FEDERICO SOLMI AND THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF THE ENEMY
by Mariagrazia Costantino
Catalog for A Song of Tyranny, the Italian Cultural Institute of Madrid
Federico Solmi is a 40 year old Italian artist based in New York. He belongs to a generation of artists that emerged between the folds of two eras: the thriving market which fed on artistic “phenomena” in the 80's and early 90's and the looming financial crisis of the 2000s. These in-
Through an articulate process in which technology and hand-
In New York, Solmi found the subject of his artistic research: a hypertrophic society bridled by a sinister mixture of finance, show business, media and culture. Here he met his enemies but also mastered the tools to fight against them. By depicting them in epic and apocalyptic scenarios, these enemies self-
Solmi’s work above all is a strategy, a counteroffensive to the daily attack to which we are exposed. It is often inspired by feelings such as anxiety or a desire for justice and permeated with the disquieting signs of our time. He designs a world in which the exaltation of evil is paralleled with a society exasperated by the violent ubiquity of media, music, images, crime and terroristic threat. His approach is childish in the most genuine sense: he reacts and takes personal revenge against the things he perceives as unacceptable.
Solmi’s Universe is filled with evil armies and monsters, slaughters and massacres. Well-
The alienating effect of displacement is enhanced by the hand-
The recent Chinese Democracy and The Last Day on Earth is another tale about hypertrophic power. The work evokes and ridicules the idea of the “Chinese threat” which distresses a worn-
The video installation Douche Bag City (2010) is a hybrid creation composed of fifteen video animations: it is both baroque and contemporary, technological and archaic. The tiny gothic frames “wrap” LCD monitors which release disquieting animations whose protagonist, the fictitious character Dick Richman, is an antihero animated by frantic movement. He is “a wall street tycoon, legendary scam artist, tabloid superstar, nymphomaniacal bachelor, and the most acclaimed douche bag in history." These animations were conceived during, and partly inspired by, the clamorous scandal of the financier Bernard Madoff. This character is drawn with unmediated expressive urgency, coherent with the psychological profile of businessmen like Dick Richman.
In works such as Rocco Never Dies (2005), King Kong and the End of the World (2006) and The Evil Empire (2007-
AN INTERVIEW WITH FEDERICO SOLMI
Catalog for A Song of Tyranny, the Italian Cultural Institute of Madrid
I’ve been following your work since several years ago.
I was impressed when I first saw it live, displayed on a small screen which was exclusively designed for a gallery during the Miami fairs week end: it was placed among thousands of other artworks that shared the same pavilion, however, it stood out for its devastating power and its innovative and direct language. Its form and content had a not gratuitous originality. Later we met in New York, in your studio. It’s been a few years and your works have become more rich and complex. They have arisen more and more interest and won greater and greater praise.
Now, with your own exhibition at the Italian Cultural Institute, you present a selection of your works which clearly states where you started from and where you are today. It starts from the “King Kong and the End of the World” series of 2006 and, passing through the video-
The Madrid project was born a couple of years ago in New York, when I met Carmelo Di Gennaro, the director of the Italian Cultural Institute in Madrid. He saw my series called “King Kong and the End of the World” at the Madrid art fair Arco, at the stand of my Italian art dealer Jerome Zodo. I thought that the starting point for the Madrid exhibition needed to be this 2006 series, in order to show the visitors the progress and conquers achieved later on. “Chinese Democracy and the Last Day on Earth” is the project which received the 2009 John Simon Guggheneim Fellowship, award which you received from the New York Gugghenheim Foundation.
These works tell the story of a deranged Chinese dictator with a lust for power, whose cultural references are the United States, bad reality shows and the Washington and Wall Street corruption. How was the idea born and why did you decide to dedicate a trilogy to the story? It’s a gigantic work, how did you get to create it?
To win the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in New York was an incredible sensation. Apart from granting the financial resources to begin and support part of the project, it made me very enthusiastic.
It’s difficult to say where the project comes from. I think that each new work is the evolution of a research which begun many years before, even if, in this case, what most influenced me was a book I read years ago written by the American author Jared Diamond, which talked about the collapse of the great past civilizations and is called “Collapse, How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”. It was reading this book that I started to develop the first ideas that, later, were going to be shaped in my last project. I remember being very shocked by a chapter dedicated to the Easter Island and its inhabitants.
Eastern Island was a kind of Garden of Eden in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, rich in food and natural resources. Then the idyllic situation came to an end and a series of endless wars started between the different tribes of the island.
The population ended up destroying their own natural environment, they even cut all the trees to leave room for gigantic statues built as a tribute to their gods. Then, due to the absence of wood that made impossible to build boats for fishing and arms for hunting, and with no chance to leave the island, they were trapped. They had no food so they became cannibals, which led to their own inevitable extinction. This absurd story made me think a lot: if we examine the history of human kind and the causes that led to the destruction of many past civilizations, we realize that at the basis there are incredible mistakes or foolish acts perpetrated by political leaders.
A couple of years ago I asked myself: why shouldn’t the same happen to us, given the incredible political decadence and the lack of ideals that characterize our present? From a technical point of view, how has your work evolved in the last few years? The last videos from the series “Chinese Democracy and the Last Day on Earth” are made with a different technique than videos like “King Kong and the End of the World”. What has changed and how did you make these last videos? Since the beginning of my career and the first 2003 video I wanted to combine the new technologies, such as the 3D animation and the videogame platforms, and the traditional drawing and painting techniques.
My work method has evolved in time and has become very complex. When in 2006 I made the video “King Kong and the End Of The World”, I almost managed to do everything on my own. Soon, however, I discovered that, if I wanted to grow, I had to rely on the help of technicians and assistants. The recent videos from the series “Chinese Democracy and the Last Day On Earth” are an ambitious goal. For the first time in my career I was able to immerse myself completely in the character of the video, becoming an actor in the world that I had meticulously created.
