Mario Flecha interviews Maurizio Cattelan

We reproduce this interview that writer, and our regular contributor, Mario Flecha conducted with one of the most controversial, mirth provoking and entertaining conceptual artists of the last two decades. This conversation first appeared in the art magazine Untitled

Maurizio Cattelan was born in 1960 in Padua, Italy. Over the last twenty years he has earned an international reputation. His work has been classified as humorous, spiritual, ironic, anarchic, comic and all genial. He first came into prominence in Britain during the Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, in 1997, organised by Charles Saatchi. In 2011 The Guggenheim Museum in New York showed a retrospective of his work

Mario Flecha: Maurizio, how did you begin to produce art?

Maurizio Cattelan­: My first encounter with art was through design, I moved into an empty house and I started building furniture for myself. They were strange objects that some people could also experience as sculpture. Art seemed a way to escape work and authority, so I came to art for a sense of exclusion, and I would say almost by accident. I thought it was a place of freedom, but in the end if you have no office and no boss you work all the time. Art is in your head, you can’t take a break from yourself. Even though a couple of times I did try to fire me.

More to the point, how did you start and installation like mise-en-scene Milan for The Trussardi Foundation?

I always start with an image and always start from a place. I cannot work in a vacuum. I always have to react to something. Sometimes the something is reality. I am interested in the real world, in what we see and live every day-images, magazines, newspaper even just although can do it. At the end my work is just a magnifying lens cast on reality. I can’t remember who said that god is in the details. OR WAS IT THE DEVIL.

Did you base the piece in a well know story, or is your own narrative?

I am just a sponge, maybe a repeater. I don’t have my own narrative: actually, I often make an effort to disappear. You build mirrors: it is not about   finding your voice, it’s about making a sound, or maybe a noise that can travel and insinuate in different context. Maybe art is just a way to initiate reactions: I am like a mechanism within a machine. In the end, that’s what happened with the show with the Trussardi Foundation in Milan. The piece only lasted few hours as someone climbed up the tree and took it down: but at the end the image kept living in the head of people, replicate through magazines and media. So, and image became stories, or better, it became many different stories, depending on who was describing what happened.

In Milan, mise-en-scene Milan lasted for few hours but what happened at the Seville Biennale?

In Seville I produce a different version of the piece. It was only one child, and he was hanging from a flag pole installed at slightly change a piece, trying to adjust it and bend it a little. Pieces are like people, they like to change and be changed. So basically, the image is already there and you move things around, you try to come up with new connections, you speak different languages and maybe even learn different accents.

I sense you refuse to take any political position but some of the subjects that you use in your work, from Vietnam to the Pope and Hitler define your moral stance?

I am much more interested in everyday life than in politics or   general moral issues. And the fact that I don’t take a precise political position doesn’t necessarily mean that the work is not political or that I am against ethics. The pope and Hitler in the end are characters playing a role in today’s world, they belong to any one and you can take them and use them if you like. I don’t see those works really, about history or ideology, they are more certain sense of fear and feeling of an imminent and unpredictable failure. I am not a preacher, I am more of sinner I guess, like anyone.

I read that in New York once you were offered and exhibition and because you had no idea of what to do,  you stole another artist’s  work or I could say you appropriated the work of another artist. Is that true?

It happened in Holland. I guess if I was in New York I would still be in jail by now. I was invited to do something for De Appel in Amsterdam but I had such a short time that I couldn’t really think in anything.  So, the best way to get something done was to take the work of someone else. We rented a van and we took everything that was in the gallery next door. I thought it was interesting to move one place completely into another one, it was about displacement not much about thievery. That night I tried to explain it to the Dutch police but they didn’t seem to like my version. You know, I wouldn’t trust me either.

The situation reminds me of Federico Fellini in 8 ½ about the lack of idea of what story to tell.

Or maybe just that book where the same story is told with many voices from different angles

Which piece of your work do you feel is your best? Which piece of work you rather forget about?

I hate charts and best-of. Had I been good with play lists, I would have been a DJ or maybe a collector.

The two New York policeman standing on their heads can draw a smile on our faces because they are powerless in that position. You manage to criticize the structure of society by challenging the perception of authority can we call this conceptual transgression.

You call it whatever you want. I don’t have any particular authority on the interpretation of my own work. I’ve never done anything more transgressive that what we see every day around us. We are guilty one way or the other….

Mario Flecha is a writer, art critic and former editor of the art magazine Untitled. He currently resides in England. His most recent book, Anatasia’s Toes, can be purchased in our virtual bookshop Tienda Perro Negro

Images from left to write clockwise: Him, (2001), La Nona Ora (1999), Frank and Jamie (2002)