I’ve been always curious to learn more about How We Dwell.
It’s a group of very young artists, mainly painters (Andrea Grotto, Adriano Valeri, Cristiano Menchini and Marco Gobbi) who got in touch at Fine Art Academy of Venice by studying painting and then set up a project – half curatorial, half a bunch of single blueprints – that offers quite one of a kind art residencies. The (invited) artists are enabled to create their own space via ‘kits’ the founders build for them, ‘within a specific location chosen for its character and for the typology of the invited artists: we issue a not totally foreseen interaction among characters in an open space’.
Two of them are setting a double solo show in a Venetian contemporary art gallery (Caterina Tognon), I wandered there and chat with Andrea Grotto while Cristiano Menchini reached us after we started.
Your story in a few lines
I was born in Schio (Vicenza province) on 1989 and I attended either the arts and the music college then I moved in Venice to enroll in the Fine Art Academy. I studied in the Atelier F, the school of Carlo di Raco, with whom most all the Venetian painter practiced. And How We Dwell kicked off from there. From a group of friends who met by chance in his class, a very uncommon study practice. The students can work there seven days a week, if they like, and also for the entire day. And they work all mixed. The beauty of this method is that the more expert young artists work with the younger. The ratio of the combination is for analogy of meanings, researches and interests. In this way I’ve met and knew well Cristiano and Marco, from whom I learned a lot. Our maturation has been parallel, also with Adriano (the other How We Dwell component). Between my fourth and fifth year at the Academy we moved on founding How We Dwell.
Why that class was named Atelier F?
Because when professor Di Raco arrived in Venice to teach, he was the youngest among the ones teaching painting and the school assigned to him a small class with few students, actually the ones who did not fit in the others, which were listed in alphabetical order. He had the letter F. From then, the class grew a lot and always in a very collective climate…we got loving the name and it remained untouched. A real school was born in that class, where everyone was always working with the others, where who was more skilled in that precise time of his life, was the guide. The growth is more fruitful, quick and complex in this way.
After the Fine Art Academy…
When I got the residency at Bevilacqua la Masa (the How We Dwell were assigned, as collective and as individuals, of a residency in the most prestigious Venetian institution devoted only to young artists) I was only 23, it was a shock. Regarding my personal research, I was always on the landscape, the centre of my interest because the city in which I was born and grew up is surrounded for three/quarters from mountains and I always related myself to them in a very personal way.
At the end of the residency, at the final collective show, I exhibited a work I made in Berlin during another three months art residency in Glogauer Strasse (Kreuzberg), the residency is called Glogauair.
I decided to work on the interior landscape using a set, that was my studio, and working on its elements. I was always fascinated by the fact that everyone collects objects and get fond of them with many and different reasons. And that almost in a magic way, these objects drag a story – they tell, they speak. I concentrated my attention on a definite number of elements that I put together and reworked. Naïve, if we have to say: two branches, an armchair, a blanket. This method is the same I apply nowadays, even if enriched with more symbols and a bit more complex.
I am interested to the patina under the object, under its form. And painting and sculpture are my most used two media. I started to build objects that ‘would enter and exit’ from the image, that is ‘where’ objects often arise. When I am in the studio, I often see objects being born by chance; I love to think to a painting as a room to ‘furnish’, a sort of situation.
I am very interested about the title of your creative group, How We Dwell, I like it and I can imagine the choice of the words in English. Especially one word, Dwell, is precise, particular, short and out of practice. It is very useful and is actually irreplaceable. There are very few equivalents. It could also have a double reading: how we live in general as persons and how as artists. Is this ambivalence chosen or not?
It is chosen and is real. The word in English derives from the fact our group has an US member, Adriano, who picked exactly that word – short and cultured – which is not very much used. We wanted to point the attention on the fact that the way we live a specific place influences an artist in an often invisible, but very tangible, way.
How We Dwell was and is a reflection on landscape and on the ambience. And is a reflection on how we live it and how it can modify us or how it can modify a research in the case of an artist.
Cristiano ends with the paintings inside and reach Andrea to paint the small woods in white – we are in a very secluded and beautiful small square outside the gallery door. It is just two steps from Campo San Moisè, it is nevertheless safe from the tiring stream of daily or hourly tourists.
Every artist has his own procedure, his own sensitivity but the nicest thing happened to us as a group is that very affirmed colleagues invited by us to our residencies accepted our format and had surprising results – surprising for us and especially for them.
We of course sent artists in residency in a selected place given our and their poetics, by providing them of elements we designed as artists for other artists.
With that we tried to suggest them something but them, the artists reacting on how the experience went, often told us they would be able to reply to this question only…in a while – as they needed to let sediment the happenings.
One of the most interesting things, maybe, has been to work with a limited quantity of items we gave them in a ‘kit’: nothing more, nothing less. The need to exploit the given resources was astonishing for them!
What can arise from this scheme is unpredictable. It is not infinite but unpredictable.
After Berlin, which was the effect of returning in Venice?
I became nervous – this happens all the time I go in bigger cities, above all Milan. When I return I am nervous for a couple of days. It is silly to say it again, but when you go out from here you see that the world is full of engaging things and often here you modify your times and what you do to avoid bothers because of the slowness and the shape and all the problems the city has. In order to live well here, people maybe should adopt the How We Dwell thinking: I work in Venice by using the given kit.