To do so I used the “motion capture software”, which allowed me to capture the movements of my body and to animate the protagonist of the video. This gave me a complete control over the final result and we can say that these videos, in the end, are a series a of performances that I realized inside a virtual/painted world of mine, created from scratch.
In 2010, with the video installation “Douche Bag City”, you dealt with the issue of Wall Street and in particular the international financial crisis. This work represents a turning point in your career: it was displayed for the first time in its complete version at the Santa Fe Biennial exhibition, in New Mexico in 2010, together with the works by artists like Paul Chan, Kara Walker, William Kentridge, Raimond Pettybon and Thomas Demand.
It’s true, since the beginning I knew I was working at a very ambitious project, whose creation took a year and a half. It’s been an important challenge which led to an immediate result: the American curators Sarah Lewis and Daniel Belasco invited me to present the video installation at the Biennial exhibition in Santa Fe.
It had a great visibility, the exhibition had a huge press coverage, with very positive opinions, and I received several important reviews. The protagonist of the work, Dick Richman, is an unctuous and corrupt Wall Street tycoon who, with his manoeuvres, causes the financial crisis. He’s a real heartless criminal, something between the cheat tycoon Bernard Maddoff and the Joker from the Batman movie. When I started working at the project I was in New York, in the middle of the financial crisis. I decided to build “Douche Bag City” because I was afraid that the American justice would never sentence the guilty criminals of Wall Street. Through the creation of the project at least I was bringing them to justice in my imagination.
I think that the world of finance is the modern times’ cancer, and with this work I wanted to describe and strongly condemn a culture which is dominated by greed, blackmail and injustice. Some years ago in Milan I saw your video “King Kong end The end of The World” and the aggressiveness of the message it conveyed really struck me. Your style reminds of the history of art brut and some eccentric artists from the past, with a very strong inclination towards narration and satire.
I think that this makes your art biting, incisive and even violent. You are a “self-
What is your opinion and what is your relation with the outsider artists celebrated by Massimiliano Gioni with significant invitations to the recent Venice Biennale? I’ve never considered myself as an outsider artist. I was artistically born and grown up in New York, which today is the centre of the world contemporary art. I don’t believe in a distinction between official and outsider art at all, it’s a dichotomy that shouldn’t exist.
I think that the art professionals have the obligation to grant visibility to artist who are worth it, regardless of their education. I hope that the choices made by Massimilano Gioni at the Venice Biennale, or by Ralph Rugoff at his exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London called “The Alternative Guide to the Universe”, put an end to this distinction and to the prejudices against good artists who have received a different training from the academic one.
Rugoff himself claims in several interviews that the museums have become big “shopping malls”, often full of aseptic academic works which don’t relate in any way to the present culture. As far as I’m concerned, I strongly believe that art should help us understand the world and, why not, change it for the better.
FUCKING MACHINE AFTER LEONARDO
The kinetic sculpture entitled “Fucking Machine, After Leonardo” represents a carnival-
The artist aims to satirize and condemn the cruelty of a male dominated, hierarchic world, in which the primitive uncivilized instincts of violence and force always prevails over reason and ethics. The raw and sadistic sexual content is an ironic tribute to man’s intellectual perversions, and its ambition to reach authority through the ruthless use of power. It also symbolizes an obvious spoof to the perishing moral and reckless behavior that indisputably governs our everyday life.
The machine’s shape resembles a vicious and grotesque funfair carrousel, with its frenetic and repetitive motion, which illustrates the cruel mechanism in which the Universe and men are trapped; the cycle of history, the cycle of life and death, in which we are all tied, and that inexorably and harshly repeats itself.
The gothic and baroque details, the luxurious colors and the symbols borrowed from traditional European paintings are combined with the most innovative materials to create a bizarre and witty machine. This “machine” represents a parody of man’s obsession with technology, a humorous homage to the sophisticated mechanisms drawn by Leonardo DaVinci and a mirror image of our ambiguous time. The artist does not aspire to imitate or emulate a previous engineering marvel; instead, this silly, futuristic, implacable, functioning physical object has its own creepy demonic 21 Century identity.
INTERVIEW WITH FEDERICO SOLMI
by Renato Miracco
Federico Solmi, Charta Books
We have known each other for a long time now, and I’d like to take this opportunity to ask you a few simple questions about your work. Let’s start with the most recent developments. An Italian artist is invited to the eighth Santa Fe Biennial: a stroke of luck, or a hard-
Along with you there will be established artists such as William Kentridge, Cindy Sherman, Paul Chan and Kara Walker; you won’t be getting a swollen head, will you? What will you present? Tell me about your new work, Douche Bag City? How is it different from your previous work?
As you can imagine, I’m thrilled to participate in the Santa Fe Biennial in the United States. It will be a major milestone in my career, as was receiving the fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation in New York. I have to thank the curators, Daniel Belasco and Sarah Lewis, for their enthusiastic support and confidence in my new work.
You don’t need to worry about me getting a swollen head since you know that I like to keep my feet on the ground. Over the last few years, I’ve been working extremely hard to achieve my goals and I believe that my invitation is a result of this hard work and to my creative development.
