In 2008 Genoa breathe thanks to different congruent aspects that give a unique vitality of personal human identity, a multiple desire to be free, present and socially participant of the cultural and artistic local and international “Get Set”.

Genoa must thank a strategic urban location, a multicultural integrated and equilibrated society, the ability to organize and export first order events, a focused and motivated choice of resources, works, instructions and communications well-advanced systems. But also a huge generational creativity grew to the point of turning the new reference point of the artistic contemporary scene. Francesco Arena surely is an artist that contributed to this step up in class without any help or pathetical favoritism.

Artist before any other definition, Francesco knew his evolution as man hand in hand with images genesis. He’s been a mute word, which desecrated the representation dialectic in a transfiguration of technique as poetic, as a unique post-iconic matrix mediated through his sensitivity. There’s no art or image steady in its dignity, and Francesco works demonstrate it, from photography, almighty mother of his research, to sound video-morphs, last source of his aesthetic keyboard. The first image of the idea, I’d say, where the impact and affective intensity produced vary with time and mind. Their figurative need moves following the communicative performances, and the artist from Genoa , who understood that the city is where anyone can communicate and invent the most, gives back an integrated and pure anatomy where visual means pleasure and perception.


Massimo Schiavoni: Francesco, looking back at your career, we can see 20 years of research and precious artistic work, documented by the best critics and part of the most significant collections and museums of contemporary art. I could mention Kunstistorisches Institut, Archivio per l’arte italiana del Novecento of Florence, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea of Villa Croce of your Genoa, the antique and prestigious Collection of Polaroid Corporation of Boston and the “holy” Museum of New Art (MONA) in Detroit. May I call you “prophet” abroad?

Francesco Arena: Well, if you want… actually, during the years I realized my research has been appreciated abroad. It may be I synthesize and filter icons and images without time that do not reflect an “Italian way” of working. Themes such as the ambiguity of vision, the body and everything that can be expressed through everyday objects create something that can be appreciated by everyone who sees the sensitivity and sensibility…

Massimo Schiavoni: You started with photography, and you know everything about it. How much did this instrument help you arriving to installations world and video as principle expression of your last works?

Francesco Arena: A lot… furthermore I think that, going against this affirmation, a strong technical knowledge help you elaborating also conceptually in a more creative and experimental way. The lack of experience and technical notions of languages and machines used, most of all talking about technologies, can produce something interesting only by chance. A technically wrong image has more expression when you do know how to treat it… obviously I’m talking about analogical and digital… personally all my work is produced on 6×7 diapositives, my favorite support, and it is never modified during post-production. All of the color effects, tones and unfocused effects are impressed on traditional film as the old shoots, using all the potentialities of light and its colors… I love having a strong adherence on what’s real to obtain images that make the public reflect on multiple interpretations of a reality that we do not see….


Massimo Schiavoni: As a craftsman of images, a visual excavator, where knowledge and experience are the base of the right work, you proposed and imposed yourself in this art market that often offers poor works with too much emphasis and easy genius ideas. How does an artist of your caliber feel in this contemporary art “show”?

Francesco Arena: Well, first of all I don’t feel imposed, as I should… I didn’t reach an international public assent as well as I don’t sell as I would. There are different factors, and the quality of my work is not so important, even if I never thought about the visual pleasure while I was creating a new project… I think aesthetic is important in my productions, but I never followed trends or chose easy visual solutions… I always searched for beauty, aesthetic, equilibrium, harmony in objects, things and situations I touched, even if it was the brain of an animal, a model or an installation of objects. I often feel a borderline of the art scene and I’m always astonished when someone congratulates on or buy a work of mine… as you said, there’s a lot of fiction and nowadays it is important to sell the name of an artist, not its works, as a friend of mine said… the rest is only a consequence, our considerations in front of this are nothing. The market art has always been the same. If Michelangelo didn’t have the Pope approval, we wouldn’t have the Sistine Chapel. Rules moved in a different direction, and actually I do not see lots of Michelangelo at the horizon. There are anyway lots of clones and craftsmen….


Massimo Schiavoni: Do you think working hard pay or do you think creativity hits as a lightning in a sunny day?

Francesco Arena: I think being itself and having messages to communicate pay, I think that organizing and promoting your work pay (if you don’t have a manager, obvious), I think believing in your own activity pays, when this make you a realized man and make you feel good. Obviously, creativity cannot be built with resonated plans, but when you feel you got it, if you feel you must communicate something to the world, it is good taking care of it, approaching the professional development of a communication form. When digital cameras came into our life, we saw (and still see) artists that Photoshop and mouse under their hands amazed the world with special effects without purpose, not finalized to a specific expressive research. Luckily this is disappearing at high levels and I hope people, galleries and collectors will understand that works values is not only their emotional impact, because that would be only ads graphic. An artwork should be felt into the stomach and inside mind, more than with eyes. I think a work with “history and life” is recognizable and distinguishable from a style exercise. Often unfortunately contemporary art shows do not walk this way…

Massimo Schiavoni: The history and life of your initial works are aesthetically represented by real Still Life on identities that remember advertising iconography and mass-medial languages, working on human bodies and consequently on porno images. You then collaborated with important artists such as William Basinsky, giving birth to memorable performances and video such as “The Anatomy of Melancholy” and “Circular Bodies”. What does “identity” and “vision” mean to you?

