Interview with Multi-Disciplinary Artist Gianluca Sodaro

Gianluca Sodaro is an artist and film director. In 1992 he became a graduate of Milan’s Academy of Fine Arts and Design (NABA). During his years of study, he was a student of Vittorio Fagone, world-renowned Art critic, Gianni Colomboand Emilio Isgrò, the historical representative of Conceptual Art/Visual Poetry in the 1960s. We speak to him about the processes behind his work and the human imagination.

A: Having worked in a range of different media and genres, from photography to film, and music videos to feature films, do you think it is important for artists to be interdisciplinary? How has working for different outcomes helped your overall practice?
 I don’t think Creativity, in all its expressions, has precisely defined boundaries. Therefore, you can move freely within this endless and unknown planet. But you can even get lost in good and evil. What’s important is not losing the course of your ideas and the awareness of your limits.

As for me, I consider myself a “storyteller” and I move across writing and still and moving images. Numerous creative elements can have an influence there. Also the ones that seem to have nothing to do with it. For example, when I was a kid, I was fond of maths. And once I asked myself what numbers could have to do with a creative job. Superficially they seem to be incompatible worlds. Now I look at my work and I recognise that that kind of balance, geometry, proportions and mathematical shapes have all landed there. What goes around comes around: the “creative” Infinite is also a mathematical one, in a way. I also try to create a type of language and a style that are both recognisable and identifiable; a film director needs to be as distinguishable as a writer is.

A: How far do you think that you use photography to capture the personal? i.e. using the camera as a tool to harness emotions and stories from particular characters? It is interesting that you focus on the static nature of dolls fixed in nature, and then again in the borders of a photograph. This greatly contrasts the animation of human beings and the movement of film. As both of these are so different which do you think you’re more interested in and why?
 I think I will use photography and the other creative instruments as long as I have finished my research – that is, forever. I never decide a posteriori whether a story of mine will be cinematic or photographic. As soon as the Idea comes out clearly at the beginning of the creative process, I have already chosen which way it will go.

In my opinion, both photography and movies are conceptually in motion. And so is the one who is creating the work and who watches it. It is a perpetual motion. At first sight, photography may seem to be static, immutable and motionless on a wall or in a book. On the contrary, it is like a spinning top, continuously moving without you noticing. And your eyes run behind it, trying to discover its story, its characters, its fascinations and restlessness. You look at a picture and see a  movie. And viceversa. You decide how long that movie should be. You can continue “watching” it even later, in your mind.

As far as I am concerned, it is important not to have a merely descriptive approach to reality. Life is so boring and the same as itself. So why not resorting to the photographic and cinematic image to tell about “elsewhere”, another point of view away from the banality and repetitiveness of everyday life? The Artist should turn reality into something else. Only this approach can create the arts that make reality rich, inspiring, ruthless and explosive.

Today, in particular in Italy, I see so many movies that are just looking for a wide consensus. In the past, when a movie came out, by Fellini, Petri, Pasolini or Ferreri, there was a ruckus. They could turn everyday reality and banality upside down, from so many points of view. Now, when the audience get out of a movie theatre, they are reassured, wearing a smile on their botulinus-tasting lips. But it is not always the audience’s fault if some film directors and artists welcome a sort of single way of thinking. Fabrizio De Andrè, an Italian singer-songwriter, said: “Artists should not integrate themselves! Artists are the antibodies a society creates against power“

A: Your work seems to highlight the intricacies and contradictory nature of human beings; which works do you think that this was a conscious decision? Which film do you think most significantly captures humanity in its essence?
 The contradictions of human beings and in particular the paradoxical and absurd aspects deriving from those are always at the centre of my works, both in writing and in images. I would not be able to tell you whether this is a conscious choice or not. What I know is that I always end up there. Paradox and absurdity attract me inevitably. For instance, the short-film God’s Got His Head in the Clouds tells the story of a little girl who has literally sued God. This is definitely something that doesn’t happen every day, but could make sense in these days.

