Stanley Donwood



Dry, concise, paratactical and slightly haunted – all pervaded by a good dose of sharp sarcasm. This is Stanley Donwood, mostly known as the signature brushstroke behind all Radiohead’s album artwork since 1994, but not only. His artistic production spans indeed painting, drawing, engraving and writing, and touches upon a variety of themes, among which an all-pervading feeling of alienation and impotence with regard to the human condition. Starting from his tales and nightmarish diaries, we gradually ventured into Stanley’s labyrinth. Here is what we found out.

ELISABETTA P. — I’d like to start by saying that I found your writings both challenging and ravishing: for a moment I was plunged into your stream of consciousness, your daily anxieties, nightmares, chronicles and experiences. Would you say your artworks are an ultimate visual synthesis of your inner scrutiny? Or are they rather a way of sending a message out there?
STANLEY D. — My writings begin as nightmares which I find hard to contain. I thought that it would be a good idea to slice them up and dissipate them; I did this by writing them down, and initially sending them out to friends and acquaintances as a sort of mail-art. I reasoned that if a nightmare was distributed to many people, it would become kind of homeopathic; entertaining rather than disturbing. After a while of doing this, the internet arrived and in order to further the dissipation of the nightmares, I published them on a website I built for that purpose. Then I met a man at the pub who said he’d like to publish them in an actual book, which he did. The stories have now been published several times in various peculiar ways, and Faber & Faber has published them again, as a collection, in 2014. So, now they’ve been read by a lot of people and no longer trouble me. Hopefully soon they’ll have been read by even more.


ELISABETTA P. — Both by observing your artworks and by reading your texts, I have noticed that you have drawn upon mythology and symbology to then form a peculiar symbolic repertoire which has become one of your distinguishing stylistic features. Can you explain, for example, what fascinates you about the figure of the minotaur and the theme of the labyrinth?
STANLEY D. — I started trying to make a film about London as an imaginary prison; or rather, as a prison of the mind. This was a long time ago, now, and unfortunately the footage has been lost. I was filming in the older parts of the city, where much of the Mediaeval street pattern survives but has been transformed by modern architecture into dark canyons walled with concrete and glass. My wanderings were directed by a hopelessly out-of-date guidebook published in 1911 and a peculiar book about prehistoric London published by an order of druids at around the same time. I spent a long time on this project, and when I look back on that time, I think I might have been a bit mad.
I also joined the National Trust (which was rather out of character) so I could visit various mazes in the gardens of stately homes. Mazes are very different to labyrinths; mazes can contain dead-ends and multiple routes, whilst labyrinths are unidirectional, and inevitably lead to celebrant to the centre. The minotaur is, of course, the mythical inhabitant of the labyrinth at Knossos in Crete; I even went to Crete to investigate the site. A strange island; despite the bright sunshine it’s sort of eerie. I wanted to walk out into the interior of the island on a dusty road until I collapsed.

Cover artwork for RADIOHEAD’S ‘I MIGHT BE WRONG’

ELISABETTA P. — The minotaur is notably considered as a monstrous and terrifying character, although you’ve come to represent it as a tiny weeping figure. What meaning does it have to you?
STANLEY D. — I imagined that the half-bull, half-human baby born of the union of Queen Pasiphae and a bull would not have had a happy childhood. Rejected by humanity, expelled to the dark stone womb of the subterranean labyrinth beneath the palace, fed once every seven years on human flesh – the creature will not – cannot – be anything other than a monster. But the true monsters of Earth are us, the human race.  We are the ones who build a labyrinth around ourselves, and we are the monsters who roam its passages. The minotaur weeps for itself, but also for us.

ELISABETTA P. — What other symbolism normally recurs throughout your work?
STANLEY D. — I’m not sure; I don’t consciously choose to use symbols. That probably sounds ludicrous… I suppose I think of them as icons rather than symbols; elements that are open to interpretation, rather than having a fixed meaning. I’ve used that bear-creature with the pointy teeth a lot; that began as a picture to illustrate a story I was telling my daughter one winter morning long ago. I like the sorts of icon/symbol/image that people can copy easily, to doodle on a school text book or spray on a wall. A number of people have had tattoos of these things done, which is either a terrific compliment or a bit weird. Or both.

ELISABETTA P. — Nature seems to have a relevant presence in your paintings, drawings and prints, although it often appears to have a conflictual relationship with the human environment. It is never benevolent or reassuring but rather threatening and eerie. What’s your relationship with it and the way you choose to represent it?
STANLEY D. — I think perhaps I have an overactive imagination. The idea of a solitary walk in a forest is very appealing in theory, but whenever I try it I get very jumpy. The last time I went out for a lonely walk for a few days in woods and forests everything went wrong quite quickly. I got lost and drunk, or drunk then lost, or something. It all went a bit Blair Witch Project when it got dark. 
I think the idea of nature as ‘picturesque’ or ‘pretty’ is extremely recent in human history; really, this concept doesn’t date back much further than the 18th century in the West. For most of humanity’s existence nature has been a source of threat, whether real or imagined, actual or spiritual. I’m as appreciative of the natural world as I could be, but I don’t see it merely as an attractive backdrop.

ELISABETTA P. — When approaching your works, particularly your paintings – where primary and vibrant colours get muddy and deadened by black brushstrokes and where the canvas’ surface is scratched with edgy and stylised figures – we feel like the spectators of some post-apocalyptic scenario. We’re thinking particularly at the ominous landscape series you made for Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ record sleeve. What’s the thinking and concept behind such a painting style and subject?
STANLEY D. — The work for ‘Kid A’ was a series of large (6′ x 6′) canvases, painted using knives and sticks, with paint, mud, gravel, soot, artex and charcoal. The inspiration for them was, loosely speaking, the war in the former Yugoslavia. I had seen a very distressing photograph of a patch of snow marred with boot-marks, engine oil, cigarette butts and blood. That is where that series of works began. I wanted to use the idea of snow – often described as ‘virginal’ or ‘a blanket’ – becoming the canvas for all sorts of distant atrocities. During the painting of those pictures – I think there were five or six of them – I descended into quite a strange world.


ELISABETTA P. — Are there any artists you have mainly been drawing your inspiration from?
STANLEY D. — Too many to mention! And not just artists, it’s writers too, and textbooks, and advertising, and, well, everything.

ELISABETTA P. — Apart from that, what dictates your drive to make art? Is there anything else in your environment which inspires your production?
STANLEY D. — Not really. To be honest, I try not to investigate this too deeply, for fear that by understanding my motives I might kill them, or injure them at least…

ELISABETTA P. — You make consistent use of traditional printing and etching techniques, such as lino print and Risograph printing. What brought you to approach these media? What can you achieve with them?
STANLEY D. — I became extremely bored with digital ways of working. My life seemed to be reducing itself to a series of mouse-clicks, trackpad swipes and button-pressing. More worryingly, as memory became cheaper to buy, my own organic memory seemed to be shutting down. First it was phone numbers, then the forgetfulness started to seep into operational areas; I could remember how to do something whilst sitting in front of a computer, but I couldn’t explain how the action was carried out if I was asked. I began to wake up in what I can only describe as a computer-like way, and I started to read out loud what I was doing on a computer; ‘file, save as, quit, shut down’. It was a bit worrying. So, I started to paint again, I started to draw, and I started to find out how to actually DO things.

ELISABETTA P. — Ok, you get probably asked about Radiohead all the time, still do you mind telling us about the creative process behind every album’s artwork? Are you particularly attached to any of those in particular?
STANLEY D. — Well, very briefly, and from a practical point of view, ‘The Bends’ was made using a VHS video camera, them photographing the results from a TV, then scanning the photographs. ‘Ok Computer’ was done by scanning loads of detritus, old textbooks and using a tablet and a light-pen, and not using the undo function ever. ‘Kid A’ was done by taking large paintings as a starting point, then using a program called Lightwave. ‘Amnesiac’ was mostly from sketchbooks, maps and photographs taken in Tokyo, ‘Hail to the Thief’ was large paintings again, ‘In Rainbows’ was done using hypodermic syringes, ink and molten wax, and ‘The King of Limbs’ was a big mixture of lots of different techniques.

ELISABETTA P. — Frontman Thom Yorke is renown to be the most active, among the band’s members, concerning the ideas input behind the artworks you produce for them which, over time, have come to delineate a very distinctive visual identity for Radiohead. Would you say there is some visual and ideological bound between the two of you?
STANLEY D. — Yes, I think I would.

ELISABETTA P. – What’s the story behind the Radiohead Bear ‘logo’?
STANLEY D. — As I mentioned earlier, it began as a quick drawing to illustrate a story I was telling my very small daughter when I was half asleep about how adults stop playing with their toys, and the toys end up being left in the attic where they slowly get angrier and angrier before coming down the stairs to eat the now-adult children who abandoned them.

ELISABETTA P. — Have you ever considered quitting painting for writing?
STANLEY D. — No, but I have found that I can’t do both at the same time.

ELISABETTA P. — What are you currently working on?
STANLEY D. — I’m working on a few things concurrently; one is a series of paintings that I’m calling ‘Sacred Landscapes’, which are large, brightly coloured renditions of a combined cartographic and topological view of the lands centred on sites of mystery in the islands of Britain – chalk figures carved into hillsides, prehistoric stone monuments, places like that. I start with large-scale maps and transcribe the field patterns, then paint in the fields, and have carefully applied drips running upwards into a black sky.

‘AVEBURY’ — from the series ‘SACRED LANDSCAPES’

Another project is a series of paintings, the first few of which form the artwork for Thom Yorke’s new project, ‘The Smile.’ We’ve been painting these together, and they’re loosely inspired by the maps produced by a mediaeval Arabic pirate. We hope to exhibit this series of paintings some time relatively soon, but I don’t know where or when, or indeed how. And as far as I can remember, the last project is a series of drawings which are a sort of spare time activity. These are essentially drawings of paths that disappear. I’m probably doing some other things but I’ve temporarily absented them from my mind.

June 2023

Paola Manfrin



How is an image born? We asked Paola Manfrin, Independent Creative Director, or better, ‘Image Engineer’. Images are Paola’s chosen language, her obsession, her DNA. It all begins with observation: her eyes relentlessly sounding out the world, ready to steal and manipulate everything her visual radar detects. All her life, Paola has been walking a thin line between art and communication, never claiming to be an artist, yet knowing all of art’s inner workings.
We got to her through the backdoor of Permanent Food, an editorial project ahead of its time created in partnership with Maurizio Cattelan between the end of the 90’s and the beginning of the 2000s. At once a magazine and the negation thereof, Permanent Food is a cannibal periodical, feeding on the torn pages of other magazines, re-assembled to form purely-visual binary sequences. Evocative, provocative, disturbing, exhilarating – the game of free association reaching artistic sublimation.
Our conversation reveals an all-round creative mind that no longer needs words to express herself. A journey through art and communication that began with printed matter and continued to morph thereafter, in unison with those media which at once shaped it and provided a stage for it. Through Paola’s words, we rewind the visual reel of the past 30 years, tracing back some of the most significant technological and digital milestones of our century: from smartphones to NFTs. Fast forward to our day, Permanent Food never fails to reaffirm its contemporary relevance – a simple yet groundbreaking concept that turned visual communication into art.


ELISABETTA P. — Hi Paola, let’s get straight to the point. Tell us about Permanent Food: how did the project evolve over time? What was your role?
PAOLA M. — Permanent Food is a cannibal magazine, born as a fanzine with Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Maurizio Cattelan and later morphing into a different concept as I stepped into the game. In the first issue, which also includes one of my artworks, contributors were asked to reinterpret existing images. It featured some of the greatest artists of the time, the likes of Takashi Murakami, Liam Gillick, Angela Bulloch, Noritoshi Hirakawa, Carsten Höller, Piotr Uklanski and Wolfgang Tillmans. From a formal point of view, I believe my images differentiate themselves from the others featured in that issue for their visual language, which was already more clearly akin to that of fashion and communication, rather than art. From the second issue onwards, Dominique went on to take other paths, so I took over and radically changed the magazine’s editorial concept. From then on, Maurizio and I would simply select, reassemble and edit pages we tore out of other publications. Each issue implied a huge amount of work – it was a strenuous process. From a communication perspective, the first idea was perhaps stronger, more unique, because artists were actively reinterpreting existing images, but Maurizio insisted that we changed it. Maybe he’s always been right about it, who knows… 


ELISABETTA P. — Let’s take a step back. How did it all begin?
PAOLA M. — One day, coming out of an exhibition, I met Maurizio Cattelan. He just stood there, holding an ugly flyer of an exhibition of his. Suddenly, he came up to me and asked: 
– ‘What do you think about it?’
– ‘Well, that looks pretty bad!’, I answered, plainly.
– ‘How would you do it?’, he asked me.
– ‘Well, let’s just do it. Shall we?’ was my answer.
And from that brief yet blunt chat our friendship and collaboration began. Our intentions were perhaps a little cynical at the start: Maurizio wanted to ‘use’ me, but in the positive sense of the word. Gossip had it that he was hanging out with a publicist and a curator. People thought he was doing commercial compromises, but in fact he was just making art, plain and simple. I’ve never told him what to do, ever. Our collaboration was purely based on inspiration.
In those years, I was working for McCann-Erickson and had a great space at my disposal. Maurizio soon set up base there. We had computers, internet, a budget for purchasing magazines and books. The place was brimming with creative talents. We leafed through and ripped off pages, always coquetting with our own intellectual nonsense. Massimiliano Gioni often came by – we were always together. It was amazing! It was like our very own Factory, and it is in that very space that we assembled the first issues of Permanent Food. There’s a piece by Maurizio dating back to that period (2001) which is the exact scaled copy of my office – a clear sign that he had become one with that place. 


ELISABETTA P. — Your email signature reads: ‘Independent Creative Director’. Can you tell us what you do?
PAOLA M. — Sure. Well, the term ‘Independent’ is quite self-explanatory, while that of ‘Creative Director’ has been my role for a lifetime. ‘Image Engineer’ is perhaps the expression that best defines me. It was tailored for me by Cino Zucchi, a very talented Italian architect. I don’t write it in my email signature as it might sound presumptuous or a joke, but I like it, because it’s true: I engineer images. My work consists in applying creative thought to anything: from the visual identity of a fashion brand to more sophisticated concepts for artists, architects, or thinkers in general. I’m also very generous when it comes to sharing my ideas, simply because it is the best way of spending my time. As I always say: ‘Still better than working!’

