14.02.2024 #art

Alessandro Di Pietro

Through my art I make ghosts speak

«If it ever exists, I’m interested in the audience of 2300; I’d like to discover how they will approach my works and whether they will still consider them art»

An exhibition like a séance, where the specter of the deceased artist returns to mingle among us, crafting new artworks, new opinions, and a worldview adapted to the present day. The medium for this journey is Alessandro Di Pietro, while the evoked soul is that of the American Paul Thek, who died of AIDS in 1988. The final project has a name and a surname: “Ghostwriting Paul Thek: Time Capsules and Reliquaries,” an exhibition held at the Nicola Del Roscio Foundation in Rome with the support of the Italian Council (XI edition, 2022), a program for the international promotion of Italian art by the Directorate-General for Contemporary Creativity of the Ministry of Culture, curated by Peter Benson Miller and Cornelia Mattiacci. The project, on display from February 13 to April 5, has already been presented at the Watermill Center, at CAN-Centre d’Art Neuchâtel in Switzerland, and at Palazzo Monti in Brescia. Di Pietro, born in 1987, originally from Messina but now adopted by Milan, has created a body of work operating as a sort of ghostwriter. “I continued Paul’s mysterious narratives with my own language, adapting it to the discourses surrounding today’s history. My process was to imagine how a story—in this case, the story of an artist’s work—would have continued if it hadn’t been interrupted.” The Italian artist thus embarked on an imaginary journey where Thek would not have disappeared but would have continued his practice. The final effect is a blend of reality and fiction, with the enormous influence that the New York artist had on the work of his contemporary colleagues at its center. After the Roman stage, the five works of the Ghostwriting Paul Thek core will become part of the public collection of the Madre museum in Naples. We meet Alessandro during the setup of the exhibition at the foundation.

The project at the Del Roscio Foundation is entitled “Ghostwriting Paul Thek: Time Capsules and Reliquaries”. Why a job entirely dedicated to Thek?

Alessandro Di Pietro :

«Paul Thek is an artist with a sophisticated artistic identity with a corpus of works that are as iconic as they are elusive, always different. He created a folk and queer imagery. At the end of his life he dared to paint “evil” and model flesh relics in wax, monstrosing Donald Judd’s “alpha-evil” form. He had the opportunity to change his own works by continually modifying them because time is God and you can’t do anything about it, you resign yourself and try to resemble it at the same time becoming your own worst enemy. He staged his own death as in the case of The Tomb (1967) later entitled Death of a Hippie. In this continuous aesthetic and temporal transition he was able to define the formal and conceptual alphabet on which subsequent generations of artists were nourished – even without their knowledge – up until mine»

What was different about him compared to other exponents of the hippie counterculture in the United States in the 1960s?

Alessandro Di Pietro :

«Thek is one of the most stolen artists of the post-war period, his work has been the subject of great speculation and undeclared appropriations – something that art allows itself to do, in the name of theft as a legitimized postmodern action. With this project I tried not only to take but also to “return” to him his work imagined as unpublished and posthumous. The album by Kurt Cobain – another blond – which he was unable to produce in 1995 or the amazement when we listened to the song You know you’re right from 1993 but never titled until its release in 2002 in the famous greatest hits album. “Hippie” is a nickname that resonates as a condemnation for the artists of his generation as Mike Kelley points out to us in the 1992 text “Death and Transfiguration: A letter from America”. It is the way in which these artists were ghettoized by Regan-Bush governments in the 80s and which prevented them from being able to evolve in the market and ended up forgotten for over 20 years. Being Gay-Catholic-Hippie and in recent years “with AIDS”, will have created a cocktail too indigestible for the Americans of those years, furthermore Thek’s work is never digested, it remains multifaceted and immune to the normative antibodies of the History of Art»

With this exhibition you imagined what Thek’s production could have been if he hadn’t died, recreating it through sculptures and films. How did you do it?

Alessandro Di Pietro :

«Reading Aliens and Anorexia (Semiotext(e) by the American writer Chris Krauss, I understood that the research done on him in previous years would have a chance of being channeled into something. The way Krauss writes in this book by Simone Weil as by Paul Thek was fascinating because it attempted to enter into the lives of these characters and their experience of anorexia which – as Simone Weil writes – “becomes an extreme expression of refusal towards the cynicism of the dominant culture”. perceives the impossibility of being able to completely identify with someone else (the difficult task of trying to understand another person, Race of a Hippie, 2023). And then, being connected with someone you have never met is for me in any case a privilege of pop culture»

There is something disturbing about your works. They often seem to come from houses haunted by ghosts: how should one behave in front of a ghost?

Alessandro Di Pietro :

«With great honesty, as if he were a true friend»

You create artefacts, testimonies, discoveries that should belong to the past but seem to come from the future. Why is memory so important to you?

Alessandro Di Pietro :

«For some cycles of works I happen to consider the temporal dimension of the objects. For example, in the sculptural capsules FELIX (2018) and Shelley (2019) I wanted to deliver them to a functional or technological past. In the first exhibitions I held they heated or produced electricity and then discharged, “died” and ultimately became a sculpture to be “rediscovered” and presented again. It’s a way to imagine these devices as if they had always existed. Another aspect linked to memory is the public: if it ever exists, it fascinates me to know how the public of 2300 will see these works of mine and whether they will still consider them art, whether art will still have a meaning and whether the works that I attributed to Thek they will still be officially considered art»

You said that the materials you choose for sculpture are always burnt, dehydrated. They never have anything to do with water. What’s wrong with the water?

Alessandro Di Pietro :

«The materials I love most are like this. I like that he doesn’t let himself be manipulated, that he commands and limits the possibility of action. There’s nothing wrong with water, it’s just that for me it represents life, while death always has to do with art»

If Paul Thek were still alive what would he say about our times?

Alessandro Di Pietro :

«Stop the genocide now»

What if you hadn’t been an artist…?

Alessandro Di Pietro :

«I would have become Donald Duck…»



Interview: Germano D’Acquisto

Photo: Niccolò Campita

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