This year’s biennial exhibition is titled “The Dissolve” and will primarily focus on video animation and experimental film. There is an amazing selection of artists and I am honoured to be amongst them. For the occasion, I will unveil an ambitious fifteen-
This work was initially conceived as a satire about the current world economic crisis, and later evolved into a frightening futuristic vision of a modern metropolis in decay. Douche Bag City is a place where humans are trapped in a system of rules, laws and authorities, and where violence is the only possible reaction to a violence-
The protagonist, Dick Richman, is a product of this vicious system. A wicked, corrupt Wall Street employee that played a part in the global crash and as punishment is sent to Douche Bag City to pay for his sins. Douche Bag City is an inferno inhabited by monstrous aliens and giant spiders.
Dick Richman has one mission: to survive the attacks of these various monsters, but his attempts to escape are all in vain, because I conceived the missions so that the main character will always die. At the end of each adventure, the words “Game Over”, “Betrayer”, or “Mission Failed” appear on the screen, similar to what appears in an actual video game.
Tell me about your previous video, The Evil Empire (2008), which was charged with being offensive to religion. I’d also like to hear about the confiscation of your painting, Untitled Crucifixion by the Italian police during Artefiera Bologna in 2009 (we could probably write a whole book about that).
I remember the uproar in the papers and all the diatribes; I even wrote a letter in your defense to the director of the Italian Cultural Institute of New York…which may have come in handy during the appeal. But meanwhile, you received a prestigious award from the Guggenheim Foundation in New York; for which work? Can you tell me who won it before you?
One day we should co-
Just a few weeks after the incident and the confiscation of my work, I received the great
news that I had won a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation of New York, in the Video and Audio category. In an instant, I went from being considered an immoral and degenerate artist to being praised and respected by the press and public. My name was listed side-
In your video King Kong and the End of the World (2006), as in works before and after it, there is always a deep sense of tragedy, springing from the idea of a past, present, or future apocalypse that is close at hand; am I right? For Solmi, what comes after the apocalypse? Who is Federico Solmi and what does he want from the world?
In one of the final sequences from the video King Kong and the End of the World, a bizarre earthquake shatters classic monuments: the Eiffel Tower, the Big Ben in London, and the massive faces on Mt.Rushmore. This catastrophe symbolizes the destruction of evil in the world.
The final scene though, which is full of hope and optimism, is set in the Garden of Eden. You see my wife and I, in the role of a modern Adam and Eve, generating a better human race with the aid of a sex machine that we are tied to.
Each movement and rotation of the device results in an act of penetration, giving life to thousands of our clones. In my more recent works, this optimistic attitude and search for a blissful ending, characteristic of youth, completely disappears.
The apocalypse is not a cathartic moment in which spirits are lifted, it is everyday reality. Surrounded by a hostile, threatening environment, devoid of all values, that constantly breeds and feeds false myths and models, we find ourselves living in a harmful, degenerate society.
The apocalypse is an expression of our unstable present, and the sense of tragedy that can be felt in my work comes from my inherent distrust of basic human nature.
Your work is built in part around the identification of myths, icons, and legends of the past and present, used as a pretext for tackling a broader social discourse, a wide-
Ever since your first videos, The Giant and Rocco Never Dies, you have stressed one particular element: you’re clearly obsessed with phallic imagery. The phallus as a synonym for power, tyranny and violence, the phallus as programmed reproduction, reiteration and addiction. Could you elaborate on that?
The obsession with phallic imagery, so evident in several of my animated videos, is a metaphor for a sexist, violent, brutal world. Many of my characters are insatiable tyrants, depraved, corrupt leaders who have only the physical semblance of human beings.
They are beasts, not men; victims of their own egos, they act out of instinct, not reason. As history teaches, all it takes is one man’s will to devastate and destroy the lives of millions of people. I use irony and satire as a tool for expressing my bitterness about contemporary society.
My works try to examine the current historical context: I use metaphorical language to present my opinions about social problems and malaise. Pop culture, with its false idols, along with gossip and pornography, is a major source of inspiration for my work
You once met Rocco Siffredi in person, during a show of yours in Rome; who is Rocco Siffredi? In your video Rocco Never Dies (2005), you imagine the death of this famous porn star; do you think a part of us dies with him?
I have a very pleasant memory of meeting Rocco Siffredi during a presentation of my work at the Linus Club in Rome, in 2006. I’m particularly attached to the video Rocco Never Dies because the fabric of the film contains key themes in my work that I’ve returned to in later pieces. Rocco Never Dies describes a certain kind of stupidity in
the contemporary attitude, which gives prominence and media attention to a figure like Rocco Siffredi, rather than to doctors or researchers capable of inventing some drug that could save millions of lives. If you look carefully at what a porn star is in today’s society, you realize that they are nothing more than “orgasm machines”; their fame
and fortune forged by a pernicious cycle, and all of us are part of it somehow, including me. In one of the most striking central sequences, Rocco is tied to an unstoppable sex machine, an image that is very crude, despite being funny.
I like to convey the irony of things to viewers; I want to make viewers smile yet at the same time expose the sadness of our world. Although I have a naturally optimistic attitude towards life, I realize that the images I create are rather dark.
I recall that your first animated video was Another Day of Fun (2004), inspired by the controversy and graphic violence in the U.S over the video game, GrandTheft Auto. What has changed in you since then?
That was many years ago. It was early 2004, I was in New York with my wife and for fun we decided to buy a Play Station 2 along with the video game Grand Theft Auto. I was well aware of the controversy surrounding the game due to the gratuitous violence featured in it, but I was struck by its revolutionary content, and quickly decided to do a project inspired by this aspect of the game. After many months of exhausting work, I managed to put together a one-
the simplicity of my first video animation, I realized immediately the enormous expressive and narrative potential of this medium. A lot of things have changed for the better since then and thankfully I still feel the same enthusiasm and energy. It is this energy that drives me to go to the studio every morning. I think recognition gave me the opportunity to build more ambitious projects and to take my work to the next level.