ANDREA Q. — What is the first memory that comes to mind with regard to your visual talent?
PAOLA M. — My imagination as a child, I would say. Besides my sense for aesthetics, which is clearly the result of the creative context I grew up in. I can recall my incredible ability to make up stories – both in my dreams and in reality. All I needed were a couple of matches or LEGO bricks. Toys were much more stimulating back in the days. I believe that games like LEGO or Meccano share the merit of having shaped some of the greatest creative minds in the world, simply because they lent themselves to infinite applications, thus opening one’s mind creatively. 

Comic strip (in collaboration with UMBERTO MANFRIN) — Artwork by MAURIZIO CATTELAN

ELISABETTA P. — How did your passion evolve over time? How did you define yourself artistically and professionally?
PAOLA M. — As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in a creative environment: my home was a meeting place for famous artists and cartoonists of the time – pure culture. My father was Umberto Manfrin, co-author together with Giorgio Rebuffi and Roberto Renzi, of the Italian comic series ‘Tiramolla’. He also made many of the preparatory drawings for Maurizio Cattelan’s works. All that surely had an influence on my creative upbringing. My career kind of started out by chance: one day, as I was modelling for an advertising shooting, I decided to step forward and talk to the project’s Creative Director. And that’s how my pathway in the world of communication and advertising began, first as a Creative Director at McCann-Erickson, then at Armando Testa, and now independently.

ANDREA Q. — What do you and Maurizio Cattelan have in common?
PAOLA M. — Images, our obsession with images. I don’t know where to put them anymore, I have hundreds of thousands of them! I use them for everything: for Interview Match – my online editorial project – for creating my campaigns, for communicating. My life is pervaded by images and I’m in a constant state of alert, ready to detect new ones – which is perhaps why I always remember where I’ve seen something. I now recall, for instance, a funny episode related to Permanent Food, namely when Maurizio was caught in the act of tearing pages out of books and magazines in a New York bookstore, where he of course couldn’t set foot for a year thereafter!

Paola Manfrin’s desk at McCann-Erickson, 2003 — Photo courtesy of PAOLA MANFRIN

ELISABETTA P. — Your life appears as a balancing act between art e advertising. Which one of the two, in your opinion, takes advantage of the other?
PAOLA M. — The truth is that, in this time in history, there’s no longer any difference between prey and predator: it is not clear who is taking advantage of whom. Advertising no longer exerts the influence it did prior to the advent of social media, which completely revolutionised its language and dynamics. Certainly, through the legitimisation of museums, critics, and collectors, art has maintained its own, distinct integrity. At the same time, social media, and more recently NFTs, have engendered a whole new, autonomous legitimation system, whereby previously unknown talents have managed to bypass the institutional circuits of art and gained an ‘artist status’ purely based on the consensus earned on social media channels. NFTs are perhaps the most striking evolution of this phenomenon, with artists reaching staggering quotations on a market that moves in parallel with that of the so-called ‘official art’ of the 2020s. An upheaval in the art market that has unfolded in the span of barely two years – there is not even a decade between these two realities. 
The same goes for advertising. Brands now communicate through different outlets: there are podcasts, Instagram and other social media platforms… and, let’s face it, whether we like it or not, now there are influencers: figures that did not exist in the past century. The press, intended as billboards or printed ads, is now struggling to reclaim the authority it once enjoyed. The same holds true for TV commercials, which are now being replaced by more pervasive media platforms, such as YouTube. Back in the days, brands would hire contemporary artists to create advertising campaigns, now such a thing would be unthinkable, and even ridiculous. Figures like Alessandro Michele skilfully source references from the world of art, design or photography and make them theirs in an authorial way as part of their brand communication. 


ELISABETTA P. — Yes, everything has become more ambiguous, or rather flatter…
PAOLA M. — No, I don’t see that as a flattening process, but simply as an evolution: it is the contemporary turn of communication, which should never be mistaken for art tout court. The cross-pollination of visual references has become so widespread that it is almost impossible to define the boundaries of appropriation. 

ELISABETTA P. — How have social media influenced the contemporary visual language, in your opinion?
PAOLA M. — Social media have radically changed visual communication: people have become familiar with images and use them in a much more conscious way to present themselves and their work. This also applies to artists and the way they showcase their work. That said, there are still ‘purists’ who don’t know a thing about social media and stubbornly refuse to use them. 

ANDREA Q. — Even Maurizio Cattelan had set up an Instagram account at some point…
PAOLA M. — Yes, but even in that case, Maurizio gave proof of his artistic ability: on his account he would post an image, which he then systematically deleted. Then he got tired of it and moved on. Nevertheless, he came up with an innovative way of using that medium. 
Instagram is now a catalyst for brand communication – I deal with it daily in my work, so I’m quite familiar with its dynamics. Lately, people are beginning to consider the idea of using it as a platform for specific projects, instead of posting something every day, which after all is just an empty pursuit. 


ELISABETTA P. — Let’s get back to Permanent Food for a moment. Browsing through it, it appears as a collection of fragments of a moment in time. The binary relations upon which it is built end up transfiguring the meaning of each image, removing it from its original context. What was the logic behind your associative method?
PAOLA M. – Ours was a consequential operation: our material collection took place over a span of 6 months, based on publications issued in that same period. Each issue reflected hence the historical context it was created in. And that is exactly where later imitators have been failing: their contents are substantially all the same, there is no contextual screening of history, they are not contemporary.
We decided to put an end to the project for two reasons: first of all, its life cycle was over, and secondly because we started having copyright issues. This is why I later moved on to Interview Match and Maurizio to Toilet Paper, now he’s the author of the images he publishes, together with Pierpaolo Ferrari, and that is a winning factor. 
On July 10, 2013 – 5 years after the last printed issue – we decided to put Permanent Food online using Tumblr. There we can at least avoid the problems related to copyright: on the internet you can ‘steal’ without getting hurt. The core idea is still the same though: creating associations using images from the web, or rephotographing the pages of our old printed issues. In short, we try to stay true to the original concept and mirror the contemporary historical context through what is published on the web.


ELISABETTA P. — Speaking of the web, can you tell us what your image research process looked like at that time? We are specifically referring to the period between the end of the 90s and the beginning of the 2000s: the Internet already existed, but was still in its infancy. How did digital and analogue integrate in your work? 
PAOLA M. — First of all, we did extensive research on print media. In addition, before smartphones became available, I always carried around a small-format camera. In the streets, in movie theatres: I took photos everywhere and all the time, and that was also a source of image-material for Permanent Food. I remember when the first models of cellphone with integrated camera appeared in the early 2000s. The image quality was still very poor though, and I just couldn’t wait for someone to invent a phone that took photos as good as a real camera. To me, it was also a matter of looks: I loved small handbags, but they couldn’t possibly fit both a camera and my cellphone. I believe many people had the same intuition, and when the first smartphones hit the market, I just couldn’t believe it: finally, I could take photos with my phone! Today I’m very active on Instagram also because I love to create impromptu photo or video content. 


ANDREA Q. — Did you also shoot on film?
PAOLA M. — No. I’ve always loved immediacy, so I used digital cameras or, if anything, I shot Polaroids. For the same reason I’m not very fond of video editing and montage. After all, I could do what I do also with moving images, but I loathe the editing process, it bores me. 
I even attended a cinema school in New York City. It was there that I realised how much I enjoyed directing, but also how much I hated editing. Cinema is an extraordinary creative and narrative means, but it requires a degree of perseverance that not all are capable of. Of course, in my work I also deal with video, but I just give my creative input to professionals who know how to use this medium in a convincing way.  
Nowadays, creative talents are required to master an impressive range of skills – skills that once used to be at the core of different professional roles: there would be an Art Director, an editor, a director, an illustrator, a photographer, and so on. Now, many of these functions have merged into one. Over the years, I’ve managed to keep pace with this generational shift, but I guess this is also due to my relentless curiosity. 

ELISABETTA P. — Can we then think of Permanent Food as of a sort of proto-internet?
PAOLA M. — I’ll reply with an anecdote. One day, someone emailed us a PDF version of the magazine compiled with images sourced from the web. Maurizio and I looked at each other and said: ‘It’s over.’ In a way, that person was a precursor, too.

ANDREA Q. — Indeed, it is hard to tell the difference between the two. 
PAOLA M. —Yes, the taste and tone of voice are the same. Maurizio was ecstatic: he’s always happy when someone tries to copy him. Picasso docet: ‘Good artists copy, great artists steal’.


ELISABETTA P. — Permanent Food brings to mind the many magazines born as the offspring of specific art movements, such as the surrealist Minotaure, for example. Does your work bear any specific reference to the avantgardes? 
PAOLA M. — Yes, absolutely. The first who did so in Italy were the Futurists. Moreover, in the beginning, we also drew our inspiration from Six Magazine, Rei Kawakubo’s editorial project with its signature image-association style.  
Unfortunately, now Tumblr makes it much harder to maintain the structure once offered by the magazine’s double page, especially on smartphones and tablets. However, I can’t separate the two images, otherwise I would betray the original concept. The visual stream of images cannot be enjoyed as well digitally as in the original printed version. So, it is true that that format is reminiscent of early 20th century avantgardes, but it is also very much bound to its printed nature. Maybe at some point the Tumblr version will be over, too. Maybe it’s over altogether. I don’t know.

ANDREA Q. — Are you familiar with Issued by Bottega, the online visual journal through which Bottega Veneta tried to replace their Instagram profile? Although it’s no longer there, it stands out as an interesting attempt at emancipation from social media. What do you think? 
PAOLA M. — I see it a little more cynically than that. Yes, they did try, but mainly with the aim to differentiate themselves, just like everyone else. Balenciaga, for example, is another brand that experiments with alternative communication expedients. In my work, I push myself to come up with something new, too. But it’s not easy. 


ANDREA Q. — Absolutely. In any case, that somehow reminded us of Permanent Food. 
PAOLA M. — Yes, maybe in the way images are put in relation with each other. Permanent Food was really innovative in that respect. Looking at old issues, the degree of innovation in terms of image construction that emerges is unmatched to this day. The same holds true for the digital Tumblr version, and that’s simply because my approach never changed. Updating the page is becoming increasingly difficult, though: my account gets constantly blocked and censored. They won’t let me post even a remotely-sexy picture anymore. 

ANDREA Q. — Censorship on social media is definitely too limiting for expressive purposes.
PAOLA M. — Of course, no one wants to be censored. Tumblr used to be a source of inspiration for me, now it’s nearly impossible to find truly interesting content on it, and on the web in general. Nothing compares to Permanent Food’s strength. You know, fashion brands still approach me today asking for my permission to use some of the images we published back then as, apparently, they are a source of inspiration for their designers. I am not able to grant them copyright clearance though, as technically I don’t own it. 


ELISABETTA P. — The definition of Surrealism published in the 1924 Manifesto reads:
‘Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express—verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner—the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.’
Permanent Food made us think of the associative practices typical of Surrealism, such as the Exquisite Corpse. What is the logic behind your associations? Are they instinctive? Deliberately provocative? Do they aim to create resonances or rather dissonances?  
PAOLA M. — Association is instinctive. That comes from practice, education and so on. I couldn’t do any other job in the world. As I said earlier, I’ve always loved sharing this ‘talent’ of mine, if you will. For example, an advertising campaign takes me no longer than 30 minutes; it is easy for me to interpret dreams and identify where images originate from; and I can appreciate contemporary art. I believe that the ability to enjoy contemporary art is something inborn, it cannot be learned. I could say the same for ancient art, but it’s different, because it tends to be more self-explanatory and often conceived of with a didactic intent.

ANDREA Q. — But even ancient art sometimes loses its didactic function. Piero Della Francesca, for example, has been forgotten over the years for cultural reasons, but has since been rediscovered for his formal qualities. Even those who are unfamiliar with his works can still appreciate their beauty. 
PAOLA M. — Yes, absolutely. However, to be truly understood, art also requires specific knowledge of the historical context. But it is not a determining factor: sometimes aesthetics take over.
The primary sources of inspiration during my early years in advertising were Japanese advertising annuals, which I would have sent over to me from Tokyo. I couldn’t have enough of them and, even though I didn’t understand a word, I acknowledged the Japanese’s incredible talent for visual synthesis. To me, it was pure inspiration. There are some stunning videos in Japan: I’ve seen men dancing with huge compasses to advertise painkillers… things that we would never think of. Or rather, I’ve never got to that point, but the Exquisite Corpse did. The difference between me and the avantgardes is that they made art – something I don’t do, but that Maurizio Cattelan does. Artists create from nothing, I don’t. I can’t create an image from scratch. 


ELISABETTA P. — The Italian television author Enrico Ghezzi has allegedly defined Permanent Food as the printed version of the TV program Blob. How did you feel about that? 
PAOLA M. — We frankly found it a belittling statement, even though, in a way, he was right. After all, Blob was based on the same idea, just using the TV broadcast of the day before instead of magazines. The substantial difference, however, is that Enrico Ghezzi is not an artist: legitimation in a concept of any kind is crucial. Ghezzi is a good television author, and if Blob had been the work of an artist, it would have been different, but done by him, it doesn’t take on the status of a work of art: it’s just a clever editorial idea. It is as if I had made Permanent Food on my own. A nice idea, nothing else. But as soon as an artist legitimises it, a simple idea becomes something bigger, more powerful, deeper… in short, it becomes art. 

ELISABETTA P. — That is also the case of Toilet Paper magazine and the collaboration between Maurizio Cattelan and the photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari. The magazine’s website also features your name: are we to expect any new collaborations between Permanent Food and Toilet Paper? 
PAOLA M. — That between Maurizio and Pierpaolo is an extraordinary creative liaison. Maurizio has always been good at surrounding himself with people who complete him: it happened with me, with Massimiliano Gioni, with Francesco Bonami. Lucio Zotti is also an important right-hand man of his – he has been curating the technical aspects of many of his works. Maurizio, Pierpaolo and I are part of the same network, we are always together. Toilet Paper’s website now serves as a platform for the sale of Permanent Food, but other than that, I don’t have any ongoing projects with them. 

