Remote studio dates is a series of conversations with artists, curators and researchers to document and explore coping mechanisms for isolation in the current health crisis. Each date focuses on one work, project, concept or dream, with digressions and slippages, without the need of ending somewhere but with the desire of opening something up.
Although we both come from Sicily, Giuseppe and I met in London, in 2013, through suggestion of a common friend. We have worked together on many projects ever since – from his solo exhibition, Fragile, I curated at Galleria UPP in Venice (2014), to a residency at BOCS, the artist-run space he is the artistic director of, in Catania (2015), to a studio residency at Five Years in London (2017) and an exchange residency program between Sicily and Australia (2019). As we use to speak a lot about art and life, this conversation was an update on Giuseppe’s feelings about the pandemic and the thought process behind a work that he is currently developing, which involves painting portraits of mosquitos.
M: How have you adjusted to working from home?
G: Working from home is challenging, especially when you have a toddler to look after. Yet family is like a parachute to me. The enhanced physical proximity with my partner and son has given me the opportunity to face this crisis from the perspective of what I call a safe fall. Whatever might happen we are together and knowing that makes a huge difference. Though, observing the way my son Federico is reacting to this new condition, I have realized how much his generation has been affected by the enforced staying at home.
I have memories of when as a child I used to spend time in my bedroom with no greater distraction than myself, so that the only thing I could do, besides playing, was to get pensive, bored even, and then find creative ways to fill in time. I am not sure that society is allowing young generations to inhabit that space of boredom at all, so they are struggling with a technological bombardment as well as with impatience and solitude. I also acknowledge that these feelings do not exclusively belong to young people. We are all overwhelmed by digital networking, growing related anxiety, sadness and the incapacity to wait.
I am thinking a lot about the idea of waiting; the misery deriving from it as well as the possible pleasure one can experience while waiting for something to happen. Up to this point, we have widely conducted a life where there was no need to wait, everything was done so fast and furiously that as soon as we were forced to stop we panicked.
M: How are you thinking about making work, as you have been unable to get to the studio?
G: The positive aspect of being off from my technician job as well as the studio is to be left with the mental space to deeply wonder about the direction of my work. I feel the urgency to incorporate a reflection on the idea of waiting in future projects. To an extent, repetition and ritual have been part of my research since 2008. DRON 5, the series of spheres made through a monthly gathering of my own hair, is a case in point: I have a set timeline for it. Each month I wait for a specific day, I never create a sphere randomly.
M: True, and yet I believe there is a difference between the waiting that is part of a ritual and the waiting within the current scenario of COVID-19. Until a few weeks ago, there was no prospect whatsoever of a possible expiring date for isolation, which was a generalized cause of anxiety – and although Italy as much as Australia, for instance, have now flattened the curve and progressively lifted restrictions, the dominant prediction is that there is no coming back to the old normal. I feel that waiting is still perceived as a long-term journey with no defined finish line. How does this speak to your work?
G: You’re right. Perhaps instead of looking at this moment as a pause from the old ordinary life, I should frame it as a suspension from it, which then implies that the past routine has ended and a new one just begun, and will keep on evolving. For my art practice, this requires an emphasis on slowness. There has been so much talking through social media platforms, news and academic articles about the advantages and disadvantages of productivity in the time of the pandemic. Being overly productive leads to being stressed. Is this any different than the life we were conducting beforehand? I do not think so. Slowing down, consciously choosing what to engage with and what to say no to is perhaps a more fruitful path. Isn’t slowness a very Sicilian trait? – Something we have been often criticised for and that the world is now coming to appreciate.
M: Shall we put this in perspective and make us sound less geographically narrow? Then slowness would be proper of non-metropolitan areas where there is no demand to commute and be time efficient; or the enemy of a neoliberal logic where the avidity to spend and accumulate – be that money, titles or objects – is the imperative.
G: Indeed. Let’s all turn the slow mode on! Even before the pandemic, compared to you or to other fellow artists, I would have not called myself a fast producer, although I am used to develop quick responses to new contexts in projects such as residencies, for instance. I would say I am more of an intense producer of ideas that I often keep for myself until they spontaneously manifest into artworks – and that is not always the case. How many hours have we spent, since we first met, talking about thoughts rather than finished artworks? I might not employ 10 hours of my day making art in the studio, but I certainly spend double that time on an idea.
M: So what is the most current idea you are obsessing over?