What about the favourite collector?
If he would be existent…This is a very big question. I would love to have a collector available to enter totally in the work of the artist by getting the rhythms and the research behind. I do not say that in order to secure an adequate profit but just to create a relation via the work. I also would wish he/she understands that the artist is often not exactly knowing where he will end when he start a process.
I crave for a complicit, for who is interested in a durable relation. As the patrons of old times were: they do not exist anymore.
Which are the books you’re reading now?
I am reading Bouvard et Pécuchet by Gustave Flaubert that has been suggested to me and also, again, Man and His Symbols by Jung. I am trying to introduce a narrative and alchemic symbolism in my work, something I can put a bit here and there even if not always reachable. I like very much the Flaubert’s book because is tragicomic, what the two characters try to do ends always very badly. But it’s nice, there is the typical enthusiasm of the artists even if ‘all the cosmos is conspiring to let go everything hell’.
Among my favourite books I think there is The Star Rover by Jack London, almost everything I read of him was amazing.
Caterina Tognon has chosen to have two combined solo shows
Cristiano: Since we know each other it is the fifth or the sixth exhibit we have together, so Caterina’s idea seemed very coherent to us.
Have you ever acted as designers?
Cristiano: Everything we did until now has been very natural – and so it is possible it will happen.
Andrea: It would be beautiful.
Cristiano: We’d prepared a fantastic project that unfortunately did not take place, the house on the tree. We extended the project to two primary school classes and the children designed, with our direction that mostly was consisting in limiting them, the house. According to our project, the house would be built 1:1 and really habitable exactly as the children designed it. We started the project with a local branch of FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italia)
There were a couple of stunning houses and all the idea was very new. The houses were meant for adults but drafted by children and to be built on trees. The complements and objects inside the houses have been also designed by the children themselves. Houses for adults who want to return a bit kids.
Andrea/Cristiano: Actually, we accomplished a bunch of design projects already. We’ve been invited to Milan Design Week some years ago and we made machines to search gold. We had the sparkle after our residency n. 2: Gold Rush where every artist was also meant to ‘receive a present’. And we were interested to artists loving alchemy.
We created the machine to search gold by recovering old beams from a Venetian Palazzo (dating back 1800) and by starting the design from a drawing of the object. We never find a scheme of the machine and so we invented it. Our machine was well working.
We are not interested to categorize us within pre-existing categories. We act with the most suitable medias according to a specific project. If an object is better or it is better a text or other outputs, doesn’t matter. The formula of the ‘kit’ for us has been since the beginning the occasion, or better the picklock. To work also on the ‘packaging’ of the idea. By of course applying our How We Dwell aesthetics that means something very austere. With our taste.
Marco Gobbi, for instance, is also a sculptor as Andrea. Adriano and myself (Cristiano) are above all painters.
All our experience led us to learn to do a lot of things and How We Dwell is not only a curatorial project, it forces us always to be part of the game.
How We Dwell continues nowadays even if each of its members runs also his own activity.
The house on the tree is among our favourite projects, we would love to put it on place also tomorrow. I (Cristiano) have been a teacher, Andrea is still teaching and so we can also generate a value from our experience as teachers.
What are you giving to Venice and what she gives back to you it seems very clear to me. Do we consider this as your city, Andrea?
No, maybe not. I am in Venice, I teach at the local art college, I have my practice and all my friends and colleagues here. But I really miss the possibility to wander toward the mountains. Also in Turin, for instance. It is a beautiful city, it is very versatile. Venice is ways less versatile even if it has such a bunch of beauties – the vis-à-vis relation with people, the fact you walk a lot and you learn how to know each other, it has a terrific light – but I miss a landscape with a deep perspective and with many layers.
You eat and cook a lot, what do you like? What do you drink?
I prefer a beer to a wine. I love to cook, I can tell you what I am eating more in these last times (lots of cereals, lots of fruit and veggies), I invent and experiment. And I get very satisfied, I also enjoy it. I am very lucky because my partner is an excellent cook and so she often cook for both of us.
A talent you have, the one you miss
Andrea. I think to be someone who likes to be with people…the school is teaching me a lot. I would love to have maybe a more scientific approach, more acuteness to see more clearly.
What did you learn from life so far?
I am used to accelerate a lot and maybe I am learning to accept the natural pace of the things.
Cristiano Menchini was born in Viareggio on 1986 and lives between Pietrasanta and Venice. On 2007 he graduated in design and restoration at Felice Palma (Massa) and then at Fine Art Academy (Venice). On 2015 he has been selected as resident artist at Viafarini DOCVA (Milan) and his work has been exhibited also at Centro Pecci (Prato). He just ended an exhibit in a Milanese paper mill where he beautifully dared in etching on paper sheets streaked with mould.
Leda and Grecale, the two solo show of Andrea Grotto and Cristiano Focacci Menchini, are at Caterina Tognon until May 4, 2017 (Ca Nova di Palazzo Treves, in corte Barozzi, San Marco 2158 Venice).