Artist Fabio Santacroce in conversation about classism, the ambiguity of growing up, and of course about his show SEPTEMBER at Pina Vienna.
Italian artist and curator Fabio Santacroce stages scenes that are to be categorized at the merge of drama and fun, presenting themselves as both, heavy and light. In the blur of the two extremes, his installations develop questions of origin and belonging leading the viewer down a road of sweet melancholia. His latest show called SEPTEMBER at Pina Vienna forms a peak of such contrasts, characteristic for the artist’s practice. Offering the viewer associations with summer and holidays in Southern Italy it also evokes thoughts of political issues such as the refugee crisis that the country is still facing. Consciously using confusion as a stylistic device, it is other cues like the use of mainstream pop culture elements that still make his work calm and relatable. An Interview by Julius Pristauz.
I feel like your art has a certain melancholia to it. Some may even label it as theatrical. Do you try to add some form of poetry to the bitterness of everyday life?
I would say that my work deals with a »gentlezation« of the pain, staged in the most courteous way.
I would call your use of materials quite minimal or let’s say sober. You use a lot of ready-mades. For your recent show, SEPTEMBER at Pina in Vienna the material choice was especially interesting, using mainly spray-painted paper and cardboard tubes to create little boats. What was the thought behind this one?
I went through different production phases and I experimented with different materials and formalizations before getting to this final solution. Now everything is mostly made out of thin A4 paper sheets, glued together and spray painted in black. For this show at Pina, I felt the need to recover a more gestural dimension and to impose a greater dose of dilettantism and cheapness. The main idea was to stage an oneiric boat crossing, both sweet and threatening: flaccid, cute paper constructions that lull and navigate into the space, wrapped by a starry sky and supported by a fragile scaffolding, exhibited as a setting for further scenes.
Your origin holds a very centered position in your work. How does classism manifest in your installations?
It comes in a way that every possibility of romanticization is subverted.
Seeing you working with tiny objects that tourists bring back from their holidays like the small lighthouse and the bird noises of a harbor in the background - the whole scenery of this show is very idyllic. However, considering that you are from Italy and the triste color scheme, I wondered if there is a political dimension to the piece?
The installation at Pina inevitably calls into question the issue of refugees, but I tried to expand and overlap the references. The theme of the journey is explored from different perspectives: as personal, collective, existential, interior, geographical, spiritual etc. - I wanted to leave it open. But just as you mentioned, it is depicted in a very idyllic way. The border between a painful journey and a condition of carefree holiday here is nebulized and confused. All these options merge, they are forced to mutually question each other. Also, the exhibition title with its re-start temporal character and the several objects disseminated along the path, intensify this short circuit.
Some of your visual cues immediately awaken strong associations with childhood and upbringing. You also use them as reoccurring elements. The candies and footballs have quite contrasting connotations. Are the two a comment on the ambiguity of growing up?
I like all your interpretations and I agree with you. Among my sources of inspiration, my domestic environment and the kinder garden play a decisive influence in my practice. I don’t have a studio so I mostly work at home. The use of childlike elements and forms also comes from the need to mediate my artistic labor within the play space of my daughters. We grace and watch over each other.
In the back of the space, one finds a Jim Morrison print wrapped into one of your candies. What made you choose him as this patron watching over the whole scene?
Usually, every exhibition reintroduces a subject or a vision explored in the previous one. In SEPTEMBER, Jim Morrison reconnects himself to the show opened at FUTURA last February. He acts as a sort of transactional force. Accidentally a sort of parallelism was created, in this latest show, between the tiny lighthouse that stands out in the first room, and the candy shaped sculpture made with the most iconic image of Jim Morrison, printed on canvas. These two sculptures influence each other, acquiring a spiritual dimension. They stand as surveillance presences, but at the same time, they deny and erase any divine existence. I like this option as the key-reading.
Another topic seeming to be of relevance, like in a lot of other artist’s work at the moment, is popular culture. Rather it is in the form of music icons printed and wrapped, decoration and souvenirs or a march remake of Ariana Grande’s song Into You. Do you want to cause the viewers being able to relate to the installations?
Pop music imbues my artistic work. Whether it is concretely played, whether it comes in the form of a quote, title etc. I like to celebrate its artistic supremacy. At FUTURA, last February, it was played everywhere, as marched instrumental covers in the first section, as a hidden track in the second room, and finally, as an agonizing karaoke in the underground space. In PARIGI È MERAVIGLIOSA MA CON TE SAREBBE MAGICA, at Citè Internationale des Art in Paris, the music was over-charged with a sentimental patriotic connotation. This made sense within a context where nationality defines your privilege status and often, comes with cliché. Referring to Michael Novotny’s presentation text, my work deals with a »primitive, idiosyncratic grainy lo-fi aesthetic, partially a happy disco vibe, partially with freezing existential crisis«.
You also run a curatorial project space called 63rd-77th STEPS where you organize online as well as physical exhibitions. Do you feel like shows in the cyberspace could be a sustainable model ensuring continuous visibility for upcoming artists?
In the specific case of 63rd-77th STEPS, the online section works as an extension of the physical and metaphorical space of the staircase. Artists are invited to explore the location on distance without any physical involvement. They are asked to provide new configurations and functionalities. I find this articulation super interesting and essential to expanding, visually and critically, the physical marginality of 63rd-77th STEPS, and its infelicitous vein.