It’s a date is a column of Contemporânea written by Alberta Romano dedicated to studio visits with artists from Lisbon and from all over the word, both in person and online.
Episode 3: Giulio Scalisi
Lisbon > Milan, December 13, 2020
Today I’ve read this sentence by Ursula Le Guin: "Hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now."
Before we could even conceive the possibility of a pandemic, the times we lived in have been defined as “interesting”; then suddenly they became hard, frantic and almost unbearable. So, if we were to live by Le Guin's words, now is the time for new stories, new sceneries that can work both as escape routes and as tools to question the directions that our toxic reality may take.
Giulio Scalisi has always worked with this goal in mind, even before we were describing our times as “interesting”.
We first met during a studio visit in October 2016, and since then we have been in touch almost every day: we went on summer vacation together at least twice, he was in three of the exhibitions I curated, we did the same residency program in Calabria… and I have one of his works tattooed on my arm (OK, that sounds a little creepy). This being said, we would never want to look unprofessional; therefore, to better face this virtual studio visit, we decided to make a proper appointment for a serious video call.
— Hey amo, are you there?
— Do I have your contact on Skype?
— mmm…wait…I don’t. No, no, wait, I’ve found you. I wrote you "hello".
The date has started.
First of all, I warn Giulio that during the videocall I will take some screenshots of us, so we end up spending the first five minutes choosing the best immersive backgrounds (they, however, have a very short life: we soon find out that, in addition to immersing us in sunny and glossy realities, they also have the power to absorb any content we are trying to show ourselves… What a fitting metaphor for our mediated reality, sooner or later I will have to use it at the beginning of an article, not just randomly within parentheses).
Anyway, we begin our real conversation by talking about the video games Giulio is currently playing.
It was to be expected that video games were going to be one of the core elements of our friendship. One of the first things that Giulio told me was:
— I like poetry, video games and dicks.
And that sentence obviously spoke not only of Giulio’s personality, but also of his artistic work: extremely direct, profound, and, of course, with an aesthetic borrowed from old video games, but pointing towards the most recent 3D experiments.
— You know I am reading an interesting book…Homebase: The Interior in Contemporary Art by Marion Eisele…this one [this is the exact moment when, after a few attempts, we have to remove our backgrounds] do you know it?
— Ok…basically it approaches the theme of interiors, though it doesn’t only do it from an artistic point of view...can I read you a small piece?
“The world holds its breath in the interior, but does it really hold its breath when we are connected to the world via every possible communication technology? Can the interior still be a refuge of self-discovery and intimacy as well as physical and psychological recreation when the world is its permanent guest?”
While he reads, I realise that Giulio has always been fascinated by the concept of privacy, or, to be more precise, by the way in which the line separating internal and external space is today incredibly thin.
I remember one of his first works, phantoms and notifications (2015), a video animation that has been designed by Giulio to be played on an iPhone… maybe the same one sitting on your bedside table in the middle of the night that, while you are just about to fall asleep, will speak to you through a cute and creepy antenna-cat. Not only will it keep you awake but it will let you know that its “sole existence will coincide with the attention of your mind”.
Although a few years have gone by, even now we are here wondering: "Can the interior space still be a refuge for an individual's deep knowledge?" And, of course, we don’t have an answer.
Giulio reads me other pieces of the book, and we keep thinking about our concept of intimate dimension. It is not something that we can easily describe, especially in this year of confinements and closures, when private and public spheres seem to have turned upside down and no one can clearly see the overflowing of one dimension into the other.
And this set of mixed feelings generated by forced confinement brings us to Giulio's new project, which seems to have a lot to say about our gradual detachment from reality.
Giulio is currently working on a new video. He tells me that the plot will probably revolve around a phallic-shaped building which, in this sci-fi near future, won’t be the only one of its kind but a rather widespread housing module. The protagonist of this video may have gradually lost any contact with a reality made up of both physical and emotional interactions.
The protagonist, as well as the rest of the population, would have no human contacts out of the ones with couriers and dates, both "booked" through online apps. The population would be forced to live in these housing modules because of the critically decreased levels of oxygen: outside, there would no longer be enough air to remain as thinking human beings. But the protagonist has a theory, and… maybe I shouldn’t spoil it too much.
After telling me all the possible turns his new work may take, he adds:
— I’ve always conceived the artistic work as a hyperbole. I mean, I often try to represent situations in a very explicit way in order to highlight the ways in which our daily life could degenerate.”
Giulio reminds me how fast and subtle these degenerations can be nowadays.
— Do you remember when taking a selfie was considered ridiculous and for losers?he asks me.
Now that I am writing, a teenage Alberta appears in front of me, hiding in her room taking pictures of her face with a pink digital camera: suddenly she begins to realise the implications of having to bring those photos to the photo lab. "Maybe the guy will not look at them… No, of course he won’t, he will have a lot of stuff to print… But what happens if he sees them? Omg, I can’t print them out!"
