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An Interview with an Italian Artist in a Milanese Café: Part II

Part of our mission at The Hippo Collective is to discover new, exciting and serious artists and to provide a space in which to engage in conversation about their philosophies, goals and creative methods. As young people, we ought to use our opportunities and capabilities to support and interact with each other in order to begin a dialogue. Through this dialogue, we can explore and develop new concepts, innovate and debate questions that address artistic, social and human issues. We recently published the first part of our interview with young Italian artist Elisa Carassai. We spoke about her project, The Flâneur, a zine that she published in London. The Hippo Collective is pleased to publish the second and final installment of that interview.

The Hippo Collective: Let’s talk about the contents of the magazine. Before we were talking about the title of the magazine and I was surprised to learn that it came about as a kind of last minute effort.
Elisa Carassai: It was difficult because when you start thinking about the name of the magazine you know it has to attract the attention of the reader. But at the same time it’s meant to represent your mentality and the whole concept behind the magazine. So I knew what I wanted to represent but at the same time it was difficult because there are so many magazines with super conceptual names. I couldn’t just call it ‘Ten Magazine’ since I had ten contributors because ‘Ten Magazine’ already exists. My tutor suggested ‘Why don’t you count the names of the countries that your contributors come from?’ And I said ‘No way, that’ going to be super boring!’ Then she said, “Oh, your contributors are all dreamers, why don’t you call it ‘Dreamer Magazine’?” I just thought it was so lame!

I was reading one of the biographies of the contributors and she mentions the ‘flâneur’ since she defines herself as one. Flâneur is a French word that describes a person who strolls around Paris (or whichever city) and is inspired from what he or she sees. All these people have told me stories about walking around their respective cities, and when they saw something particular they were suddenly inspired to produce something super cool.

Carassai 1

THC: You mentioned that your idea behind the project was to provide a platform for bright, young artists that were emerging onto the scene. How did you select these people? If you were to select new artists for a second edition, would you use some standard criterion with which to judge the contributors?

EC: Even though I asked them to present me work, I was giving them feedback on what I liked and didn’t like. I wasn’t accepting work just because I was desperate for it. I mainly contacted people I knew, even though I hadn’t spoken with some of them in a long time. For example, I’ve known one of the contributors, Carol Civre, since we were kids. I didn’t even know that she was that good at art. Last year, when she went to study at NYU, she first started posting her art on Instagram. When I discovered her artwork, I knew that I had to tell her that I loved her pieces and that I needed to work with her. So that involved a bit of luck. Then when I went to New York in March I spoke with her in person.

THC: That helps right?

EC: Oh, of course. Another of the contributors I discovered through one of my best friends, Giacomo [Cabrini]. I told him that I was going to buy this [iPhone] cover and he said, ‘Oh I know this girl in New York and she has the same cover. Her name is Savannah (@hottestgirlintown), check her Instagram out.’ And since I’m a bit of a stalker, I looked at her profile and saw the link to her Cargo Collective. When I saw her work, I knew I wanted to work with her. I sent her a message on Facebook saying that I loved her work and that Giacomo had told me about her and asked her whether she wanted to work together. She didn’t think it was creepy at all and said yes!

THC: So it’s about being lucky, knowing the right people and being in the right place at the right time. But it’s only that, it’s about being able to take initiative when you see it. That’s almost as important, don’t you agree?

EC: Absolutely! It’s also about doing a lot of research and being a good ‘stalker’!

Carassai 4

THC: Why the word ‘radical’?

EC: It all started in February (2015). At the time, I was working on another project with the magazine in mind. I didn’t know on which theme I wanted to focus. My best friend in London is Alessandro Merlo. In fact, he was the photographer during the first shoot in the cemetery. I often work with him and we always meet at the same café in SoHo (Maison Bertaux) to brainstorm together. At the time, he started telling me about one the new projects they had assigned him for the second semester…

THC: Where was he studying?

EC: At London College of Fashion. He had to represent the theme of ‘radical beauty’ with a photo shoot. He was finding it difficult. I mean how do you achieve this goal in a way that isn’t tacky or cliché? We did a lot of research on radical beauty and the different connotations attached to the concept of radicalism in photography and fashion. We organized the shoot with a girl studying at Central Saint Martins. He saw her in the library wearing a transparent top and knew that he wanted her for the shoot. There was a second guy, also studying at Central Saint Martins, who modeled for the project. He is Tumblr famous and has worked with different magazines. His name is “Lily Bling” and has a great style. When we actually got there to the day of the shoot, everything was a mess! I mean, the pictures were great but the process of getting the pictures together was tremendously difficult.

THC: This is the shoot that ended up in the zine?

