INTERVIEW WITH ROBERTO PUGLIESE
Elisa Muscatelli – How would you describe your artistic practice to an audience encountering it for the first time?
Roberto Pugliese – Well, let’s say that I have several points of reference in my artistic research, and above all several recurring themes, including, of course, the relationship between the visual aspect and the sound aspect. So let’s say that the basic idea behind most of my research is precisely to try to find a dialogue, a fusion between the visual and the sonic aspects. Given that I am a musician by training and that I am currently a music teacher at the conservatory, in particular, I teach electronic music, and therefore in some way I have also approached the visual aspect, I have tried to merge these two themes together. Another important aspect of my research is the relationship between nature and artifice and in particular between nature and technology. In fact, in many of my works, there is this transformation, this union, this encounter between technology and nature, as well as the relationship between man and technology. These are some of the main themes I use in my artistic research, all of which, as I said before, are absolutely mediated by sound.
EM – You tend to define your artistic research as sound rather than music, what is the reason for this choice?
RP – Music is only one of the possible sets of the sound world. Sound has so many inclinations, so many, it has an infinite variety; music, which precisely manages sound under certain types of frequencies and rhythms, is one of the possible systems or microsystems of the sound world, which is actually much much wider. So since my background is in electroacoustic music, and in particular my aim to create new types of sounds, and therefore new types of languages through new sounds, my research is sound research, not purely musical research. Then, of course, in the things I do, there are also many musical approaches in the more traditional sense of the term.
EM – Sound has always been of vital importance to living beings: from warning of danger to interpersonal communication to the entertainment of the contemporary music industry. How do you think the sound is perceived today? Is there a sort of addiction to sound as well as to the visual?
RP – For some “sound contexts” there is. Tonal music is an attitude to sound that we’ve been carrying around for centuries. It started with Bach’s well-tempered harpsichord, which gave life to tonal music as we know it. So, yes, we are absolutely addicted to certain types of contexts, but, as I was saying before, the world of sound is much, much, much wider, and so we are gradually going through a phase in which certain types of sound are also part of the musical context, so perhaps there are more possibilities for investigation with respect to the visual aspect, but I believe that fundamentally the paths to take now are those of merging various disciplines, I think, however, that fundamentally the way forward now is the fusion of various disciplines, of multimedia and of making sure that various aspects involving the senses, including taste, touch, and smell, can be harnessed in a more interesting artistic pathway, where it is the dialogue between the various senses that creates the difference and no longer the focus on just one of the senses, which, as you said, especially the visual and sound senses, tend towards a sort of addiction. So there is this great use of two senses in relation to the others, which may in the long run lead us to a kind of sensory death.
EM – In your works, nature and technology often coexist in a new dimension. Do you think that in the future these two areas will increasingly lose their defined boundaries?
RP – Well, let’s say that fundamentally all science, especially bioscience and chemistry, are all sciences that are moving towards these new frontiers, i.e. creating organisms that are half technological and half natural, so art will certainly be affected. Also because if we take it a bit further, technology is nothing more than, as the word itself says, “techne” and “loghía”, it is, in any case, a discourse, it is something that is inevitably linked to art. Historically, artists have always used the technology that was available to them at that moment in time; pigment is technology, the paintbrush is technology, the chisel is technology, just as artificial intelligence is technology, and machine learning or the things that are more current. Art has always made use of the technology that was available at that moment in history. It is normal that there should be a parallel path between technology, science, and art, and therefore given that research is absolutely going in that direction, namely that of biotechnology, art will certainly also use this type of device, as is already happening in part. There are already many artists who use biotechnological resources, of course, or at least make a fusion between technological and natural contexts. In one artwork, in particular, Critici ostinati ritmici which by the way is now on show in Miami in an art gallery for the period of the Miami fair, in that particular work I made this software that connects in real-time to satellite stations around the world that can map how many hectares of trees are being cut down in real-time, and on the basis of the statistics every time a tree is cut down there is a sort of small electromechanical woodpecker, there are many of them, that