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A talk with Stefano Loiacono

Hi Stefano, nice to see you at 2chairs. Could you please tell us your story? Where did you come from in the art?

I am self-taught, I did not attend an Art Academy. When I turned 18 I fell in love with Warhol's Factory and the Lower East Side scene of the '80s, but when I was faced with the choice to either study Fine Arts or Psychology, I decided on the latter, as I thought back then that it might have been a wiser option to have a secure job. I come from a working-class background, born and raised in the south of Italy, those were the values I grew up with. I graduated, got my master's degree and ended up working in a call centre in Amsterdam. I never stopped devouring books about art and artists' biographies, always having to check any gallery and museum's exhibition. That ultimately has been and still is my continuous art education.

You started your artistic practice after moving to Amsterdam. Do you feel any influence of the location on your practice? Did you change your approach after moving to Berlin?

What attracted me the most about Amsterdam was definitely the abundance of non-commercial spaces where it felt like experimentation was accompanied by a Punk attitude. A real 'anything goes' approach that was truly liberating. You basically could not go wrong.
From the improvised stages in squats to empty brothels in the Red Light District, any location appeared to be available to artists. I still remember fondly an artists' run gallery in an abandoned body shop called 'DeSERVICEGARAGE'. That is where you could attend an opening until 12 AM and dance all night through an impromptu DJ set.

What I took from all this was a 'no-boundaries' mindset for my own practice, I did not feel the need to work only with one medium. Painting could become a performance, a choreography could be an installation. Around 2015, most of these locations were either closed or sold to 'real' businesses. That is when I decided to move to Berlin. The trend towards gentrification is the same here, but this city is so big that there are still a lot of project spaces, although they are maybe less accessible to outsiders. My practice still pushes towards contamination, I just feel more the pressure to label it somehow, to make it a brand. Needless to say, I constantly fail at that.

What is the most important for you: the painting itself, the way of representation, and interaction with the audience or others?

See, I really cannot say! Mostly it starts with the paintings, so far I have not ventured into a fully defined performance that did not include them. I find constant inspiration in the field of Expanded Painting, it is like a well that keeps feeding water I could not live without. My chosen representations appear instead to shift from the figurative to the symbolic, from abstract to the written word.

Finally, performing was truly the only way I could get an audience. I was not satisfied with standing in a corner, staring at the visitors of a show passing by or quickly glimpsing at my work. Interaction indeed was the only way, a give and take, an exchange that can be terrifying at times, but also more personal and rewarding to me.
Why do you choose textiles as a medium? Does it bring a special meaning to your artworks?

It started as a necessity at first, I did not have enough space to pile my stretched canvases. I switched to rolls of white fabric so that I could make bigger artworks and store them easily. They were also quicker to carry around and that's really how I got the idea to convert them into props for my performances.

Observing the reactions between the different textiles and the bodies of the dancers I shared the stage with, I realised that a softer textile allows for more freedom in the movements, therefore I started paying the same amount of attention to the materiality of the fibres as to the colours and the subject matter.

A painting is not just the surface, the two-dimensional image you get to view as a final result. It is also its base, the space between the woven threads.

The choice to use industrially printed fabrics felt like a natural progression. I wished to literally wear my paintings, so I started sewing different pieces of textiles together into a sort of cape. The painting then has to enter a sort of battle against the different patterns or embossing already present in the cloth. Ultimately, I see this more as a dialogue than a fight.
How do you plan your performances? Do you have a certain scenario or make them spontaneously?

It is definitely a combination of both. I try as much as I can to develop a full story, write down the script, and rehearse all the possible scenarios, but eventually, I also learned that when you let go and allow for unpredictable occurrences to happen, you take your ideas much further and give a whole new meaning to the piece.

I would go as far as to say that my performances are not fully complete until they happened because that's when I can look in retrospect and understand completely what they really meant to say.

Do you consider your artistic practice related to institutional criticism? Do you claim the art world as an elitist system?

Not intentionally so. My point of view regarding cultural institutions is definitely from the outside peeping in, therefore I do not have enough first-hand experience to tackle the issues that yet I know are there.

I choose to bring my artworks to the streets because I need to see them activated to grasp their potential and get further inspiration. Abandoning the wall as a display means also abandoning the quest for acceptance by the gatekeepers.

I do claim the gallery and museum system as elitist. The simple fact that only very few people can afford to buy and 'support' art, shifts the meaning of the word exhibition into a demonstration of power. You can only look but you will never get it. And by 'get' I also hint at 'understand'.

Could you please share your experience derived from engagement with spectators?

I will answer with an anecdote: the last time I performed in a theatre, it was right before the beginning of the second lockdown in Berlin. The audience had to wear a mask at all times and I was fronted with eyes staring back without any other readable facial expression. As I previously mentioned, I crave a connection and I kept trying to read any possible reaction from the public while I was performing. Finally, I spotted a smile, an eyebrows smile, the one you do when you squint your eyelids.

At the end of the piece, I had to tell that girl how thankful I was for her signalling back her response. I probably took too much of her time talking about everything after, but the dialogue is my ultimate goal.

What are your plans for the future?

Abandon seriousness at all costs, especially the need to be taken seriously.

Many thanks for coming, Stefano! Hope to see your next performance soon!