Image courtesy of TOILET PAPER (photo insert of TP ISSUE N° 4) 

ANDREA Q. — What do you think of Toilet Paper?
PAOLA M. — Toilet Paper is now a brand that Maurizio and Pierpaolo export and apply in the most diverse fields – from fashion to design. It was born as a magazine but, over time, its visual language has become so recognisable and distinctive that it has turned, indeed, into a brand. Perseverance proved to be their strength, especially on the part of Pierpaolo who, together with a team of talented people, is the driving force behind the project. 

ANDREA Q. — It is indeed interesting to understand the function of everyone Cattelan surrounds himself with. How is the concept of authorship redefined in light of this? 
PAOLA M. — The working group is part of the work of art: it is an alchemy of several different minds. As history teaches us, sometimes, the dismemberment of a group has led to the end of entire artistic currents. 

ELISABETTA P. — But let’s come to your very own editorial project: Interview Match. A ring in which artists and prominent contemporary minds face each other armed solely with images. Can you tell us about it?
PAOLA M. — Interview Match is the natural evolution of Permanent Food. Simply put, I needed to find a use for the myriad images in my archive. Sending and receiving images as questions and answers is something I’ve always done, even before it became the norm. Based on that idea, I invented this interview format and turned it into an editorial project with a curatorial approach. I’m not a curator, but selecting the right participants was crucial to the project. However, this project is over, too now. Nowadays, anyone can send images or emoji back and forth on WhatsApp. 


ELISABETTA P. — One of the ‘matches’ features Cecilia Alemani, curator of the latest Venice Biennale. What do you think about her work and her impact on the art world? 
PAOLA M. — I like her very much. I’m personally acquainted with both her and Massimiliano Gioni, so I’ve had the chance to see them work together, and I must say that Cecilia has an extraordinary vision: she does a lot of research and manages to discover really unique artists. She directed the High Line’s art program in New York, curated the Italian pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale, as well as other very important exhibitions and, of course, last year’s Biennale. I have been fortunate enough to participate in creative meetings with Maurizio, Massimiliano and Cecilia, and I must say that she’s a sublime curator. I really respect her and I like the fact that her Biennale was a women-only exhibition – a fact that may stir criticism but, after all, art used to be a men’s prerogative and no one felt the need to justify themselves.  

ELISABETTA P. — Are there any new projects in the pipeline?
PAOLA M. — I would like to hang myself in the bathroom, as Maurizio’s latest work.

March 2023

Lukasz Wierzbowski


Visuals as vessels, full to the brim of extraordinary freshness: the act of looking transformed into a truly complete and surprising journey of pure perception. Through a spiral of memories and imagination, the viewer, constantly faced with ever-changing challenges, is uneasily balanced on a thin line separating awkward contrasts and frail harmonies. Under the weird, almost-uncomfortable-to-witness, veil of these peculiar compositions, Lukasz Wierzbowski aims at creating unique moments in which the viewers may mirror themselves and their human experiences. Every picture is a moment in itself, a sudden pull towards a world that runs deeper than the vibrant shapes on its surface.

SARA S. — I have been the biggest fan of your works since your flickr era. There you used the nickname ‘neon tambourine’ – I find the way you put light and sound on the same level quite interesting, different perceptions. Is that what you feel you have to do when it comes to photography? Do you believe in the possibility of recreating different sensations just through visuals? And if so, how do you achieve that?
LUKASZ W. — I find challenging senses both fun and entertaining. In my works, I try to kindle the imagination, to give obviousness a little twist or awkward vibe. I adore how photos can bring back moments from our past. These recollected memories are often filled with fragments of other senses, like the smell of the air after summer rain which we all experience at some point. The most obvious level of visual stimulation covers the surface, hiding other senses beneath it, and I just want to dig a little deeper. I don’t create sets for my photos but I look for for places that feel both familiar and a little strange. I try to find a balance between these factors which results in photos ‘open’ to interpretation, and keeping photos untitled helps to achieve this goal. I simply try to create narratives that everyone can interpret according to their own life story, full of imperfections and small happenings.

SARA S. — Are you able to find ‘inspiration’ on a boring afternoon? Most of your pictures are taken in some cosy indoor. The setting looks familiar, but the situations you create are quite peculiar and unexpected. How do these ideas take form?
LUKASZ W. — I try to dig into everyday situations, it’s only a matter of how we actually treat each moment. A boring afternoon can easily become the most exciting of events, even if nothing particular happens. I tend to return to familiar places and let the moments speak for themselves. There is no preparation as such, since inspiration is based on brief moments of interaction.

SARA S. — You seem to take great care over creating contrast (or is it more like a struggling integration?) between the human universe and its surroundings. What do you think has the most weight in this process, colours, poses, patterns or…?
LUKASZ W. — The clash between humans and their surroundings can very often lead to unexpected situations. I simply like to use a given space in an active manner and see where it takes us. By giving overall directions I am able to observe how the model behaves and moves. There is no right or wrong, I just want this interaction to represent the model’s own interpretation. No matter if it’s a room filled with patterns or deep woods covered in snow, I just want to make sure I exploit space in an interesting and spontaneous way. Each element can trigger an idea, especially as I don’t plan the details of my sessions in advance. Working on the spot, often shooting in places I’ve never seen before, is much more exciting both for me and for my model.

SARA S. — About human presence in your pictures: having had an academic experience with psychology, is exploring moods (in many of your pictures we can perceive some sort of emotional stillness) something you have always wanted to do with the help of a camera? Or did it just happen?
LUKASZ W. — I try to follow my intuition. The constant change of place or motive makes each session very brief and its mood is the result of many factors and it is based on the mutual interactions we create during that same session. This way of doing things, giving very vague directions, can often be somewhat challenging for a model – luckily there is no good or bad. Reaching this state of controlled randomness is what I aim at.

SARA S. — Is there a picture, among those you have taken, which you are really attached to for any particular reason? If so, can you describe what’s happening in it, what the situation was and so on?
LUKASZ W. — Not really. I find the moment of creation – the journey – the most interesting part. As I don’t see the outcome instantly, that is, in real time, seeing the result feels like digging into the past. It gives me time to forget and process the feeling. The bliss of seeing the developed films for the first time doesn’t last long as, by then, I’m usually already involved in working on something new.

SARA S. — While shooting, do you have anything in mind which you absolutely wouldn’t want to attain, something you would really hate to spot in one of your pictures? If not, do you think you have some other key techniques to keep your style so sharp and well-defined?
LUKASZ W. — I’m quite selective and I know what result I want to achieve. I try avoiding things that may somehow portray the situation in a way that I wouldn’t be happy with. I’m definitely not a fan of typically staged posing, so before I even start shooting I normally try to encourage the model to forget about any previous modelling experience and simply to behave in a way which fits him or her. I guess everything is based on intuition, on feeling that you know when you are in the right place at the right time and suddenly everything makes sense. That’s the moment when I know I have to press the shutter button and move on.

SARA S. — What do you think your pictures will look like in the next five years?
LUKASZ W. — I have no idea, I just hope this kind of timeless quality will last. Looking back at the works I did almost 5 years ago, when I started taking pictures, gives me hope for that. Anyway, I’ll be happy as long as photography will give me as much joy tomorrow as it does today.

November 2013

Ulrike Biets


Up-and-Coming Style goes to Brussels to meet Ulrike Biets under the shade of a tree, for a chat about her work, but not only that… Photographer and alert life-observer, Ulrike talks about breaking the rules in order to give images their full power, striving for truthful and anti-spectacular photography. Her raw images and deep hues reflect her life and world, where inspiration springs from all sorts of subjects, from a timeless love for animals to an amusing passion for kitsch and retro horror movies.

ELISABETTA P. — When did you start taking pictures? But particularly, what got you into the world of photography?
ULRIKE B. — I can’t recall exactly how many years ago I started. I’ve been doing photography professionally for roughly five years now, and I really enjoy doing it as a job, although I started taking pictures way before that – it has always been my passion. I remember that my family gave me a camera as a present for my birthday when I was a child, and I started taking photos from a really early age.
Later on, when I went to University, I was undecided whether to get into photography or philosophy.
I ended up choosing philosophy and I graduated four years later, but I was always taking more and more pictures, for magazines and websites, until I got to the point where I started wandering: ‘What have I studied philosophy for…?’

ELISABETTA P. — Are there any photographers or artists who have influenced or inspired you in any way?
ULRIKE B. — Well… this is a question I don’t really like, [laughs]! There are so many names coming up in my mind, and if I mention one, I’m sure I’d leave out others. Generally speaking, I like people who break with tradition. I’m certainly most inspired by people who set breaking points. It is so easy to adapt and follow a pre-existing situation, but you really need guts to break and detach from the rest of the crowd.

ELISABETTA P. — The fact that you studied philosophy is really interesting; do you feel it has given you an in-depth view on the subjects of your photography? Would you say that it influences you, even indirectly, in the way you see or perceive things around you?
ULRIKE B. — I think it’s quite the opposite to be honest: for four years I always had to think thoroughly about everything and to question everything so, in the end, I got so tired of it that photography was almost a reaction, just to put a stop to all that over-thinking in my head! Photography was a real liberation for me, I’ve really re-educated myself: all I was doing was reading and writing and photography was almost a way to ‘switch off’.

ELISABETTA P. — Let’s take a closer look at your work: we can notice some distinguishing aesthetic features characterising your images, such as the dark hues, the desaturated colours and slightly haunting atmosphere; all features that give a peculiar depth and strength to your photographs. What lies behind this stylistic choice?
ULRIKE B. — Well, that’s a bit of a tricky question to answer, I must say. I think it’s mostly my way of being, seeing and living life that comes through my images. I don’t want to say that I have a really ‘dark’ or obscure personality, because, in fact, I’m quite the opposite. But I want to be realistic and truthful, and reality in my opinion is far from being beautiful and ‘happy’. Yes, my photography represents what I am in life: I’m not negative or dark…, it’s difficult to explain. I take photographs instinctively, I don’t think about it, I just do it.

ELISABETTA P. — It might be a forced interpretation, but we have found some similarities with Flemish paintings in your photographs, in terms of colour and composition. Your use of black, for instance, it’s almost used as a ‘blending’ element in your images, as if they were oil paintings. Is it a coincidence or do you believe the visual culture and art of your country has shaped your image-making process?
ULRIKE B. — Well, I’m very flattered by you comparing me to Flemish painters, I’ve never thought about it, really. I think that, subconsciously, everyone gets influenced by their own environment. I was born in the 80’s, and when I was a child I used to visit a lot of museums and galleries with my parents and admired lots of paintings and photography. My mother, by the way, was a photographer herself. Anyhow, I’ve been exposed to art from all over the world, therefore it’s difficult to understand whether a particular kind of art has influenced me or not.

ELISABETTA P. — Do you have any other source of inspiration besides photography?
ULRIKE B. — Everything can be an inspiration. I really love movies. I watch lots for some reason, I’ve always been fascinated by horror movies. I know it may sound weird, but I don’t usually get scared by them, so I’m always looking for a movie that will make me really scared and stop me sleeping at night.

ELISABETTA P. — Maybe you are somehow fascinated by the particular mechanisms used in making horror films…
ULRIKE B. — Yes, that’s surely true; but also by the fact that they normally contain a lot of kitsch, especially B-movies, the older horror films. I love them! I like the colours in those old movies too, I guess they really inspire me. I must add fashions from all eras have always greatly influenced me, too.

ELISABETTA P. — Would you say you have any obsessions?
ULRIKE B. — Maybe animals: I really love animals and photographing them. Animals really move me: they’re perfect models, so real and never fake. Colours are also one of my ‘obsessions’, that’s why I never do black and white photography. I see everything in colours and so my photography is full of colours. I don’t see or ‘feel’ in black and white. Maybe if I wanted to create another world, a fictitious one, I would do so in Black & White, but I photograph in colour, reflecting the way I see things.

ELISABETTA P. — But colours can be manipulated: B&W photography from the 50’s and the 70’s, for instance, does not reveal dramatic differences, whereas colours can vary greatly across time and styles…
ULRIKE B. — Yes, I agree. B&W photography can only be ‘adjusted’ on a scale of grey tones, whereas colour manipulation can leave room to almost endless possibilities. However, personally, I don’t manipulate my work that much, as I work almost exclusively on film, so, once my photos are printed the way I want them I tend to leave them as they are.

ELISABETTA P. — How would you describe your working method, particularly in a fashion photography context? Do you set up your own set? Do your photo-shoots have a precise idea behind them, or do you just leave everything to happen as it comes?
ULRIKE B. — When I decide to take on a fashion editorial, I usually take on all the production because I tend to be a bit of a ‘control-freak’. Even with styling, I’m not the type who can completely delegate everything to stylists: I make mood-boards, I give directions, hoping everyone understands exactly what image I’m trying to create. Sometimes, instead, I might as well take a couple of girlfriends and just do a shooting one afternoon with a bag of clothes… Or even no clothes at all!

ELISABETTA P. — What role do people play in your photos? You portray a variety of subjects, from animals to empty spaces. But the people featured in your images have an extremely strong presence: they are not just mannequins or people seen from afar: they are real characters. This becomes particularly interesting in a fashion context, where ghostly models normally appear as flawless, reassuring and ‘beautiful’, whereas yours are powerful visually and anything but perfect. Why is that?
ULRIKE B. — It’s not that I want to be ‘anti-fashion’, but I just think it’s more interesting, both for me and visually, to take fashion and transform it into something new.
It’s so easy to just go with the flow… I think it’s really intriguing to play with different elements and to prove that a different world of fashion is possible. Let’s turn it upside-down and show how ‘perfect’ doesn’t always mean beautiful. I personally think imperfection is far more interesting and attractive; it gives so much more character! It’s weird: fashion is so much about personality and about how clothes can make you different from the rest of the world, but still most designers and brands have a more commercial vision; which isn’t challenging at all, although I’m aware it’s also all about money and product sale.

