Last December, LDWT followed, as a media partner, an interesting exhibition: Avvistamenti.
This edition hosted a retrospective dedicated to the work of a very interesting Italian artist, Carlo Michele Schirinzi, who is young but with a long activity behind him, ranging from experimental film to video art. Born if 1974, Carlo Michele Schirinzi is an artist with a great cultural background. Among his sources of inspiration we can mention authors such as Samul Beckett, Cervantes and Carmelo Bene, or artists such as Paolo Uccello and Rothko or musicians such as Giuseppe Verdi, Dead Kennedys and Morrissey. Schirinzi has been awarded by some of the major Italian festivals like Pesaro and Torino, and last year his Eco da luogo colpito (Echo from a hit place) was selected for the 68th Venice International Film Festival in the section Controcampo Italiano. We met him in Molfetta, in a very old fashioned cinema, where Avvistamenti took place. So this is the nice interview he kindly gave to us. Have a good reading.
Let’s begin with (self) introduction: who is Carlo Michele Schirinzi?
You will get to know me through the interview, won’t you?
Why did you choose audio video as your form of expression?
It has been a natural progression: I began with painting and photography, then I started doing readings of stuff that I wrote against a backdrop of clumsy portraits of myself, and later, as I found the idea of a static image more and more inadequate, I persuaded my family to buy me a digital videocamera: the passion for the art, the theatre, the cinema and the music has finally found its place!
Your productions are characterized by a radical DIY which is more and more rare nowadays. In your films, you are almost always author, director, actor, set designer, covering most jobs of a production. Which are the pros and cons of the artistic autarchy?
At the beginning there was the urgency to do everything in the quickest time available and taking all the jobs on myself; later, the autarchy has become a philosophical and stylistic choice, a radical refusal of the standardization that I would have suffered from had I submitted to the movie industry’s demands. As much as I like storytelling, making movies to be shown to wider audiences has never been my goal never had as goal the realization of a film for cinemas, while loving the cinema of narration: independence grants an absolute freedom not so much in what you want to say but in the way you want to say it. I disagree with the “experimental cinema” or, worse still, “video art” tags, as my movies are only the result of an autonomous and self aware choice of language. Opposite to this autonomy, there is the total blindness of cinema and cultural institutions, enslaved by working plans, meticulous budgets and pre-arranged screen-plays: a different way of making movies, which could be’ defined as “in progress”, is not for institutional patronages.
Some of your work has a corporal and physical quality which seems to border almost on pornography. What role does the body play in the art and what kind of relationship is there between art and pornography in your works? And what about the grotesque, in this context? Does it work as purification, sublimation or self-pity?
The body plays an essential role even when it seems absent. In my earlier videos it was shamelessly exhibited and display, always on stage, and later it’s become the stage, turning into a landscape or a building. Everything can hold the body and in it everything is embraced: it’s a matter of penetration and fusion, it’s pornography indeed! Even the surfaces of my films are never still but very much in movement, cleft with a tingling like blood under skin. The grotesque is the place of the “slagging off”, where everything collapses leaving the place to the rubbles: in this post-atomic abyss, we need to refine forms of a new life, like in [Alfred Jarry’s play] Ubu Roi. If comic is a short-circuit of tragic, as someone affirmed, grotesque is its illness.
A stylistic element often recurring in your films is the use of “other” images, nicked from documentaries or downloaded from internet so that you can explicitly talk of plagiarism in the end credits. Tell us more about this visual “pollination”.
You could call it gerontology, but it’s more an awareness to have been expelled from the past: revisiting old “bodies” is an inevitable labour of love, even when the purpose is to erase History and this is just as valid when it comes to images and music. To give new life to a dead body is more exciting than dealing with a living one. Besides, it is a hymn to failure, to the impossibility to make things already made: showing the original finds is like admitting the defeat.
How important are technical and technological supports in your production? Could we say that they dictate its evolution and poetic freedom?
They are very important, and so is the choice of shooting with video rather than with film. I am very interested in what I call “revealing mistakes”, which is to say certain electronic and digital equipments’ shortcomings. They reveal new roads, a language not only imposed by the dictatorship of the varnished image, but made alive by a series of technical obstacles which create a new vision.