G: I am thinking about them in the context of a project that is under construction and that considers some aspects of our historical moment, although I started it a while ago. It focuses on the concept of hostile environment – that does not necessarily refer to the planet’s ecology but is rather a reflection on how we navigate the world. I am looking into mass migration and displacement, which can be either voluntary or enforced, emphasizing issues that relate to borders, political restrictions or religious conflicts. I am interested in how communities adapt to new, different environments and circumstances. Adaptation generally happens in stages: after moving somewhere, there is the phase of settling down, the integration into the economic and social life of the hosting context and finally, in some extreme cases, a complete assimilation where the difference between immigrant and native people is nullified.
M: Is complete assimilation ever the case? Should it be?
G: I suppose it depends on how we chose to define it.
M: Are you talking about cultural assimilation or socio-economic equality? The first one I am sceptical about, and perhaps even unwilling to support unless it is further problematized, the second one I think should be the goal, which we are still far from.
G: Exactly, these are some of the ideas I am trying to challenge. More specifically, I am interested in the flows of migration from the South of the world to the geopolitical North. The wealthier North is as a source of attraction and the developer of a system that imposes politics of selection based on specific characteristics such as employability, for instance. I am not referring to the condition of refugees, because they stand for a different category of enforced migration that can grant them political protection as well as open up to an all other set of potential discrimination issues. A related point is the strengthening of borders and the consequent reduction of acceptance, which keeps on feeding the nationalist ideals that we are seeing growing stronger in many countries in Europe and other parts of the world.
M: Where do mosquitos come into play?
G: Mosquitoes are insects that move in groups to seek better living conditions, forming large communities, colonies, and adapting themselves to the new areas they visit. In the least, they are irritating to human beings as they suck their blood and in the worst-case scenario they are a threat to their hosts’ health and even life. Think about diseases carried by and spread through mosquitos, such as malaria or the zika virus. They have brought governments to develop extermination strategies to fight and kill the insect. Though mosquitos move and operate to fulfil a survival instinct and, like all animal species, play a fundamental role in the natural food chain and ecosystem. In this project, I am painting around 100 mosquito portraits in a 1:1 scale. Some of them are depicted alive, while others in a condition of death. This is the first, preparatory step for a large-scale environmental installation that will reflect on some of the concepts we have talked about. However, this later phase of the project is still waiting to be elaborated in my mind, so I cannot yet talk about it.
M: Would you call this a pleasant waiting?
G: Indeed, and a very productive one.
Giuseppe Lana is an artist who lives and works between Catania and London. He explores notions of history, memory, identity and time, developed through site- specific installations and the ongoing project DRON. His artistic research is influenced by the local context of Sicily, inspired by historical events as well as personal stories. Giuseppe’s work is included in various private collections both in Italy and internationally. Selected recent projects include Crossover– BAM Biennial Arcipelago Mediterranean, Palermo (2019), Preservation is an act of political warfare: an exchange artist residency between Sicily and Australia (2019), Politics of Dissonance, Manifesta 2018, Palermo (2018), New Commission – Italian capital of culture Museo Palazzo Riso, Palermo (2018), Artist in Residence at Fondation Boghossian, Bruxelles (2018) and Photology Air (Art In Ruins), Noto (2018). Recent solo and group projects include Pareidolia, Daniel Benjamin Gallery/The Space Station, London (2019), Souvenir, Spazio Murat, Bari (2019), Business as Usual, Kreuzberg Pavillon, Berlin (2017), Out of Sight, Five Years, London (2016), Internation Art, HDLU, Zagreb (2015), L’uccisione di Priamo, Galleria Francesco Pantaleone, Palermo (2015), “Ce l’ho / Mi manca”, History of collecting in Italy in the last ten years, Museo Mandralisca, Cefalù (PA), The artist as curator’s art Vol. IV, Schau Fenster, Berlin (2014), Fragile, Galleria UPP, Venice (2014), Un’Opera per il Castello, Castel Sant’Elmo, Naples (2014), Contemporary Park Art Project / CPAP, Villa Aurelia, Parco Archeologico Valle dei Templi, Agrigento (2014), Let it go, Museo Palazzo Riso, Palermo (2014), Togli il fermo, American Academy, Rome (2013). In 2008, Giuseppe co-founded the artist run space BOCS in Catania, where he is still involved in the role of Artistic Director.
Featured Image: Giuseppe Lana, “Nine thousand three hundred thirty-five” (Amnesia) (2013). 01:03 min. Video frame