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Interview with Robert Gligorov


Itís impossibile to remain indifferent in front of the works of Robert Gligorov. You may love him or hate him, be astonished or afraid of his mind, but his art would certainly reach and shake your vision of the world. He interbreed himself with vegetable, animal or mineral elements His canvas are his body, that he paints, transform, cover with other skins. His works, whatever photography, sculputers or installations, are always arresting and always reawake viewersí imagination, twisting thier point of view. Shocking and unexpected, his art explore sexuality and identity. Sarcastic, politically incorret, vegetarian, Robert is a little world itself, where thoughts, fears, dreams, nightmares, stories and experiences become visible, real. Born 51 years ago in Kriva Palanca, in Macedonia, citizen of the world, he settled down in Milan, the place that he calls home, where he lives and work.

Robert, can you tell me about your past life? You were born in Macedonia, then you moved to Italy. Why Italy? What were you aspecting from that country?
When I was a child I travelled a lot. For several reasons, I never finished a school year in the same school. I always had to restart in new places, make new friendsÖSometimes I felt like a tourist, wherever I was. I was born in the former social-communist Yugoslavia, then for family reasons I moved to Italy when I was 10, going back and forth between this country and foreign places, until I definitely settled down in Italy at the age of twenty. Iíve been always loving to draw, it was a strong presence in my life. I remember that parents and friends asked me for my signed drawing, saying: ďYou never know, one day you might become a famous artistĒ. After school I try the way of the showbusiness in Rome, to mantain myself, I shot several movies, then working for pictures stories. Then I decided to drop out and leave everything, and I moved to Milan. I was 26 years old. I dedicated myself to drawing, illustration and photography. I made many cover of albums and shot many music videos, also producing many singers.

You were born in Macedonia, at the time of Yugoslavia. In the nineties war broke out. How has the history of your land affected or influenced your art?
When I was in Yugoslavia I remember there was always a feeling of tension, we lived under big stress, we knew that a conflict was going to arrive. I remember the strong propaganda of the regime, that aimed to the heroic history of the Second World War, when partisan resisted to the Nazi. Every night, on television, there was always a war movie related to this. When war broke out I was already in Italy, but I followed with great interest all the events during those years. The war has been an atrocity, right in the heart of Europe. 250,000 deaths, maybe more. I definitely feel like home in Milan and I remember of Macedonia as something exotic, but I never lived there as an adult. But the influence of my roots and of me childhood on my art is certainly tight to the propaganda of the Yugoslavian regime, which subsidized and promoted sports, physical fitness, as every dictatorship. It was very important for the communist party to reach glory through athletes, to give the image of a winning country. Obviously, it was only appearance.

Youíre a multifaceted artist. you embrace many different aspects of expression from photography to music, from sculpture to drawing. Which one of these allows you to express yourself best?
Surely, the drawing. All the other resources are useful to the ideas. I never use painting instead. Sometimes I paint, but in private, as a hobby. I love to do it, but I think that is not able to represent our time, itís overcome.

It is hard to avoid asking you about your relationship with the body, the undisputed protagonist of your works. Robert and the body: you play with it, you transform it, you often change skin, literally. What is your relationship with your body? Why is the key element of your art? Why all these changes? And above all, why are you the protagonist so often in your works?
The human body is the most difficult thing to understand and to draw. It certainly has for me a strong evocative charm. I am more interested in the story of a person rather then the one of a stone or a tree. Itís through my eyes that I see the world, so for me art can only have persons at the center of its existence, and how they interact with others and with their psyches. I often use my body because I see myself in the stories that I tell with my works, and because itís easier. And also, like Flaubert said: "Madame Bovary, cíest moi." In the latest year my artistic research has embraced also other matters, like architecture, design, space and perception. Maybe I just ran out my curiosity for the body now. But it was an intrinsic, innate, impulse. What really matters in the end is the originality of the idea, even if, when you have a good one, you may consider that probably somebody else has already had the same before you. This is what often happens in the conceptual art: conceptual artists obtain ideas from a common dimension, that is the mind, the perception, humanity. Thatís one of the reasons why lots of works sometimes look after, even if the artists didnít copy each other. I strongly doubt that if one artist sees the idea of another would tell to himself: "Wow, I want to do exactly the sameĒ. It wouldnít have any sense.

