by Arthur Kozlovski
Born in 1979 in Florence, Jacopo Miliani is an Italian artist who uses installation, video, collages, and performance to explore the interaction between the reality of the physical world and its representation in the mind of the spectator. Earning a B.A. disciplines of Art D.A.M.S. from the University of Bologna (2003), and an M.A. of Fine Art from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, Miliani is quickly becoming an important figure in contemporary art, exhibiting solo shows across Europe in cities like Madrid, Milan, Turin, and London. His work focuses on the concept of representation and how it is retained within the imagery utilized by individuals, societies, and the global population as a whole. In this particular interview, Miliani’s Do You Believe in Mirages? – for which he won the Toscana Award for best artist under 40 (sponsored by the Ex3 Contemporary Art Center of Florence) – is discussed for its elusive theatrical practices that call attention to the perception of transformation through the image of the mirage, observing its effects on the audience.
Miliani’s exhibition at Ex3 (18/02/12 – 08/04/12) was held within the arts center, as well as in the adjacent piazza. The space inside was converted into an imagined desert, which contained two massive sand dunes in bordering corners, with the word PALME separating the two. The room is bathed in sunset lighting and tunes of familiar pop songs are played throughout. A one-piece suit was hung on the side of the gigantic room, and was worn sporadically by a performer who took to the busy piazza that is shared by the gallery and a shopping mall. The outdoor performance was a 45 minute game of motion in which no final congruency is achieved; the dance exuded disjunctive fluidity, motion without resolve. This movement recreated the mirage, and was placed in the context of everyday life, viewed by an intended audience (art enthusiasts) as well as pedestrian spectators carrying on with their daily lives.
This interview was conducted in March 2012.
The outdoor performance calls into question the reaction of the audience to their environment; while watching the remarkable presence of the dancer, I (the intended audience) observed that most people (accidental onlookers) neglected to notice the dancer. The concept of performance seems to play an important role, for the dancer becomes integrated into the motions of “reality,” being perceived as a conjured illusion – a mirage – for he is ignored by most of the involuntary spectators. Can you elaborate on your use of performance to explore this idea of the mirage, and the nature of the social interactions between the viewer and the dancer?
A performance is an experiment; there is always a risk. So when I am normally structuring a performance piece, I am carefully thinking about the reaction of the audience, but I am never sure – I can’t be and I like to be surprised. That’s why the medium of the performance art is for me a good way to express a mirage. Performance as art really plays between the definition of ‘normal life’ and ‘art’ itself; between the real and something different from ‘reality.’ The nature of my project is very ambiguous. Inside you have the ‘mise en scène’ of a mirage and you, as the spectator – you are the only actor, but you keep your role safe. Instead, reality is less safe in terms of expectation, and so that’s the reason why I decided to shake the viewer and force him/her to experience a mirage. In the square, you have this situation – a mix of security within everyday life along with an approaching feeling of danger, as a very small and simply different act irreverently happens. For what I see, the audience mimics an apparent lack of reaction, but if you go closer to each viewer you can listen to very playful comments or see their frightened gaze. In this sense, each viewer is different; my work deals with the impossibility of reaching the infinite possibilities of reactions exhibited by the individual observers.
Taking a look at the bystanders outside, I did notice that children seemed to be the most intrigued by the performance, standing and watching with mouths wide open. This sparked the idea of the transformation from childhood to adulthood, and I began to consider the attributes involved in human maturation – the ultimate transformation in life. A child becomes an adult once they understand key elements of human nature: spatial relations, logical reasoning, cause and effect relationships, etc. In doing so, the “new adult” is now able to distinguish significance in the world – understanding what is real from that which is illusory. Reflecting upon the image of a mirage, an adult has the ability to neglect such abstract representation, for he/she knows it is not real. However, a child will remain intrigued by the presence of such an image, for they cannot differentiate its elusiveness from the natural world. This builds upon the creation of the imaginative world in which a child lives and explores before their transformation into an adult. I took careful note of this, recalling my knowledge of psychology – it seems to hold significance in the nature of this performance, which involves a particular interaction between the performer and the audience…
Yes, I noticed that children immediately understand this work, and many other works of contemporary art. They seem to have a very ‘mature’ sense of art criticism, in my opinion. A work of art has to open imagination and not close it. As I told you before, the possibilities are infinite and they can bring you anywhere. But when you are a bit older, you start to accumulate experiences, and these really change your perception. However, I would not wish to have a world populated by ‘infant art critics.’ The sense of life experience – the accumulation of culture and knowledge – is very fundamental. That is why in the installation inside, I allow everyone to mentally be a dancer, having chosen several popular songs that everyone can more or less connect with on a personal level, with his or her ideas of culture. Satisfaction or Hallelujah are just noises for a child, but for an adult they are immediately connected to some sort of significance. For some they are very personal, for others they are just songs from the 70s – when the idea of rebellion was everywhere… or that is what they say.
It seems to me that artists have a keen sense for creativity and imagination, much like that of a child. When we become adults, a part of that is lost. However, I feel it is the creator’s job (particularly an artist’s) to try and embrace this aspect when developing works and innovations. Reflecting upon this, how has your past, with all of its transformations and personal experiences, impacted you as an individual, an adult – an artist?
A very personal question, to which I can’t reply in a very honest way; because sometimes, you have to keep the artist – the self – separate from the work, even if it seems impossible. Anyway, I think that to be an artist is a very expositive way to express a lot of personal states. And I really consider my work extremely personal, often a mirror image of myself. Then you have some urgency – not only on a communicative level – to share these intimate reflections. In my work, I actually deal with the impossibility of translating the personal into representation. For me, this word ‘representation’ doesn’t exist – not within objective reality – but it is something that we have to interact with daily. I am interested in perception and the need for something like ‘common imaginary.’ This is also something that doesn’t exist because it’s something that we share, and – being that everyone is very different from one another, thanks to our individual experiences – it is an ‘ensemble’ composed of very different units, which will never exactly be whole.
That is why we need symbols, signs, languages; I am deeply interested in observing how all of these work in the impossible attempt to define ‘reality’. It is important for me to experience their limits, reflect upon our condition, and continue to ask questions, which will never have a solution. However, we need to find the urgency for the many possible answers. We need to take responsibility for what we are, even though we will never completely define it – but our questions are shapes. I think it is a matter of experience and urgency.