Interview with Mariagrazia Pontorno
Article by Maritima01
The seabed of the Mediterranean is scattered with ancient wrecks. The Mediterraneum is an underwater museum, from which ancient relics continue to emerge. Guardian of our civilization, a meeting point of three continents, a crossroads of culture, dialogue, and human growth, in recent decades it has sadly turned into a cemetery and a landfill.
Mariagrazia Pontorno was born in Catania in 1978. She lives and works in Rome. Since 2004 she has taught Multimedia Installations at the Accademia di Belle Arti.
Her work has been shown in Italian and international museums, including MAXXI in Rome, MACRO in Rome, the Biedermann Museum in Donaueschingen, the Stadtgalerie in Kiel, MLAC in Rome, Museo di Castel S.Elmo in Naples, Art Center di Thessaloniki, Museo RISO in Palermo, as well as in galleries and non-profit venues such as Monitor in Rome, Lithium Project in Naples, Murat 122 in Bari, ISCP in New York, HSF also in New York, Fondazione Noesi Studio Carrieri in Martina Franca, Passaggi Arte Contemporanea in Pisa, and Casa Musumeci Greco in Rome.
The fundamental idea of all your creative process? How did you come to it?
My research is focused on the relationship natural/artificial. I build life like settings inspired by a vision where the borders between fiction and reality are lyrically blurred.
In my recent works, the intersection between reality and material, art and science, digitally reconstructed fiction and archival images has become more complex.
What is your opinion on the importance of the dialogue between scientists and artists (science and art)?
My entire production revolves around the relation art/science. Art and science are two symbolic systems that, seen in a historical perspective, represent the apex of what human mind can conceive, a sort of “best of”. They share the same assumption, i.e. the interpretation of reality, but have also other things in common: the longing for discovery, the attempt to produce new and original forms, the presence of a community observing their results. The creative moment is always a hypothesis of something that is not there yet: until that moment, those two ways of proceeding overlap, but then their paths diverge. To be sure, it may happen that an artist visualizes things that science actualizes decades later, as in the conversation between the astronaut and his little daughter in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrik actually predicted Skype phone receiver.
Why is this necessary?
Art and science meet in the realm of beauty, creativity and intuition. I think collaboration between art and science is the outcome of a natural convergence of different approaches looking at and investigating the aspects of reality that are secret and hidden, mysterious and fascinating. Art and science are both linked to the invisible side of what is visible, the crucial side. The great progress in scientific knowledge and the opportunity for artists to gain easier access to new technologies with friendlier interfaces has started a process in which art and science are becoming more open and closer to each other, and in which the barriers and boundaries are softened and lessened by curiosity, an open-minded and human approach.
How would like to work with scientists for your creative process?
Beauty can be a starting as well as an arriving point, and it is interesting to follow its footsteps from the standpoint of the scientist and of the artist, to detect cross-references between aesthetics, science, histories, anecdotes, and, from there, filtering everything through the artwork.
Your most interesting project?
Everything I Know, a performative and choral project that connects art and science, tradition and modernity, Europe and Brazil through the travel and its powerful symbolism. I started working on it in 2014 and I’m currently going on with it. Everything I Know is a project that was born in the Botanic Garden of Pisa and reached the Jardim Botanico of Rio de Janeiro through a real and at the same time imaginary journey. In 2012, Silvano Vassallo asked me to make a project in the Botanic Garden of Pisa, and a researcher from Rio who was born the Jardim Botanico neighborhood told me the story of Leopoldina of Absburg’s nuptial and scientific journey, and the crew of artists and scientists she brought with her. This young woman immediately attracted me for her freedom and originality. I thought that for the bicentennial of her journey I could retrace the route to Rio with my contemporary view but at the same time preserving the original inner meaning for quest and respect for knowledge and culture.
What was the message of the project? What artistic expression did you get?
What art project would you like to implement in collaboration with scientists in the near future?
A Documentary about science and pseudo-science.
What project are you working on regarding the ecology or the environment of the Mediterranean? Why is this relevant?
A project related to Maritima_01, a residence and art festival that will take place in Valencia very soon, supported for that concern my work by Acqua Foundation.
In my project i propose to underline the desacralization of a sea through a process of extinction of one of its symbols and its sentinels, Pinna Nobilis. It is a large mussel which exceeds the height of a meter, at risk of disappearing for apandemic disease.
The investigation will start right from the city of Valencia, where Jose Tena and Jose Rafael Garcia March are following the LIFE PINNARCA project in support of Pinna Nobilis. There is a parallelism between the current emergency that the whole world is experiencing because of Covid and that one of the Mediterranean and Pinna Nobilis. In both cases it is a pandemic generated by global processes; in both cases the only way of intervention it is isolation, quarantine, waiting for a cure.
Would you be interested in establishing a dialogue with other contemporary artists? Why?
Of course, it is just the spirit of Everything I Know (the project I described above).
What do you think about the quarantine measures introduced, will it really affect the state of the environment or is it impossible with such a short time?
Looking at the Earth from the satellite it seems to notice a decreasing of pollution. But it is very soon to to draw any conclusion in terms of extent of the situation. The collapse of industrial production, as we are seeing it now because of the quarantine rules, surely could contribute to reduce enviroment issues, but at what price? Such a sudden blockade is already creating a pocket of poverty and unemployment. The next months and years will be a test case, and an opportunity, if we find the correct way to manage it.
Can you tell us a memorable story behind the creation of one of your works?
In theseday of quarantine I think very often to my journey to Brazil (Everything I Know project). 33 days on a cargo ship, without being able to get off or go back, with the sea as the only border, attimes total freedom, attimes a prison. I thought I could never experience that feleing again, and the same stunned silence was not possible in ihabitated places. In these days the whole world is a ship. Our houses are the cabins. The street and the square, the empty horizon. On the cargo ship you feel so far away from everyone and everything, loosing any couriosity for what happens on the land. Itis a state of suspension, in which the perception of space and time changes, and a subjective and inner dimension prevails, amplified by the sea while the ships acts as a sounding board. Sometimes I fear to forget the life before quarantine and so I take confort remembering Cime Ventose, a performance that took place on the ship some days before our landing to Rio at the presence of passengers and some crew members. The wind was blowing strong, with the help of the first officer we first knotted the flags of each country, fixing the tops at the bow, and finally we hoisted them. For a mysterious alchemy everyone was happy, and they watched the flags waving with the same spirit of freedom and cohesion that kept them united and free in the air.