Interview: Chiachio & Giannone by Raquel Glusman for “Inspirational”
How do you describe your work?
C&G: We perceive ourselves as a solo artist, “Chiachio & Giannone” is an artist who has two heads and four hands. A cooperation of great minds thinking alike, able to work with many techniques including embroidery, not the only one – but the one we are better known for.
If anything, what we do is art. Rather than painting we use fabric and threads, with thesame approach creating other pieces (ceramics, for example). There is no difference between the way we paint or stitch. We use colours, drawings and search for images related to our inner world and fantasies. Storytelling instincts kicking in, we begin to infuse our narrative with touches of destiny.
We also use textile as a medium, because it is the oldest man-made thing. The misconception about painting preceding is false. It came much later, and only when men became sedentary.
We decided to work with fibers because it was really the first thing that man did in order to protect himself from the weather. Crossing two branches or two leaves, made a plot or a warp. That was the first action taken by men (men, as gender or humanity). From there, nomadism was no longer essential. The issue of hunting and fishing was solved by then.
We are male embroiderers, and despite the fact that at first (when we started showing) the public’s reaction was one of amazement, our professionalism and sophistication in the use of the technique finally stood up. The myth of “two men working together” turned out to be just art in of itself, beyond the technique chosen or the fact that it was realized by two.
We prefer not to be pigeonholed as gays, or textile artists, because it will also limit us in the creative process. We do not want to be self-determined by anything. We are interested in the world, as artists dedicated to textile, but going deeper than that.
There is much more than that.
Where do you like to work?
C&G: We like to work in our house/atelier/studio, in Buenos Aires. At first we used only a small work area, but slowly it all grew in size, quality and complexity. The technical aspects have been taking over. Our atelier was growing to the point that currently our home is a big atelier.
Can you tell us about what it is like to be Argentinian artists, producing in Argentina under rather complicated social and economic conditions, but also exhibiting worldwide?
C&G: In a world torn apart, it depends on who you are and the place you live. Anever-growing list of crises crossing all borders and cultures, as we clearly address, has been disseminated so effectively, and the escalation of violence of human rights appear to transcend so many national and cultural boundaries.
While artists may address political issues as a theme in their work (in our case, gender and equality issues are always present), they are limited in terms of producing something outside of the consensual barriers placed on meager resources of Third World production. Government subsidies of local production should increase the amount, as the market conditions are very limited.
We belong to a privileged category of South-American’s artists beginning to emerge onto the international scene. That has helped our possibility of producing. On the other hand, art and cultural practices are now part of the same network of strategies and questions as social movements.
The production of contemporary art has been rather shut out by a network of protocols dictating forms and means of production of art circulating in exhibitions, galleries, biennials, and fairs. It is rather hard to break into.
Being “contemporary” in art is clearly about being part of the social process through which we communicate meaning in order to understand the world, build identities, and define our values.
More mainstream institutions are focusing on Latin America, Africa and Asia, and re-examining the dialogue between contemporary trends and artistic legacies in art and design today. Once you start looking, Latin American art is everywhere today, not just in museums but in the real world: the marketplace.
Major global art dealerships have been working very hard in that field so as to have at least one artist from Latin America, as serious international collectors are reaffirming its significance. Hopefully more to come.
Maybe some of that has to do with the economic crisis of 2008, when collectors woke up to the value of art beyond Europe and North America. However, Art was not invented in Europe and North America.
Please tell us about the art scene in your country of origin.
C&G: Although there is a long tradition of textile weaving in Argentina, the establishment of textile as an art in the contemporary scene is something that only very recently happened. Nevertheless, we acknowledge there is a greater link between craft and contemporary work in the US and Europe.
Buenos Aires is a very cosmopolitan city, where people and cultures from all over the world have been gathering ever since the World Wars in Europe.
Can you tell us more about your work?
C&G: We are a couple, both working and living together as such, for over 15 years now. Happiness is what we encounter as our thoughts, talks and actions are in harmony. Both trained in painting and decided to transfer our knowledge into other disciplines including textiles (the ones we are better known for). Daniel is a graduate in Business Administration, went to Art School, and learned the embroidery skill as a child. Leo, trained in art school (through grad level, nowadays a professor and learned embroidery by himself through books and magazines).
We believe our art manifests from a number of interesting aspects, including direct translations of traditional craft skills into contemporary production to issues such as upcycling and repurposing,
The decision to use embroidery as artistic language to express ourselves opened up our inquisitive minds leading us to textile art, elevating craft techniques into sophisticated pieces.
In those days, we probably set ourselves apart from other artists because of the way they use hand embroidery, silk screening and dying to create overlays of colour and design.
We decided to seize techniques once reserved for the female gender and some images from the children’s universe in order to rescue a craft that served us very well, but also to demonstrate our potential to access this world with absolute freedom.
This was the reality after Second World War when men went to the front, and women had access to the working world. Female artists who were relegated to the art world or not even known (included at Bauhaus). Women could not be “suitable” for the three-dimensional but only for the textile. It is an act of justice, militant in some way. We take pride in collecting their works, and bringing it over into the contemporary world, almost as an act of solidarity to their invisibility.
Our chosen media also had to do with the fact that embroidery is a technique done at home. It allows us to talk while working. Either just the two of us or with our friends. It is a social activity, unlike painting. Calling into question, challenging the borders between private and public. Embroidery and textile gather a divergent and harmonious audience.
We make a statement presenting ourselves as a couple in life and in art, emphasizing a fertile possible course of two from gestation through to final piece. Ours is a process of creative thinking. We can reflect about how the limits of individuality are erased in a joint creation. This is probably something that sets us apart from the rest.
