Interview for The Futurist, Milan, Italy
This interview with Robert was published in the Italian luxury lifestyle magazine "The Futurist" in August 2016. It was conducted by editor Marianna Redaelli.
At first glance it may appear that certain elements are projected in "non-places" and "out of time". There is no human presence; the architecture has a historical connotation recognizable but the context is alienating; the light is always dazzling, almost no shadows, it can be assumed a daytime but not a season. Now I ask you, if you agree with these first observations, to give them a deeper reading.
These observations are attentive, I like the expression "out of time". You mention you almost don’t see shadows, that is because it’s mid day and the shadows cast by the sun are short. Being stripped of further references of time and place is an essential element of "The New World", so instead of portrayals, maybe try to view them as slightly faded memories of places.
Memories are often confined to the subjectively relevant information, they might include emotions and omit the circumstances, hence the barren stages. Architecture to me is a reflection of the society a building originates in, its purpose, its architects convictions, etc., thus I have to disagree with the absence of human presence you mention; of course there are no people visible, but looking at our pieces, even though they’re just buildings, you can’t deny the human drama they reflect.
How and when was the "The New World" project born and developed? From sociocultural observations? Why the choice of a unique technique that may call "fragmented"? They are not technically photographs even though they represent architecture with the same perspective and precision of a photograph.
I have been taking pictures of the American roadside since the late 1990s, and for reasons unknown to me, I was always drawn to desolate places that reflected the demise of modernism and the cynical promises of postmodernism - long before I even acquainted myself with the contemporary history of architecture. I became obsessed with the irony often displayed in the American (architectural) landscape. However, the images that emerged in my head could not possibly be achieved in the wild. Also, I wanted to create buildings that, while remaining somewhat archetypal, had an iconic appeal - without using existing brands.
In 2009 I decided I am not going to dedicate my professional life to advertisement, at least not all of it. I quit my full-time agency job and focused on creating "The New World". Digital image compositing enabled me to completely deconstruct and reassemble architectural elements that I had photographed, allowing me to create ostensively mundane, yet non-existing, original buildings. My education and training in design was crucial for contriving the logos, posters, signs etc., as each of those were created mostly from scratch.
This is of course a very brief rundown of the origins of "The New World", and I don’t really believe it’s the tools that define the work. To me, the most important tool is being able to visualize an almost finished piece in my head, to develop structured methods that allow this vision, which may seem impossible to achieve at first, to come to life, always learning along the way.
Italo Calvino, a famous Italian writer, wrote a book in the 70's called "The Invisible Cities“. The narrative structure is very complex and "combinatorial“, the reader is left with the game of finding solutions or hidden combinations. Marco Polo describes the real cities, imaginary, all fruit of his imagination, "City of Memory" and „Hidden City". "Everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire, or its reverse, a fear. Cities such as dreams are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules absurd, misleading perspectives, and everything hides another". Did you find some similarity with your concept? And your outlook, your narrative, is it dynamic or static? What are the possible developments? What is your invisible city?
As I haven’t read Calvino, I won’t comment on the narrative structure of "Invisible Cities" or its combinatorial nature; I am not sure "The New World" qualifies for a credible comparison here. The pieces of "The New World" may be combined to a vision of a city, but at the same time, they stand on their own. Of greater interest to me is the fact that the book was written in the 1970s, the dawn of postmodernism, the time when people began to lose faith in modernist ideals, which is somewhat mirrored in the book by the oppressive, dismal state the cities Marco Polo describes in the book are in.
I agree that desires and fears define man and therefore his endeavors. Further, I believe that everything we create is shaped by obsessions that are part of our psyche, even if that’s not initially visible on the surface, or concealed on purpose. It’s these obsessions that interest me as an artist, and by acknowledging them, I feel relieved from the fact that we’re pretty lost.
Architecture, or buildings, served me well as a sort of canvas, and while "The New World" certainly isn’t finished yet, the next five pieces are quasi fixed, I am currently working with other subjects. However, these are part of the same narrative. Few people ever manage to escape their demons, I suppose.