Maybe, in the near future, we will no longer be able to recognise what is ridiculous. Maybe we will live in a future without self-criticism or criticism in general.
And this is how we return to our starting point. Sci-fi stories are not just a pastime: they often turn into tools to rip the veil of our hypocrisy.
By far one of my favourite works by Giulio is Shipwrecked (2017).
Shipwrecked is an animation film that tries to explore the different degrees of virtualisation that are assaulting our daily life, and questions the way in which images are consumed, or rather, how the images we create consume us.
In this video, the water becomes a powerful metaphor in which to project the reflections of one's illusions, unveiling the real possibility of sinking in them, or losing the route to go back home.
I am not going to say this only because Giulio is a friend of mine, but once I saw a fifty-year-old lady coming out of the room where we were projecting this video in Ansedonia and telling me, “That’s too much for me, I couldn't stand it for one more minute… I need more time for it… It’s literally too much to deal with...”
That’s one of the reasons why I think that sci-fi realities plus a good dose of introspection can really became powerful weapons for inner analysis.
Giulio and I continue to chat, till we end up talking about Chiara Ferragni (Italian entrepreneur, influencer and designer who was ranked first on the Forbes "Top Fashion Influencers" list) and her conscious decision to shape her son's future reputation, as well as the perception that he will have of himself, having started a very close relationship with video-selfies at an early age; but also about the Kardashian family, which perhaps was the first one capable of seizing the opportunity of success by riding the media hype that rose around the trial of O. J. Simpson (Robert George Kardashian was one of O. J.'s defence lawyers).
Trump’s campaign conference at the Four Seasons Total Landscaping also occupied a good portion of our conversation, especially its virtual version populated only by furries.
At this point, Giulio and I have been talking for more than an hour and a half, and perhaps it is time to say goodbye, at least formally, to each other. As it often happens, after a few minutes we start texting again: I send him a photo of a real penis-shaped building in Guangxi (China), and he sends me a photo of the chocolate Pan di Stelle cake he is eating. OK.
I've also learned something from this short virtual studio visit with Giulio Scalisi: confinement or emotional isolation in general can generate different reactions in the way in which we decide to approach our own reality, but whatever form we choose we should never forget how difficult it can become to get used to thinking alone, without anyone opposing our theories. Mediating one's emotions through the gaze of another person not only helps us overcome our problems easily, but above all keeps all the nuances and the multiple layers that every situation is made of alive.
The Mystery Box is made out of links, randomly arranged at the bottom of the page, that will take you to things we’ve been talking about during the studio visit. The way in which they are presented is not only a nostalgic way to remember the magic suspense that belonged to early internet structures, but also hides the hope to tickle the curiosity of the readers a bit more than the classic footnotes.
Giulio Scalisi (Salemi, 1992) lives and works in Milan. He is a multimedia artist whose work takes shape through different mediums and forms, such as videos, comics, installations and drawings. In 2014 he took his BA in Visual Arts at NABA, Milan, and in 2016 a MA in Visual Arts at Écal, Lausanne. Among the group shows: Good Guys (Gran Riserva), Gasconade, Rome; tAPC/the Artist’s PC, Le Botanique Centre Culturel, Brussels; Life is a Bed of Roses, Fondation Ricard, Paris; Homesick, Futuredome, Milan; Fedeli alla linea, Sonnenstübe, Lugano; Every breath you take, Galleria Umberto di Marino, Naples; Dripping in crocodile tears, Like a little disaster, Polignano; 1999, Kaleidoscope @ Spazio Maiocchi, Milan; A healthy dose of confusion before the bang, Federica Schiavo Gallery, Milan. Solo show: Alghe Romantiche, Tile Project Space, Milan.
Alberta Romano is an art historian and contemporary art curator born in Pescara in 1991. She is currently the curator of Kunsthalle Lissabon. Since 2017 she has worked with the CRC Foundation in Cuneo, coordinating the acquisitions for their contemporary art collection. After graduating with a BA in Art History at La Sapienza in Rome and with an MFA in Visual Cultures and Curatorial Practices at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, she attended the curatorial program CAMPO16 at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin. She has written for Artforum, Flash Art, Contemporânea and Kabul Magazine, among other magazines.
Proofreading: Diogo Montenegro.
Images: 1. Poetry, video games and dicks, 2020. Studio Visit Giulio Scalisi's. "It's a date" by Alberta Romano. Slideshow: 1 e 2. Giulio Scalisi, Phantoms and Notifications, 2015, video on iPhone; 3. A House for a Gentleman, 2020, work in progress, video still; 4, 5 e 6: Shipwrecked, 2017, video, 16.9, 17 min. All images courtesy of the artist.