Interview with Rob Pruitt

The American artist tells Loredana Mascheroni about his two new projects at Franco Noero Gallery and traces back the guidelines for his art philosophy.

The iPhone is the medium that gave a new twist to your latest works, a particular media you used to develop your ideas. How did this love begin?
The thing I love about the iPhone is that it allows you to have many things all at once in the palm of your hand… without the sound of an advertisement. As an artist, I have always loved taking pictures but I could never find the discipline to really carry a camera around. So now that with the iPhone the telephone is a camera as well, you never have to remind yourself to have a camera with you – we never leave our house without the telephone. For me, picture taking is like keeping a visual mailbox. If you have an idea sometimes you don't have to write it down but you can just snap a picture. It's an easier way to remember the idea.
I like indepth projects that I have to work at for three months, but I also like to have short little bursts of creativity and snapping twenty or so photographs in ten minutes is really stimulating: it keeps everything flowing, it is like going to the gym for your physical body… it is just an exercise good for your creativity.

How much time after the snapping of photos do you begin to work at their transformation into the iPaintings that are shown here at Franco Noero's Gallery? How does the process happen?
I was actually visiting my nephew, who is nine years old and uses my sister's phone. He was asking me if I had some app, one of those by which you download games. The app that he was showing me allowed you to draw on top of the photographs. We spent the whole day playing with that app. I was really inspired by the drawings he was making on top of the photographs. When I went back home, I began making drawings on top of many of the photos I had taken (I have taken thousands of photographs in the past three years since I've had the iPhone). By this process I created a real addiction to the photos, I went back two years to the first photographs and I began drawing on top of them.

I guess it's a sort of thinking again at the photos and developing other meanings in respect to the original ones.
A lot of art-making is a way to have complete control and autonomy over an idea or a visual depiction, almost like playing God. I can go back to an old photo and change what happened. If there was a pigeon sitting in a tree, I can make it crooked over on the head of someone who was walking by, which was not really happening of course. It's a way to take control and, doing that, I always make myself laugh.

Looking at your work I always perceived you laughing about and enjoying what you were doing. I think your work has this special quality of making you laughing and thinking at important issues at the same time.
I like the things I make to be universal, to break down differences in cultures and languages. If you can just present very simply an image or form that can make someone smile, then you get to the universal… that is always the ultimate goal. It is something that you can keep in mind.

Let's talk about the performance. What was the idea behind it?
I started to keep a notebook of ideas when Franco invited me to make an installation in this house. I was thinking of many ideas, thinking about the other artists who had made installations in the past year and a half. They made beautiful installations, most of them inspired by the triangle shape of this most extreme building.
I had the advantage of seeing their shows first. At a certain point, I stopped thinking about the shape of the building and started to think about all sorts of smaller ideas like why the building was built in the first place. To build the building so strange, it seems to me to be like a tribute to one person's ego. I think there is a little bit of this feeling in my performance, because I am taking a bath on the very top floor, the seventh floor, and the dirty water goes into the very simple plumbing I made, down to the street where we then filled twenty empty champagne bottles with it, if there is anyone in the world that would possibly want this kind of disgusting water of artist… There are artist oracle counterpoints for that like Manzoni's shit or Duchamp's air de Paris and many other examples… so I don't think that this is the most original idea of the world, but that's not necessarily important because the performance talks about the synergy of things that I was thinking about when planning it: the ego of the person who first built the building and possibly the idea of making a tribute to himself: the bottle of my bath water is certainly a very egotistical object.

You wanted to play God in an ironical way.
When I conceived the performance I was also thinking a lot about DNA and how you can go to eBay and by a piece of Madonna's chewing gum… Maybe celebrities' trash has always been something that people were interested in, but these days I think people are interested in buying Madonna's chewing gum for 10 thousand dollars because it contains her DNA, so that in the future you can clone another Madonna. There's a small bit of that in the bath project.
Then, my mind went back to my first show at Franco's about ten years ago, on the other side of Torino. In that show there was a sculpture that was a body of water, it was a square pond with no fish inside, it was a pool for making wishes like the Trevi Fountain in Rome. It was made out of cardboards of water lined up to form a wall of the pool and a sheet of plastic with a fountain head in the middle.

In which way were you inspired by that project?
I just liked the continuum… This new one is not necessarily a development of the old one, but it's a sort of softening of it. If you go back to that project you see that the shape was very rigid, it was a perfect square, the walls were built out of cartons of bottled water… The new one is not necessarily about recycling, but I am filling used bottles with dirty water and I am engaging with something that is a daily pleasure.

The novelty here is that it is a performance with viewers. Which part did voyeurism play?
If I am going to be honest about that, I don't know what the impulse was, if there was a little bit of an exhibitionist factor. But even if there could be this impulse I really didn't do anything too hard. I think that I just wanted to activate this space. I love to think about buildings and the parts of them that you don't see, like the mechanics. Behind the wall there are pipes that carry the water to the upper floors: you know that these pipes are there but you don't ever think about them. In this instance, everything is revealing, so you can see the dirty water running through the staircase and then into the bottles. Which is a sort of basic philosophy that I have for art. I think that there is true talent and true inspiration, but sometimes art is just perseverance. It isn't about a magic gift that I have, and maybe I even don't have that magic gift… but I am perfectly content to work with perseverance… Plumbing seems to be magic when you can't see it, but if you could see it like at the Pompidou, where everything is revealed, then it is not magic but just banal, simple mechanics.

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