ELISABETTA P. — Form or Content, which one gets priority?
ULRIKE B. — I’d say Form. I think that content doesn’t have to be special or spectacular. Sometimes people call me a documentary photographer but, in my opinion, I’m anything but that. Sometimes I take photos of something which people really don’t find interesting, but I make it interesting because I take a photo of it. Anyhow, what’s more important than the subject is the way you photograph it. Sometimes there is something really amazing happening, but I prefer photographing something that isn’t amazing, but rendering it outstanding to the eyes of everyone.

ELISABETTA P. — Tell us a bit more about your work: what would you say has been your major achievement so far? Is there some project you are particularly proud of?
ULRIKE B. — There are lots of things I’m happy with, like people I’ve met and worked with. I was really pleasantly surprised when PogoBooks wanted to do a book on my work. However, I’m just happy I can take the photos I want to take; that’s what’s extremely important – that’s my goal in life: I want to be able to do whatever I want to do. Never compromising isn’t easy, but as long as I can survive without doing so, I’m happy!

November 2013

Marco Pietracupa


‘When I take pictures, I need to feel some excitement: either to laugh or to cry. For the time being I’m laughing, I haven’t started to cry yet!’ — M. Pietracupa
And so does Marco, he laughs and gets emotional when he talks about himself and his world, that very world he captures in his signature images – so naked and honest.
Here I will try to report our conversation with the same honesty and freshness which are so dear to Marco Pietracupa.
We plunge into the red sofas of a cosy café in Milan and we talk; we talk about his role of pioneer and spokesperson of a groundbreaking language on the Italian fashion photography scene – irreverent, loud and almost alien to the ‘Bel Paese’ – a language that makes fun of fashion a little, forcing it to take down that institutional mask it has so stiffly put on. We talk about Juergen Teller, family and prostitutes – maybe we even talk too much.
With his words, he finally exhorts us to give Italy a chance, trying to bring something new to the scene even when it looks like there is no ground for change, because as Marco says: ‘If we all go away, what are we going to be left with?’

ELISABETTA P. — Can you tell us about your first approach to photography? Where did your passion originate from?
MARCO P. — Let’s say my first approach developed within a very familiar context, it’s a passion that I’ve started to nurture since the beginning. My father was a photo amateur and owned a couple of cameras which he kept at home. I very soon grew fond of this object, taking my first photos when I was just a child, to the point that, tired of seeing me handling his precious cameras, which he was rather jealous of, my father bought me one for my own. From that moment on, I started taking photos everywhere: at school, on trips and so on. Without even thinking, I started to develop this passion while growing up, to the point that, from being a hobby-photographer, I finally made that jump to become a professional. 

ELISABETTA P. — What has characterised your photographic evolution thereafter? Have you always kept a constant stylistic direction or have you noticed substantial variations over time? Is there a moment when your distinguishing character has emerged as strong and unmistakable?
MARCO P. — I can say that I have always been faithful to a certain kind of style: there has always been a sort of narrative within my photos, which are never limited to just a purely aesthetic matrix. Another distinguishing feature is perhaps the minimalistic choice which has always led me not to use lights, or to just use the light of my camera-flash and small format cameras.
I have also had a Black&White period, where I became passionate about developing and printing processes which I executed myself. But from there I finally made the final step: from Black&White I radically switched to colour; my way of taking photos, though, has almost remained unvaried. Flash is definitely an instrument that characterises me and that I have been using since the beginnings. Such stylistic direction has been subsequently something I have sought after and elaborated, also influenced by those styles that were emerging in England at that time.

ELISABETTA P. — Therefore, you observed and then re-appropriated all within your own language…
MARCO P. — Yes, exactly. Let’s say that I ‘moved in circles’:  I started from a point, I have experimented along the way, to then come back to the simplest thing which had characterised my beginnings: a small camera with a flash on top. Moreover, casually, in that very first period when I moved to Milan to attend photography school, that particular style was starting to take shape, also in fashion, bringing to light great names, such as Juergen Teller or the less frequently mentioned Mark Borthwick. Borthwick, for instance, is an English photographer who, with his photography, has contributed to reshape the language of fashion in the 90’s, by questioning it, stripping it down and deconstructing it and, most of all, by removing models from the pedestal they had been placed on – making them human. 
As a matter of fact, until the 80’s, ‘supermodels’ were the rule – dressed-up, perfect, untouchable. Then fashion witnessed the birth of a trend that once again promoted ‘humanised’ models: normal women, who could also have a sickish look at times. I embraced this ideal straight away because I felt this necessity – I wasn’t really interested in fashion as such.

ELISABETTA P. — Since you mentioned him first, let’s talk about Juergen Teller, an artist with whom you seem to share common ground. When did you first get to know his work? Was it here in Italy?
MARCO P. — When I first started, Teller was beginning to emerge, and seeing what he was doing has always re-assured me, thus giving me the strength to carry on. Said this, though, we both went our own distinct ways.
Juergen Teller has become a topic I find myself to discuss over rather often. The similarity that people tend to attribute to our work has its positive sides as well as its downfalls: on the one hand, it is a consistent weight on my shoulders, as I get often – and partly understandably – told that I copy him. From a superficial kind of approach, it is quite easy to make such a statement: they see my pictures, they see his, and the association is quite immediate. On the other hand, I consider it certainly as a compliment! Unfortunately, though, only few people are aware of how much I’ve made this language my own distinguishing style.

ELISABETTA P. — Sure, I understand. However, by comparing your work to Teller’s, I would say that there are definitely some distinguishing elements in both. 
MARCO P. — Yes, obviously they are different, but at a first glance, one may see the use of flash and other similar elements and those who don’t go beyond the most superficial layer of the image, immediately place us in the same context. The majority of people probably don’t know that there may be someone else feeling the way he does, having his same kind of taste, the same kind of cultural imprinting. I was born in Alto Adige (South Tyrol) and he was born in Bavaria: we were both born and raised in very similar contexts, both aesthetically and culturally, and this has been surely an influence on the imagery of both of us.
In this same context, we could also mention Walter Pfeiffer, a Swiss photographer now in his seventies. He was already taking this kind of photographs in the 70’s. So, we could as well say that Teller and Richardson copy him. What I mean here is simply that this cultural matrix acts as a determining thread: Pfeiffer is Swiss, Teller is Bavarian and I’m from South Tyrol; casually all three of us are linked by this common German culture, and casually we all take similar pictures.  

ELISABETTA P. — You position is indeed quite unique: you live and work in Italy but you represent in fact a sort of isolated reality. We can affirm that you are the greater exponent of a photographic language which, although broadly accepted and ‘metabolised’ in the rest of Europe, is still struggling to become established in Italy, as considered a particularly extreme current within photography. Have you ever experienced any resistance with regard to this throughout your career?
MARCO P. — Well… resistance is definitely a simplistic word! [laughs] In order to publish my first photo in the so-called ‘institutional’ magazines in Italy, it took me something like 10 years! I started here in Milan in the first half on the 90’s, I think it was 1994. At the end of the second school year, it was very clear to me that this was my language, that this was what I felt and what I had to pursue. However, every time I went to magazines to show my work, they had all sort of reactions: either they got scared or they said I was crazy. The only advice they seemed to all give me was to go to London, where there were editorial projects such as I-D or The Face, which were among those that contributed to legitimise this style in fashion. On the contrary, in Italy many photographers still struggle to be successful within this current.  

ELISABETTA P. — And yet; Italy still figures among the major fashion hubs – why do you think it struggles so much? 
MARCO P. — Again, it is all inevitably linked to a cultural matrix. In Italy this is an alien language, it belongs to another culture. The English, for instance, as well as the Germans, are instinctively closer to this particular imagery. Italy, instead, has always been much more ‘classical’; that’s what belongs to the Italians’ language, and therefore what they express best and more spontaneously.

ELISABETTA P. — Who was the first, far-sighted editor who published one of your photos? 
MARCO P. — My first continuous job was with D di Repubblica, where of course I had to cut my own teeth: I worked on headings for a long time, I think a couple of years. With a little perseverance and stubbornness, in the end I also managed to shoot editorials, which I have been doing for 10 years now. Anyhow, commercially speaking, D was one of the first magazines that believed in me. They were smart enough to realise what was happening on a global scale: they saw the English magazines and understood that this was the language that was starting to get established, that it was something new.

ELISABETTA P. — They eventually opened their eyes…
MARCO P. — Yes, they finally took a little courage. Then in fact they’ve often reprimanded me and imposed me some limitations. Paradoxically, in the beginning I was even more extreme: in the 90’s, the proposed ideal of a woman was almost ill-looking and, naturally, those kinds of magazines were quite resilient to publish something of that sort. In the end though, we found a common ground of agreement: I understood that some things were a bit too over-the-top, while they learnt to like and welcome other things.

ELISABETTA P. — Let’s say you ‘happened’ to get into fashion, and still now we can read a certain irony in your images, a will to desecrate this monolithic institution. What does Marco think about fashion per se? Do you make a little fun of it?
MARCO P. — Let’s say that, on one hand, I like it and on the other hand it amuses me a little: there are things which I simply find exaggerate, useless, absurd. As you say, indeed, I was born outside of fashion: once arrived in Milan I didn’t even know what Vogue Italy was. I just wanted to take pictures, that’s it. I like to take photos with people in them and fashion in Milan was the best thing allowing me to do so. 
What I think about fashion? In the beginning I didn’t think very highly of it, to be honest; they all seemed to take themselves too seriously to me. I came from the mountains and I got thrown into this world which was a bit alien to me. In the end, I understood that also in fashion there were different groups of people, and little by little, I learnt to choose the right ones for me. It was only when I found this language to interpret it, that I started to like fashion. I started to see clothes after years in fashion, until stylists eventually managed to get it into my head – ‘You take great pictures… but where’s the dress?!’. I eventually learned that models were wearing something, and that I had to become able to valorise that something, too.

ELISABETTA P. — You’d do the contrary: in the end, fashion tends to use the person as a ‘hanger’, while you’d rather try to put the dress aside and focus on the person wearing it instead…
MARCO P. — Yes exactly, I’d most likely put the hanger with the dress to one side and the naked model on the other [laughs].

ELISABETTA P. — What inspires you outside of images themselves? Maybe music, movies – is there any imagery in particular you often refer to?
MARCO P. — No, I actually do not take my inspiration from anything in particular, I shoot in a very instinctive manner. Without even knowing, I get inspired by things surrounding me, especially by what is closer to me, I normally don’t go very far. Improvisation is an important factor: I believe it conveys a certain freshness to the photograph, freeing it from repetitiveness; it leaves me open to surprises and I get more excited when I shoot. Most of the times, I don’t even want to see the location, or I may just look at it to choose it, but never into much detail, just because I want to discover it and to light up while I’m shooting. I need some adrenaline and all those things that make a photograph always fresh and surprising. 

ELISABETTA P. — This is an approach which is typical of street photography, right?
MARCO P. — Yes, the approach is always a bit on the reportage side, although everything is much more refined. By now, this super-street/super-trash style has become a refined kind of trash, merging elements such as reportage and souvenir photography. As I said in the beginning, when I was a child I used to take pictures as a souvenir, and I think this is still living in me; it often emerges in my fashion shots, too.    

ELISABETTA P. — In the end, I believe that this will to tell a story conveys an added value to photography…
MARCO P. — It may have an added value for those who give a value to it. Those who have a certain sensitivity are more inclined to understand the power of a certain type of image, those who, instead, approach photography only on a purely aesthetic level may not even grasp that value. On the contrary, they might even consider it ugly, because maybe all they want to see is a beautiful woman wearing a beautiful dress, nothing else. But that is also the norm in fashion and it has to be that way.

ELISABETTA P. — Which are the subjects you love to photograph the most outside of the fashion context?
MARCO P. — Lately I have been working in two different fields of research: paradoxically enough, I am photographing myself, my family and prostitutes.
I have just completed a project on prostitutes… in fact I’d rather say with prostitutes.
Some time ago, my solo exhibition on family was showcased in collaboration with Vice Magazine – a very ironical kind of storytelling, as well as very… naked! I love to work on nudes, and I range from photographing my own relatives naked, up to naked prostitutes – two worlds apart but that fascinate me in equal measure. 

ELISABETTA P. — One of the most interesting aspects of your project with prostitutes is that you enacted the role of an actual client, right?
MARCO P. — Yes, perhaps it would have been even more interesting to film myself in the act of taking those photos; me gazing at my own approach from an outside perspective. Even in this, as I said earlier, there’s always a story, an anecdote to tell.  

ELISABETTA P. — Tell us about your experience. Did it amuse you? Has it been touching, disturbing?
MARCO P. — Yes, it has been undoubtedly a touching experience. In the end, you plunge into a world which is still a bit of a taboo, as well as being a bit dangerous. You go there with your camera, never knowing what’s going to happen, photographing things you shouldn’t really be photographing. 
It was all very much charged with adrenaline. And I liked that, but at the same time, it also felt a little ‘dirty’…  I was constantly torn by self-doubt, wondering whether I was doing the right thing. There was a very powerful mix of emotions involved, as powerful as when I shoot my own family naked. Maybe that’s the connection linking these two projects: they are about strong emotions being aroused in your inner self, however, it is all also very amusing! When I take pictures, I need to feel some excitement: either to laugh or to cry. For the time being I’m laughing, I haven’t started to cry yet!

ELISABETTA P. — Nudity is indeed a feature recurring very often in your work, although it appears to have an ironical connotation rather than being overtly erotic. How do you see a naked person, what fascinates you about it, what value do you attribute to them?
MARCO P. — We shall question Freud about that perhaps… I don’t really know myself. Nudity always has some erotic meaning after all, although there is a less ‘typical’ kind of eroticism emerging from my photos, to the point that sometimes they can’t even be called erotic.
I like the fact of stripping people from a mask, to bare them. The word itself suggests it, because fashion and the clothes we wear are a key we give others to understand who we are or who we would like to be. And then, I don’t know… without clothes on… we just look so much better!
To convince people to get naked is not an easy task at all, though. I often find myself in uncomfortable situations. Prostitutes themselves weren’t at all easy to photograph naked. This is because they are women, with their insecurities, their problems. In fact, almost all prostitutes I have managed to photograph were really pretty, but that was not because I chose them, but rather because the less pretty ones would say no. They are women, they don’t feel beautiful and have issues with themselves and with their bodies and hence they refuse to be portrayed.