Many of your movies are almost entirely shot indoors (often in your house), so that, at least in theory, it could be anywhere in the world. Nevertheless, there are clear signs of the area where you were born and live, Salento and the south east of Italy. What connection can you find between your cinema and your land?
I have tried as hard as I could to purge meticulously of the musical and visual stereotypes that have damaged this region so much, making the once invisible Salento an extreme tourist business, cutting any chance to prepare/save it from the barbaric invasions, be it the cement rapes on the coasts or the political and cultural incapability to deal with the summer herds. I try to look beyond the surface, to bring out the essence of this land, its absence of identity, being a limen at the mercy of perennial historical and social downfalls.
Many critics define your work as exodus cinema or shipwreck cinema. Do you agree with this definition? Do you generally agree with critics’ classifications?
I agree. Shipwreck is also a universal theme suited also to a critical vision, as I like to define it, the right of the director to close his eyes, and make the viewer a passenger, the passenger par excellence, as Foucault states in “Madness and Civilization”. In the “shipwreck vision” you just need to be carried away by images and sounds without relentlessly looking for a direction.
I don’t like classifications, it’s Ministry of Culture’s stuff, the easiest road to take when you don’t want to go deeper.
The things you speak about in your films, the object of your artistic reflections, seem almost always to be absent from sight, thus making your films highly suggestive, subliminal. Would you sign a new Surrealist Manifesto for the XXI century?
I would not talk of surrealism but, as my friend Roberto Nanni says and shows, of subjective realism, or rather of an intimate and personal vision of the reality. I’m not interested in “showing” but in suggesting and sketching. It’s the viewer’s job to detach himself/herself from his/her passivity: the audience must return to an active vision. Besides, words are often used in movies in an explanatory way as a support to the narration. I rarely use them, I find them dangerous, limiting the imagination and bringing you on pre-arranged paths.
A new Manifesto? I don’t believe in artistic or political manifestos, groups and meetings disguised as cultural institutions.
In your movies, the soundtrack is never a simple support, but – and I could mention its use in “Zittofono” – becomes almost a character. What’s your relationship with the music, both in your personal and artistic life?
Music is my first love, my passion. I grew up in the 80s listening to punk, goth and new wave. The first has given me its manifesto: you don’t have to be Mozart to make a record, if you have something to say you have to do it right now, without any industry’s influence. I believe it’s the music and not the cinema to encompass all the arts. Or if you prefer, cinema is furnished by all the other arts while music has the ability to render them all useless making you levitate in imaginary architectures. Music is more often than not the carrying strength of the video, in which the images and the histories are set. In my works on places (“Eco da luogo colpito”, “Mammaliturchi!”, “Fuga da Nicea”, “Macerie dell’Arcobaleno”, “Palpebra su pietra”), the sound becomes text, claiming its identity of ‘voice of the dying place.’
None of your works are available on the Web. Why?
I have never wanted to published my videos on the Web. I am fully aware of its enormous importance, but I also believe that everything gets homologated and loses any meaning, from news to songs, from movies to self directed bully videos. Hierarchies have to be re-established, we live in a time of mediocrity overbearing power. When you visit the Sistine Chapel, you have to look up cause the frescos won’t come down to you. It is a matter of anti-democracy, which is just right to keep. The public must feel uncomfortable again!
What are you currently working on?
I am shooting a full-length movie, “The remains of Bisanzio”, the production is very complex because, as always, I have a very small troupe working on basically everything. The ‘story’ is shot in Capo di Leuca but you can hear only the far echo of this territory, a death rattle that comes from an empty earth raped by the false myth of the identity.
Imagine you had the chance to go back in time. Which one of your films would you not make or change? Which other director’s movie would you like to make yours? Which event would you stop from happening?
Answering the first question is as easy as cutting your own arm, but I would probably pick “Il Nido” (The Nest), as it’s the one I feel less my own. I would love to shoot all of Herzog’s southamericans films and anything by Fassbinder! As for the historical event to stop, I think we deserved everything, good and bad, and today we are just getting to grips with our inabilities and failures.
How would you like to be remembered in two centuries?
I don’t think the earth will survive for so long, but if an alien had to catch some signal from the planet, I’d love it to be one of my first grotesque videos… A good way of understanding our self-destruction!