the art world do you have to portray scenes of sex, of blatant violence?
MB: No, that’s Satanism, like Nitsch. It’s obvious: he does an inverted crucifix covered with blood, that’s just Satanism, he’s clearly a Satanist.
LP: The irreverence, then?
MB: The irreverence doesn’t have anything to do with the subject, with the finished work. What I’m talking about is not the work of the YBA that I frequented in the 1990s when I was living in London, but rather their attitude to life, how they address it. Everything is tremendously important, but despite that it can be approached in the most uninhibited and light-hearted way, without any regard for the rules. In a word: freedom .
LP: Without the burden of guilt that comes from living in Italy, the Catholic legacy accentuated by the presence of the Vatican? Has that got anything to do with it?
MB: That probably comes into it too.
LP: In England you can dare …and so that’s the reason you feel closer to that culture?
MB: Yes. Totally!
LP: Rather than the strait-laced – or bacchettone, a word you use frequently – culture that is dominant in these parts….
MB: England is a law unto itself. It shouldn’t be compared to Holland, for example. In general when I hear people talking about northern European cultures they tend to make this association, but it’s actually very misleading. In England you’re free to live as you want, without any burden, any rules to bear in mind. Instead, from this point of view Holland is much worse than Italy. In Holland they are Protestants, ultra-religious; the Dutch Protestant culture is even more restrictive than elsewhere, the rules to be followed are even stricter. Obviously I don’t mean by this that the best artists are English.
What I share with the YBA is the total freedom of vision and interpretation of life. I don’t have dogmas, just as they don’t.
LP: So, in the light of what you have just said, the question “what subjects do you prefer” is particularly out of line.
MB: Exactly. Exactly.
LP: And so everything we see is a surprise: coming across an installation that you weren’t expecting to be like that, just as it’s a shock not finding 15 works on canvas but instead a series of sculptures in bronze, marble, painted resin and lightboxes. And maybe this is also the reason why, when the question of favourite Italian artists came up the other day, we decided to eat our pizza immediately because we couldn’t think of anyone to mention?
MB: There are some that come to mind: I like Cuoghi, not so much his work but his investigative attitude, that is, his attempt to cast off the whole burden represented by tradition or by being consistent, being always recognisable.
LP: But the artist has to be recognisable! Or no?
MB: The artist has to be recognisable to have success on the market: take, for example, Ed Rusha or Alex Katz who have gone on doing the same paintings. The collector buying for investment wants a copy of what he has seen, he wants it to be clear…
LP: He wants the symbol?
MB: Rather than collecting the signature (the autograph) which obviously doesn’t cost so much, he wants …
LP: He wants the simulacrum?
MB: Exactly! He wants the autograph on the simulacrum. And so you have all these paintings that are more or less the same, and the upshot is, for example, that in art history you find a figure like Francis Bacon who is increasingly considered like some incredible icon. I don’t like him. There’s no evasion, there’s no experimentation, he went on doing works that were all the same, there’s not a trace of research into other paths; he was fixated on that one thing, full stop. He worked for the Marlborough gallery for years: they sell all these identical works and grow rich on it, and then they go on asking him for more and he delivers. These are the sort of artists that frighten me. Instead I really like Michel Raedecker, whom obviously most people have never heard of, and Folker De Jong. Michel Raedecker’s painting – because he is a painter – is crossbreed: not just oil on canvas but also threads of cotton making up designs, tracing out iconic elements. I really like him because, in the first place, his aesthetic research is very attuned to mine, added to which it is very well executed, plus he never produces clones of his works: he is recognisable if you follow his work attentively.
LP: Speaking of your latest works on canvas, is it correct to say that the glazes that characterised your work for years have disappeared?
MB: The glazes take a lot of time, which I haven’t had much of lately. I have always kept my paintings in the studio for years, taking them up again from time to time, which allowed me to do the glazes too. What I mean is that they have absolutely not disappeared from my poetics, it’s simply due to shortage of time.
LP: So it’s merely a practical issue?
MB: Yes, I used to begin 50 or 100 all together, and then when I had an exhibition coming up I would complete a dozen or so, or as many as were required.
LP: And so it could happen that works we can now without glazes might have them in the future?
MB: Yes of course. Those that were on show in Florence last year, for example, if they’re not sold I could well work on them again.
As regards the installation at the Liverpool Biennial, the following review excerpt is interesting:
“Even so, some of the pieces I liked most are best seen at night. To view the installation by Italian Manfredi Beninati you have to look through a window punched through the wall of a derelict building in the city centre. Standing there in the cold and dark, you are confronted with a vision of complete human happiness — a brightly lit drawing room with comfortable sofa and chairs, carpets, books, flowers, and a view through the window onto a tropical sunset. Newspapers and toys, a dolls’ house, and the tools dad is using to build a toy theatre lie scattered on the floor.
