INTERVIEW WITH LAURA PUGNO
Elisa Muscatelli – How would you describe your artistic practice to an audience encountering it for the first time?
Laura Pugno – I imagine my first vision would be similar to the one they would have when immersing themselves in a variation of landscapes encountered during a long walk in nature, a slow walk, made up of stops to highlight the relationship between vision and nature. I often ask myself if what we see is reality or instead a codification of our culture, which is why the landscape fascinates me so deeply, above all because it is a man-made and culturally constructed place, casts of snow, video installations of ice, engravings on plexiglass, drawings and recently also traces of charcoal. Each work is created by questioning what we really know about nature and often the material of nature itself becomes the object of my work, as in the case of the sculptures “Mis_love”, which I made with houseplants and polyurethane, or “Fading loss”, an installation made with branches nibbled by a small beetle called the typographical bark beetle.
EM – Snow and sound: elements that evoke genuine curiosity, but also articulated phenomena that we find in some of your works. How do they fit into your artistic imagination?
LP – Snow…my interest in this subject began three years ago with the artwork “A Futura memoria”. These sculptures were created by making casts of snow at different altitudes, looking for different snows, but this year snow is really a central theme for me, in fact, thanks to the win of the Italian Council, I am making a video installation that I hope will help raise awareness about this fragile and poetic material. I am currently working with Michele Freppaz, a snow scientist who studies snow as a profession and teaches at the University of Turin, and all these ideas will come together in a single three-channel video work that will be shown for the first time in July at MUSE, Trento. You also ask me about sound, although it is not part of my technical training, it has recently become an element that fascinates me. I recently collaborated with Magda Drozd, a sound artist who lives in Zurich, for the “Fading Loss” exhibition, and with her, we recorded an action of mine using the branches marked by the traces of the bark beetle to try to evoke the path of this small beetle, which digs tunnels in the wood and cuts the plant’s lymphatic lines, leading to its death.
EM – “Qui c’è un mondo fantastico” (There’s a fantasy world here): the title of a group show in which you took part, a verse from Heidi’s theme song, a possible description of artificial landscapes generated today by GAN. What kind of landscape model are we dealing with today?
LP – It is clear that we are now at the beginning of a new era, the one in which artificial intelligence will increasingly take over and will inevitably condition our lives; just think of robotic production in the field of logistics, just to cite an example that is current. So although I am well aware that new technologies will force us to rethink our interactions, I have to say that the digital landscape is a reality that I have not yet approached, and I do not expect to do it in the near future, at least until its fruition will be mono sensor, that is, dominated by the eye, sometimes with visors, you can immerse yourself in the artwork but in any case to the exclusion of other senses that I have always considered important, such as touch. I think that the digital is yet another triumph. I think that the digital is yet another triumph of sight over touch and in this conflict I have created artworks trying to give a tactile form to the landscape. I have always been fascinated by the fact that in Ancient Greece it was believed that the functioning of sight was due to the presence of a fire inside the eye which, when it came out and touched objects, made them visible. It is obviously a naive image from a scientific point of view, but one with a poetic charge that I do not find today in an artificial scenario that is so advanced as to be able to generate itself.
EM – Your works often feature a play on presence-absence. How do you perceive your presence and that of the landscape while you are working?
LP – You have understood a very important aspect for me, it is now well established that the presence of man is leaving a very tangible mark, it is inevitable to say that we are accelerating the end of the ice age without being able to adapt to such a fast event. I am reminded of the work “Moto per luogo” which is a series of photographs of winter ski stations that I printed on aluminum support and then abraded on the same slopes portrayed, with a clear reference to the action of sliding. I think that the physical presence and the weight of each of us has an impact on the environment, but the presence of humans in the landscape is not only a physical issue, but on these issues, we must inevitably deal with broader aspects that relate to ethics and culture. I always try to behave as a guest and as Northrop Frey says, and I quote him: “Nature has been proceeding for an incalculable amount of time without us, it seems to have generated us only by chance and, if it were conscious, it could only regret having done so.
EM – Is there a historical, literary, or cinematographic reference that has played a major role in the development of your artistic and personal career?
LP – It is difficult for me to identify a single figure, if I go back over some of my works with my memory I realize that I have met many authors who have been a source of inspiration for example the work “Paesaggio alle spalle” and other artworks, it was born while reading “Similarity by contact” by Didi Huberman. In that work, I traced with a metal point the portion of the landscape that was mirrored on the reflective surface of plexiglass, and the landscape was the one behind me, in the center of the work a void is evident because the landscape drawn around that void was not covered by the presence of my body. I then discovered Wilson Bentley’s magnificent photographs between the lines of the book “The Invention of Winter” by Adam Gopnik. Bentley was the first photographer to immortalize the snow crystals that are now part of our imagination, and I dedicated a work to him entitled “Omaggio a Wilson Bentley” in which I place a layer of snow on a canvas, turn on the surface of the snow and let it melt, allowing the pigments to adhere to the canvas. Another, perhaps more recent, example was reading the works of the botanist Roberto Mancuso, which is a voice that led me to the creation of my solo exhibition recently opened at the Fondazione Zegna. In this work in fact the central theme is the already current impact of global warming and climate change and in this case on the spruce forests of the Biella area. I have only mentioned books, but I realize that in fact, although I also feed on cinema and TV series, I find that the evocative power of the text is for me a fundamental resource for our visual works, rather than being inspired by arts that are already visual.