Francesco Arena: I could talk about “identity of the vision”, paraphrasing your question… I’m interested in exploring the possibilities of the visual representation, its ambiguity of its seductive parameters, its possible alteration towards contents… the sexual and morphological identity has been discussed inside William Basinski’s and mine work. His orchestral loops have been the energy that moved my video cameras around four female and male bodies, spying and examining macro with obtrusive and intruding tracking shot to the point of fusing together in a unique body solution, male and female together in a new identity made of details that rebuilt an innovative possible body… In this sense, shootings have been faithful to the original, no digital manipulation, as the ambiguity is already inside us and is up to everyone deciphering, making them surfacing… the surface that we love, that we take care of, that we’re concerned for… I think identity doesn’t exist in this sense, it exists only the apparent representation of the self and the projections of our fantasies….


Massimo Schiavoni: Why do you surgically explore during your “medial set” a beauty and fashion popular imaginary, wisely orchestrating sensual (and sexual) illusions and morbid physicality?

Francesco Arena: Because sensuality is inside everything we do, inside every our action… Sensuality represents us as a business card, if you get the tones around our behaviors. My photographic constructions have Still Life as representation technique (a methodology that I admired since 600 up to Caravaggio). They’re the ideal method to compare the educational power of objects and people… I organize auto-representations of what I photograph, exalting their energy, the seductive power of colors and forms of objects and bodies that create together a short-circuit that transmits energy… In some pictures such as STILL LIFE FOR LIFELIKE PEOPLE and recently the identity FE_MAIL (here’s a wordplay on female-male), the language is taken from spots and beauty because the communicative form is the most direct and common we have around us. A code that directly strikes all the different plans of our sensibility…

An image from Still represents a toy, a teddy bear put on a middle finger with a transparent latex glove. The purple background with a clearer ring near the center focused the attention on the “composition” as it represented a Chanel perfume. Some saw in the image a denounce against violence on minors, some a sexual paedophile allusion, some an irreverent outrage to the comforting and delicate toys image… I enjoy this openness of the message and its different reading levels, different as our character and personality is complicated. My work is the mirror of the perceptive and everyday experiences that, starting from a subjective data, almost autobiographic, touches everybody in a different manner. In RESPIRI, 23 subjects, different in age, sex and culture, are in front of a mirror and start from an everyday gesture, a breathe, to express an emotional individual baggage that inevitably turns into something collective if confronted and saw in public. The body, particularly the face mimicry, becomes morbid at the moment when it lingers without censorships in a flux of sensations and representations that can turn out to be auto-erotic, narcissistic, enraged or tender and fragile. I search for beauty of our self and our wonderful different sides, instead of searching for an ideal beauty.


Massimo Schiavoni: Talking about RESPIRI, your last concept that started in 2004, I found this work interesting for several aspects. One of those is surely the multiplicity of relationships that involves video, sound and performance created for the event by Aline Nari and Davide Frangioni of the UBIdanza Company. Do you search for aesthetic and auto-referential beauty in this case as you explained before?

Francesco Arena: I try to enlighten with a democratic sample of people how a reaction to an emotional stimulation (a simple breath) could turn to be the mirror of emotions that always touch us, common, hidden in the everyday life… I don’t search the aesthetic beauty of the form or representation, I try to go further the ambiguity of the gesture and reveal what is veiled behind and inside our behaviors… this work shows in its raw version a coziness that turn the public into someone curious to unmask… we’re all voyeurs….

Massimo Schiavoni: What role does the sound aspect in live recording have in the claustrophobic and macro-objective structure of the post-iconic representation of the visual, moreover executed by mythical figures of the contemporary music such as Elio Martusciello and Adriano Canziano, near younger and promising musicians such as Japanise Gum, Mounth Sims or Maria Castro?

Francesco Arena: It is important because it is one of the elements that build this pyramid of collaborations. It all started from a recurring dream of mine, the impossibility to trespass a transparent wall, maybe a metaphor of obstacle to surpass. I translated everything with all the material with a Plexiglas wall and a claustrophobic video recording of faces that try to breathe through a limiting and invisible surface. I collected those visual experiences that I passed to 23 international musicians that overlapped their sensitivity and their living to these visual events, creating a musical suite that gave voice to what they saw… the body live is the concrete representation of those suggestions that, also thanks to the lights of the videos (primary colors, red and yellow), have a surreal aspect… Music not only is a visual comment, a soundtrack, but also a dynamic event that characterizes and structures each person. I’m happy about all those artists so involved in my project… .


Massimo Schiavoni: Therefore, RESPIRI is born after an incubation made by collaborations, thanks to the Net as well, and difficulties always present in you artistic path. If this is the result, well no problem for obsessions and surreal impossibilities. Will the future be organized in relation and basing on this project?

Francesco Arena: While RESPIRI is exposed during this part of the artistic season and part of the next one as well, I will develop a photographic series that I will present in September at Obraz in Milan, titled NOBODY’S CONTROL (the control of nobody, but also the control of no bodies), “static bodies, agitated bodies, absent bodies, emotional bodies in apparent control, in absence of control, red matters of reflected glass”, that is the direct consequence of RESPIRI 2008, principal character: the remaining part of the body veiled in the video series. It is also a direct result of the last string of images “Emergency of Beauty” that pushes the limits of bodies, exasperating the relation of body, dilating on more shooting plans, capturing all its expressive potential through its actions, gestures….


We’ll surely see the results of this tour that is outlining during those days. I anticipate my presence in Modena , Theatre of Passions and Canal Grande 18 Gallery, on the 29 th March. Then Wunderkammern in Spello the 19 th of April, Look At Festival in Lucca 10 th May, Milan Film Festival during Audiovisiva, with a huge presence on more sites + Obraz gallery 24 th -26 th May. All the other dates are to be defined from now on… And I’m thinking about another multimedia installation, but we’re talking about 2009, maybe….

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