ELISABETTA P. — What about your family, have they all happily agreed to be photographed naked?
MARCO P. — Yes, they have, actually. Clearly, they feel beautiful [laughs]! Apart from myself – I didn’t come out really good.
In the first piece of research I exhibited, I portrayed my children – they’re young, they never say no; then my mother, my sister and my girlfriend.
Now I’ve started a new little project – little photography-wise, but big for the meaning it has to me. In this one too, there are my mother and my sister who posed naked for me. They are very strong images; today I’ve seen the pictures for the first time and I must admit that they had a really strong impact on me. I’m working on very powerful memories and topics, such as my father’s death, and on very important aspects of my own self, and to see those pictures really touched me, I must say. 

ELISABETTA P. — Satisfied?
MARCO P. — Yes, very much so. They really moved me.

ELISABETTA P. — I can imagine. It is very brave to expose yourself in such an utterly autobiographical field.
MARCO P. — I believe it’s about honesty. In this case, I’ve also analysed myself before going onto touching certain topics, and I came to the conclusion that the first thing when doing art photography – something that claims to be expressive, creative, or give it the name you want – is to be honest with oneself. Only then can one be able to stand for it. Therefore, before going on and photographing other naked people, why not starting from yourself or your own relatives? Why going far away when you have what you need right before you? You don’t necessarily have to go far: if you have something to say, you can say it from where you are. It’s something personal, something only you have. It’s your life.

ELISABETTA P. — Which camera do you use?
MARCO P. — To shoot digital I use Fuji and to shoot film I use Contax. Normally, for fashion, I most likely shoot digital; it’s more convenient, quicker, you can see things directly on set and discuss them with collaborators, it makes work easier. For personal projects, instead, I still use film photography.  
It took me a while, however, to start shooting digital, even for commercial assignments: until 2009, when everyone was using digital cameras, I was still shooting film. I think I started in 2010, quite recently. I tried different cameras, but I’ve never managed to find the digital camera that could faithfully replace film. I’ve always tried to make up some expedients in order to get closer to the result I wanted and to that peculiar way of working, also to obtain the lighting I was after. 
Aside from film’s performance, it’s the approach and the object that are important. I like to work with an object that first of all I am fond of. I need to be proud to hold it and, most of all, it has to work the way I want.
But we could be talking all evening about the differences between film and digital. Nowadays, digital photography offers a very good performance, you can do what you want with it. It’s a matter of taste, really: film tends to have a very romantic feeling to it, and someone likes to give it a special value, but I believe that a beautiful photo can be taken with both. 
For example, I attribute a very high value to my own research and to the people I portray as a part of it, and part of this value lies also in the specific process and method that film photography requires: which is to shoot, print, give the prints to the magazine and then publish them, without much retouching, without any digital processing, otherwise the whole thing would be nonsense – the purity of photography as artistic expression would be contaminated. This recent project with prostitutes, for instance, has been shot on film, printed and then hung on the wall, without any further processing. 

ELISABETTA P. — Right, we are coming to an end, is there anything you’d like to add or to announce?
MARCO P. — Yes, I’d like to stress something, also in the light of the stylistic argument we raised with regard to the similarity between myself and Juergen Teller: I’d like to stress the fact that I have been the one who has brought this language into Italian fashion and who was also able to stand for it and to pursue it. Back then, it was just myself and two other photographers in Italy who supported this expressive language. Now one is mainly devoted to art, the other one works in Paris, while I decided to stay here in the end.

ELISABETTA P. — You stayed strong…
MARCO P. — It has been a little bit of a challenge, dictated also by the course of life: perhaps I would have liked to go abroad as well, but in the end I decided to give Italy a chance – I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to do something in Italy too. If we all leave what are we going to be left with?’. I feel that there is potential, but unfortunately there is also fear and reticence to change.

ELISABETTA P. — Definitely. In our own, small way, with Up-and-Coming Style we are trying to do what you have managed to achieve: we aim to bring something new to our country, where almost nothing similar exists, and where independent publishing struggles to emerge and get established.
MARCO P. — If in Italy we are the first ones to think that nothing is ever going to happen, you can rest assured that nothing at all is going to happen. We have to believe in it, be passionate. I don’t even know myself what it takes, I don’t have a recipe for it. I have a lot to do myself and I still have many dreams to achieve. In the end, what is truly important, is to have something to say, then you can say it from wherever you are in the world.

ELISABETTA P. — Definitely, style or language matter to a certain extent if you don’t have anything to say – everything becomes a sort of empty mannerism…
MARCO P. — Exactly, that is what I was trying to say since the beginning, but I didn’t want to sound offensive. Let’s face it, doing fashion photography in this specific manner is trending these days: now people take a flash and a camera, perhaps even that type of camera, they take a model, make her act silly, take a couple of pictures of her and that’s it. Well, it doesn’t really work that way – that is only the first layer of this language, underneath that there is another component which is given by feeling what you photograph.

October 2013

Mike Joyce


Illustration by ELEONORA MARTON

‘It was waves and waves of ecstasy… but without drugs. The cheapest drug I’ve ever had!’ This is how Mike Joyce – best known as The Smiths’ former drummer, observant vegetarian since Meat is Murder and eager Manchester City supporter – summarises his feelings at the peak of his experience with the legendary Mancunian band. But it’s not all about The Smiths: a warm and friendly Mike greets Andrea and myself backstage before one of his DJ performances in Bologna, and tells us his story. Starting from the early Manchester years, taking us through his extremely diverse career as a drummer, which has seen him playing with outstanding artists the likes of Sinead O’Connor and Buzzcocks, and finally offering us insights on his radiophonic career and possible upcoming musical collaborations.

ELISABETTA P. — Which are the main musical influences that went on to shape you as a musician? Do you have a drummer in particular who you took as a model?
MIKE J. — Yes, absolutely! My model has always been John Maher from Buzzcocks. I went to see Buzzcocks in Manchester and I fell in love with the band, and I fell in love with John Maher; that’s when I said: ‘I must do that! That’s what I want to do, I want to be a drummer like him’. I was looking to play with them, in fact, I did play with them in 1991. But definitely that was a major influence on me.

ELISABETTA P. — So it must have been a major achievement, a dream come true, to actually get to play with them…
MIKE J. — It was indeed! When I got the phone call from the bass player Steve Garvey, asking me to join the band, I couldn’t contain myself, really… I tried to be cool, and I said: ‘Yes, ok maybe… I’ll see…’ and he said ‘Do you want to do a world tour with Buzzcocks?’, and I replied: ‘Yes, sure, why not!’. Then I put the phone down and I screamed.

ELISABETTA P. — How did you first get in touch with The Smiths? What do you remember about your early impression of them and then your first encounter?
MIKE J. — A friend of mine, a guy that I was living with called Pete Hope, knew Johnny Marr who was getting a band together at that time. So Pete just said to Johnny: ‘Do you know Mike? He plays drums, he lives with me so maybe try him out as a drummer’. So then I went down and met Morrissey and Johnny. I had seen Johnny in Manchester quite a lot in clubs and shops, same hangouts, so I knew him, he was a cool guy! So I went down and played with them for maybe an hour or so and I thought straight away: ‘This is great, this is a great band!’.

ELISABETTA P. — So you got that feeling straight away, right?
MIKE J. — Yes, absolutely! Johnny Marr’s guitar playing was phenomenal, even at such a young age! I must have been 19 back then. I’d never heard a guitar player like that. So I was really interested in playing with them, although I was with another band from Manchester at the time called Victim, and I didn’t want to leave them because they were good friends of mine. Johnny kept on saying: ‘You must join the band, you must join the band!’ and I kept on saying I didn’t know. Then one night I went to a club in Manchester called The Gallery and a band called The Church was playing, an Australian band – then was when I said: ‘Ok, I’m going to join the band, let’s do it!’ and then the rest is history, I suppose.

ELISABETTA P. — So, still on the same subject, forgetting about the unpleasant recent events between yourself and Morrissey for a moment…
MIKE J. — Well, there weren’t any unpleasant issues to me, that wasn’t The Smiths, all the rest happened afterwards…

ELISABETTA P. — Can you recall any funny episodes or meaningful moments belonging to the period you spent with The Smiths? Do you have any very good memories of those days that make you want to say: ‘That was a great time!’?
MIKE J. — Oh there are too many to mention, really – all the time was a great time! Even when it wasn’t so great it felt good. Even the bad times felt good, because we were a gang and we were all in this together. I remember playing at a concert in Boston, a place called the Great Woods Theatre. We came off stage and there were thirty – maybe fifty – thousand people. I went for a piss and I could hear people stamping their feet and going: ‘Smiths, Smiths, Smiths!’… 50,000 people shouting this, and I just thought: ‘I’m in this band, this is the band I am in, they’re shouting for the band I play in!’. That was an incredible experience, but there’s so many different situations that I could bring up now. It was like that every night, because between the band and the audience there was a real affinity, so when we played well and they loved it, they told us and that made us play even better: it was waves and waves of ecstasy… but without drugs [laughs]! The cheapest drug I’ve ever had!

ELISABETTA P. — How did it feel to be in Manchester in the 80’s? Did you feel like being a significant part of music history? Did you feel things were changing?
MIKE J. — No, not really. I just thought that I was in a great band. It was really selfish in a way perhaps, because I thought The Smiths were the best band that I had ever been part of, that was what I enjoyed and I didn’t really pay too much attention to other groups, really. I was much more interested in what I was doing with The Smiths. I knew we were a great group but I didn’t realise at the time that we would have had this longevity… it was 25 years ago, it’s a quarter of a century!

ELISABETTA P. — Was there a particular vibe in Manchester in those days?
MIKE J. — No… well, at least I didn’t feel it. Probably because I was right in the eye of the hurricane, I was kind of producing this. Obviously I wanted people to think it was great, and to buy the records and to come and see us play live but I didn’t think at the time it would have had such a great impact.

ANDREA Q. — What can you tell us about Tony Wilson, was he interested in having The Smiths as part of Factory Records? Is it true that, technically speaking, Factory Records couldn’t ‘afford’ to have The Smiths?
MIKE J. — No, that’s not true, because we didn’t sign to Rough Trade for a lot of money. The thing is, I don’t think Tony Wilson really liked The Smiths. He probably thought we were ok, but he didn’t love The Smiths. Rob Gretton from Factory didn’t like The Smiths either. Him and Tony Wilson actually used to make fun of Morrissey, they used to think he was ‘the funny guy’. But I think we were nothing like Factory Records, we didn’t belong there, we belonged on Rough Trade, that was a much better label for us and I think that was a good move.

ELISABETTA P. — Your career spans over 30 years and is extremely varied: you played with lots of different artists. Are there moments or things you’re particularly proud of, and others you maybe wouldn’t do again?
MIKE J. — No. Every group that I played with I did for a reason and the reason being that I love that group: Sinead O’Connor, Buzzcocks, Public Image Limited, Julien Cope – I loved these bands and I loved these people. So no, not a regret. I wouldn’t play with a group if I think I would have any regret, that wouldn’t come into the equation. I only want to work with the people that I love and that’s what I’ve always done.

ELISABETTA P. — The Smiths were considered as a rather politically outspoken band, as well as very intellectual, how did you feel to go from that to, for instance, the Buzzcocks, who were rather aligned with punk aesthetics and had a different attitude towards music? Which context did you feel more at ease to perform in?
MIKE J. — Well, I don’t think they had a very different political ideal. I think it was exactly the same. In fact, it was a carbon copy, great songwriting, talking about real issues and real life and that’s what Morrissey writes about, that’s what Pete Shelley writes about, and that is what attracted me to Buzzcocks in the first place, that’s what attracted me to The Smiths, that’s what attracted me to Johnny Rotten. All those talented artists – they all speak the same language and they all have the same aggressive personalities in terms of the lyrical content. Even if it’s a slow song: in fact, it doesn’t have to be a ‘punky’ fast song, even a slow song can be quite full. Like Meat is Murder. I became a vegetarian in 1985, after we recorded this song, and I’ve been a vegetarian ever since. So, the power of the words is very important to me and it has to be with every band I work with, every artist.

ELISABETTA P. — It’s impressive how deeply this issue touched you…
MIKE J. — Well, there’s no argument. Like you probably wouldn’t eat your pets, I wouldn’t eat any animal, there’s no difference to me. All animals are beautiful: a horse is beautiful, a cow is beautiful, a sheep is beautiful, and a cat and a dog and so on. They’re all beautiful animals, so I don’t eat them.

ELISABETTA P. — A very important part of your career has been marked by your experience as a host in radio shows, first with East Village Radio and then with Beatwolf Radio. How does this activity compare to your live performing as a drummer?
MIKE J. — Well, it’s kind of the same thing. I’m playing records that I think people might like, it’s as simple as that. But I’m 49, and I think that when people get outside of 17, 18, 19, when they get 25, 30, 40, sometimes they find it a bit difficult to go into a record shop, because there are thousands of records there… what do you choose, what do you buy? Who do you like? Who’s cool, who’s not cool? What’s the best record of the moment? And it’s very hard to find that out and to know what that is, and I feel as I’m providing a service by finding out what the new music is.

ELISABETTA P. — You’re acting as a filter…
MIKE J. — Absolutely! And also for records that haven’t been played before on radio, records that people don’t know about or may have forgotten, or records they haven’t heard for a long time. So, I enjoy that aspect, because when I play the records, each of them is significant for me in some way, whether it’s a new group, an old group, a group I like, a group that I didn’t like but I like now or a group that I think people should like; every record has a reason for being played, it’s not just because it’s a record.

