Lelio Aiello, An interview with Bianco-Valente, 2008
I meet Bianco -Valente in their house / studio in Naples at a very busy moment in their artistic career: right in the middle an exhibition on show at the Galleria Contemporaneo in Mestre, their first retrospective at the GAM in Gallarate and a solo show at the galleria Alfonso Artiaco in Naples. We greet each other between the constant ringing of the house phone and their mobiles, which don’t give us a moment’s peace… it is only in the evening that we finally manage to do the interview.
Lelio Aiello: Differently from many of your colleagues who have moved to other Italian or European cities, you decided to live and work in Naples.
Giovanna Bianco: When we began working in Naples there wasn’t the great number of galleries and the interest in contemporary art that you find here today, that’s the reason why so many artists from Naples moved to Milan. Nowadays there are museums, private galleries and a lot of collecting.
Pino Valente: There was very little for contemporary art, there was no investment, or they only invested in things that were already historicised. We were tempted. We thought it would be easier to work and get visibility in a city like Milan or Bologna. We weighed up the possibilities for a few months, but in the end we decided to stay here. We like the tension which drives Naples, and its energy.
L. A. So a city’s character has an influence on your work?
V. Of course it does. Particularly in Naples where the most extreme examples of good and evil dwell round every corner. They live together, they are always tangled up. It’s incredible. And nothing ever stays still.
B. Everything is constantly evolving. Nonetheless it was a very deliberate decision- we knew that we would have to make much more of an effort to work here. We are very happy now that we didn’t leave the city. I’m not from Naples, but I’ve lived here for years, and I always think it is a bit of a defeat if you have to leave the city that shaped you.
L. A. If I remember right, you have been together since 1994. About a year later you discovered your true passion: art. The hand of fate, an unforeseeable astral coincidence. You have been developing the project RSM for about six years. It is an attempt to change your destiny through an ancient astronomical/ astrological theory. Can you tell me about it?
V. I don’t think that destiny exists, or that these famous astral influences decide exactly what is going to happen. I’d rather say that these are trends, events which might go this way or that. The first written record of the theory that the project is based on dates back to medieval times, and even then it is spoken of as an ancient thing, dating back to the dawn of time.
B. Maybe even to the Babylonian period.
L. A. It seems to me that the RSM project has become a performance hidden from the public, and thus intimate. Will it stay as a private source which feeds into your work, or will it become an artwork in itself?
V. There is a double meaning, if you like. On one hand we are trying out this theory on ourselves. It is a theory which seems incredible, it has been analysed by the Neapolitan scholar, Ciro Disceplo. On the other hand, and just as important, is the experience of travelling to distant places and situations which are completely different to our daily lives.
B. We didn’t want to make socially active work, showing places or how these people live, we were more interested in developing a relationship with them. Many works, like “Tempo universale”, “Relational domain” and even the new piece “The effort to recompose my complexity” are the fruits of these experiences. We often wonder if there is really a connection between the position of the planets and the things which happen on earth. Do they have an influence? And if they do, it means that everything which happens is connected, that there are invisible threads which tie all things together. That is the reason why all our recent works always contain the idea of plot, connections, relationships and the ramifications rather like the choices, the destiny and the crossroads of our existence.
L. A. They say that Pino would have been a geologist and you would have been a film historian.
B. No, a language teacher. We would have done other things if we hadn’t met.
V. Life is made up of choices, of crossroads.
L. A. At the Galleria Contemporaneo in Mestre you are showing the installation “Relational Domain”, which I love, and “The effort to recompose my complexity”, a new piece created for the space. This is also relational but made with concrete materials such as paper and graphite. On the one hand there is the immateriality of video, and on the other this need to get your hands dirty with the materials.
B. Yes, we have always been fascinated with using our hands to create artworks. Unfortunately we can’t draw or paint very well. The only work we used them in was “Unità minima di senso”: a kilometre long strip of paper where we wrote with a pen our most intimate experiences over the course of several months. It was a key work for us.
V. It changed our handwriting forever. I can’t write or sign my name like I used to. I lost my handwriting in this frenzy of writing.
