Today we are chatting with Andrea Abbatangelo, an Italian artist based in London working within the expanded fields of sculpture, photography, and installation.
We talked about his career, how the environment is tied to his work, social media and so much more. He is one of the recipients for the UAL Postgraduate Scholarship at Central St Martins in London and he's currently working on two series of works.
Walk us through your academic experience. How do you think your education shaped your career?
My academic training was very important but a lot of my learning and development happened in parallel, outside academia.
In the late 1990s, while I was attending an Art High School, I met the gallerist Adriano Ronchini. He became a friend and mentor and provided insightful feedback on my early work of a kind that I had not found elsewhere. And John Fitzpatrick showed me the fundamentals of black and white photography and storytelling as only American artists could do in the past.
During my BA I really enjoyed experimenting, taking from my academic education what felt useful for me and leaving behind what wasn’t.
I’ve loved sociology more than anything else. We’re talking about the early 2000s and it was clear that everything was going to change. We experienced fear, sadness, anger, and excitement. The media called us “Anti-Globalists”, a very reductive phrase because we just wanted the process done differently, focusing on global justice and environmental awareness. It could have happened and things today would be very different.
I am a recipient of the UAL Postgraduate Scholarship for an MFA at Central St Martins. I’m currently producing two series of works: “New Observations of the History of Bees” is part of my multidisciplinary research based on social engagement within the natural sciences. The topic of this investigation is the impact of pesticides and the consequent decline of bee colonies - especially wild bees. In fact, neonicotinoids are a class of neuro-active insecticides linked with the loss of memory, smell, and sense of direction in bees and other pollinators. The series explores anatomical details of bees (mouth, tongue, wings, eyes, etc) immersed in an imaginary abstract neuro-environment.
"Saknussemm" is a series of works focused on stones and marbles inspired by Verner's "Journey to the Center of the Earth". This masterpiece described the early days of colonial extractivism and its relationship with pioneering expeditions of geologists and natural scientists. In this work, there are details of XVIII century marbled papers representing both fictional and real precious stones discovered from the most remote places in the World.
What is indispensable while working in your studio?
COVID-19 and my growing awareness of the climate crisis have changed what I used to consider “indispensable”. I now move between several studios and laboratories for different purposes. Instead of having my own kiln, for example, I collaborate with a cooperative ceramic studio. For similar reasons, I also work with two printmaking laboratories.
If we care about climate change and sustainability, we must change things in our own lives. Not doing so is hypocritical, egocentric, and irresponsible.
So I really want to challenge this XIX century image of the artists closed into “their” studio; it is very individualistic and old-fashioned.
We need to explore different possibilities. At the same time, I don’t like co-working spaces where people without any connection come and go without leaving any traces of their presence or creating connections. It just doesn’t work for me.
What all my studios and laboratories have in common are strong identities and history. For example, I loved printing at the Thames Side Studios in Woolwich (East London) while watching the boats on the river through the windows.
Looking forward, I would like to work in the Grow Lab at Central St Martins to focus on topics such as “imperceptible” and “impermanent”.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that I always seem to miss something when I come to start a new piece. I have a vision of what I want to create but I don’t just execute what I have planned. Even when I have sketches, the final work that emerges is often quite different and is shaped by what is happening around me and for me.
How do you define yourself within the creative industry?
Amateur VS Professional. This is the struggle of most contemporary artists. We have seen this recently with indigenous contemporary artists in Brazil, for example. They have a place in the international art system that the previous generations couldn’t even imagine. Furthermore, I’m not sure if I want to talk anymore about art in terms of “art system” or “art industry”. Instead, I’d much prefer we call it the “art realm”. This is more organic and embraces both biological and post-colonial perspectives on art and what art means at this stage of human civilization.
I’ve been working with independent or very young art projects, festivals, galleries, and curators since 2012. It was a choice, painful sometimes, that allowed me to understand what was going on in and outside the mainstream. Most of those organizations don’t exist anymore. Some have been gentrified. Others have ended because of austerity and some young galleries didn’t make it.
I have spent the last decade interacting with the society that hosts and feeds the art realm more than with the art industry itself. My focus has not only been on solo exhibitions but more on collaborating internationally with a very diverse group of curators, artists, and institutions. This freedom has also been very rewarding.
What is your relationship with social media and how do you use them?
I’m very ambivalent about social media. It seems that Gen Z is looking to TikTok for news while their parents are doing the same on Facebook – I don’t know which is worse!
I started my adventure with MySpace which was more a “media community platform” than a “social media” tout court. I then joined Facebook while it was still just an American thing. But then it became something that everyone was in and since Cambridge Analytica, it has felt very cancerous.
I joined Instagram around 2015 and I perceived that we all started to produce works that were “good looking” for this platform. This is weird and even scary.
So I stopped putting my art on social media in November 2019. Instead, I publish stories, I like the fact that they come and go like thoughts or dreams.
How do you research materials for your creative process?
The research of materials has always been the funniest part of the whole story. Growing up in my grandpa's wood laboratory, I learned how to make good use of a wide range of materials. He was not a consumerist and had boxes full of things he recycled - all kinds of wood, wax, metals, etc. He had a passion for minerals, rocks, and fossils and it was something that he passed to me.
I have an awareness of how different materials can be combined or interact with each other. I really love to cross platforms of different disciplines, so my process is often an ensemble of analog, digital and post-digital. If you look at the details of works from both series “New Observations” and “Saknussemm” you will find layers and layers of those three elements, often combined in different sequences. Over the years I have created my own archive of materials, including XIX century photos, late renaissance engravings, rocks, minerals, fossils, marbles, biological elements, and many more. Over the years and relocating internationally several times I learned an important lesson: never get too attached to them!