Posted by Michael on May 03, 2012 at 05:10 PM
One could state that it’s actually not the most breakneck move to express yourself behind the camera when you’ve already had a respectable career as a model and actor in front of the lens notched on your belt. Well, add installation art, performances, and painting to the mix and things certainly do not only appear in a different light but prove once again that more is better than less in some cases, indeed. Macedonia-born Gligorov is a well-established fresh force of today’s art world, a master of “out of the norm“ ideas that are both shocking and humourous. Residing in Milan since the 80s, he has been working on sophisticated and extreme forms of visual communication ever since, iconic imagery delivered through the bold gift of sincerity and challenging playfulness. Lodown took the eagerly awaited chance for a little chit-chat with the celebrated artist in late January.
Robert, what made you decide to move to Milan? Did you already express yourself artistically back in Macedonia or were you too young to do so?
I actually lived in Macedonia for a rather short period of time. The influence in my case is indirect… because living in a socialist country like the former Yugoslavia, but in fact communist, indelibly marks certain aspects of your worldview. I have not suffered the rules of that dictatorship but as it happens to many children the dramatic state of your country scratches against you and as I more closely observe certain works of mine I do recognize signs of my training; first of all the physicality, then the heroism, and then both dialectically and visually expressive extremism. The communist countries promoted sports a lot and a whole variety of disciplines were the basis of youth training; heroism is a state of mind which does not have to have hesitations, sacrificing for one's country… and when the one's freedom gets limited you work a lot with fantasy and therefore the invention of paradox worlds and sadistic creativity and not only that… they don’t have any limits. I’ve brought this method to Central Europe since I left the former Yugoslavia definitively at about the age of sixteen. Then I started my new life exactly in Milan.
Would you say the present and the environment you’re living in has a major influence on your art or is it closely connected to your experiences in the past?
In part, as I’ve already explained, the seed of my art making and the childhood during the dictatorship and the softness and sweetness of living in Italy during the seventies and eighties have completed and realized the basis of who I’ve become and what I've produced. Actually, I haven’t followed a linear way in my artistic development. It was art school, academy, and then onward, thanks to a teacher who introduced me to an art gallery or its trustees... as the career normally begins for an artist.
An uncle in my family - who is still alive - was very good at painting and sculpting and was well known to everybody… at the young age of 16 he executed a profile in bas-relief of the President Tito chosen as the official image to be exposed in all schools of the former Yugoslavia… my eye often gravitated toward his impressions on the wall… there was something that appealed to me, but I was distracted and I worked on other things instead. His technical level and the respect towards him seemed to be unreachable… so in fact the great artist in the family was him: Ivo Krstulovic. He actually escaped by night to seek fortune in Paris and did a lot of art in France but never became a truly renowned artist. I have been lucky to experience many disciplines in my life before getting literally involved in contemporary art. In all these disciplines I find artistic aspects. I was a diver at the 10 meters platform… and the search for elegance in aesthetics, of the perfection and quality of executing a dive was vital and most of all an obsession. Entering adulthood, I also had to think of working… and then I tried to earn my money as an actor in films. I was in eleven films - mostly B movies though - in Rome and I’ve worked as a model and obviously even in these fields there was photography, the fiction, the acting… the performance and everything given to an audience who judge... and I could consider the photographers as critics.
When I was around 22 years old, my interest for painting and for other artistic fields increased gradually more and more becoming an obsessive practice and I painted day and night. Day and night, drawing, drawing, drawing and painting, at that point I became so good that I began working as an illustrator, cartoonist… even an illustrator for advertising campaigns. I’ve made a comic book in France entitled “Ginger“ and the most famous work (you can also find it on Amazon) goes together with Sting “Sting the illustrated lyrics.” It was a book where I described his songs as I pleased and thanks to this book I got in contact with major record companies and I’ve produced my first video clips as a director along with album covers and have dabbled in talent scouting. In Italy, there are a few bands that have become famous due to my involvement.