What is the key to your creative world? What inspires you, how does your artistic research develop?
I read a lot. In the past I read many books, but now I find them too slow, I need faster informations, so now I buy lots of magazines, of any kind. Furthermore, I watch lots of television, in the late night, most of all scientific and history programs. I donít watch movies anymore, they are overwhelming. Internet 's too boring, I hate the computer, it gives me a headache, thatís why I hate interactive art. I love the truth, the physical reality of the things. I think that these things I just mentioned are the basis of my potential ideas. The ideas are all, the rest is pure execution. There are three ways to get an idea. The first way is to find it in your own mind, but in the moment you find it inside of you, it is already old, as it was inherent inside of you. Even though, sometimes itís worth to give it a shape. The second way is to observe things, people, details. The third one is to develop someone elseís idea. At the bottom of everything, art is based on art, and itís unthinkable to avoid any comparisons or confrontations with the others. If this doesnít happen, art become self-referential, and who can be interested in that? At least your mom! A thing that I really donít like is when artists create as if creation was homework, making art without taking risks rather than be excluded from some ďartistic ťliteĒ, (whatís the point of being an artist then?!). There are many artists in Italy that have good credibility, but somehow their works are not able to leave a strong imprint in the collective imaginary or in art history, as if they lack that certain ďje ne se quoiĒ to create a masterpiece. I donít mean that they are not good, but at the end they hide in the mass, probably to be accepted. The truth is that in artistic world thereís only a number that counts, and itís number one.

You often change your shape or your skin in your works. Are these changes also a metaphor of the liquid identity of our time?
Iíve heard several times the word mutation, transformation, related to my works, but I have to admit that I donít recognize myself in these adjectives. I just try to describe our times in my own way. To capture the contradictory aspects of the human is my aim. I look for a formal synthesis to find a symbol.

What techniques do you use?
I donít have a technique or a particular style. I donít love photography, but itís an amazing tool to document a performance or an idea. Video gets me terribly bored, especially the so called ďvideo artĒ. The contemporary artist should magically leave everything behind and, (if they are able), to bring a great, new experience. The audience must feel really involved in front of an artwork. Thatís why I hate Biennals and collective: many strong works all together are too much, and the public canít give the right attention to everything.

Are there any artists that inspire you, or that you simply like? Do you have a favorite opera?
I love all the artists, just for the fact that they do, or they try to do, art. Even the bad ones. Basically, the most celebrated artists are appreciated also in relation with bad ones, because the latter exalt their value. I really love the paintings of the past but not the sculptures, most of them look like ornament for gravestone. Instead, I appreciate the contemporary sculpture. Iíve never had a role model, or a master to follow. Simply, I only followed an inner strength and curiosity for images, right from inside of me. And all I had to do was to follow it. At the end you can conceptualize a work, but what remain at the end is the image.

Is there nowadays an interface and a direct comparison among artists?
Are you kidding? Nowadays weíre all related but, at the same time, more and more isolated, and it's obvious that there is a prevailing individualism. The comparison is often based on gossip and controversy, and who is not aligned with a certain attitude and tendency is out. The strategy to become a successful artist, I mean to be able to survive with this job, itís a big mix of choices, made by dealing with curators. This happens with no interface, without any real debate. Even when there are round tables, only professionals of the world of art with similar ideas are invited to speak, people that have a common vision of art. The art system is made by an elitť, and it constantly needs sponsor. The system is widely based on recommendations or tips.

Do you want to shock the public with your work, or is there any message that you want to send? What are the issues you most care about?
Well, Iíve never thought of shocking people with my art. But I have to admit that itís charming and funny to seduce neophytes or occasional viewers of art with my works.
My works donít have a real message, rather my goal is to be able to reach the highest number of persons and to shake their opinions, give a different point of view. My subjects are definitely connected with animal abuses, (Iím vegetarian), human and art history.