EC: No, this was another one. Having thought and researched the concept of radicalism and radical beauty, this was all stuck in my head. Therefore, I decided that my next project would be about the word radical. Right now, there is a lot of talk about radicalism [in the media and politics]. I wanted to create something that caused people to think about this topic in a different light. Before starting the project, I interviewed friends from Queen Mary one night when we were all very drunk. I have the notes if you’d like to see them.

Some of these notes are just so stupid. I kept asking them questions and they protested: ‘why are you asking us serious stuff when we’re all drunk?’

Carassai 3

 

THC: In vino veritas I guess. You contributed the introductory letter, composed the zine, wrote the captions for all of the features and styled both photoshoots. However, you didn’t actually express what you thought about the word ‘radical.’ What are your thoughts on radicalism?

EC: I wanted to write an article on how fashion is changing in radical ways right now, however my tutor told me I was producing too many things. My thoughts about radicalism in relation to fashion are mixed. We are witnessing a period of change in the industry. What does that mean for the future? Will there be new designers that will shock everyone and make people covet pieces in alternative ways? Nowadays, it’s all about selling. Collections are becoming much more commercial and some designers are even producing more than eight collections per year. But does that mean we are focusing more on business rather than creativity?

THC: Do you think that the quality of the thought behind the collections is decreasing?

EC: No, but the nature of fashion shows has been changing. As I told you last time, fashion in the nineties was all about the shock value. Think about Alexander McQueen and John Galliano, they used to present shows that lasted for 45 minutes! I don’t think the quality of the thought is decreasing but one of the reasons behind it is that probably no one has time for that anymore! Editors and buyers have to see a lot of shows per day.

At the same time, when a designer presents a show that makes the runway experience memorable, then it’s fantastic. Firstly because the editors and buyers will most likely remember that collection when choosing the pieces to buy/feature in their publication for next season, and second, because it makes you realize that there are still some people that have a focus on presenting a creative idea in a unique way.

THC: When you told me that the theme of the first edition was the interpretation of the word ‘radical’, coming from a politics background, I automatically thought of radical political behavior. Nowadays, the concept of radicalism is mainly associated with terrorism and political violence. Interestingly, there weren’t any articles that focused on politics in the zine. How do you explain this?

EC: Anastasia [Dementieva] was meant to write an article about the political interpretation of the word. In the end however, she was unable to contribute because her internship at the time was very demanding. It was a shame because I looked forward to reading about her interpretation of the word.

THC: Let’s talk about the boobs. There are many examples of nudity and genitalia in the magazine. Do you think that people are still shocked by nudity?

EC: When my mom picked up a copy and she first read through, she cried: ‘there are nude people in here.’ She is correct in that the zine presents a typography print of genitalia. And there are representations of boobs. But that’s normal. I guess that art and the creative field help change the conception of radicalism. In the end, what is considered radical today might not be viewed as shocking in a few years. It’s all about changing the views of the most conservative people in society. When a lot of my friends saw the boob print that Savannah Galvin made, they laughed and thought that it was great. I think it’s really bad that we have to resort to showing work that is related to nudity or sexuality to shock people. Nudity is such a natural thing. Sometimes in art, it can be considered a cliché. However, I’m not saying that the ‘nude work’ of the contributors is cliché, as a matter of fact I chose to present their work in my final project because I thought it was great. It is related to the fact that it could be seen as radical but I didn’t just chose to present it for the shock value.

Carassai 5THC: When I was first reading the zine, I thought about how easy it is to fall into clichés when interpreting radicalism. The trouble is that artists make work just for shock value. While this at times can be entertaining, it is usually empty of value. Do you think that there is a way to identify ‘radical art’ that is well thought out and has a good theoretical basis? In this way, can you understand which artists don’t have much to say and use shock value in order to gain an audience and popularity?

EC: Actually, this morning I was reading about the topic of shock value. I’m reading Glittering Images by Camille Paglia at the moment. Paglia is an art critic and scholar, and in the book she writes that you can notice when artists are simply being provocative to gain popularity. She talks about the ‘Piss Christ’ by Andres Serrano. In the end, it was just a picture that depicts a crucifix submerged in the artist’s piss. She also mentions Chris Ofili’s African American Madonna, mounted with pornographic cutouts and splattered with elephant dung. Paglia comments on the fact that in both cases the art lacked context behind it. So you see, this is just for the shock value and isn’t well thought out.

THC: How do you think audiences should judge artists who create these products? How can they understand that they’re looking at the new Kenneth Anger or Larry Clark?

EC: It’s really difficult. When Larry Clark filmed ‘Kids’, it was a film that depicted that generation of young people in New York. The pre-social media, pre-phones and pre-internet generation. Young people who skated, did drugs and were careless about everything (e.g. un-protected sex in the age of HIV). Nowadays, to produce something comparable is extremely difficult because it’s been done before.

