Manuele Cerutti is a Turin-based artist, whose pictorial practice is focused on the portrayal of humble, unassuming objects. He was featured in a 2016 solo show at the Italian Cultural Institute in London, Proprioception curated by ARTUNER (discussed in this interview), as well as in the Turin group show in November 2017 Through the Looking Glass, which explored the theme of Magical Realism in contemporary painting. Most recently, he was featured in his first solo show in Belgium, curated by ARTUNER in Brussels (April – May 2018), Standing, Waiting.
Eugenio Re Rebaudengo (ERR):Your works portray objects, and yet these seem to be endowed with humanistic qualities; with their own will to relate to the surrounding world. Does the object become a metaphor for the human body, or are they two separate entities?
Manuele Cerutti (MC): In my work I try to capture the ‘subjectivity’ of the objects: obviously this doesn’t mean that I consider them as small animate beings in the same way as humans. They are, clearly, two separate entities: nonetheless these two worlds have the capacity to reveal themselves to each other, granted that one forgets their relationship to practicality, which subordinates the objects to Man. By freeing the former from their quotidian function, the relationship between the two appears as one between peers, where the objects’ subjectivity feeds both on memories of their earlier subordination, and on original behaviours – that is, non-mimetic ones.
ERR: Why are you interested in the daily, humble, left-behind object?
MC: The objects’ subjectivity – I think – emerges more clearly when they free themselves from their practical function. In fact, such liberation is easier to catch when their utility is restricted to their practical function. When an object is also ‘beautiful’, or precious, and so forth, it will never be able to free itself completely: its aesthetic or material value will not allow it to be entirely ‘of its own’/to belong to itself completely.
ERR: Your attention to this kind of unassuming, humble objects reminds me of wabi-sabi philosophy. Is this particular Oriental school of thought something that interests you, or do you think your art is more rooted in Western, Italian culture?
MC: I don’t explicitly reference any philosophy in particular. However I’m convinced that, in so far as this and other philosophies have permeated our culture, my work also bears their traces (and I’m very happy about this).
ERR: Notions of balance are prominent in your practice. What draws you to the painterly and conceptual research that goes into the presentation of the precarious poses found in your works?
MC: In a way, balance is a means of optimising resistance against gravity. This force acts on everything, and every realm, from the human-animal one, to that of the artefacts. It is possible that some of the balancing behaviours that my objects seem to pursue are, involuntarily, mimetic memories of the homo erectus. However, it is undeniable that any liberation of the object entails the adoption of unusual postures, and the pursuit of balance is one of them. I appreciate that the novelty of such poses might make them appear like acrobatics looking for the audience’s applause. However, this is not my intention.
ERR: Can you tell me something more about your will to get to and reveal the origins – “the original condition of each subject” – of the objects?
MC: I’ve read extensively on, and thought a lot about, the topic of ‘origins’… but I believe that when it comes to objects, this question must be addressed in a very specific way. For the objects that I’m interested in, their origin stems from a ‘productive’ choice, which maximised utility and economy. For ‘luxury’ objects, the thought behind them was probably the same, although their inception came with many more variables (i.e. aesthetic values).
ERR: Regarding your pictorial language, what trajectory do you believe your practice follows? Do you privilege a synchronic progression (horizontal), which looks at contemporary trends, or a diachronic (vertical) one, which looks at the past while projecting itself forward?
MC: My practice is mostly diachronic. I turn my attention towards some aspects from the past, such as myths, which are complex forms that keep questioning us, even today. Perhaps only by looking at the past with an ‘archeological’ spirit, and questioning the sources directly, will we be able to discover clues about how to face the future. Also my method of operation is part of such ‘need for diachrony’, that is the action of Hesitating, which in the context of painting is, seemingly, only a slowing of action.
ERR: From the first encounter I had with your works and the literature existing on them, they strongly reminded me of the poetry of Montale (translator’s note: Eugenio Montale, a renowned Italian poet), and in particular, ‘Cuttlefish Bones’. Is Montale’s poetry of any influence or inspiration?
MC: As I said about philosophy, I also find it difficult to recognise conscious links with poetry. I certainly read Montale, and what strikes me most every time about his poetics is the ‘gaunt’ character of the truths it unveils.
ERR: In your painting it appears that the object is the medium of a process of enquiry. Knowledge, your relationship to the world and even your relationship with art (and thus with painting) all pass through the absolutisation of the object. Does this happen in order to free yourself from physical reality by extrapolating its paradigm (the object), or rather, is it precisely in the object that you find the ultra-human and ultra-mundane?
MC: Out of these options, I would consider the first choice truer: as a matter of fact, I consider the object as a methodological instrument for the analysis of global reality, with the clarification that it is not only the object that is methodologically important, but also, and perhaps more importantly, the usage processes and the subsequent demission from any intended purpose of the object, as well as the consequent possibility of its ‘liberation’. As a methodological instrument, therefore, the object is useful to my current research. However, regardless of what my focus will be in the future, it will be very hard for me to accept the traditional hierarchy between realms.
ERR: I have read that an integral part of your creative process is ‘doubt’: changing your mind, changing direction, reversing decisions, even repainting a work completely. This is evident in your new painting Extension II. Are they changes of mind, or is it more of a working method? What elements suggest to you that the painting is, finally, complete? Can you tell me more about this process?
MC: Changing one’s mind is a form of vision. It is a dis-harmoniously pre-established – Roscioni would say (translator’s note: Gian Carlo Roscioni, a renowned Italian literary critic) – form, which finds strength precisely in what might seem like an act of weakness and indecisiveness. I think it’s this ‘indecisiveness’ that creates hospitality, and the “inhabiting of painting”.
The result conserves its original characteristics apart from the immediacy of its beginning. More precisely, a change of mind which leaves behind traces of itself is a way of capturing different facets of the same objects, and different moments of its pictorial life. It is this change, at the end of the day, which allows the moment of duration to be introduced into the painted artwork.
In this sense, I am never sure whether the work is actually complete. And there is also the aspiration (which I believe is shared by every artist) that the artwork is not limited to being liked, but that it continues its journey in the spectators’ perception.
ERR: History of art and critique more often than not focus on the visual qualities of a work of art – on the visual qualities of objects in general. Conversely, your paintings invite the beholder to consider the tactile qualities of an object. This clearly creates a tension between the visual enjoyment, the only one possible, and the tactile sensations this suggests. What draws you to the exploration of this kind of materiality, to this ‘tactile gaze’?
MC: I cannot here discuss whether all painting is, actually, strictly visual. I am thinking about Renoir, who, regarding his female nudes, used to say that he kept painting until he didn’t feel like pinching their flesh… Jokes aside, clearly Renoir was not referencing verisimilitude, but rather the threshold where the visual image becomes a tactile image. When it comes to my paintings, I am not sure I would adopt the tactile gaze for all pictorial themes – however it seems indispensable to depict objects, that have since always known the hand of man. Towards them, the sense of sight has always been distracted and short-lived, I find it difficult to believe that it would be helpful for their liberation, for their becoming again objects-in-themselves.