Interview with Valerio Cerasani

Valerio Cerasani is an Italian-born artist based in Leipzig. Stemming from his political activism and interest in urban planning, his practice is a continous research on landscapes through the exploration of their visual potentials. Last summer he developed a new photographic series about the shipping container student accommodations at NDSM Werf in Amsterdam Noord.

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What is your practice about?
My practice is about images, without choosing one particular technique over another. It’s a constant visual exploration, landscapes are my focal point through which I try to investigate reality. Photography is an instrument to achieve this. The images in this series have not been modified, but usually I use screen printing, drawing and painting to elaborate on an idea. With screen printing, by dismembering it and reassembling the image, I try to deconstruct it… in order to ‘enter’ it. With drawing or painting the image is built through sedimentation.
This sort of disassemblage is the core of my research on landscapes, when the image is taken apart, doubts start to surface, places do not belong anymore to a specific space, they belong to no one in particular. This way, they open themselves up for possibilities.

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What is your relationship with the urban landscape?
Dealing with the urban landscape means dealing with people. The social is always political, by looking at the city you can sense which direction contemporary society is planning to take. From the center to the margins, you can observe a geography of securitized areas, of dormitory neighborhoods, of transit zones designed for big migratory flows. It’s something that I have been able to observe and absorb in totally different contexts, like in Gallarate, the city just outside of Milan where I was born, and in Leipzig where I live now.
This is where this work comes from, it is an example of how urban landscape, sustainable, ‘smart’ architecture and public space are connected. I’ll try to explain myself. I took these photos in a ‘new’ area of Amsterdam where mostly students, artists and in general, people who cannot afford to live in the city center, live. This housing complex immediately struck me because it’s made of ship containers stacked one up the other. Bright colors have been chosen to make everything look cool and friendly. It reminded me of Franco Fontana’s photos and so I played with colors and shapes… my work always contains geometrical elements. As I went further into it, I was not just thinking about the pictures, but also about how this place doesn’t look like a periphery but it still is one in a sense. Urban planners decide to build these types of estate, it’s eco-friendly and cool…but this display of sustainable creativity hides the problem in a shiny package without solving it: skyrocketing rents, super expensive public transportation, a policed city center only fit for touristic consumption. Those that can’t afford living closer to the center get moved to a building like this one, intriguing at first sight but that also make you think about bright colored prison cells.
And is in between these lines and shapes that you can start thinking about the now and try to understand what’s happening here and in other cities.

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Any projects in the pipeline?
I recently did a series for a group show in Novara, in the region of Piedmont, Italy, called Sor’riso Amaro, working on the landscape of the local rice fields, looking at the emptied buildings where the ‘mondine’ used to live during the harvest season.
This work is split in two, one side is about the past, the rice fields and the rural community that lived and worked in the old farmhouses and deposits of rice. These places have been abandoned and eroded by the passing of time, they are now at the margins of a new landscape, one of intensive farming where rice silos look like menhirs, alien architectures, the signs of the violent transit of men through nature.
I photographed these two worlds, looking at each other. Perhaps angrily. Then I intervened on the images, tracing lines by hand, my attempt at ‘touching’ the landscape, at understanding what building these visual scaffoldings can mean. In the old farmsteads the lines create basic shapes, which recall the idea of home, of the fireplace. Instead across the monocultures the lines are, in a sense, trying to block the view of the onlooker, to annul the structures of modernity and bring back the echo of what was there before.

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