It has been a long journey and I hope the future will bring even greater surprises.
Renato Miracco is the former Director of the Italian Cultural Institute of
New York and the author of several books and scholarly articles. He was
the guest curator for Italian modern art at the Tate Modern in London
where he organized retrospective exhibitions of Alberto Burri, Lucio
Fontana, and Piero Manzoni. In 2009, he organized an exhibition of Giorgio
Morandi’s work at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. He was also the
advisor to the scientific Committee of the Chamber of Deputies in Rome,
Italy. Currently, Miracco is the Cultural Attaché at the Italian Embassy
in Washington DC and the Editor in Chief of the new photography
DOUCHE BAG CITY
by Blanca De La Torre
Federico Solmi, Charta Books
In his new work Douche Bag City, Federico Solmi’s style maintains the same admirable freshness of his early works, keeping his facet as a hardcore artist, but expressing maturity in his ideas and execution of the work. He dissects the stratum of the cultural context through a personal universe populated by a repertoire of heroes and anti-
This main character could be understood as an incarnation of Bernard Madoff, the investment Wall Street manager and philanthropist, charged with an alleged fraud of $50 billion. Madoff, a figure from the core of the US financial establishment (Nasdaq), was also very well-
A remarkable difference between
Emerging from Solmi’s work is not only the most cutting edge tendencies and cultural thinkers, but some classics as well, such as Luigi Pirandello. The dramatist and the artist coincide with the permanent and simultaneous presence of humor and fatality. Pirandello, like Solmi, is able to combine critique, irony, the comic and the pathetic, establishing a game of opponents which at first makes you laugh spontaneously and immediately after is transformed into a bittersweet aftertaste.
In short, relying on a baroque staging with a luscious texture,
THE EVIL EMPIRE
by Elga Wimmer
Essays for the Exhibition at LMAK Projects/Elga Wimmer PCC Gallery, New York, New York
On a recent trip to Italy I discovered a mural in a small church in Tuscany. It depicted, to my surprise, scenes one could partly refer to Hieronymus Bosch but dwelling more on earthly than heavenly delights. Cardinals, bishops, monks and nuns were mingling with ‘commoners’ in what looked like hedonistic and even sybaritic activities. My surprise lay in the fact that the church actually must have approved of the themes in this artist’s work, otherwise it would not have landed on the walls of this ‘Place of God.’ Today all earthly pleasures in connection with clerics and the church seem to be taboo. Showing Federico Solmi’s “Evil Empire” for the first time in a show in Madrid last November titled “Poetic Terrorism” enraged and annoyed quite a few good Spanish Catholics, even though the
content of the film was very tongue in cheek and was presented in exquisite drawings with quite a large dose of humor. In every cartoon, lies, of course, some truth (which is probably what hit the sensitive spot of these critics). The pope in Solmi’s cartoons is depicted as a “Hollywood loving and porno-
In her book “Postmodern Heretics: The Catholic Imagination in Contemporary Art,” art critic, Eleanor Heartney states:
“In a review of Gary Will’s ‘Papal Sin’, a book written by a noted Catholic scholar which is highly critical of the Vatican’s handling of issues like celibacy, contraception, and clerical sexual misconduct, Robert P. Lockwood, the League’s Director of Research, begins with a long screed on anti-
The result was the query to the curator of Renee Cox’ photographic recreation of Da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ at the Brooklyn Museum, with a bare-
the work by Chris Ofili, which featured an Africanized Virgin Mary embellished with several clumps of rhinestone covered elephant dung”.
Federico, in a recent conversation, mentioned that he is highly inspired and intrigued by powerful men in political and religious circles and the resulting complications. Until recently, the pope had an important and influential position politically, and he still does to a large extent. In any case, his appearance whenever on a state visit causes frenzy and mass attendance by Catholics and non-
and gold they recall the baroque drawings, paintings and sculptures by Bernini that one might find in churches in Rome. Even Bernini’s contemporaries were struck by the highly sexualized nature of his depiction of the “Ecstasy of St. Teresa.”
Solmi’s works, with their intricate humor, wit and sarcasm mixed with a superb craftsmanship of drawing, are also reminiscent of Goya’s. This master always put a finger on the weaknesses of society and the church. As a matter of fact, he was accused of being a heretic, against his government many times, and was saved only by being in the good graces of the king who collected his works and thus made him ‘untouchable.’ Solmi’s work can only be “defended” by his galleries, curators, admirers and collectors, and that is hopefully sufficient. It is simultaneously delightful and arguable to see that art still is able to arouse great feelings and passions -
by Federico Solmi
The Evil Empire is a video animation that takes place in the year 2046 in the heart of the Vatican City. Surrounded by the glorious frescoes and wealth of his St. Peter’s Basilica apartment, a fictional Pope is portrayed as a young man struggling with an addiction to pornography. Pope Urban LXIX has embraced the ways of the 21st century, fulfilling all of his vices to no end; violence is perpetrated through his troops, while he whittles away the days having orgies and indulging in gluttony.
Understanding the mechanisms of celebrity culture and its power within the public today, Pope Urban LXIX has been able to weave an empire in contemporary society as powerful as at the peak of Catholicism. The American way is the catalyst by which he can maintain power, capturing the minds of people in a garish show of narcissism. Everyone wants their fifteen minutes of fame and Pope Urban LXIX has learned to extend that deadline to a lifetime. Enchanted by a magnificent image and manipulated by the hegemonic power of the Vatican Empire, this world is one in which Pope Urban LXIX can do whatever he pleases. Without any check, this power devours him, becoming a fierce warning for the real world of today.
