COSIMO TERLIZZI / interview for Dust

I recently had the chance to interview Cosimo Terlizzi for Dust Magazine Online. Cosimo is brilliant, and Dust is noble. So maybe you'd want to check them out, yeah, you really better do.

Folder trailer. Visit Dust for images from the film and the Italian interview.

Interview by Silvia Bombardini

Cosimo Terlizzi was born in Bitonto in 1973. He’s an italian artist who works with photography and video.
DUST met him to talk about his works and his last movie Folder

. From the documentary Aiuto! Orde Barbare al Pratello, to your contribution to the ASVOFF fashion film festival, up until your last creature, Folder. On the one hand we notice a constant signature style throughout your work, an aesthetics of everyday honesty that assures effortless neutrality; your intimate but detached glance, which aims to embrace life in its wholeness, without judging. On the other hand an evolution, which follows your personal growing as an artist and as a man, a deeper and more conscious research and a new harmony. How did your art mature over the years? Which aspects are and will remain constant, instead?

I have been trying to pull my art closer to myself. Never to betray the meaning of creation. A sort of connection I do have with art history and those names that are fixed in my memory. Ideally, I carry on a discourse already developed by my maestros. I cherish deep gratitude for them and I try to realize pieces up to history. This is my objective. Actually, it is really hard to achieve it. I believe that the most important step in my path has been to see the peak from afar and follow that direction, while in the meantime observing and living. So I can say that the landscape changes often but the direction is still the same.

. An ever present interest in your work is certainly for places: the squats in Bologna, the innocuous but unmanageable Apulian Murgia, the metropolis in Folder. To what extent do you believe internal and external environments could influence the identitary development of a person who finds herself/himself there, and her/his perception of it? In Folder we can watch you renovating an attic: could a similar work be done on a human soul?

I sense the mood of a place. Every location after a while influences me into a form that’s both aesthetic and linguistic. Getting to know how to speak a language is already the development of a part of a person. I have the feeling that every new word we learn lands like a leaf on one corner of our brain. Many pile up there and they feed knowledge. The knowledge of a place is also a way to know ourselves. The more we observe, the more we mature. Before looking out, I have lived many experiences within different ways of inhabiting. In the squats of the documentary Aiuto! Orde barbare al Pratello, I believe I reached the height of experience. Living inside them meant to relate necessarily to all kinds of humans. The anarchist, the communist, the separatist feminist lesbian, the punk, the nihilist, the poet, the mother, the worker, the journalist, the child… and so on I think endlessly. The peculiarity of the place was that everyone claimed her/his right to exist in spite of everything, even illegally. It was freedom lived to its extremes and beyond. We were all awaiting the evacuation of the squat as the necessary death of the extraordinary experience we had been living. Unforgettable. So strong it had to end. After the knowledge came the awareness of where we were dangerously going to clash. We weren’t individuals anymore but a “common project”, we all were to support the project cause… But the project has never been written by anyone, and everyone had her/his own idea of the battle. The anarchistic issues mixed with the communist ones, and the social spaces where monopolized by the separatist feminists’ meetings. In the meantime the cyberpunks asserted themselves and moved from their dated ways and anachronistic terminology. From the experience in Bologna’s squat I came out well, healthier and stronger. I was forced to face all the unknown sides of my personality. Once out I understood that freedom is priceless and in order to feel good I paid my rent as if I were paying a quietness tax. Looking back to my experiences in the different environments I don’t feel nostalgic, I think of them as something impossible to be lived again. It is as if I am climbing floors. Anatomical architecture: a personality I’m building and improving on… how would I go back? Of course, I’m convinced that only those who know how to really observe can aim at transcending themselves. I refer to those who live places without even looking at them.

. The movie deals with faith, a theme that certainly is not new to you. However, unlike many contemporary artists, your addressing the sacred is never blasphemous. The performance cycle Pietas, the photographic portrait Cosma e Damiano, and the procession in honour of the same saints we see in Folder: it looks like religious iconography fascinates you, while never appearing desecrated, thanks to your delicate approach. Thus, what is your relationship with religion? On watching Fratelli Fava one could have the impression of spying on a god looking at himself in the mirror, unstably balanced on the burden of the world. Is it indulgence we feel?