B. It is an open work - every now and then we continue it.
L. A. “The effort to recompose my complexity”, digital drawings of the branching structure of trees and of nerves and veins, glued directly onto the walls of the exhibiting space and connected by a tangle of lines.
B. It is a work which refers to physical effort and the attempt we have made to reconstruct the complexity of our being. When we started to install it there was a kind of tension, a sort of fear of touching the wall, but then we got started and it was fantastic. It is the second time we use our body to make an artwork. It’s something I really like.
V. We talked about the essence before, it’s about bringing things into relationship with each other, we were interested in reconstructing a map or plan of how we are made inside. I’m referring to the Bianco-Valente being as if it was a single thing. It is more complex because in actual fact we are two people, even if we are a single thing in artistic terms. The aim is to reconstruct some of the complexity of which we are made, even if it’s only a fractional part.
B. This too is a work in progress, we have already thought about how it will evolve. For example, at the Gam in Gallarate there will be a video which will seem to be continuously fragmented, always with the intention of reconstructing a single unit, a complex skeleton where it will never be possible to see a completely perfect, defined and clear image. There is always this fragmenting of the interior and the physical landscape.
L. A. You have your first retrospective at the Gam in Gallarate. This is an important moment for any artist. What criteria did you use in choosing the works?
B. We gave preference to the video and video-installation works made from 1995 up to 2008, with the addition of another development, a step beyond the videos- I’m referring to “The effort to recompose my complexity” of course. There might be a video installed outside the Museum.
V. We wanted to do a more wide-ranging show. An artwork on the wall takes up a physical space, whilst a video tends to invade the whole environment, particularly if there is sound. As such it is necessary to have spaces which are large enough and expensive equipment. In this case the problem was more the space than the budget and we had to limit ourselves to about 10-11 video installations, which is still quite a lot. There is going to be a catalogue with the show, and the catalogue texts are very high quality with lots of new ideas and reflections about our work.
L. A. Each artwork an artist makes is the result of a non-answer which leads to the need to make another, but a retrospective can give some answers.
B. That’s true in a way. A retrospective is the measuring of the evolutionary development of one’s work, but also of the constants which are always there. This came to light whilst we were looking at the large amount of work which we have produced over time- it was an interesting thing to see.
V. Kind of, it’s a bit like looking in the mirror… maybe.
L. A. Were there particular requests by the exhibition curators?
V. No, it was interesting to compare our point of view regarding the choice of works and the structure of the catalogue with theirs, which was certainly more detached. But it will be interesting to see the results of this exchange when the show is up.
L. A. Your work tries to make the invisible visible, mental images.
V. Exactly, the show is called Visibile - Invisibile.
B. Did you know the title?
L. A. No- this is the first time I’ve heard it. Video and video-installation have only started to become part of museum and private collections in the last few years. You work primarily with this language…
V. When we started working they would put paintings and photography in exhibitions… nowadays we don’t think about how saleable an artwork is, we’re not interested in this aspect. We tend to engage the entire exhibiting space with our video installation and its sound.
B. Furthermore, the relationship between the work and the environment, the architectural space itself, is a subject we have always addressed. It has always been of particular interest to us, right from the start.
L. A. The fundamental aspect of your work is installation, then there are some works which just have to be done…
B. We are very parsimonious when it comes to making “saleable” works which are primarily shown in art fairs. We feel like it is a kind of interruption of the underlying work, a pause, a freeze-frame…
V. It’s a snap shot, or rather a number of snap shots.
L. A. Arte Povera has received notable international recognition, possibly the only recognition given to the Italian art scene. It has left its mark on your generation and more recent ones. However your work has its roots in the experimentation of expanded cinema, psychedelia and, from certain points of view, some of Wim Wenders’ films.
V. This might be due to the fact that we never went to art school. Maybe being a bit “ignorant”, so to speak, can also make you a bit more free, and the fact of starting later on made us more aware of the things we were doing…
maybe that’s it.
L. A. Maybe. What is the destination for your next trip?
V. We need to discover it yet. In April it is my birthday, time to work it out... Rangoon or a north European city.
Taken from Alfabeto Esteso, Bianco-Valente, Dario De bastiani Editore, Vittorio Veneto (TV), 2008