Within this dystopian vision of contemporary society, the artist gives the audience a glimmer of hope. In the end Pope Urban LXIX is ironically sent on a journey through hell where he pays for all of his sins. The video ends on a carousel of blood and on a positive note that jolts the audience to attention and gives them a chance to reverse the damage of corruption in today’s society. The peace that follows is fleeting as the cycle starts once again from the beginning.
KING KONG AND THE END OF THE WORLD
by Mary Cuesta
Essay for the Exhibition of King Kong at the End of the World at ADN Gallery, Barcelona, Spain
"King Kong and the End of the World"
Federico Solmi (Bologna 1973) enters the artistic world coming from the outsider realm. His work revels this fact, not only for the themes he chooses (popular, inconoclastic with amusing twists), but also in his frank style with scratches, messy in character, with a Dadaist sensibility, even absurd at times. Solmi is obsessed with sex and reproduction, corcerned by the contradictions of urban life; practices satire and venerates Rocco Siffredi (the pornstar that develops the role of the hero in his former video animation Rocco Never Dies), subject matters indeed that bleed, sweat, cum, and touch us for pure instinct and nature. Solmi´s work crosses the work of the damned Raymond Pettibone, the theories of fluid and anti-
Solmi presents his latest video animation, King Kong and The End Of The World, at ADN Galerie, as well as selected drawings from the 1100 originally utilized for the making of the movie. This piece plays with several icons of mass culture: the comercial brands, emblems of high culture, such as the Guggenheim Museum, mingled with some props and tools common in his works: the monstrosity of the phallus, hypertrophy used as fetiche by other outsiders as the decadent illustrator Berdsley or the draftsman Nazario.
It is easy to deduce King Kong functions as the alter ego of the artist, who frequently recognizes the profound influence in his work by the fact of living in New York. King Kong, besieged and trapped by the urban landscape, loses control and destroys even what he loves (the Gagosian Gallery) until he is shot and killed. The rage and impotence, felt before such an insane and voracious society, forces the artist to reward himself by representing the city under a rain of urine Solmi´s work is fresh, and expresses through fantasy, the defenseless feeling before the neurotic urban landscape.
King Kong and the End of The World, ends, however, with a twist of hope: the artist and his wife are elected by God to repopulate the Earth. Federico stains the biblical episode of Adam and Eve, giving the man an enormous phallus
by Marco Izzolino
Essay for the Exhibition at NOT Gallery Contemporary Art Factory, Naples, Italy
The new video animation by Federico Solmi, “The Giant”, celebrates the hero returning home to southern Italy. “Rocco Siffredi is a man from the South....a man coming from nothing ...who realized, in an absurd way, the dream to conquer America......surely he is one of the best symbols of the new Made in Italy” .(Federico Solmi)
Rocco died when he was 37 years old while he was “honestly” performing his job as if he were at an assembly line in one of the car plants in Detroit. He was completing his biggest task: showing the entire world his power by becoming a tool for sex, the “Fucking Machine”.“ In my opinion he is like Achilles.....defeated in battle where he believed to be invulnerable”.
“The Giant” tells the story from the birth until the tragic death following his deeds and successes around the world. His existence moved away from earthly life and came to legend, similar to what happened to another myth of the “American dream” , James Dean. Like James Dean, Rocco interpreted the dreams and the ambitions of millions of people: like Dean, he has been celebrated and acclaimed around the world; like Dean, he found the success in the “big” country of America. However, the dreams of them both were shattered very early.
America is the place of dreams, but it is also a place where you can burn out easily.“The movie itself is a real travel in the absurdity of the society where we live....referring particularly to the frenetic New York life .....and to the American life, in general”. The background of this work is New York, represented like a post-
Federico and Jennifer represent, respectively, Rocco and a porno diva. The artist expresses his thinking about the present, the city and the environment, loved and hated, by which he is surrounded day by day.
(My representation of New York is) a tool to express my negative vision of the historical moment we live in .... everything around Rocco Siffredi, interpreted by me in the movie, is fragile or vanishes...or it does not resist time ....and if it resists time, it is defective or failed to several pieces .....and this is the way I see life ....my American adventure and everything around me....I like to investigate life such as it should be analyzed by conscious people....”
by Federico Solmi
"The Giant" celebrates a hero returning home to southern Italy. Rocco Siffredi is a man from the South, a man who comes from nothing, who dreams, in an absurd way, to conquer America. Surely he is one of the best symbols of the new Made in Italy. (Federico Solmi) Rocco dies when he is 37 years old while performing his job as honestly as if he were in an assembly line at a car plant in Detroit. At the time he was completing his biggest task: showing the entire world his power by becoming a tool for sex, a fucking machine. He is like Achilles, defeated in a battle where he believed to be invulnerable. "The Giant" tells his story from his birth until his tragic death, following his deeds and successes around the world. His existence moved away from earthly life and became legend, similar to another myth of the American dream, James Dean. Like James Dean, Rocco interpreted the dreams and the ambitions of millions of people; like Dean, he has been celebrated and acclaimed around the world; like Dean, he found success in the big country of America. However, both their dreams were shattered very early. America is the place of dreams, but it is also a place where you can easily burn out. The movie itself is a real adventure in the absurdities of the society where we live, referring particularly to the frenetic New York life, and to the American life in general. The background of this work is New York, represented like a post-
ROCCO NEVER DIES
by James Wagner
Federico Solmi has this fantasy (fantasy fantasy?)about being Rocco Sifreddi,* super-
This neat little show, installed in the second gallery at Boreas, includes a large number of related drawings and several paintings. The paintings are executed on a stiff gauze medium, lightly prepared with a white base, before they receive the elegant line of his black marker. They are extremely attractive, as much as objects as for those beautiful black lines. New York, by the way, has rarely looked so exciting, with the tops of both the Statue of Liberty and the Chryler Building lodged akimbo in the middle of its busy avenues. Full disclosure: I had seen several works by Solmi over the last year or two and I was intrigued. Late last year we were happy to bring home one of his small enigmatic paintings from the D.U.M.B.O Arts Center benefit, and it now hangs in our apartment. Here is the image, created originally as part of his "Safe Journey Exhibition" (2002-
by Federico Solmi
"Rocco Never Dies" is a drawing animation based on the XXX movie of Italian porn superstar Rocco Siffredi. It is a documentary of the life of one of the greatest Italian icons of all times in U.S. society.