But after a while everything that I did became anguished, as if an inner force was pushing me towards a very precise decision and in 1996 exactly at the age of 36, after all these experiences which I’ve mentioned, I decided to change my life. I was done with the professional world and thanks to my collaborator Carlo Benvenuto, we opened a studio and both of us dealt only with art and the art of our time. To enter a system of art which already then was difficult and nowadays fashionable to say “lobbyist”, we had to strive and the idea that I got and which gave me the opportunity to get in touch with important galleries was the one to convince Philip Morris to sponsor exhibitions organized by me and Carlo in public spaces; this idea was very appreciated by the Milanese manager of an art gallery, Massimo de Carlo, so we started to cooperate and to have a certain visibility in the system.
Having touched so many artistic fields in your past, would you say that you’ve found your very own way of visual communication yet?
Well, it seemed natural to seek art in painting and sculpting… because it was a common way of understanding art in these two media. I’ve always dreamed, especially during the last years, to become a painter, because after tennis playing I believe that the pictorial practice is a unique meditation state. Unfortunately research has led me to alternative directions and today I use painting as a hobby and I know too well that a painter can’t have a place in art in the future. This is a long discussion which deserves a chapter itself… The painting will always accompany me in my everyday life but only as pleasure. I’ve thought that photography - which I do not love but think is an effective way to document performance - and video are the most interesting media to investigate, even though most of my productions are installations. I believe that nothing should be taken for granted, neither the method nor the media… because if it were, then it would be a mere “mannerism” in contemporary art… so you might make a more conventional work. The sacrifice and the difficulties of having chosen to be an artist is at least that this choice is rewarded in the exaltation and excitement that one feels in the act of creating. If an artist does not feel this frenzy he has failed.
Would you say the process of executing an idea from start to finish is more based on a stream of consciousness of yours… you know, that it’s more about guts and trusting your instinct than elaborately declining things.
Explaining the proceedings is always kind of a compromise with ourselves; on the one hand it's about giving a sincere answer in regard to my creative process and the other deals with what the facts of the process really are. There are brilliant artists who do not actually have a strong artistic or creative attitude, but have that ingredient which is very fashionable in contemporary art today… we could call it “copy and paste” or as as also commonly referenced: “DJ artists,” in the sense that they combine various experiences of our world and get a results in their work which are dignified. Today in art you have come to a point that everything is art. A mistake, a case, or a work calculated in the smallest details can be counted as works of art. Without necessarily diminishing the work of my colleagues I mention two or three points which I include as “inspiration” and the eventual “realization” of the work. I have two ways to proceed; one is to search for a light inside me, a signal for an idea, but this is a continuous process, my brain is always in motion, it’s like it’s on a “loop”… and when something flashes in my head I write it down in my notebook. I let the painting settle and over time, after some time I’ll better understand if it's a valid idea. The other way that I have during my creative way is observing the things and the world. It’s difficult to combine these two things in the same work, I would say that the first one comes from the unconscious and from the night and the second one from the light and from what we call objectivity. As I explained in the beginning, making art is a self-referential and personal exercise, just trying the excitement in the creative process would be enough to make this practice… then you turn your attention into a contest, to the so-called experts, to the galleries, one wants to reference what is actually a piece of me which is getting detached. I believe that in the future, the romantic attitude of the artist who has a stroke of inspiration and then endures the phase of realization will become anachronistic. I believe that art will be possible for a few persons but with the open right for anyone to try.
Everything seems to be about a nice facade and aesthetics first and foremost… do you see your art - which is often spiced with a twisted sense of humor and social commentary - as a necessary wake-up call?
The work of art should be a provocation not to be misunderstood as a leg-pull, it’s a big difference between these two points. That the artist is a bringer of messages I believe is unlikely… mostly a catalyst of signs of its time. Having the capacity of capturing in a short time what makes our world, our society what it is. Yes, because the artist apparently tells one thing that everybody can say but the difference is that he’s forcing himself to do it while the rest of the world is busy with real problems of personal survey. The artist is an immature subject who in an obstinate way puts off the moment of detachment from childhood. Art is a game even though for various reasons it has helped the historic reconstruction of our past. Almost like if the works should be the credible instantaneous proof of what we have been, but if I should translate the contemporary human being inspired by the most important works of our times… well I would laugh. One thing is to seduce the minds of the art cognoscenti and another is to define what we are. The artist isn’t an “everything” analyst, scientific... but a brilliant innocent crazy harmless soul getting around and I must say, the whole world really needs this because he who is able to propose future worlds can really help humanity in their development of techniques and make life on this planet more like an adventure of a protagonist rather than that of a televiewer.