Il Bacio

You are vegetarian. Is this why in the work ďWaitingĒ you wear a jacket all made by pieces and skin of chicken? Is this a critic to how animals are treated?
I strongly believe that all the animals should be respected and protected, not only pets. When I cover myself with chicken skin wearing that famous jacket or I use animals in my works itís because Iím really sensitive and I plead for them. Anyway, this is a very complex and personal speech, sometimes it also seems a taboo to be an animal rights activist or stand up against vivisection. For example, there are periods everyone seems aware not to use fur, but then this trend passes and fashion designers put on the market clothes overloaded with fur. And everybody forget the way in which the animals used for doing furs are raised and then killed. This has nothing human. We live in a sterilized society, indifferent to everything. Looking death in the face is forbidden, exposing a dead body is forbidden, euthanasia is forbidden, then think about the church with its dogmas. If I wasnít an artist, I would surely take care of these problems. Itís worth to spend a life for selfless gestures, these make you understand the real meaning of the things.

Would you define your works sarcastic?
Yes, sometimes. If you make art everyday, sometimes you also enjoy to do minor things, even for fun. I donít think that an artist always have to look after the big, important, monumental masterpiece, but also makes gags for fun. Why not? The whole history of art, seen with our eyes, is grotesque, sarcastic. The figures of the paintings of the past were almost all wrong, the prospect incorrect and the final composition was often funny, (see Michelangelo, Vermeer, Piero della Francesca, CaravaggioÖ). It may appear paradoxical to attack these artists but their works are full of errors, no less beautiful. My thought is that art and most of the artists are sarcastic. However, I must say that I am a sarcastic person in everyday life. And also ironic, nihilistic and sometimes very sad.

The body, after a long eclipse, has made its reappearance in art and in particular has developed a general and obsessive attention. Piercings, tattoos, cosmetic surgery, the body became a canvas for artists and doctors. What do you think of the role that the body in the imaginary town today? Do you think it's sanctified, exploited, or overrated?
Art, especially the experience of modern art, has set aside figuration to investigate new territories, and it seemed to be a way of no return. Artists who painted landscape, (like Hopper), or body, (like Lucien Freud), wasnít considered much at the time. However, after this period of research was over, informal artists recovered back the figure. Nowadays a real research seems to be stuck, in favor of the willing to tell and express the personal life experience. Certainly, body has always been a source of business, then cosmetic surgery, health and fashion undoubtedly create big attention. Also in art, if I show situations related to individuals, I have more chances of interest from the public. In the end, the body has never gone out of fashion, and it will never will. Itís always interested, timeless.

And what about the soul, the spirituality? According to you, what happened to them? Are there any traces in your works? Do you believe in something? Looking from outside my work, I can notice a strong Buddhist, Hindu presence. But itís an unconscious choice. Maybe some of my ancestor gene affects me so. Certainly in all my work thereís my genetic code, even if I always try not to have a recognizable style. The mere fact that one decides to pass the time of his life writing poetry, essays or making itís already a spiritual attitude. I believe that spirituality exists also in violence, in the bad things. Certain pagan rites have very violent rituals, but itís a kind of violence that probably makes you feel closer to God. Unlike Picasso, who used to say that he didnít search, but he found, (but what did he find then?), I am interested in the mystery of investigation, research and experience as the ultimate goal. Doing is life, beyond what you reach.

Do you think that people are still interested in art? Do they still buy ďgreat artĒ?
Frankly, "people" are interested in art only when it exceeds a certain limit, that is the limit of fame. Many collectors wait before buying your works until your value increases. The public is only an ďart touristĒ, it observes, but donít support art.

I know that youíve worked for music, designing album cover, producing singers, writing texts and music. Whatís your relationship with music? Who did you work with?
Iíve never been that much interested in music, I only took care of other things related to it, such as records cover, music videoÖ I collaborated with Sting, we realized a picture book together. I created a show making a disc of 10 songs, writing the lyrics, collaborating with the music arrangements, making videos. But in fact I was more interested in the language, in the media itself, not in making a good record or a commercial product. It was like an installation or one of my pictures. I used the sound as a material, to create, I gave shape to it.

Is there something that you really would like to express?
Yes. In art is not enough to participate like in sport. If you are an artist you must constantly try to create a work full of tension, energy, beauty, content, as this work must be testimony of our time, and also must give value to our lives, that increasingly have a predetermined mechanism.

Interview: Clarissa Tempestini


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