In the original movie, Rocco Siffredi plays the role of a special agent, a kind of hardcore version of James Bond. In his great efforts to save the world from a nuclear terrorist attack, Rocco Siffredi runs into a lot of dangerous adventures, including of course gorgeous sex performances, for one goal: to save humanity from evil.
The animation takes place in this absurd scenario of an imminent world catastrophe in which Rocco, during his call of duty, will discover he is mortal. In fact, during the filming of his masterpiece Rocco Never Dies, Rocco Siffredi has a heart attack while he is performing in a gangbang. After a desperate attempt to rescue him, involving a crazy drive in an ambulance through the streets of New York City, Rocco will die at Beth Israel Hospital at the age of 37. He is then exclaimed by the public as a war hero and given a State Funeral. "Rocco Never Dies" is a celebration of the absurdity and triumphs of the contradictions in contemporary life, but is also a romantic story about a man of strength, who came from a small town to conquer the glory of life with tremendous work.
by Fabiola Naldi
Essay for the Exhibition Safe Journey at Spazio Xpo', Milan, Italy
Federico Solmi belongs to a generation of artists who constantly feels the pressure of an era overloaded with images and, like his colleagues, plays the perfect role of the postmodern voyeur, reviewing essential parts of the everyday life often using the internet and its infinite number of pictures. Today, artists have changed their purpose. They deliberately consider themselves not anymore as inventors of ideas, but, instead, as careful binders of concepts. As a faithful archeologist of the present, Federico Solmi's works want to examine every single fragment of the common experience by using the same aesthetic attitude of reinterpretation, sourced directly from the Dadaists and the Futurists. Almost a century later, little has changed.
The show, originally conceived as an enormous archive of official facts and statistics manipulated by the artist, intends to exam the dangers and the grave consequences caused by an inadequate driving education in an undisciplined society. Huge paintings realized with medical gauze are the chosen medium for this artist and his personal re-
by Federico Solmi
This essay was written by the artist for the Ideal City series
The incredible and tumbling evolution of the past decade finished by strongly modifying the structures and equilibrium of our society, inevitably twisting the delicate and the ancient relationship that has always connected the man to the place in which he lives, the City.
The neurotic necessity to constantly reinvent and renew technology, expressed again today by the recent digital revolutions, has remarkably contributed to the spreading to all the habitants of the planet a strong sense of insecurity and frustration. Never before has this become the symbol by which we identify the new generation. Anxiety, anguish, and fear of an unpredictable tomorrow -
Within this new and hostile territory, the modern metropolis has developed. Here the pressure is even higher, the schizophrenic routine has become a real challenge for survival, and the unexpected, the danger, and the fear of catastrophe has become a part of the ordinary life.
"The Ideal City" installation wants to sarcastically analyze this apocalyptical scenery of the big contemporary city and examine the absurdities and contradictions that have contributed negatively, transforming our city into an undesirable place to live. An Ideal City does not exist. On the contrary, it cannot exist and will never exist, because the City of the future will be more sophisticated and less human. The cities will not be anything more than examples of the failure of this ancient dream called urbanization.
by Federico Solmi
This essay was written by the artist for the Safe Journey series
Following the shocking occurrences reported by the international news in the past few years, a "new" word entered into our houses that served to inevitably modify the habits and the behaviors of millions of people. Having become accustomed to living with a new and worrisome realty, made up of false alarms, presumptions of imminent terrorist attacks, and continuous threats of a dangerous epidemic, the term "safety", has gained an astonishing popularity and today has become integrated into the life and the conscience of each and every citizen on this planet.
Taking from this new daily reality, always distorted in its truthfulness by the strong pressures of the media, I wanted to personally examine one of the "real" plagues in our society in "terms of safety", the problem of the fatalities on the highways. When I initiated my research, I had the double intention to both inform and to dis-
INTERVIEW with Massimiliano Tonelli
November 19, 2004
Q: How did you become an artist? What was really important for you? In this period of your life, are you doing what you have chosen to do or does it just happen to be what you are doing today??
A: I was raised in a family where pursuing a cultural ambition was almost considered as shocking as planning a murder. It was just wrong. My father owned a butcher store, and in the night we certainly weren't discussing Nietzsche and Schopenauer over our dinner table. This was the environment in which I grew up. I have always been considered to be the transgressive member of the family, the only one of the five kids that earned a high school diploma. The atmosphere wasn't the best for an inspiring artist but the experience of those years is still today extremely important to me, they are still impressed within myself.my father with all of his wisdom and humble thoughts, was, for me, considered to be a kind of Zarathrusta.
Q: You have an approach to art that seems to be self-
A: As can you imagine, my approach to the art-
Q: And then you escaped?
A: In September 1999 I literally decided to escape to the United States. This big change gave me the opportunity to find the so-
Q: Usually it is the task of the critics to summarize the work of an artist; however, if you must say in a few lines what your artwork is about, how would you describe it?
A: I believe that in my work you can always see the ambiguity and the confusion of the historical period that we are currently going through, regardless of the specific theme I am intending to analyze.