Birds are recurring protagonists in your body of work… why is that, what do they symbolize for you?
Birds, winged creatures are for me a metaphor of human beings. They are my ideal symbolic actor for many of my works. From what I know, the winged are a species with the longest evolution, since dinosaurs evolved into winged creatures… and this makes them even more sacred. A point which I often clarify is that my work, the major part of my work, is to contest the sacrifice of millions of animals suffering everyday on our planet. Yes, I’m a convinced animalist, vegetarian willing to sacrifice my work in order to never fail with all my determination to support the cause against animal abuse… chickens, pigs, laboratory animals and all that is the horror these animals are suffering. But I don’t say this to be a politically correct or to look good to the general public. I’m sure that if the world truly realized the terrible tragedy we are complacently supporting, so many things in common use would be abolished… like furs, leather shoes, eating meat... and everything else that comes from this open-air butcher world.
For “Eurabia“ you replaced the Arc De Triomphe with the Kaaba… I can imagine it’s no coincidence you chose Paris for this image, right? Or was that decision made because of the dimensions of that place?
I don’t like to offend the religious, using easy provocation with the faith of no one: because it would be too easy. Social and political contradictions and our way of understanding other people are often very contradictory… I am for the plurality of beliefs and opinions and think that everyone is free to perform their own intellectual or spiritual activities in any part of the world and should be given the chance and protection to exercise these. But this is me… the major part of the world does not think like this… the human being is able to live in a conceptual world which is more lost than the abstract one. Money is conceptual, faith is conceptual, now most of the objects around us are conceptual. Credit cards are conceptual, facebook is conceptual, the trend of our conceptual living will be rising, this is what art had proposed for our future; the conceptual… no more an object to be admired or real to the touch, but the idea of the object - and not a real friend to relate to - but the conceptual idea to have a friend. Well, many writers in the past have imagined a future, but not this scene of the conceptual world. We will reach a point where we won't really understand what is true and what is false as if the false has a content for us then it’s true. “Eurabia“ is working on this aspect… the conceptual value given to Kaaba and the always conceptual improbability to find it in Paris. And the surprise of “Eurabia“ (the word Eurabia is taken from a book of Oriana Fallaci) is that in fact nothing has changed and is able to “stir” anxieties, suspects, and conflicting reactions.
Would you say your work is mainly considered as being provocative by those who have a rather deranged relation to the texture of things and physical contact in general?
Of course I can’t pretend to not understand and not to be surprised by the reactions of dismay of many of my works… but this could also be a trap for me because it could influence what to work on in the future. I’d like to repeat that I’m not an advertising agent who has to sell a product and who has an audience to seduce, my work is tenderly genuine. For all those years of my life certain reflections seemed important to me, then I matured and so did the work… I do not regret certain naiveties of the first time, also because I use this emotional force in wanting to do it. It was the carpet of my artistic discipline. Yes, in making art you need discipline; you do not have a boss, but you’re your own boss and one who doesn’t have discipline or a certain creative devil dancing inside will not have an easy life with their work. Often a work is misunderstood, even by the critics, and about this I would like to say one thing: the works are often in line with the critic. But, if the critic isn’t paid he chooses works for his essays which for him are most congenial. This reminds me a lot of making art… the artist chooses real objects and personal readymades for his work and in the same work of the artist you can, in the end, define a readymade when at his turn the critic chooses his own specifics for his collective. The artists should defend the personal creation more, not letting themselves getting used to a parasitic system which is a commercial one in all senses. Both a positive and a negative critic give me a way of reflecting on my work, I’m interested in the thought and the opinion of the others… but basically - I’m indifferent. What really counts is that I don’t lose the original motivation for which I decide to make certain of my works. Success, fame, and the 'system' can really make you lose sense of what you're doing because the opinions from your environment can transform you into a hybrid.
I couldn’t find too much information about your work from the last three or four years in particular… were you consciously taking a break? What were you working on lately?
No, I must say that I’m perhaps even over-exposed these days… I work all the time, I’m having around twenty exhibitions a year, through group and solo shows around the world... if this isn’t enough I ask you to organize something in your country as soon as possible!