Carassai 8THC: Let’s focus on the actual works in the zine. Tell me about Alessandro Merlo’s photoshoot, ‘Sooner Than you Think’. How did he use the shoot to interpret the word ‘radical’?

EC: Well, actually the photoshoot was my interpretation of the word radical. I styled and directed it. When I organized the shoot with Alessandro, I brainstormed with him. He always gives me suggestions on how to develop my ideas, and because we have this amazing creative connection, his feedback is always taken very seriously. I’m not a professional stylist and at the time I didn’t have any contacts, so I was forced to use my wardrobe. In that case, the shoot came about because I was thinking about ‘radicalism’ and feelings. How feelings can make you do things that you shouldn’t or wouldn’t normally do. The girl in the shoot is desperate while roaming around the cemetery. My idea was that her husband died and it was unclear whether she was responsible for his death. She was in a state of desperate melancholia and emotions were overwhelming her.

By the way, Alessandro always shoots on film. He completed this particular shoot in one take. He only had one roll of film with him. He hadn’t told me this however. It was a bit worrying to say the least…

THC: Did you know that he was going to shoot in film?

EC: Yes, I knew about that. He claims that he doesn’t know how to use a digital camera anymore! He developed the photos and edited them a bit with Photoshop. Just touched up the brightness and colors. However, we didn’t edit Astrid Persson at all. She’s beautiful as is.

Carassai 9THC: You included verses from John Keats’ poem To Hope. What role did that play in the work?

EC: I wanted to accompany this photo-shoot with a written piece. However, I didn’t want to produce anything. I wanted the theme to be mainly expressed through the photographs. I chose this poem simply because I think it’s a marvelous piece of writing and because it fit with the photoshoot’s moods and themes.

THC: I wanted to talk about Sara Lizzio’s contribution, ‘(Wo)men of Steel’. I really enjoyed it and thought it was very fitting, topical and contemporary.

EC: She was one of the first people that I contacted. She’s one of my best friends and I really like her work. It might sound biased but whatever. She’s studying set design at Wimbledon College of Art and she’s really into movies. She first thought about writing a piece about contemporary radical movies. She started telling me about ‘Whiplash’, about a music professor pushing his students to questionable limits. Then she thought about the movie “American Sniper’ and whether the US’ wars in the Middle East were justified.

She decided instead to create something based on set design, since that’s her area of focus. She finally started designing these little portraits with wire and Photoshop. She thought about including male characters but I felt that female characters would stand out more (mainly because they are all characters that haven’t been sexualized by film directors.)

THC: Well she did a great job! I wanted to discuss Giacomo Cabrini’s photoshoot. Giacomo’s shoot was perhaps the most accessible piece in the zine, partially because I recognized the models, but mainly because I understood the American high school setting. How did you come up with the idea and how did you execute it?

EC: Well there’s background to the photoshoot. When we first thought about the concept, we wanted to style a shoot based on nineties chick-flicks such as ‘Mean Girls’, ‘My So-called Life’, ‘Clueless’ and ‘The Craft’. It was also inspired by Nick Knight’s photoshoot with Kate Moss, a shoot where she was filmed by this security camera. He later released a short film based on the shoot.

THC: Some of the photos heavily visually recall the ‘Kids’ aesthetic.

EC: I love ‘Kids’! I have an un-healthy obsession with the 90s and Harmony Korine and Chloe Sevigny. I wanted to buy one of the new skateboards that Supreme produced but I don’t know how to skate!

Carassai 10THC: Finally, you sent me a video to accompany Sean Joseph Wouters’ written piece ‘Layers’. Tell me a bit about that story.

EC: I met Sean once in Miami and it was mainly because another contributor, Peter Patrick Tondo, hit on me in the shop. Sean is Peter’s best friend and he’s in a band called ‘The Deaf Poets’ which is fairly well known in Florida. He’s into a sort of garage grime style. He’s an interesting guy because he writes all the lyrics to his songs, but also has an amazing voice! Since I know he’s got amazing creative potential I asked him to create something for the magazine. However, I couldn’t show the video during my presentation because I hadn’t produced it. Therefore, I asked him to write something. ‘Layers’ is about music and what he feels radicalism means to him in a musical sense. He says this is what he hears when he thinks about the word radical. He thinks about white-noise or static, the noise the TV makes. In the video he tried to reproduce this sound with his guitar. He shot the video, produced this sound that went on and on, and layered the tracks. He wrote about what he feels when he plays.

THC: Well I think we are done then! Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me about your project, The Flâneur. Again, big congratulations on the zine. It is a well-produced, thoughtful and captivating publication. I hope that we will see a second edition soon!

EC: Thank you very much!

This concludes our interview with Elisa Carassai. The first edition of her zine, The Flâneur, can be downloaded from this page. Follow Elisa on Instagram: @elisacarassai and check out her portfolio here.

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