ELISABETTA P. — You’re known for shows such as ‘Alternative Therapy’ and ‘The Record Store Chart’, where you pick and select records from independent music stores. I believe that played a significant role for some shops and labels, such as Rough Trade, to get noticed. Do you give independent labels and independent music particular relevance? Do you want to make people aware of it?
MIKE J. — Well I think it’s more about independent record shops, the independent record labels are doing very well because they have a bit more of a major record label attitude in terms of promotion. But independent record labels used to struggle a lot back then, because they didn’t really fit into the mainstream, and ‘money talks and bullshit walks’, it’s the same [laughs]. But now things have changed. Independent record shops are something completely different though: people are now downloading music for free, which is taking money out from the artists and the record shops, but they sell other things as well: they sell T-shirts, books – they’re interesting places. If you like music, then you must like independent record shops. I remember I used to go there when I was younger and I used to be quite scared of them, and Johnny kind of helped my hand…

ELISABETTA P. — Why were you scared?
MIKE J. — Because I didn’t know what to choose. I’d pick up a record and ask myself: ‘Is this a good record? I don’t know’. Johnny Marr really introduced me to a lot of music that I wouldn’t have normally gone down the route to notice. Artists such as David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Roxy Music, just great music and great artists. So, I think independent record shops are really important. Independent music labels are doing very well I think, there are some amazing ones now: Bella Union, Rough Trade, Transgressive, Domino. Domino Records, for instance – everything they pull out is just great! So, they could be considered at the level of a major label now, in terms of distribution and promotion, via Facebook, Twitter and social media, they really get their message heard, and I don’t think it’s so much like Rough Trade 25 years ago, or Mute Records – they were so small at the time and really struggled. I think people want to work with a label that has the same understanding as the artist rather than just a major label. I’ve always thought that a major label would just buy an artist as they’d buy washing powder, and promote and advertise that washing powder, rather than understanding the beauty of their art and I believe independent labels tend to do that instead.

ELISABETTA P. — I completely agree, they believe in your cause and in your art rather than just using and then dumping you when you’re no longer of any use…
MIKE J. — Absolutely. If people don’t buy it off the shelf then you can go!

ELISABETTA P. — Do you have any recent or future projects you’d like to tell us about?
MIKE J. — I do. I don’t know how much of a secret this is meant to be but… there are a couple of bands which have been in touch with me, asking me to play drums. I haven’t been playing drums for about a year, I’ve been mainly focusing on the radio, and that takes a lot of time: the Chart is every week, so it needs to be prepared, and there are about 20 new releases every week, so it’s a lot to listen to! Also, it takes me a couple of days to prepare the show, so it’s a lot of time and effort going into it, so playing in a band couldn’t really happen. Said this, there’s a band in Manchester that has contacted me and asked me to play with them, and I think I will. But there’s another artist as well, a London artist, that has been in touch with me asking me to play a gig with them next year.

ELISABETTA P. — Just one gig, or is it meant to be an ongoing job?
MIKE J. — Well, I guess we’ll see how that one gig goes. And if it goes well and they get on well with me and I get on well with them, then I think there may be a toll, they’re quite a big-name band.


ELISABETTA P. — That’s great news! So, we’ll certainly stay tuned and see what happens…
ANDREA Q. — Do you still live in Manchester?
MIKE J. — Yes, I do.

ANDREA Q. — Last week I was speaking with Kevin Cummings about the importance of football in Manchester… is it true then? Is football really that important?
MIKE J. — Yes, it is! I am a Manchester City supporter myself, and so is Kevin Cummings, I’ve seen him at the matches every now and then.

ANDREA Q. — This is quite unexpected: cities like Manchester, Glasgow and Liverpool, which have always been really important on the music scene, are also really passionate about football…
MIKE J. — Yes that’s true… I believe the two things go together really well: music, football and fashion.

Illustration by ELEONORA MARTON

ANDREA Q.— What do you think about Italian football?
MIKE J. — I think Italian football is amazing. I think it has a great passion, but I hear that not long ago there was a court case about corruption in Italian football and hearing that makes me really sad. Because I think corruption in business is everywhere, but corruption in sports is shocking.
I stand on the terraces as a fan, my heart is with them and if someone says to me: ‘Here’s a thousand Euro, say something bad about the team’, I’d say no. ‘Here’s 5000, say something bad’ and I’ll still say no, and so on. But if it gets to the point when you can be paid the money by somebody to change their opinion on the game, then corruption spoils everything for everybody: the players, the fans, the officials. It’s over. And that’s a shame. But in British football, is there corruption? I don’t know… maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. I hope not. But I think Italians and British people have the same passion and intensity.

November 2013

Linda Loppa



Around the mid-nineteenth Century, Baroness Fiorella Favard de l’Anglade transformed her luxurious residence into a neoclassical centre of Florentine culture. Today, all we have to do is gaze along the river Arno, down Via Curtatone and there it is, just on the right, following the course of the river and overlooking the Bellosguardo Hills. Walking briskly, Andrea, next to me, decides he must take a photograph – just one – even though film cameras are not made for the instant shots of a compulsive tourist. We enter. A monumental marble staircase leads us up to the first floor. And there she stands: black, short hair, glasses, thin lips – veiled in red – bright-eyed. Composed, she smiles while she invites us into her office. No ornaments, columns or other golden frills in her room: instead, a clear and crisp daylight violently pervades the half-empty space with grand glass doors overlooking the balcony. Just a few scattered papers and a metallic MacBook Pro at the centre of a big dark wooden desk. The only decorative object seems to be a white cloth-lined mannequin. There, Linda Loppa – sixty-five, born in Antwerp, Belgium, a career spanning over 40 years in fashion, one of the most noted faces of international education in the industry, Director of Polimoda, International Institute of Fashion design & Marketing, since 2007 – is sitting in front of us, dressed in black and white; composed and essentially minimalistic.

ANDREA Q. — We decided to interview you not only to let our readers know about your interesting life and works, but also to explore the allure of two wonderful cities: Antwerp and Florence, which are both intrinsically connected to you and your work. Can you tell us something about Antwerp?
LINDA L. — Antwerp… a beautiful city, and I must mention its impressive harbour at night.


ANDREA Q. — Antwerp really mesmerised me, and its history and architecture fascinated me. It was sunny when I was there and I discovered the geniality of its shapes, which have ever since influenced me, my photography and even my way of observing and narrating things. I think you understand what I mean…
LINDA L. — I haven’t been to Antwerp for a while, however, I have a trip planned very soon. When I was a child I used to live very close to the station; it was all very nostalgic back then. Now everything has changed. However, yes, I do understand what you mean. Although now I feel like that about Florence.

ANDREA Q. — But don’t you ever miss that experimental ‘attitude’? In Italy we tend not to like taking risks.
LINDA L. — Yes, that is true, Italy is lacking modernity at the moment.

VITTORIA M. — Do you believe Italy should aim at modernity? Does Italy underestimate itself?
LINDA L. — Yes, it does, greatly… Italy has all it takes: artistic and landscape heritage – landscape is fundamental. Florence and Antwerp are not that different, really. The two worlds are to some extent similar. They have the same cultural interest and wealth, the same artistic background. Just think about Renaissance painting: there was so much communication and discussion between the Flemish and the Florentines!

THE ANTWERP SIX (Ann Demeulemeester, Dirk Van Saene, Marina Yee, Dries Van Noten, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Bikkembergs), 1987 — Photo by PHILIPPE COSTES

ANDREA Q. — Yes, but something did happen in Antwerp in the Eighties that didn’t happen in Florence. I’m referring to the ‘Antwerp Six’: that could be regarded as a true cultural phenomenon.
LINDA L. — Yes, that is true. Although we have to bear in mind that even Antwerp had not experienced anything similar before then. There were some warning signals but they were latent (as they are here, in Florence). Character-wise, the Flemish are not very expressive, they tend to interiorise, to conceal… let me explain… if you put a Dutchman in front of a class, he will tell you all sorts of things. The Flemish are not like that, at least, they have not been so up to now. What I mean is that the Eighties did not just appear all of a sudden. They were gradually shaped by the existing cultural, artistic and social structures. As a matter of fact, we have always been good at shaping, that is, creating from scratch, from a dream, from fantasy… We should have foreseen the coming of Martin Margiela, one of the many designers who, from scratch, were able to create on white canvas – don’t forget Marcel Broodhaers is our master! Italians are always complaining: ‘We haven’t got the means…’, ‘there are just not enough…’. Ridiculous! There is always something you can do. You can always express something, because there will always be something to express. What is important is to be transversal, use various stimuli creating interdisciplinary confrontations and discourses. Take fashion, for instance: talking about fashion per se is utterly boring, but it isn’t boring if it also leads to something else, or vice-versa.

ANDREA Q. — Fashion that only limits itself to talking about the coolest trend of the year – that is, if we should wear stripes or polka dots – does not really know what fashion is all about. I studied at Polimoda, I have read a lot about fashion, and this is probably why sometimes I feel that ‘reading’ fashion texts is like reading your daily horoscope…
LINDA L. — Let me ask you a question: have you ever read ‘Fashion at The Edge’ by Caroline Evans? It is really inspiring. I believe it is the only book that truly talks about fashion. It is like a Bible, everything is in there, not only photography…


ANDREA Q. — I fell in love with fashion thanks to photography and particularly that of Juergen Teller.
LINDA L. — It’s the aggressiveness in fashion that stimulates me, its communicative impact can be powerful and overwhelming and this is what Juergen Teller actually demonstrates in his work. And this is what I’m looking for in Florence today. What do I want to achieve? I want to use that shared feeling that we need change and put it into action, that strong feeling of despising and wanting to break with old mechanisms. I want to erase what we don’t like and create something new. I am full of enthusiasm, but my enthusiasm, of course, is not destructive.

VITTORIA M. — The world of fashion always seems to propose the same old faces – those we see on Vogue’s front covers, taking part in glamorous parties – and when fashion is enclosed within a circle, there is no longer room for creativity. Compromises are made. But what really counts is to be always coherent and faithful to one’s own productive inspiration. How do you prove your credibility today?
LINDA L. — In my opinion, in order to be credible today, you must highlight contents. In fashion magazines, for instance, the visuality of photos and images is not the only thing that matters: people want concepts, too. We don’t need photography, fashion and art to just act as a mundane mirror. We don’t want personal narrations and biographies: we already have Facebook for those. What we need is something that goes beyond.


VITTORIA M. — Would you say fashion is going through a period of crisis today?
LINDA L. — Moments like this are very intriguing. If everything goes according to plan, if everything is ‘fine’, nobody ever reflects on anything. Yes, this is a period of instability, particularly in Italy. Fashion too is suffering. However, uncertainty and the incapacity to find immediate solutions to our problems are not synonyms for intellectual and creative death. There is still a lot of energy and stimuli around. New ideas can still be found. If I had to describe the present situation, I would say that fashion, today, is a bit like a two-headed monster, hovering between luxury and fast-fashion. It is like a body going in two different directions, and this makes individual choices extremely complicated.
It is not easy to find one’s own direction. In fact, I believe there is no such thing as a ‘correct choice’. In fact, having many choices to choose from is what makes life exciting and stimulating. What scares me is that we have very few experts on fashion. There are perhaps only five or six people who can truly write about fashion: Suzy Menkes, Cathy Horyn, Tim Blanks, Danilo Venturi and Lamberto Cantoni. Very few people really understand the subject. People tend to generalise too much, the quality of information is often very poor and lacking competence. Culture is a luxury. Today’s crisis is not, therefore, a commercial or sales crisis: the sales are there and the products are available, perhaps there are even too many. What is missing is cultural thinking behind the products. Smart strategies must win over aesthetic elaboration. There is a lack of research on the new meaning of clothing and fashion – which is what gives sense to a product. We are stiff: we have lost our freedom.

ANDREA Q. — What do you mean by that?
LINDA L. — We all have the same problems, there is no such thing as cultural distance anymore, and everyone being too close together can turn out to be a prison. The fact that we can easily confront each other and compare our diversity has led us to neglect individual needs, while individuals’ points of view have become blurred. We all live comparing everything and there is a lack of personal initiatives. I fear that creativity itself risks becoming an almost standardised instrument – and that is not what I want. I like to think that everyone has to meditate on things form their own point of view, that everyone has to define their own sense of personal, priceless meaning…

ANDREA Q. — What helps you understand fashion?
LINDA L. — A good example is the website created by Stefan Siegel, notjustalabel. 7000 young people, exceptional projects. This is where we must look for creativity, not in stores. There is no more room for innovation and risk-taking in warehouses and boutiques. Everything has already been decided. Buyers already know what to channel into the market. Trends are already programmed, all has been planned. This, therefore, is the major problem: there is no room and no money for young people. There is a lack of emerging brands, of young purchasers: retail is mundane and creativity is lost in inaccessible luxury.

VITTORIA M. — What about fast-fashion?
LINDA L. — That is at the other pole – the other head of the fashion monster. Each one of us has bought a pair of Zara trousers, as I have. That being said, I haven’t bought anything else there in over 12 months. I do not want to play a game that I feel does not belong to me.

VITTORIA M. — At the beginning of your working career, you opened a boutique in Antwerp…
LINDA L. — Oh, yes! An ‘experimental’ boutique. I didn’t earn much, but I had fun. It was a game, and I played the most unexpected cards. I had Helmut Lang’s first collection at a time when nobody had even heard of him; I had Dolce&Gabbana’s first designs… Needless to say that now I would never do it again; I would not even have fun. I would maybe consider the risk too high. On one hand, I miss the idea of having a concept store which is not so strictly bound to a marketing plan, on the other hand, I think that if I were to set up a store now, I would do it differently. It is no longer a game. Business cannot do without its strict marketing rules, absolute organisation, time schedules and benchmarks. Nothing is left to chance.

ANDREA Q. — How can we be experimental and innovative in fashion today? What does Polimoda do to achieve this?
LINDA L. — We need to have rigour, competence and capability, and we must not forget that fashion is a ‘terrible’ thing: changes in this field are continual; even the profession of pattern-maker itself is constantly evolving. Recently I have promoted a series of new courses and Masters’ programs – Art Directing, for instance: our students have to be able to communicate their ideas, not only to put them into practice. They must have a deep understanding and knowledge of the fashion world and be able to talk about fashion and express themselves correctly. What I have tried to propose is a multidisciplinary educational model, aiming at studying body, space, technology, fashion and the use of language. We have, for a very long time, been accustomed to communicating in a univocal and linear way – centring attention on the professor and their message. This is no longer enough. We must transform educational profiles.