Q: One good thing and one bad thing about you and you work?
A: The good thing: I never give it up, I am like a warrior. The bad thing: I never take a break.
Q: What about your life?
A: I am always optimistic in any situation. I am a dreamer and an Idealist and I typically have at least 1,000 new projects in my mind. At the same time I am neurotic, a self-
Q: One person that you consider very important to your work?
A: Without a doubt, my wife Jennifer!
Q: Are you satisfied with how people interpret your work? Who better understood your work and who didn't understand it? What type of relationship do you have with critics and the press?
A: I enjoy watching how my work is interpreted by other people -
Q: What relationship do you have with the place you work? Tell me something more about your studio. Where is it located?
A: Why don't you say something about it, you have seen it! I have spent so much time in it over the past few months that I am full of it!! My studio is located in Brooklyn, in an area called DUMBO. It's an ex-
Q: Which is the most beautiful show you have ever done?
A: The show that gave me a lot of satisfaction was the last exhibition that I did at La Fabbrica del Vapore in Milan in September 2004. It was organized by a group of young curators from the Academy of Brera. There name is Conura. For that particular occasion, I prepared several new works, from drawings to sculptures and animation. The theme of the show was the city and it was perfect for me. It is one of the subjects that I typically represent in my installations.
Q: How much has the city, in which you are living today, influenced your artworks? How important was your move to NYC. What kind of inspiration has it given to you?
A: In my case, my choice to live in NYC greatly influenced my artistic research. This city is a real mess. It is representing the best, and at the same time, the absurdities reached by modern civilization -
Q: Now that such artist like Cattelan and Beecroft are already superstars, who do you think will have a chance to emerge into the international scene? Who do you think is over valued?
A: To emerge into the International art scene, or to be a great artist you have to show up often in the New York art scene. Of course, there are also exceptions, but it is also a fact that the Italian artists, who made it, like Cattelan and Beecroft, could often be met at the openings in NY. My idea is that, in general, Italian artists are often good, but they are not traveling enough. They are a little bit too lazy, and they don't take any risk and this damages them a lot. If I really have to suggest a name to you, that has a chance to emerge into the international scene, I would say Piero Golia. He is a good artist, and he is often around NY.
Q: You are becoming well known also in NYC, but can you keep your contacts with Italy?
A: I have been able to show, with continuity, in the U.S., in particular in NYC. I have been showing this year in several very well known emerging galleries and no-
by Alia Akkam
October 14, 2004
Q: Federico, tell me a little bit about your background, and how you came to be an artist?
A: My approach to the art world is a little bit different than the usual. I was never trained to be an artist in the classical sense. I never pursued an MFA or did all these sorts of typical steps to enter the art world, which today seem to be very important for a career. I gained my knowledge by always surrounding myself with other artists, curators, art dealers, and, of course, thousands of books -
Q: Describe your work to me, what are the different mediums? What message are you trying to convey?
A: I don't really believe in the idea that artists today must send a message to the public that is just an illusion. I am not the Pope and, besides, who is supposed to hear this message? We are no longer living in the age of the prophet. Just take a look at the images that are thrown in our face everyday by CNN & the newspapers unfortunately, this is the real world. However, I do believe that an artist must create his own alternative and imaginary universe, in which the viewer can reflect upon reality. I am interested in observing the distortion and the perversity of contemporary society. Look, don't you think that everyone can see that we are living in a world that is slowly crumbling apart? I like to analyze that and I like to do it in an ironic way, using different types of media (drawings, sculptures, and video).
Q: Why a studio in Brooklyn? What is it about the Brooklyn environment that is conducive to your art?
A: I spent the first 2 years in NYC moving around different boroughs and neighborhoods. Then I moved to Dumbo. That was the first time in 2 years I felt that I was almost at home.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
A: That's an ambiguous question. Well -
Q: Describe a project you are currently working on.
A: I have different projects going on today, but the most exciting and most challenging one for me is a drawing animation, based on a Flight Simulator. I am still in the process of planning the work, but I know that it will be a spectacular 600 drawings movie in which I will take the viewer into the cockpit of a plane. Sitting together, we will travel an imaginary journey through the history of the past century, exploring the conquests and failures of our times we will start in the desert of Kitty Hawk and take off with the Wright brothers plane.
INTERVIEWS WITH THE PROTAGONISTS OF THE ART WORLD
3 Questions to Federico Solmi
by Andrea Tedesco
November 26, 2003
Q: Hello Federico. Let's begin by talking about you, about your project, and about your work.
A: Hello Andrea. I would actually like to begin the conversation in the opposite way, starting from today, the 26th of November 2003. In these days, I have been extremely busy working with Fabiola Naldi, to finish preparing the Safe Journey exhibition, which will open on Thursday the 4th of December 2003 at the Xpo in Milan. The space is amazing -
Q: You told me in the past about the experiences you had in the few years outside of Europe. I would like to understand what changed in your works and in your career after you decided to move to the United States.
A: First of all, I would like to say that this was not really just an easy passage Instead, I would describe it as a break. A break with the institution and the culture that I grew up with and where I had my first artistic experience. It was a choice that I had planned since the beginning of my career. I wanted to grow very fast at that time and I needed to experience a different culture, see other countries in order to understand what was going on outside of our borders. I thought that by moving to New York I would be able to get all of what I was looking for in just one move. I think I was right!
Obviously my work experience in NY deeply changed my vision and really modified my attitude to interpret the contemporary life. In these years I was showing in collaboration with artists coming from every part of the world and I was given the opportunity to participate in some of the most important events and festivals in the underground scene of Williamsburg and Dumbo.