But just as you are taking all this in, something moves and for the first time you notice the sinister figure looking in at the scene from the other direction.
It takes a split second to realise that what you are seeing is your own reflection in the mirror hanging on the back wall. Beninati neatly demonstrates what it must be like to be on the outside looking in – to see comfort, warmth, love, and security but not to be a part of it. Wonderful.”
– Richard Dorment, The Daily Telegraph, 22 September 2008
LP: For the Florence exhibition you made 9 clay tiles that then became resin/coloured resin and some bronze. What is the story linking these bas-reliefs?
MB: The story linking them? None obviously. Except maybe the great heat of last August and the pleasure of working with you and with Del Giudice [the foundry, Ed.] on the realisation of the various versions in different materials, learning new techniques and seeing how matter alters the perception of form even when the form is unchanged.
PS: The idea of working bas-reliefs came to me during the visit to the Canonica Museum in Villa Borghese, do you remember? Last July?
LP: Yes, of course. I remember very well, and I also remember that no-one knew that place and this aspect makes the sense of wonder and discovery even greater.
Is the story you tell in images purely random, or is it as if every element is like the frame of a short?
MB: It’s random in exactly the same way as the frame of a short.
You create the narrative as you wish. Just like in life. Just like in my installations, and like in a book of crosswords and puzzles for the autistic.
LP: OK. But don’t the frames get mounted in a coherent manner so that they tell a story? In the cinema, I mean?
MB: Yes, but they can be mounted following the sequence you want, and obviously the entire meaning changes depending on the mounting sequence. Film, moreover, is made in three steps: writing, casting and mounting. The direction is an extra.
LP: The lightboxes that we made tend to elicit mostly mentions of Jeff Wall. Did the fact that you know each other affect the slant, the poetics, or how do you explain the association that so many people make when they see the lightboxes?
MB: What brings me and Jeff together is an elective affinity in terms of vision, perception and rendering. The fact that our works then appear stylistically so different is due to the very different places in which we were reared – extremely distant from each other – him in Vancouver and me in Palermo, as well as to pure chance. He began his artistic career with photography, and has continued with it over the years. Despite always having been passionate about photography myself, I began – more for reasons of poverty than anything else – with drawings in black and white, which later became oil painting with the brightest colours to even things out, and then other techniques.
Moreover, if I’m not wrong, backlit photography (the lightbox, that is) as a medium was actually invented by Jeff or, at the very least, he was one of the pioneers, so that it’s not unusual to think of him when you see one.
And, in any case, let me say that he and I are linked by an immediate understanding in terms of images and narration through images. And in fact he appreciates my work, although normally it does not apparently have any point of contact with his. Obviously I adore his work and his cinematic approach, which is perhaps the aspect we share most: building a film with one shot, with a painting, with an installation. Staging all the elements necessary for a film plot, but without imposing any starting point or any end to the story.
Wonderful to read
MB: You know I played those numbers on the lottery? When it just so happens that, on leaving a restaurant called the “13 Gobbi” (literally 13 hunchbacks, but in Florence “gobbo” also refers to a Juventus supporter) you find yourself in front of an installation at the very moment when your gallery-owner is asking you to do another two days before the opening …well then, it just has to be a sign of fate, doesn’t it? And so the game that emerged was as natural as it was spontaneous. Take a photo of the pile of old furniture that was waiting on a narrow footpath to be taken away by the municipal rubbish collectors (which in Florence for some arcane reason, they decided to call “Quadrifoglio” – ergo, four-leafed clover), and then reassemble it in one of the rooms of the gallery. The number that was attached to the furniture booked for collection (290949,) we then found partially inscribed on one of the bas-reliefs made a couple of months earlier. 2029 is the year, according to a certain Ray Kurzweil (who is the head of Google Engineering) when “singularity” will take place. I’m not going to tell you what it is, however. I will leave it to you, stirred by curiosity, to find out for yourself.
LP: What a story!
To be devoured.
In what way do these two installations refer to each other? Is there still the chronological aspect?
MB: If there weren’t the “chronological aspect” life would not exist except for an instant, that is, it would not exist as life understood as the passage of time, ageing or even, on the country, growing young again.
And so…it’s obvious that there’s “still” the chronological aspect: I did one in the first days of September, and the other appeared six, seven weeks later. And then, taken individually …in the first the passage of time is documented by the photographs on display that portray the space occupied by Roberto, who at the time is no longer present in the scene. In the second – there too – in reality the marking of time is delegated to the photo hanging right beside the door of the room where it has been reassembled. As you can see, with a titter of wit you can always provide a reason for everything, even where apparently there is none.