Photographer, visual artist, filmmaker and sculptor, Cosimo Terlizzi is an eclectic and versatile artist who, despite his age, has already gained a strong artistic identity and an international success. His works have been exhibited in lots of museums and galleries in Italy and in Europe, such as the MACRO in Rome, the Gallery of Modern Art of Bologna, Galleria Civica d’Arte Contemporanea of Trento, the Merz Foundation in Turin or the National Museum of Wroclaw in Poland and his films have been screened in different film festivals, such as the International Film Festival of Rome, the Milano Film Festival the London International Documentary Festival, Prix International du Documentaire et du Reportage Méditerranéen of Marseille and France Doc in Paris. He’s represented in Italy by Traffic Gallery in Bergamo.
We reached him between a trip and another for festivals and this is the interview that encloses the pleasant chat with him about his work, his poetry and his background.
Please, introduce yourself to our readers. Who is Cosimo Terlizzi?
I will try to give you a brief description in the third person. Cosimo is 39 year old man from Apulia who left his homeland to follow his artistic path in Bologna and now lives in La Chaux-de-Fonds, a city in the French-speaking Switzerland, where he tries and focuses creating tormented works, taking advantage of the serenity of these places.
What is your relationship with your past and your land of origin, present in many of your recent works?
It is a past which comes up in dreams, a place full of sensuality and unsolved matters. When I take a break from my work, I can see faces and hear sounds from my teenager years; there are people of extraordinary humanity and people whose clumsiness leaves a mark on your life nonetheless. Everything reinforces your personality. I consider myself rich with experiences from my homeland.
When and how did you think of making art in general and video in particular?
It is an obsession that was born with me, maybe it’s a vocation. Claiming to be officially an artist is an important step, for me it was like some kind of coming out, perhaps because of where I grew up. Concerning the use of the video, it was an inevitable choice: I first learned to write, then to draw, to paint, to photograph, and finally to film. In art history, I would say there is a similar sequence of events, a phenomenology of the used medias. Nowadays, there are far too many who prefer skipping the study of art from its origins to modern times.
Do you consider the studies, therefore, a “duty” or an “opportunity” for an artist?
Studying is essential to put yourself in some kind of continuity with what has happened for centuries. Any artist should possess knowledge and technique, but also a good deal of physical strength to tone the body. The power of art! We should bring rotten governments down with aesthetical whips, because the non explicit goal of philosophy is to achieve beauty. Beauty as richness.
You are a sculptor, photographer and videomaker. According to what exactly, do you choose a language rather than another?
You have to let the idea flourish. I imagine and try and draw the idea, I try and understand if it needs volume or distance, or neither of them. In a recent exhibition I imagined a confessional amplifier in mirror and steel. I managed to realize it as a sculpture with the support of those who believe in my work, in this case the Galérie C Neuchâtel. But as a matter of fact, I did not hit any material with a hammer, I simply gave my drawing to a blacksmith. This is the novelty of our time: everything is possible, you just need an idea. It can move in space and time and be incorporeal thus taking the form of a film, or it can be an icon, a still image, thus developing into a photographic print.
In your audiovisual works, there’s a terrific mix of images taken with different technical supports: cameras, mobile phones or old camcorders. Some argue that this lo-fi aesthetic that combines music, performances and d.i.y. items, is a kind of non-explicit manifesto of the new contemporary underground. What do you think about?
I think the lo-fi aesthetic has always existed. In this case it comes to choosing whether to use precious material or not, professional or amateur. The actual choice of the material determines the value of the work, especially in our time. Perhaps the high-quality media help things a little, but not the intrinsic value of the work. In fact, the use of lo-fi in movie making makes me think of those early neorealist films made with scraps of other films, recovering pieces of blank tapes here and there and of poor quality. The again, think of Super8 cameras, VHS camcorders, until you get to more compact and smaller cameras: they are tools largely used in this century for cinema and video art. What changes is only in the camera and its quantity. As editing has become easier, post-production has made leaps and bounds and lo-fi movies look more coherent are more easily welcomed. What is new in this is the voyeuristic side, normalizing the disclosure of private images. The concept of fiction develops into an unexpected form. Truth is not allusive but so explicitly represented to become ambiguous and confronts us with the question: whether what we see is true or false.
It is quite evident that today making art is much easier and cheaper than the past. In the case of films and audiovisuals in general, in fact, the big real problem is not longer in production but in distribution. Every year thousands of films and video works are actually unavailable. Tell us about your personal struggle, if that’s what it is.