A few months ago I came to Milan with the precise goal of letting the Italian public know about my work. If you give me the permission, I would like to open a small polemic that in the future will help some young artists who are following your site. I don't know if you have noticed, especially in the past decade, many of the curators, academic professors, and some directors of art magazines have been pushing the new generation to leave the country and to go study and live in England and in the USA. The biggest example is the director of Flash Art, Giancarlo Politi. But everybody knows that the same people who recommended artists to experience work outside of Italy, are the first to forget about you after you decide to leave the country. They would actually prefer the artists who are working within the area because it is easier. I believe this is one of the inconveniences that you have when you are working outside of your country. Some of the most representative Italian artists, like , Francesco Simeti, Luca Buvoli, Stefano Pasquini, Angelo Filomeno, are living in NYC. They are recognized by the U.S.A. critics, but today they are still almost unknown to the italian public. This is a big contradiction, especially if you think that all of these artists have had at least one solo exhibition in the most important Italian galleries like Minini, Audiello, Esso di New York, Fontana di Milano. I think I got lost and I haven't given you a real answer. But let's go back to the original question, time is running out, the expiration dates are coming. We are all children of this frenetic and anxious age. At least on this point, do you agree with me? We are born in a hurry, and if we are not going to do something good, soon we will be registered as a generation of abortions.
In the past few years of my artistic career, I concentrated on examining the alienated scenery of the metropolis where I have been living and I would say that I grew professionally. The manipulation of reality by the media and the disorientation of the individual on the ambiguous contemporary scene are some of the key themes that I examine in my video and in my installation. The Safe Journey exhibition, which will be displayed in Milan is a clear example.
Q: I guess your answers are complete. Do you want to give any information about your studies
A: If I had to answer you in one word, I would say typical I was never a great fan of the accademie, even if I was often enrolled in classes in Bologna, Milan and New York. The longest experience that I had in a school (after graduating high school) was in NYC at the Art Student League where I was enrolled in a sculpture class, studying under Jonhattan Shann. I have always been very active in different ways travelling and reading extensively, for example. I believe that by not attending an art school full-
I have always defended and believed in figurative paintings but only after searching for a personal way to distinguish my interpretation. As I told you, in the past I preferred to use gauze instead of the regular canvas. I often shape my frame following the shape of the drawing instead of buying a stretch bar. In this specific case, my drawing has the 3 dimensions of a sculpture. What else can I say about my works? Rarely are my drawings alone. Most of the time they are part of a complicated installation. I also enjoy using other media like the video. In Milan I will present a new video made in collaboration with 2 video artists, Nunzio and Tatiana.
INTERVIEW WITH FEDERICO SOLMI
by Melania Gazzoti
Q: Your primary source of inspiration is the scenery of the contemporary metropolis that you like to recreate in your installation with all of its chaotic complexity. How do you feel it is related to you as an individual when approaching your artwork?
A: The metropolis is just an excuse. My real source of inspiration is truly all the "stuff" that is continuously thrown in my face each morning I wake up, when I turn on the computer, when I am going to take the subway, when I am going into the sex shops. Although every morning I wake up with the hope of seeing something new, I keep falling again and again into this catastrophic image of reality, with its accidents, unpredictable disasters, and its fake alarmism.
Q: You have spent a lot of time in different places (Bologna, Milan, and New York City). How much has this influenced your ideas and your artistic path? Specifically, what do you think about Milan?
A: Surely, it has helped me to analyze and to understand the different realities that surround us. All of this has helped me to be more rational, and to have less prejudice. Milan is a dynamic town, extremely ambitious, and for contemporary art it is the "New York" of Italy. It is the only Italian city that allows you to breath the international atmosphere, which characterizes the metropolis.
Q: Regarding the new installation that you will present in the show "Ideal City" -
Q: Besides the vision of the present time, your work also contains a perspective of what our future will hold -
A: Living in New York City means that you know a little bit in advance the direction and the trend of the craziness and perversion in which the contemporary society is headed, in the short term what will invade our house and our conscience. Hope is everywhere -
by Federico Solmi
This essay was written by the artist for the Artist's Room series
The place that I chose was a common insignificant white room, extraordinarily small in dimension. In spite of all of this, in that moment I believed it was the most important thing that I had. There was no object or person that could have given me a more sincere sensation of a claustrophobic existence, which I was already feeling in my everyday life. The only thing that I remember with certainty is that when I began these drawings I was feeling a terrible sensation of not belonging to the world and this feeling was accentuated with each new event that I encountered in my life. Only today, a few months later, do I realize that the space, which I painted with such insistence, never actually existed. Instead, it was only one of the many expressions of my paranoid imagination! I was sick and I was feeling a great need to find a way out. But from what? At the time, I did not trust anybody and I was so proud of this fact that I was writing barely legible statements about mistrust, in red pen, on each piece of paper that passed before my hands. Since I was alone and a guest in a country that wasn't mine, I arrived to the conclusion that the only way to escape this unpleasant situation was to search inside myself to find the answers that continually escaped me in my everyday life. And where should I have begun this debilitating interrogation if not in my tiny studio in Brooklyn? I was taken by the rush to finally have in my hands the truth, which was continuously obscured by the perverse games of the man and the media. I began to search and comb through every single angle of every wall of the room, sparing nothing, not even a square centimeter. I would have succeeded in scratching the walls with my fingers, if it was necessary. Just the idea to undertake this manic search made me feel much better. In those days, I only wished to be a prisoner within my own imaginary walls. It is useless to say that this painful fog continues to envelop my life today and that the answers for which I was searching for have never arrived. It is more or less like this -
The ARTIST'S ROOM is a series of 25 drawings on paper in A4 format, executed in mixed technique (pastel, charcoal, and glue) during the years 1999 -