just tap on this empty trunk to symbolize how many trees are cut down because of deforestation. So there is a very precise intention to be in some way at least a witness to what is happening, but this is a work that is already, if I remember correctly, 11 or 12 years old. But in my opinion, the artist has to be necessary, let’s say, somehow present in his own historical moment and speak also about the problems he feels more present in life, in short, in the historical moment in which we live. This is not the only work I’ve done in this vein; I did another called Lussuosa macabra vanità, in which there was this software that connected and downloaded real-time statistics on the number of fur-bearing animals that are killed. This too was a work that took real-time statistics from various sites, and so objectively there is a part of my research, like the one I presented in Venice a few years ago, linked to high water, where there was this work in which the sound changed according to the data coming from the high water stations in Venice, which was also linked to the rise in the seas caused by global warming. I think it is absolutely important to reason in some way, to give a different idea, a transversal idea, at least a personal point of view on what is happening at an environmental level, without the rhetoric, without presumed moral superiority, simply a different point of view. In the case, for example, of Critici ostinati ritmici, where there are precisely these woodpeckers who beat on the trunk according to how many trees are felled, there the desire was to make them feel in the true sense of the word. If I tell you “200 hectares of trees are being felled every day”, you’ll say “OK”, but you don’t have a perceptible idea of what’s really going on. If, on the other hand, I make you feel each tree individually by means of a blow, this data is no longer just symbolic, it’s not just a number, but it becomes something perceptible. So that’s where technology somehow comes in and becomes available to an artistic discourse that is linked to an environmental theme.
EM – I quote from one of your interviews: “The artist, being a mirror of his time, can decide to use the new technologies available, but I believe that the result and the message of a work of art are independent of the technique used to create it. How would you imagine your works without the use of new media?
RP – That’s a good question, so I’ll make a clarification, that’s an answer I’ve heard, but on the other hand I always take it with a grain of salt. There are different types of approaches, but Heidegger was very keen to specify that the work is also the result of the means used to achieve the artistic goal, so let’s say that I am a bit in the balance between the two paths. From my point of view, yes, the medium is important, but the most important thing is the idea that you want to achieve, so if I use one software or another, obviously there will be differences, software that I write because unfortunately, I am also a programmer, but basically for the purpose of the message I do not know how much difference the end-user can see. But this is a rather complex nerdy discussion, which we’ll put aside for a moment to get to your question. I’m a huge fan of drawing, precisely because it’s something that’s so far away from me. I really envy and love people who can draw well, in fact, I am a collector of drawings. If I didn’t have technology at my disposal, if we mean technology such as computer technology, sound technology, which is predominant in my research, I probably don’t know, I would study an alternative way of drawing or another kind of painting, inserting objects. I have no idea, but I believe that creativity is fundamentally 360°, so since art is, from my point of view, an extreme need for communication, if I felt the need as I do, the need, let’s say, the pleasure and the duty, the instinct, whatever you want, to communicate, I would find a way, I have no doubt about that.
EM – What has been a historical, literary, or cinematographic reference for you that has had a major impact on the development of your artistic and personal career?
RP – Well, obviously there is an infinite number, what I always say is that the artist is a sponge, that is, the artist continuously draws on everything around him in a visceral way, whatever he reads, whatever he sees, in short, becomes part of himself and then he throws it back in with his sensitivity, with his way of seeing. So there were certainly a lot of stimuli. From the cinematographic point of view I am a big fan of the cyberpunk genre, so from Blade Runner to all the cinematography onwards, let’s say cyberpunk, I got addicted to cyberpunk, a lot, but also from the theatrical point of view I am a big fan of Raffaello Sanzio, which is one of the most important theatre groups in the world, they are Italian, but in the experimental theatre, they are not in the avant-garde but in the very avant-garde, but already for thirty years, so they too have been important for me. From a literal point of view, I would say the same thing, cyberpunk is obviously a genre that started as a novel and then moved to the cinema, but like all literature, I read everything from mathematics to novels. I really read everything, and I believe that stimuli can and should come from as many places as possible. I don’t think you have to be so sectoral, especially in creativity, so I really do read anything.