Berlin-based artist Davide Zucco talks about his interest in relationships that exceed the individual, hypocrisy in the art world and the environmental crisis. A call to stay positive!
You are born on the Italian countryside between Venice and the Alps. How far do you think this has shaped your perception? Have nature and environment always played a role in your artistic practice?
I believe that every person is fundamentally shaped by the environment in which they grow up and that it remains a part of you. I come from a small town in the area of the Alps, from a valley surrounded by mountains. It felt a bit constraining, but the area is just gorgeous and when I was growing up I spent a lot of time exploring nature, because that way we could pass the time. I always wanted to escape to a bigger city, to a metropolitan area with cultural activities, and it was only when I did that, that I realized where I grew up and how much it affected me and I started to appreciate it.
The starting point for my art practice is very intimate, I try to create a movement from the inside out, I dig into myself and my own experiences and then reach out for a common ground, for a shared experience. I’m interested in how things are connected, the relationship between micro and macro, analyzing the singularity and the collectivity. Nature gives you a sense of belonging and connection on a larger scale, it has always played an important role in shaping my perception and my work. To the same extent as living in New York and now in Berlin. I could say that deep down, my work is the ever-changing depiction of the relationship to my surroundings.
The materials you use are a mixture of natural products and techniques such as wood and combustion with highly artificial, man-made products like aluminum foil and colored plexiglass. Can you explain the process of formation and your choice of materials?
The industrial materials I use are not only carriers, but actively mould the artwork. They are a landscape within a landscape, which cannot be separated from the work itself. Thereby the Anthropocene is a crucial part of my work. For instance, the oil color interventions on the aluminum surface of some of my works appear as very subtle and delicate touches, suggesting the decomposition of light reflected on an oil slick. The combustions refer to the element of fire, recalling all fires that ever existed. Furthermore, their presence suggests a perception of time that is beyond our capacity and opens up to a universal perspective. I try to create objects that speak a hybrid language and could be both remnants of a global environmental catastrophe or witnesses of future forms of nature’s resilience.
Many of your works are two-dimensional and deal with a certain flatness, but appear as sculptural objects. How does that come about?
Even though I have been involved with the format of painting from the beginning, the idea of material as medium has always attracted me. Early on I tried to paint on canvas, paper, panels etc., but it just didn’t work for me, so I started to paint on found objects. Since then, painting has become less and less prominent in my practice and today the materials have almost completely taken over. I think it has something to do with the fact that working with materials makes me feel like I’m working with something that is closer to reality, and I’m interested in that interaction. I want the work to have a presence in the room, to interact with the space and the viewer. I like, for instance, how the reflective material reacts to the light, so that the work looks different depending on where you are standing in the room.
In your work, you try to face the urgency of the drastic changes that are being brought about by the ecological crisis we are facing. Do you see your practice as a form of activism?
No, I don’t think so. The word activism has a number of implications that don’t fit with my intentions as an artist. Nevertheless, I am very concerned about the ecological crisis we are in and with the state of the world in general. I believe that making art as a form of activism requires a very high level of integrity, which, to be honest, I rarely see in the art world. However, there are artists I really admire in that sense. A few years ago, for example, I saw the incredible exhibition »Maintenance Art« by Mierle Laderman Ukeles at the Queens Museum of Art in New York. If I would want to become an activist myself, there would be much more effective ways to do it than making art. But I try to comment on the time we live in, this historical moment challenged by extreme crisis. I simply have more of a poetic vision than a political intention.
To what extent is your practice, which deals with scientific facts, based on research? Or is it more a question of personal unease with current issues of environmental change?
I think we live in a very exciting time, especially when it comes to science. I’m interested both in how science discovers and unfolds what nature is for us, and to the way nature always triggers a philosophical and existential speculation that is then articulated in society.
This constant dialogue between society and nature, with a particular focus on core concepts such as overcoming the anthropological and social notion of time, for example, underlies my practice. Therefore, scientific ideas are often an entry point into my projects, as in my recent exhibition »The Green Fire« at Francis Verein in Berlin for instance, in which the concept arose from the observation of an algae bloom issue in the context of global warming. However, I wouldn’t call my practice research-based.
The art world is often accused of hypocrisy when it comes to issues like global warming. In most cases, consumers of art and culture are aware of their climate sins anyway, and so dealing with climate-related art has more of a satisfying or affirming effect than an enlightening and activating one. What’s your opinion?
There is a lot of hypocrisy in the art world in general. I don’t think it’s the job of the artist to be a scientist or a researcher, there are people who dedicate their lives to that. But on the other hand, I don’t think it would be a solution not to talk about it. Poetic suggestions and utopian visions can also trigger discussions and forward thinking. Broadly speaking, I don’t think art can offer solutions, but it can raise questions and offer reflections. Thinking of Pasolini, as he reflects on Valéry’s phrase about poetry »Une hesitation prolongée entre le sens et le son«, I believe art is something that lies between language and the visual, it’s the persistent hesitation between the two, and in this sense it can generate a different way of perceiving and looking at things. By making nature and the environment a subject in my work, I’m not trying to convert deniers, that’s not my intention. It’s not even that my work is exclusively about climate change, it’s rather general, a commentary on the time we live in in a broader sense.
A look into the future: What do you think is in store for us and how can we face it?
I have a feeling that the next ten to twenty years will be decisive in giving direction to the distant future. Unfortunately, the prospects are not so good at the moment. I wish I had an answer, but I believe we must try to be positive, not to give up and continue to demand change!