For the dolls’ portraits I asked myself: which one is the doll? Which one is the human being? Between these two figures, in the middle, there are multiple personalities and characters that are also met in real life. And often they exchange their roles. Hard to tell which one is which, then.

For me, the movies that capture Mankind in the most meaningful way are the ones you watch again and again, ten, twenty or one hundred times. And each time you watch them, it is as if they had been previously unreleased. Film director-authors tell a story through their eyes, their vision and initially they come along in this journey with you. Then, once the lights are on again in the theatre, that story ends there, but it goes on and persists in the audience’s mind. And the audience will create their own, brand new movie. This is what I try to do when I tell my stories: leave all doors open, make movies that have no ending.

A: Dolls have been considered for many centuries what interests you most about them for your exhibition Ageless – Dolls have time to waste? They seem to stare out at us, knowingly. Do you think that your art, like the dolls, responds to human nature attempting to replicate itself?
 I love watching and therefore also portraying the faces of common and unknown people. In particular, those with strong characters and who tell a story without a need for words. Dolls, instead, look anonymous, all the same. Then I wanted to overcome this limit by giving each one of them a character, a personality that may make them different from each other. It is not a case I gave them a precise name.

It wasn’t easy at the beginning, because it is hard to give indications to a cold, inanimate object. But I think I found the right key to communicate with them. It is not a case that their eyes suddenly “animated themselves” and started to follow my gaze and then the one of the viewer. To sum up, I recognised them. As well as taking a personality, paradoxically dolls can overcome the time limit human beings have, who are bound to end up their days. Dolls aren’t: they have an endless life and therefore “they have time to waste”.

A: Landscape is central in a lot of your short films, including Làssami, God’s Got His Head in the Clouds and the feature film Cuore Scatenato; could you describe how you factor this into your art, and how you think it affects the characters which is hosts?
 Landscape, as music, is not just a backdrop or background to fill gaps, but they are protagonists, just like characters are. I consider that each individual frame is like a painting. So I don’t leave anything to chance. Whoever watches should be able to enjoy each single picture. Obviously it is not an aesthetic choice with an end in itself, but functional to the story I am telling.

A:How do you think that the landscape helps to shape a narrative in your films – in the ever evolving technology which we capture life with, how do you think the flow of nature sits within this?
Undoubtedly, technology is an integral part of our time and now it is within everyone’s reach. But ur head should lead the game. And I am trying to do that. Even because, like I always say, my eyes are my favourite app. As long as the Nature of Man rules things, there will be a “creative” life. But creativity is like the sea. Endless. It will last as long as someone finds the plug and decides to remove it. And that someone, unfortunately, will be Man himself.

A: How did you meet American music composer Angelo Badalamenti?
 I knew Badalamenti for his extraordinary soundtracks of David Lynch’s movies. But he didn’t know me until he saw my first movie, “Cuore scatenato”, a sort of spaghetti-western set in a timeless Sicily. He wrote to me to congratulate me and he said that, if I was to create any more film projects, he would be happy to compose the music to it. The big chance came with “God’s Got His Head in the Clouds”. The funny thing about it is that he and I had never met in person before the presentation of the short-film in the USA. This proves that mutual esteem, enthusiasm and ideas, when they are strong and original, don’t need to “physically” meet. Obviously, having Badalamenti sitting in the theatre by my side and having his music in my film was an amazing feeling. I was speechless. And by they way, he is discretion personified. He came to the festival with a low profile. This contributes to making his music unique in the world, to making it as a protagonist as the actors are. His soundtracks act, too.

See more of Gianluca’s work:

1. Gianluca Sodaro, NINA (2014). Courtesy of the artist.
2. Gianluca Sodaro, CATERINA (2015). Courtesy of the artist.
3. Gianluca Sodaro, Still from God’s Got His Head in the Clouds (2012). Courtesy of the artist. Written and directed by Gianluca Sodaro.