In addition, we go even further by breaking the misconception of how an artist should produce, ignoring schemes and coming out with a production that has nothing to do with being alone distressed or depressed.
As a couple, we stand out clearly in the same place we’ve always been. We have proved people wrong, when everyone suggested that we might kill each other. We have not, nor ever will kill each other, neither as an artistic couple nor in our private lives. We have not done it through 15 years of living and creating together.
We are always breaking the prejudice about loneliness, self-centrism at the artist studio. We not only work well together, but also as a living probe that great minds don’t think alike, they think for themselves and are able to give birth to a third one.
On the other hand, it is important for us to set up a position as social beings, with clear political views, reinterpreting a near past or a very immediate one. We perceive ourselves as protagonists of change to a traditional society being openly gay. We refused to be framed as such, something that is rather common as a way to simplify a limited perception of the world. People sometimes get more comfortable with categorization. We use our creative ability to tackle important social issues through our art work promoting and raising level of awareness and education.
Can you tell us more about the techniques you work with?
C&G: We like to think we’re painting with threads, having a desire to dissolve the boundaries between “major arts” and “minor arts”, as it happened in the Arts and Crafts movement, mixing genres, eras, stories, popular culture, myths, fashion, and political commitment. Referring to the techniques we work with, for example, we’d want to make it clear that our decision has nothing to do with using textile as a direct reference to being gay, when made by men. We aim to dissolve the boundaries between “major arts” and “minor arts”.
At first we only worked on smooth, plain surfaces embroidering on them. Later we were carried away and started to incorporate fabrics with industrial designs stitching them to a point of weariness and erasing all previous registration. As that was not enough, we began to print out our own fabrics, not eager to limit ourselves in size. That allowed us to overcome the problem.
We usually take some time to do the work. An initial idea goes through several stages, and has always the same thinking and creative process, and work itself on the piece once this stage is closed: sketching and drawing, taking pictures, recreating scenarios with photoshop, silk-screening.
Our palette of yarns comes from giveaway, bought or tinted at home in order to achieve volume, etc. Everything that can be found at home, everything surrounding us is what we’ve been turning into artistic objects: pillows, sheets, tablecloths, shirts, towels, etc.
A whole range of stitches and threads (perle, mercerized, rayon, jewel effect, wool, cotton, etc.) turn out to be tools providing the effects we aim to achieve: light, volume, texture, etc.) We also chose to start cutting the textile, turning it into mosaics, inspiration gathered from a trip where we saw the Pompeian’s.
We gather concepts from the Arts & Crafts Movement, mixing genres, eras, stories, and popular culture. Almost a political gesture.
In ceramic work, we have worked for many months in a factory from Monday to Saturday as all workers do. The series of *ekekos with raised arms and a gesture of generosity evoking President Juan Peron and Hollywood movie actors from the ‘50s.
(The ekeko is an Andean mundane divinity mixing 50s dandy actor and coya, believed to help out with prosperity. Offerings are made for the wish to be fulfilled)
There are many recurring themes in your work. What are they why do you use them?
C&G: Our work is linked with social imagery and is indeed self-referential.Generally, we pose in front, looking at the camera like in the old family portraits of the last century.
We repeatedly talk about the family, and the way society perceives the “institution”. In our case, a family of two men with their dog. Humour is an always present element. We like to imagine different scenes and we work really hard to represent our dreams as closely as possible. In our own way, we gather from “magic realism”, close enough to surrealism, reinterpreted through our eyes.
How does the partnership work when you are creating your art? Does one of you specialize in one area?
C&G: We do all our work together and we are present at all stages of the process, from the sketching to the embroidery itself. Together. No area of specialization. We create together.
Do you work by yourselves?
C&G: We work with part-time assistants when we do private work with whom we share a vision. Only private work goes to galleries and collectors.
We believe in social causes, as political beings, emphasizing cooperation and interaction, experiencing empathy to others, and their behaviours in order to reproduce them fairly and make a statement. Collective work done with our friends has never been sold but used for good causes.
By enabling the power of a group, no single person’s work can transcend as much as what collectively can be achieved. We thoroughly enjoy sharing the creative process with friends, colleagues and fine art students.
Our last collective participation has been in the exhibition “Democracy in progress”, at the Kirchner Cultural Center, where our workshop was installed so as to allow public participation in the making of multicolored flags later assembled and hung during the gay pride week.
Some of our pieces take several months, or years depending on the size, on a regular working schedule, 9 to 5, 7 days a week.
Favorite stitches, or the ones used quite often in your work ?
C&G: We push the limits, always experimenting with a variety of embroidery techniques. To name a few stitches we use: buttonhole, chain, blanket, rope, couching, Cretan, roman, stem, raised band, raised lattice band, guilloche, French knot, Chinese knot, buttonhole wheel, spider’s web, ribbed spider’s web, seed, plaid filling stitch, Romanian couching, satin stitch, satin stitch encroaching, long and short stitch, surface darning, etc.
Our threads are used in an almost hedonistic manner. Surfaces transform into fabrics looking like precious stones. But everything is done only with embroidery stitches, and different quality threads.
What does your imagery means to you?
C&G: For many years our interest has been concentrated on self-portraits in real or imaginary scenarios. We started portraying us as a family, but we were talking about the changing of a traditional family model, or about male ornamentation in different societies and cultures, etc. We also want to see how our images are changing over time while we are always the same people.
We expect our work to bring something to the world and the Argentine contemporary art scene.
This was an exclusive interview given by Chiachio & Giannone to Raquel Glusman at Art Basel Miami 2018. Inspirational would like to give thanks to Chiachio & Giannone, and to Raquel Glusman.