Throughout adolescence I would pray before going to sleep. It made me feel safe. The Hail Mary, the Our Father… What tied me to faith was a feeling of purity that I have partly kept after various crises. You can imagine. After that period of faith in the Church I went through the truth phase. A veil opened in front of me and I saw hypocrisy. Love dictated as a law. Unacceptable truths. The time for a change may soon come even there. At any rate, I am fascinated by such vividly imaginative world, from rituals to architectures. The altars, the processions, are truly wonderful things, lots of people praying before a statue. But what is it, that statue? I believe it’s some fear of the emptiness that has us light candles in churches and that our bowing is a form of submission to mysteries. Just how it should be. We are led to believe by nature that we are all-powerful, the church holds down, or should by its nature hold down the self-centered human impulse. The paradox however is already there, when we see the Pope being represented as a king on the altar. But the iconography of that man sticks in one’s memory. I interpret acts of faith in order to find my own religious language. In Pietas I pray before a log. In Decaritate I represent an iconographical anthology of charity, like in Dieci modi di arrendersi, the surrender. All forms of submission seem religious. Submitting to what? To something stronger. I believe the universe to be the soundest mystery. But what remains in my photographic and video works is the memory of all this research. These tools are my sieve of all those images that I looked for and showed in the performances. In Fratelli Fava the looking up to the sky of one of them and that sense of martyrdom in the air linger on. The sky is bigger than us. Indulgence? We are already alive.

. Several times you have mentioned your admiration for the work of the Renaissance painter Lorenzo Lotto and in Folder a book about him is mentioned. Despite his undeniable talent, Lotto remained an underrated and misjudged artist, but of resolute moral coherence. Did you ever have to stop to compromises, or has your work ever been misunderstood?

I have learnt a lot from artists like Lotto, Caravaggio, Bronzino. Yet even more from the more recent Sander, Bresson, Arbus. Telling everything in one image. That’s the purpose. I have often stooped to compromise, but my soul has remained unharmed, perhaps more mature and sensitive. While attending art school in Bari I had to take different means of transport to reach the school, as I lived in a distant village. Because of connections, it happened several times that I missed a bus or a train… What was left was hitchhiking. Whoever accepted to give me a lift was a dilemma, if looking reassuring. During these five years of lifts I experienced all kinds of adventures, both sordid and funny things. But I had no alternative if I wanted to go to school. Once I arrived too late after an hazardous lift. When I made it to the classroom the teacher sent me home. Over the years compromise has become constant, but has never affected my work.

I think about Rome: compromise is part of politics. I met a member of the “Lega Nord” once, who shouted in public his heterosexual machismo and off-screen he slept with men. This is too much to me. In life it’s a kind of undeclared trade, often implicit. You always have to yield something of yourself. Caravaggio is the perfect example, do you really believe he shared the Catholic views? With Saint Matthew’s crossed legs or the dying Mary who looks pregnant? Still we bow before his works. This is what interests me, to pass on to the world, in another time, an evolved concept, and move forward. So far I have never played games to be successful, but to live. My works may be misunderstood at first, but I do hope in a subsequent understanding.

. Folder swarms with people: main characters or walk-ons of your life that you introduce to us through speaking portraits, while they reveal more or less voluntarily their ways to deal with life, their personal balance, their real or metaphorical crutches. Some resort to philosophy, others to drugs, a few to chiromancy or political rallies and some in the end don’t make it. What’s your way?

My salvation is art, really, and love. I live these two passions thoroughly. My very creating takes me so far that I necessarily need a stable love not to go mad. Then I would like to reach a mimetic balance with nature. That’s where I am, even when I’m far away. I sense the feeling of a place, I happen to feel its pain or quietness. Existence is made also of these two things, pain and pleasure. Pain is an emotion that evolved with mankind, as well as pleasure. Evolved and complicated at the same time. We made our way toward this growth that’s taking us away from who we were. We test the different forms to find something that seems impalpable and yet living. I think that all this is a darned natural process.

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