After about twenty years of independent production, I have lately found myself opening doors of production and distribution companies. To tell you the truth in recent years I have concentrated mainly on researching and releasing works. My style has become more complicated, something which affects my work makes me happy. Perhaps this is the right time for me. I feel ready to put myself in a larger place. I have created over the years the right body. I was never interested to become popular at all costs, because this is it, right? How do you go from the small theatres to the bigger cinemas? Or from the gallery to the museum? Are these places still healthy? Again it’s a question of medium, but a great work could also remain under lock or be shown to a few friends, couldn’t it? I have my own and rather silly point of view. Consumption is all a matter of time, so why should you go for the “I want it all and I want it now” attitude? Let’s see what’s left in the filter and keep working till we risk exhaustion.
In your works, there is a particular focus on sounds, which often consist of abnormal noise or pop and electronic music by a radio. Explain us how you proceed to the realization of your soundtracks.
In real life it is difficult to find a really quiet place. Maybe silence does not exist. In my latest film, still in the works, titled «L’uomo doppio», there is a scene in which Damien and I reach a place away from it all, Creux du Van, a deep crevasse whose beauty I would define as of prehistoric times. But even there you could hear the echoing roar of engines, which I assume came from far away. The ambient sound and music are the same to me. Everything can be a soundtrack, even a sudden noise. Music really helps editing, a process which I tend to keep hand in hand with filming. Sounds inspire me a lot, they help me opening doors.
During the realization of your works, do you do all by yourself or do you work in collaboration with others, technical or not?
I am fortunate enough to have learned how to shoot photos and use editing systems. Until now this has helped me to give body to my work the way I really wanted to and taking all the time that was necessary. Things are sure to change in the future as I will have to do with a more complicated working team, but it will be interesting for me to see if you can still recognize me behind my work.
Your filmic eye on everything around you is very sensual, bodily, but essentially aesthetic as it is in permanent quest for authenticity (that is the essence of beauty). What do you consider “bad”, that is not worthy of being “observed” in your work?
Disruption, poverty of taste and touch, these are the things that I consider to be ugly. But “bad” needs also to be mentioned in a work, perhaps as a step to understand the richness of beauty, it is all down to whether to give importance to some things or not, whether to live in full or not. Nevertheless, beauty can also be in a cruel body. In the animal world, we often talk about natural beauty, regardless of some “cruel” acts. Beauty is probably in the power of signs and how these signs become eros.
What is your artistic relationship with the taboo?
Taboo is honey for the artist, an aphrodisiac substance always ready to be used. An amazing concept that stuns and creates disorder, not so much per se but in its revelation. This is very interesting. Taboos are really endless and seasonal like flu. By trying to suppress them, they come back stronger. Sometimes taboo coincides with beauty, or rather with the cruelty of beauty. For example, my teenage dream was to be a Greek philosopher’s pupil, with all that even erotically could be implied in being at his service. I had read about it in books and I was fascinated. What’s more interesting about the very concept of taboo is the way that it can often coincide with sexuality and religion.
In contemporary times, the traces of our ego that we leave without realizing it on the web or on the street, going to the supermarket, are innumerable. In Folder, these tracks become fluid mosaic tiles. How important is the search for identity in your work?
I think that you can better represent what you know; you can always use your imagine, but experience is important to represent something that can touch the viewer deep inside. Therefore, I often start from myself, my own point of view. I analyze it, make it wider. This leads me to confront the many facets of me. In the same way, I demand the same “self-knowledge” and revelation from anyone involved. To be honest, It is very hard, but it’s worth it. Identity, as my friend Christian Rainer says, is structured day by day.
In your video “Le mie fonti d’ispirazione” you made a collage with the faces of all the artists and intellectuals who influenced you. Just give us a name and tell us what binds you to it. And then, were you able to put them all in or did you keep someone out?
Those faces are in the books that I carry around in every move since my early age. It ‘s a tribute, a public declaration of love to those who gave me reasons, reflections on all matters. They gave me a lot and this is my little recognition. Maybe it’s my philosophical and artistic method. Obviously those I put in the video are just a few of them. The first name that comes to mind is my first love, Arthur Rimbaud. He often returns, it’s an obsession. I think it was him to give me the correct note to begin with. I recognize my own feelings in his words and the idea of precipice as a possibility. But in my artistic career and life I try and redeem his disappointment, his death, to exorcise my own pain.
How and where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I could not say. In the meantime, I have to confess that the Swiss calmness and serenity is all surface. Under the basements of almost all the houses there are anti-atomic bunkers, built not so much to protect themselves from the attacks of war but for the five nuclear power plants places in this small territory … A reassuring feeling.
With that in mind, I just hope I do not find myself in a studio down there.
Visit Cosimo Terlizzi’s site
Cosimo Terlizzi’s Youtube channel
Visit Traffic Gallery site