VITTORIA M. — What is your Trend Forecasting Master course about? Who is the Trend Forecaster, exactly?
LINDA L. — It is a figure that combines method and intuitiveness. It is essential to know how to combine methodology, skills of observation and intuitiveness. The trend-forecaster is exactly that: a successful combination of qualities, in which instinct has an absolutely predominant role. I have the feeling that we are almost afraid of the power of instinct, that we are no longer able to rely on our ‘sixth sense’ living in such a well-organised world. I think only instinct can repair our malfunctioning mechanism.

ANDREA Q. — What relationship does fashion have with arts? Photography, painting, architecture…
LINDA L. — Of course, fashion always has to keep in mind every other cultural expression. But we must be careful here: we risk making a great mistake by throwing everything into one basket, whereas all components are freestanding yet connected to each other. We often think we can compare fashion designers to architects, or compare roles that are, in fact, not that similar. Let everyone do their own job! To each their own. A product designer is not a fashion designer, an architect is not a designer. Creative instinct is what they have in common, the same zeitgeist that creates a building or designs a garment. Yes, we can associate different operations that have the same origin or the same basis; we can compare different projects and put many art forms side by side – for example within a magazine. However, every art form will remain autonomous; each one expressing itself in its own particular way, including fashion. Every artist – every fashion designer – must be aware of this.

VITTORIA M. — If you were given the chance to speak about yourself in a magazine – ‘A-Magazine-style’ – which artists, topics and images would you choose?
LINDA L. — Interesting question… Well, I am a very minimalistic person. I absolutely love voids; even in architecture, in design, in interiors. I would therefore choose people who express themselves in the most synthetic and essential of ways. Tadao Ando, for instance. Let me think… Words would be the leaders: more texts; more written texts than images. Even calligraphy would be fundamental. My world – as I said earlier – is as minimalistic as possible: I find space feeds my imagination, visual exuberance gives in to the essential. Now I need to write. I have never done this before: I was not good at it. I have always found it difficult to express myself in writing, whether it be in French, Flemish or English. And even more difficult now that I also speak Italian… but I cannot ignore this need I have. What I mean to say is that, at the moment, fashion as an object interests me less: on my pages, photographs and images would only make sense if associated with words, concepts and slogans. It is the power of words that currently fascinates me.

ANDREA Q. — Which one of these two forms has the strongest communicative power in your opinion: words in a text or words in their visual appearance?
LINDA L. — Both.


VITTORIA M. — And what do you look at in the external world?
LINDA L. — I look at very little, now. I have travelled a lot and I have seen a lot. Now, I no longer need to observe everything. I need voids and contrasts, I need black and white, deserted spaces, to close my eyes and let light in, alone, to design. I do not need colours, I almost don’t need anything. I believe that everyone needs different moments throughout life. There was a time when I had to open every window, every door, every box, in order to see what was hidden inside; I had to look for every kind of information, I needed to be curious. Now I seek voids, where black is black and white is white. In fact, voids are full of imagination. I am rather dramatic. What I like are luminous contrasts that create and delimitate space. Sometimes you have to fill yourself up with all sorts of things. But now, I need to feel empty. I have to meditate. Light plays a fundamental role in this: it stimulates thought, it opens up spaces. In every home I have ever lived in, light has meant everything.

ANDREA Q. — Light is also very important in photography. It is something that characterises my style of photography. The light I am talking about is like that of Juergen Teller, it pervades everything: it invades and makes everything golden. A ‘reflective’ light. What I strive to obtain in my photographs is not actually a realistic depiction of reality – our eyes are enough for that purpose! Photography must, indeed, reveal something else; something that the human eye cannot see. What I am saying is that there are many ways of imagining: mine, yours… I think even fashion itself is perceived through imaginative channels, such as Margiela’s concealed faces, for instance. This veiling, this way of concealing, of hiding the identity of the person who is wearing the garment fascinates me. Don’t you think it is a very powerful way of communicating?
LINDA L. — Yes, I do.

ANDREA Q. — Apart from ‘veiling faces’, are there any other significant ways of concealing, in your opinion?
LINDA L. — Well, Facebook. A ‘real yet virtual’ world.

VITTORIA M. — Let’s get back to your current work: Polimoda – one of the most important fashion schools worldwide. Is the fact of being based in a small town like Florence not a limit?
LINDA L. — No, on the contrary. Everything is more accessible. A small town has the advantage of being compact and less dispersive. Thus, we can concentrate more on what we are doing, but not loose contact with the rest of the world. Florence, moreover, has got an extremely rich artistic and cultural heritage: it has a beauty that fashion needs – beauty and fashion are one single word. Villa Favard, our head office, with its history, the memories of a ‘cultural centre’ is the ideal place for forming the designers of tomorrow; it is the right place to teach the three qualities that fashion requires: essential skills, vision, intuition and ambition.

ANDREA Q. — Some time ago you declared in an interview that the task – in fact, the essence – of fashion is to create something which is not yet fashionable, desirable. I really appreciated this definition. It is so true. Perfect.
LINDA L. — Fashion is ephemeral – a new fashion is created every six months. Nevertheless, its impact lasts even longer. Fashion is a mirror that reflects the future. In a a way, forecasting fashion is a way to forecast the future. This is why fashion requires commitment and rigor.

ANDREA Q.— What do you think of Raf Simons? He has a great amount of responsibility now working for Dior…
LINDA L. — I was at the last haute-couture fashion show in Paris. It was a magical moment. All the most important people were there; the whole fashion world was there and the atmosphere was – well, how can I define it? – Laid back, warm and friendly. No stress, nobody criticising.

ANDREA Q. — Are John Galliano and Raf Simons very different from each other?
LINDA L. — Yes, they are. When Dior chose Galliano as a designer, they needed to impress, to shock and renew, and they did so: a real show, a theatre of novelty. But after the show, there must be time to reflect: this is what Raf is doing, going ‘back to the roots’, back to the origins. He is putting things to rights: he is recapitulating.

ANDREA Q. — In a way, I would say that Raf Simons is to Dior what you are to Florence. Two historical landmarks; two reinvigorating personalities. What do you miss about Antwerp?
LINDA L. — Shrimps, those small and grey shrimps – they don’t have them here – with mayonnaise. I get them sent over now and again.

ANDREA Q. — And what about French fries?
LINDA L. — Not really. I miss the port and its warehouses; they could host the new Palais de Tokyo of Paris.

VITTORIA M. — And what is missing in Florence, apart from the grey shrimps?
LINDA L. — Many things are missing…

ANDREA Q. — A bookshop, like the one in Antwerp, Copyright, just next to the Fashion Museum.
LINDA L. — Just one thing is missing. Emptying a refurbished historic building, and filling it up again with a gallery, a hub for ideas, concept-stores, a museum, a café, a bookshop, generating a meeting point, a think tank for all artists.

November 2013

Gordon Holden

Interview by SARA SCIALPI — Artworks by GORDON HOLDEN

When I tell him that he’s definitely the kind of artist of his time, he replies that it’s a very flattering and inspiring thing to say. We talk about the summer which is gone, exotic holidays and Provincetown, where he’s staying at the moment, where pilgrims first landed, and where supposedly Kerouac and Ginsberg lived for a bit. To feed you more details, Gordon Holden’s favourite color is blue and he lives on the internet – that’s what he sardonically declares when we discuss the tricky nature of interviews, and I confess that I’m overwhelmed by the miscellaneous verve of his works. Gordon’s affection for contemporary American culture flows into an energetic, often humorous visual analysis of its pop icons and obsessions, its long-lost dreams and consumerist frenzy, its contradictions and weirdness in all possible shapes. He never loses that indispensable cynicism in the process, the interest for human behaviour (above all) is never nicked: it might confuse you at first, it might leave you disoriented, even make you frown. But you’ll never sit by half-hearted. Our conversation goes on; selfies, Michelangelo, NASA scandals and Andy Warhol. It’s all mentioned below.

SARA S. — ‘All of us engage in irrational behaviour from time to time’: would this statement be enough to sum up your body of work? Although I’ve seen you tend to divide it in sections, the linking thread seems to be a passion for raw and deliberate randomness.
GORDON H. — Yes, I think that statement could sum up my work. Because regardless of what I say, the viewer will probably assign meaning to it one way or another. Irrational is only something that is not understood yet. It’s like jazz. And I always have so much to say, just never enough words to explain it. I think it’s good to have some sort of order even if that order is a bit chaotic. It’s not so much deliberate as it’s more intuitive. ‘Passion’ is such a good word. It’s so powerful.  I’ve always heard that for every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction. I can’t determine if that phrase is important or if the person who said it is important.

SARA S. — How important is it for you to make things ‘speak’ in your pictures? I’ve seen that you focus quite a bit on logos, neon signs, banners.
GORDON H. — It’s not important that I make things speak. Everything already speaks for itself, it’s the arrangement or the context you place them in that alters what they’re saying. I think to make art you have to see art in things, and point it out. Human communication started with cavemen pointing at things. And in today’s world it’s not so much about talent as it is about style and taste. Style and taste give people their identity. That goes hand in hand with logos and brands. For example you know that jeans are cool. They started becoming cool when cool individuals started wearing them. Now it’s not the jeans themselves that are cool but what you see in the jeans, you see the history of jeans and what they could be on you. So everyone who is walking around in jeans is in a way pretending to be James Dean or Farrah Fawcett.

SARA S. — So, do you think that photography has somehow the potential to filter things through a new light, distort and ultimately alter the messages that these buildings are intended to pass on to us in real life?
GORDON H. — Oh, sure. Everything has potential to do or be something else. Photography is exactly that. It’s pointing the lens at something, clicking a button and calling it something else. I never look at a picture and say: ‘Look at the lighting in this picture, it’s so perfect!’, because that’s so boring and really there’s no such thing as perfect lighting except pitch black.

SARA S. — Basically, the subject is as it is in the real world, but once you capture it, is the act of ‘clicking the button’ drenched in humor, or some other kind of feeling that can reverse the sense and meaning of said subject?
GORDON H. — The act of capturing an instance or a moment of time with a click of a button is something Michelangelo or Rembrandt could have never imagined. Some photos are very iconic. And for such a technologically complex artistic practice, with such a simple process to be so accessible… is ironic. It is almost consumer art. With selfie photos being so popular, the idea of a self-portrait prior to camera phones seemed interesting in a mysterious way, now after the fact of camera phones they just seem silly, but still exciting because everyone is a piece of art. It’s like I mentioned earlier, taking a photo is just pointing out what you think is art. And photography, especially digital photography is nice because it takes up very little physical storage space. You know, compared to more tangible art pieces like statues.

SARA S. — ‘Taking a photo is just pointing out what you think is art’ – What’s art to you? Can that be defined, or the  possibilities to define it, the ‘borders’ of this concept, change from time to time together with its environment?
GORDON H. — I think art is whatever you want it to be. It’s communication, and communication is very much linked to emotions. It can be anything that provokes a thought or even anything that doesn’t provoke a thought. Ideas are great but that’s all they are until you put them into action, that’s when it becomes art. The best type of art is at first not seen as art because it’s new and ‘new’ confuses people. And if it’s a good idea (which is the art), it challenges the preconceived notion of what is and what isn’t. And that’s exciting too. Because really there is no such thing as art.

SARA S. — Have you decided on digital photography for your works just because fascinated by its mentioned non-physical nature or…?
GORDON H. — I never decide on things. They just happen. I actually started taking photos initially with film because I was given an old camera. I still do take a lot of photos with film because you never know what you going to get. It’s a surprise and everyone likes surprises. But sometimes there are instances or things that I see that have to be documented, and everyone always has their iPhone on them so it’s kind of born out of convenience.

SARA S. — Are there are any tricks not to fall into redundancy while photographing, in your opinion? You know, because like you said, it’s easy to abuse it these days.
GORDON H. — I don’t think there is a trick to avoid redundancy… It might be a comfort zone thing, some people feel safe doing the same thing over and over. In the end, ‘to each their own’.

SARA S. — I was very entertained by the merchandise/shop section on your website.
GORDON H. — The shop has been an ongoing platform that has changed its hat a few times. Initially it was just to sell t-shirts, then I became bored with such a practical product and stores wanting to order wholesale shirts and see look-books and line sheets and seasons and all that shit that goes into pushing a clothing brand. So it has evolved into more of a performance piece that still operates as a shop where you can buy things.

SARA S. — The one thing that caught my attention (had me chuckling) was of course the ‘moon rock beach ball’ (which is also the most expensive object in the store). Is there a particular story behind the birth of that one piece?
GORDON H. — The moon rock beach ball was a piece that I wanted to do for quite a long time. It started with an article I read about someone who sold a piece of moon rock on eBay for around $1.7 million to an undercover NASA agent and was arrested after the fact, because it is illegal to sell government property, which pieces of the moon apparently are. I found this piece of moon rock and wanted to hide its appearance in order to sell it. Because when you do something illegal, appearance is everything. Kind of like the plot to this new movie out called ‘We are the Millers’ with Jennifer Aniston. They disguise themselves as a family in order to smuggle drugs across the Mexican border. It was a pretty predictable movie, but I still enjoyed it.

SARA S. — I like how the pictures are arranged on your website. At times it feels like being in a maze, other times it seems more like this huge collage whose glue is sharp irony. We mentioned context earlier. How much weight do you think that this digital kind of showcase has on your works? Because it feels like the website it’s not just a ‘frame for the picture’ in your case, like something that just contains your works, but an additional layer to it.
GORDON H. — I would have to say it means a significant amount considering a majority of my work is made to showcase on the internet. Tangible things are becoming more and more scarce in the digital age, and anything that is tangible is often times mass produced. The place where you experience the image or the piece of art has a major impact on what you think about it and it shapes how your perception. I recently had a woman email me to make an order for 200 of the yellow building bricks (which are $111 a piece). I sent her a price for how much it would be and she was dumbfounded and said that she could make them herself for cheaper. I found the interaction interesting and slightly disheartening because it confirmed the idea of consumer culture. And that a lot of people think in terms of products and stuff and things and disregard the meaning of it all. And I think it’s become safe to say that there are no such thing as people anymore, just consumers.

