The architecture of memory
Ph. Francesca Iovene
Ed. Francesca Iovene
F.I.: I was interested in "If You Can’t Swim” for various reasons. I like the idea behind the approach: it’s a simple grill, with black and white colors and in two dimension, that makes you realize what it really is. A few lines are enough to make a concept clear: two lines drawn on paper stand for a mountain, for instance. We might say that you work with the memory of the beholder, isn't it?
M.P.: The aim is to ensure that who's looking at the artwork will recognize something real. The artwork will remind him something he already knows, or that he has already experienced. There are two issues: at first I was just looking for a way for me to talk about space, about what we recognize as component elements of the city. A way that is based on repetition, addition, multiplication, density. I wanted to find an easy way to tell about space – which to me is an intertwining of the empty and the full. I wanted to represent a concept as a stereotype, without being specific about it: it is not necessary to depict an existing building, because the idea of the building is recognized by everyone. It looks like reality, but in fact this work it's not intended to be representational: if you come near the artwork, it all looks abstract and inaccurate, you don’t have recognizable elements, but if you look at the entire image, it takes shape and you realize what you're looking at.
The other issue is that of colors: they are also made of some things that I attached on the drawing, such as receipts, packages, lotto tickets... especially tickets. I’m fascinated by the fact that someone plays with numbers. The numbers suggest order and organization, which are the core elements of urban space.
F.I.: I guess you thought about these urban spaces relying on your personal experience. Where you were when you started thinking about these concepts? Now we’ve talked of memory, what do your artworks remind you of?
M.P.: The suburbs of Paris are the starting point of this work. There are buildings that were built in the ‘70s there, they were huge buildings whose purpose was to let plenty of people live in a certain amount of space. It’s the result of what Le Corbusier started. He started making an important point, he was sincere, he wanted to do something good. But the consequences have been different from what he expected, so now we need to take stock to understand what has worked and what has failed. I think that on the whole the architect has to be humble and a bit modest. It’s like when architects decide that concrete which is visible on a building is very nice and honest: they are designing for people who have a different concept of beauty and who will think that it is not finished, that it has still to be painted. Sometimes there’s no enough communication between architects and ordinary people, and the latter find themselves living in the way the architect wants them to live.
«Nature is there to be shaped in our image. That’s human nature, as is the case with language: the things which exist are those to which we gave a name.»
F.I.: If we dwell on constructed, ordered and inhabited space, I guess we have to dwell also on that space which is not yet organized and on nature.
M.P.: Also in this case, the thoughts about nature rely on my personal experience and on the belief that there’s some kind of unconditional human reflex involving the feeling of omnipotence. It’s a way to be able to catch the outside world, to take it, to own it and to understand it. Nature is there to be shaped in our image. That’s human nature, as is the case with language: the things which exist are those to which we gave a name. We need to label them in order to understand them and let them live. But nature exists without us and we should try to correct our behavior.
F.I.: When I saw your space, I noticed the relationship existing between your studio and your artworks straightaway. More specifically, the way your spatial structure could be the truest reflection of your work and life (you've travelled a lot, you’ve moved around, you studied architecture…). The boxes look like an architectural creation, the artwork on the floor seem to be arranged in a grid. The work of an artist is mentally constant – unconscious too: in your space I can see a past and a future, it has its own story.
M.P.: Working for a long time on things that you own gives you an ability, even when you do things that have nothing to do with your work. It's about a mental process that makes you immediately figure out how to do and how not to do – especially how not to do. I mean, when I draw something like these buildings I can no longer fail, even if I have to draw it on another piece of paper in different proportions. My hand can do it that way automatically, even when I’m not thinking about what I’m doing. I’ve been doing it for years and my mind is already set up in a certain way. Now I have to move some stuff and I know how much space I need to continue my work: it all seems as if it were already set up inside my head. I needed to have some free space and that corner, that used to be empty, was the only place where I could put my things and put vertically all the boxes I didn’t need.
F.I.: The town you grew up in and the one where you actually live are very different from each other – and which correspond to very different visions. I’d like to understand what the suitcase of “Nos Voyages immobiles” means to you, if it’s a container or rather a content.
M.P.: The suitcase is something to do with mind and memories, with the places we've been and the memory of these places. I like to think that places, which are stable things, can be moved. This can be done through our body and memory. This suitcase represents this idea. I started making these suitcases thinking about the suburbs of Paris, but the way I see it, work represents not only my experience, but all that places where everyone can identify himself and his experience. Milan, America, Paris… Journeys give us the opportunity to take a place we remember with us.
F.I.: I seem to find other two important elements of life among the drawings I have seen: human beings (their faces) and landscapes. Hence, urban space, natural landscape, human being. They are three representations of three different things, but I think they have something in common.
M.P.: They are an element of the work I mentioned earlier. Landscapes represent empty spaces, that contain nothing. I like the fact that they don’t identify themselves as a specific place, so that everyone can remember something about his own experience. I have to find a way to show them, I don't think I'll do it with single paintings. It’s all sort of in development, it has to be studied, I’ll keep doing new landscapes and at some point I’ll put them together to create something new and definitive. Heads are like faces instead, shapes that represent anonymous people, once again they are not portraits of anyone in particular. The idea of natural landscape and urban landscape repeats itself. They are more like silhouettes, but I want you to see them as portraits.
«The aim is to ensure that who's looking at the artwork will recognize something real.»
F.I.: You mentioned something about the use of waste or things we use in daily life, such as tickets and packages. As far as the rest, what material do you use? What do you use to draw?
M.P.: Materials are the most interesting things. I try to use the things we use in city life, during the construction of the cities. Tar, for example. And I use acrylic too. I want to use materials that have to do with architecture and its construction of space. Materials talk about the world and its components.
«I like to think that places, which are stable things, can be moved. This can be done through our body and memory.»
F.I.: I've also seen the maquette of a labyrinth in your studio, it seems to be something different from what you told me about.
M.P.: It relates to the last exhibition in Paris, “Afriques Capitales”, it’s a scale model of the project I presented. The labyrinth is suspended, it doesn’t lie on the ground and it remains 4 inches off it. People who get through the maze can run into each other, but they can’t walk it together: there’s not enough space in the corridors. To me it perfectly describes the loneliness you can feel when you’re in urban world. Labyrinth for me is the opposite of an architecture: the architectural object is something physical and present, static, it can’t be moved. It forces us to go around it to get to the other side, it seems like an obstacle, while my labyrinth can be traversed, since its walls can shift. Your perception of it changes once you go in, from the outside it looks solid and opaque, but from the inside you can sense its transparency, so finally it will give you the impression of being lightweight and phantasmatic. It’s something present, but it’s not there.