Hours of operation

Damiano Bertoli

Damiano Bertoli, Continuous Moment, 2003. Courtesy of the artist.

In advance of the launch of the 2017 Gertrude Edition we sat down with Damiano to discuss his practice. 

October, 2017

By Mark Feary

Gertrude has great pleasure in announcing that the 2017 Gertrude Edition will be contributed by leading Melbourne-based artist Damiano Bertoli. 

Damiano has had significant involvement with Gertrude for almost two decades, being a Gertrude Studio Artist from 1999 – 2001, and later serving on the Gertrude board from 2004 – 2010. Damiano presented his major work Continuous Moment in a solo exhibition at Gertrude in 2003, as well as having participated in many group exhibitions at Gertrude, notably in the twenty-year anniversary exhibition A Short Ride in a Fast Machine in 2005 and the final exhibition in our former location, The End of Time. The Beginning of Time in 2017.  

Damiano is one of the most highly regarded artists of his generation, with a practice that spans across installation, video, sculpture, drawing, painting, collage and more recently performance. He has presented over twenty solo exhibitions in museums, contemporary art centres, artist run initiatives and commercial galleries. Selected solo exhibitions include: Continuous Moment: Big Foot’s Studio, Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne, 2016; Continuous Moment: Sordid's Hotel, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, 2014; Continuous Moment: Anxiety Villa, Artspace, Sydney, 2011; and Continuous Moment: I’m Ok, You’re Ok, Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, Adelaide, 2008.

He has exhibited extensively in group and curatorial projects in Australia and internationally, including: Future Eaters, Monash University Museum of Art, 2017; Dancing Umbrellas: An exhibition of movement and light, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 2016; Video Arte Australia y Neuva Zelanda, Centro Cultural Matucana 100, Santiago, Chile; Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2013; Yebisu International Festival for Art and Alternative Visions, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Japan, 2011; Chinatown: The Sequel, LTD Los Angeles, USA, 2011; NEW07, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, 2007: and Silenzi, Palazzo dei Prigione, Venice, Italy, 2006.

In advance of the launch of the 2017 Gertrude Edition, Mark Feary, Artistic Director of Gertrude Contemporary sat down with Damiano to discuss his practice. 

Mark Feary: Your practice has  variously focussed on the Manson family, the conceptual Italian architectural practice Superstudio, cinematic representations of Jesus, the design aesthetics of the Memphis Group and an obscure play by Picasso. What are the connection points between these seemingly disparate areas of interest?
Damiano Bertoli: My work happens through a system of bringing two or more events, art works or concepts together to share a single space; that space may be an image, video, sculpture or installation. I think of these inputs as material for my work and treat them the way a painter or sculptor would. These images and events belong to different periods in history and bringing them together collapses the distance between the times they were made, hence the title I give to most of my work - Continuous Moment.  Certain elements, such as Memphis design or Superstudio, found their way into my work partly through an attraction or interest, but mostly because they somehow belong to a context or circumstance that illustrates or describes this method of working.
Over the past seven or so years you have produced a number of projects relating to a little known and seldom performed play by Picasso, Le désir attrapé par la Queue (Desire Caught by the Tail), written in 1941. What is the allure of this play and what do you consider to be Picasso’s resonance today?
Picasso wrote this play during the Second World War, Paris was under Nazi occupation and curfew was enforced. Due to lack of freedom and limited access to materials, the play was never performed. A secret after-hours reading of the play took place in Picasso’s studio featuring many famous intellectuals of the Paris scene. As a Surrealist text, it was considered unperformable, and was only staged as a fully realised theatrical event for the first time in St. Tropez in 1967 by Jean-Jacques Lebel. This performance took the shape of a psychedelic ‘happening’ with a light show and accompanying rock music. The combination of wartime Paris and the counterculture of the late '60s provided a perfect readymade project for me; very little archival material exists from either performance, which offers many opportunities for me to speculate on what Picasso and Lebel intended when presenting this unique and unusual play.

Is there a work from your oeuvre to date that you look back upon as being a turning point in your practice?

I think of Continuous Moment, shown at Gertrude in 2003, as the first work that successfully realised my methodology, materially and conceptually; I almost think of it as the first ‘mature’ work, and not coincidentally, it’s the first work to use Continuous Moment as a title. A large sculptural work which wrapped around the column in Gertrude’s large gallery space, the form described a three-dimensional reading of a Caspar David Friedrich painting (Das Eismeer, 1923) depicting a shipwreck dwarfed by an enormous mass of broken ice. The painting’s composition is chaotic and I had often thought of it as somehow ‘modern,’ despite it being painted in the Romantic period; it reminded me of late 60s sculpture, and also of accumulations of discarded materials on building sites and in hard rubbish collections. I decided to recreate the ice shards as geometric forms, and added resin-cast replicas of actual hard rubbish, so all the references were combined in one form. As the source image is a painting, making the work in three dimensions also involved speculating as to what the reverse of the ice wreck may have looked like - in this sense my work extended, or continued Friedrich’s.

Damiano Bertoli, Continuous Moment- Le desir...(St. Tropez #4), 2013. Courtesy of the artist.

As long as we have known each other you have always had a dedicated studio. How important is having a studio as an autonomous space for making work?

Having a studio is important on many levels. With a practice that uses archives and variations between endless images and sources, experimentation needs a space to happen in, and time is required for these processes to run their course. I’m able to see whether works speak to each other and belong to the same idea; when the work is removed from outside influence it somehow aggregates and multiplies itself. The studio also functions as a space to see the work in a context that visually approximates the gallery, allowing visitors to see the process and result outside the loop of exhibiting.  
What projects are coming up for you on the horizon?
Recently I’ve had the good fortune to work with Surpllus Publishing on a substantial monograph to be published in 2018, which will provide an overview of my practice since the early 2000s. Directed by Melbourne designer Brad Haylock, Surpllus is one of the very few publishing houses to actively promote the work of Australian artists and writers; as opportunities for arts publishing in Australia are so scarce in comparison to Europe and the United States, it's a great privilege to be invited. In addition to having the occasion to review my career in the form of a beautifully designed book, Surpllus’ international distribution will present my work to an overseas audience.
Is there a particular dream project that you would like to embark on if time and budget were not restrictive factors?

My projects that negotiate the work of 1980s Milanese design group Memphis have focused on the relationship between the idea of their designs as high-end status commodities and the origins of the group as part of the radical political climate of 1970s Italy. I’m interested in this contradiction and how perceptions of their work have changed over time. Although the style of Memphis is overtly ‘pop’ and fixed decisively within an '80s aesthetic, many of their designs reference ancient architectural forms, ruins, and symbols; I can see a massive architectural-scale installation of oversized Memphis furniture fragments, that have the appearance of aged Roman ruins – simultaneously Classical antiquity and '80s euro kitsch.
Damiano Bertoli is represented by 
Neon Parc, Melbourne; and Milani Gallery, Brisbane.

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