SARA S. — Mass consumption, mass production, trends, pop culture. You’re generally very much drawn to this kind of topic. So why ‘Warhol sucks’?
GORDON H. — That’s all true. I think I’m very attracted to human interaction and what makes people do the things that they do. I’m drawn to things that seemingly don’t make sense and try to make sense of it. It changes frequently though. Ha, I don’t really think Warhol sucks. I really like his work and what he did. Maybe I’m just jealous that he thought of all those things first. But I suppose if it wasn’t him it would have been someone else. Everyone sees it differently. The idea for that piece you quoted kind of played off one of the first images I made, it was titled ‘Sincerely Cynical’, by doing just the opposite of what it’s suggesting. Contradicting yourself is pretty popular.

SARA S. — Everyone ends their interviews asking: ‘What will you do next, where do you think you’ll be in five years?’ Your works are very aware of the present, really focused on modern life (even when you manipulate vintage clippings, it has a very ‘today-world’ touch to it), its little details, contradictions. You are ‘the’ artist of your time. How do you think your works would have looked like if you had lived in another – past– time? You mentioned Michelangelo and Rembrandt earlier, but no need to go that far.
GORDON H. — Oh wow, ‘the artist of my time’ is a nice comment. It’s inspiring and I’m flattered by it. I think my works wouldn’t have looked like anything because if the internet wasn’t around I don’t know if I would have been influenced to do what I do. But if I were to take a shot in the dark about a ‘back to the future’ kind of experience in an alternate life, I think I would do a lot of still lifes and work at an ice cream parlour. Everyone including myself would like to know where they will be in the future and the answer is unknown. It is not one decision that shapes your future but hundreds of thousands of little decisions that come to form your future, and that’s what life is, a very long time filled with decisions and none of it can be predicted, only speculated. Although we can only hope for the best and play it safe, it is and always will be very open ended and somewhat mysterious. Kind of like space. I think Carl Sagan once said something to that effect.

September 2013

Sarah Eisenlohr


A look back at the 70’s, a skiing holiday in Montana, an old picture of South Tyrol. It’s not about postcards, it’s about collages: Sarah Eisenlohr, a young artist from Montana tells us about her latest work, where she focused on nature through nostalgic images from the past. Passing by metaphysics, she creates beautiful landscapes, deep perspectives and colourful images that might remind us of our childhood. Inspired by nature, she constructs fantastic sets where snow, flowers, trees and animals play together in a perfect recital. Let’s get to know her through her beautiful collages.

SARA G. — Hi Sarah, let’s start by you telling us something about yourself: where do you come from? How old are you? Tell us something about your past and your present.
SARAH E. — Hi! I live in Lakeside, Montana right now, where I grew up. I just graduated from the University of Montana, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting. I’m back home for the summer to work and then this fall I’ll move to Bozeman for school in Graphic Design. I’m 24 years old.

SARA G. — I see lots of nature in your collages, do you think your work is somehow inspired to Montana, where you studied?
SARAH E. — When looking through magazines, I think I’m most attracted to images that involve nature, pretty and colour. I really like mountains, too. This might have to do with living in Montana, because it’s all of those things.

SARA G. — How does that work usually? Do you flick through a magazine and see something that catches your eye, or do you imagine an entire landscape first and then try to create a collage of what you already have in mind?
SARAH E. — When I get a hold of some new magazines, I start my collage process by cutting out every page that I get excited about. Things that I’m usually looking for are people, landscapes, skies, patterns, mountains and unique objects. Afterwards, I arrange them into a collage.

SARA G. — Which are your favorite subjects for your works?
SARAH E. — Lately, I’ve been relating a lot more of my collages to personal life.

SARA G. — Snow comes up in many of your collages, could you tell us why?
SARAH E. —That’s funny, I had never noticed how many involve snow until now. I ended up making ‘A Request for Snow’ and ‘Spring Skiing’ during winter break, after being under the influence of so much of it around me, then I recently made ‘Night Skiing’ for a friend who’s really into skiing. I think that’s because I’m attracted to mountains in general, my other collages happen to have snowy mountains in them.

SARA G. — There is something metaphysical to your images – some of your perspectives remind me of De Chirico, is that intentional? I’m referring to works like ‘Tent'”‘, for example.
SARAH E. — That’s a good point, I could see the influence of the Metaphysic/Surrealist movements. However, ‘Tent’ was arranged together by color palette rather than inspiration from an artist or style.

SARA G. — Some of the images look quite innocent, the grain of the paper you use looks old. Do you take your images from old magazines? Do they somehow bear a relation to childhood?
SARAH E. — Yes, I use National Geographics from the 1950s-70s. I think the quality and style of the era is more engaging through the nostalgia it creates, compared to modern, commercial photography. So I didn’t intentionally use older material to base it on a theme, I was just attracted to the look.

SARA G. — You started out with painting – when did you start making collages and how?
SARAH E. — Last year in school, I was taking Painting and another art class called Mapping. Mapping was a brand new class, so it was very unconstrained to allow for us to use a range of media incorporating maps and art together. For my final project I wanted to try out collage, so in one night I ended up creating the first seven pieces of my Mapping series. It became my favorite material to work with so I also began to incorporate it into my paintings. My focus in BFA was painting, but I ended up only using magazine collage for my senior thesis exhibition.

SARA G. — I really love the one called ‘Sheets’ – do you have a favourite piece? Can you tell us about your favorite ‘child’?
SARAH E. — Thank you! That seems to be everyone’s favorite of the Comfort series. Haha, I think I have two children. My first one is ‘Sunset’ and my most recent is ‘Rocks’. I have a difficult time parting with a lot of them, though.

SARA G. — What are you working on right now? Do you also work on commission?
SARAH E. — The last couple days I’ve been going through my material and making room for a lot of new magazines that I’ve been given this summer, by friends and family. I’m beginning to cut out pages now, so I hope to have some new collages soon. My first will be for a collage swap with Nathaniel Whitcomb. I have some ideas for collages that have been floating around for months, so I know some of them will involve paint, patterns and floral collage. I’m really excited to get started.

SARA G. — You already told us about your past and your present, what about your future? Do you have any plans?
SARAH E. — A few weeks ago I realized what I wanted to do with my life – become an artist! I guess more specifically I’d like to make my own prints with my own printer and be able to distribute them in packaging with my own label and designing on it. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to going back to school for Graphic Design so I can start moving in that direction.

August 2013

Actually Huizenga

Interview by NINA SEVER — Photos by MATT COLOMBO

Perhaps the most open-minded and passionate woman that we’ve met so far. She has a joyful point of view on things and situations, she’s incredibly funny and sincere and her unmistakable look just flows through her body right from a brilliant mind. We tried to catch her just after her last trip to Las Vegas and she point-by-point told us about the entire experience, jumping here and there between memories of a crazy life.

NINA S. — We got to you by seeing Matt Colombo’s photos of you. Can you tell us something more about the shoot?
ACTUALLY H. — Umm… we took pictures in the back of my car in front of a side wall of Paramount Studios. We were supposed to shoot in a motel room, but the motel owner would not allow it and I guess there were people sleeping in his bed. It was confusing. I met at Jumbos with my stylist friend Devon as back up in case Matt turned out to be a rapist murder. He wasn’t however; he is very nice! We had cheap tequila and Santitas tortilla chips for catering. Since we had limited time and no location I decided that the easiest character to be would be something of a victim. If you are a victim, you can become stronger.

NINA S. — When I first contacted you, you were lost in Las Vegas! What were you doing there?

ACTUALLY H. — I was doing a photoshoot with my boyfriend Socrates while at the same time showing him the city.
I think Vegas is hilarious if you look at it the right way (really drunk and with a sense of humor), but one thing I really can’t stand is the blaring horrible music they are blasting out at every pool! It totally gives you a headache. I think the hotels are trying to be ‘hip’, it is really just hurtful to the senses. It’s a shame, but that is what Vegas is about – total, constant change. It is very interesting to visit the older hotels because they are like ghost hotels of a classier time. The Riviera, for example, was practically empty; I was just trying to imagine Sharon Stone from Casino in it, but its hard to ignore the ripped carpets and tarnished gold-mirrored walls… and the fried-food courts which have replaced the high class Sinatra restaurant lounges. Could you imagine Jayne Mansfield coming back from the dead and walking into Circus Circus now? That would be an amazing video! I might try and shoot that. Do women even look like that anymore? I don’t see any Elizabeth Berkleys (‘Showgirls’). Most women are either obese, meth-skeletal or Kardashian-filler-flesh in Vegas.

ACTUALLY H. — One of my favorite parts of the Vegas trip was eating a chilled seafood platter with wine at this beautiful, very Parisian restaurant at the hotel Paris, while watching the fountains dancing and thundering to a tolerable Elton John song across the street at the Bellagio. The only way to ‘people-watch’ without getting grossed out. You are so above it all, and suddenly all of these themed mega-malls make so much sense. The restaurant is called ‘Mon Ami Gabi’, the best restaurant in Vegas maybe! Well… there is also a great Tiki Bar called Frankie’s which is just past downtown Vegas; people should check that out. One should also go to at least one all-you-can eat buffet, just to get grossed out and experience true Americana. Also, I Love Caesar’s Palace every time. Only thing I am not into all these gross ‘Hollywood’ bars and new hotels that don’t have themes – really bums me out! All these fedoras and bad clunky 4 inch heels and straightened hair with boring extensions…

NINA S. — Okay, all this sounds crazy and fascinating. As you are, probably. But you are based in Los Angeles, aren’t you? Tell us something more about your place, about your activity in this city, about art in general.
ACTUALLY H. — Los Angeles is my favorite place to come home to. It’s just very me. It’s hard to explain how much I love it. Los Angeles is so young, but in some places already a ghost town; there is so much history that no one even knows about, so many hidden, magical places. You get a metropolis while all at once you are near ocean, mountains, forests, deserts… If you want snow, you just drive an hour into Arrowhead in the winter! It’s all here and sometimes it’s too perfect, but I like ‘too perfect.’ And yes it’s true, you get the horrors coming from Rodeo Drive, but bad plastic surgery and horrible screenwriters are in New York and Europe too!
I live in Elysian Park near some great taco trucks, a hidden park surrounded by palm trees, a view of downtown and the sound of distant freight trains and peacocks.

‘Kitten Heaven’

NINA S. — And what is Kitten Heaven? Is this your own take on visual art? Please explain…
ACTUALLY H. — Kitten Heaven is where I am employed according to Facebook. I try and contribute images from the internet to the less-mass Facebook followers. I heard a beautiful kitten say the other day, ‘That was then, this is meow.’ I accidentally put a picture of La Cicciolina on the Invite feed for my last Cheetah’s show and got taken down from Facebook for a week. (She had her tits out but there was also a little pubic hair and no panties – I must have overlooked this!) Right now, I am allowed on but i have to wait another 24 hours to put anything up or like anything. Facebook is pretty much my entire fan base, so I really don’t want to offend the system – it was purely an accident of forgetfulness. I am so use to seeing naked things that I forget about the rules sometimes.

NINA S. — I have the same problem, from time to time. This kind of image, by the way, seems to totally in line with your lifestyle. For example, your way of dressing, or the way people represent you in photos, or the pictures you collect on your own. Tell us about your inspirations. Have you ever asked yourself why you are so attracted to this particular kind of visuals?
ACTUALLY H. — Kittens and hot, androgynous guys? Torture, sex, Vikings, Jurassic Park, Marilyn Manson, HBO, tropical snow, Mae West, Pre-Code Hollywood, golden mirrors, marble, Anthony Bourdain? It’s such a mix, but I suppose they represent ‘the way’ you speak of. I don’t even know what it is myself; I was hoping you would give me your opinion. As an artist, I want to make art that interests and entertains not only myself but other people. This is another reason why Facebook has been so beneficial. I feed off the ‘likes’! For my last music video, I asked Facebook fans to vote for which song out of 5 to do a music video for and it ended up being an almost tie between ‘Super Future’, ‘Mine’, and ‘The Water Is Pink’. I was secretly hoping to do ‘Mine’, but ‘Super Future’ worked so well… I wouldn’t have done it out without the fans. And the fact that ‘fans’ voted on it, made the process so much more fun – like I was creating a gift. My favorite part about making music is making the music videos.

NINA S. — In what kind of places do you usually perform? Which is the strangest you’ve ever been in? What is your favourite?
ACTUALLY H. — Recently I have been playing at Cheetahs strip club in Hollywood because I have a monthly residency there. I play and I book bands and DJs that I like. It’s the best combination – you get to have bands play minimal 20 minutes sets while strippers dance. It’s the best. Strangest, (which means best to me) place I have ever performed in it’s gay S&M bar in Athens in the middle of the riots two summers ago.

NINA S. — And what kind of places do you just like to visit to chill out a little?
ACTUALLY H. — I love to see movies – stadium seating and buttered popcorn. To make it healthier I substitute a big smoothie from a nearby steroid-run gym. My favorite theatre allows smoothies. I am planning a new video this summer, so the popcorn is out.
I also like to chill out at Tiki Bars and strip clubs. Tiki Ti and Jumbo’s are my ultimate chill out destinations in LA. I need to make more money for both. My ultimate goal is to shower strippers freely with many many dollar bills and to be able to afford magical cocktails without ever even looking at prices.

NINA S. — What do you look like when nobody’s watching? Are you ever tired of the character you’ve created? Or it just comes out spontaneously, so you don’t even think about it?
ACTUALLY H. — When nobody’s watching I can’t be sure, because I can’t see myself! I get more tired when I am not working, so if I am a character in my videos and photos, then I suppose that is my true self. I really get depressed when I sometimes become lazy. Laziness happens after performing minimal tasks in the real world for money – you come home and get sucked into television shows. I LOVE TV, so its a necessary evil. Last month I spent two days in bed watching back to back episodes of ‘Sex and the City’. I learned a lot, but it was hard. I don’t think anyone was watching me, but I think I had my hair pulled back and I was wearing a robe and eating frozen yogurt. I did not have a face-mask on, but I did put lotion on my feet with socks.

July 2013