Bruno Muzzolini: The year 2006 began for you with a voyage of initiation, Brindisi/Vlorë, by ferry, and a series of drawings you called “Exterminators”. Could you talk about that?
Fani Zguro: Yes, that’s what happened. It was August 2006, I had to spend the day in Brindisi because the boat departed in the evening. I had nothing to read. Luckily I had this datebook for 2006, I was drawing to kill time, and then I saw there were images, I read the captions, and I saw they were pictures of politicians and left-wing demonstrators; in short, the political diary of the Italian Communist Party. Without thinking about it, I began to draw the famous Iron Maiden mascot Eddie over their portraits. That was the start of the “Exterminators” series, which I then continued with three more series in 2010, 2012 and 2017.
BM: In your work I think a position emerges, narrating a strong leaning towards the practice of ´post-production.´ Materials of varied origin, from your experience, the territories where you have lived, are channeled in cultural stimuli, perhaps cultural arousals you use like blades. In the series of works you call “Early Works”, with a rough operation you juxtapose drawings from your teen years with fragments of text taken from “To Have Done With the Judgment of God” by Antonin Artaud, one of the most corrosive and untamed writings of this extraordinary author. An outburst of anti-metaphysical revolt, urgent and merciless, which narrates a corrupt, sick and submissive humanity.
FZ: My first works we might say bear a relation to contemporary art began when I was at the Brera Academy, above all in 2000-02. Almost all the works done in that period were performances or outdoor installations, in public places. Then from 2002 to 2006 I did other things, including Cité des Arts in Paris, and curatorial projects in collaboration with the National Gallery of Art in Tirana. So I produced almost no new works. Just a few things, all lost, maybe because I didn’t consider them important. Instead, in 2006 I went back to Milan, and as you know I began to attend your courses on Digital Video, and to produce new works. But time does things in its own way. The performances and installations were no longer part of it, it was all about video and many works on paper, using many archives, both personal and of others. I ended up using ´archives´ let’s say, both in the case of Exterminators and in that of “Early Works”. Only in the “Early Works” I used my childhood drawings and paintings, writing phrases over them from the radio piece by Artaud. You might ask: what does Artaud have to do with your childhood creations? Well, he is shouting, leave me alone! And children often do the same thing. In short, a way of asking for help.
BM: I think of “Self-portrait” as a reflection on the status of the image and the visible. Your face seems to try to hide itself in the shot, it is a vibration, a suspension that forms another space. How did this video work come about?
FZ: It was the end of 2006, almost Christmas. Milan was empty. Only I was there, with the video camera from your course, a gorgeous house where I lived for two months, even the owner was gone. In the living room she had a red light, it was beautiful, and one evening I tried to shoot some images with the camera. Because in that moment I was reminded of Rembrandt in his later period, where he had even lost his mirror and made self-portraits from memory, or so the legend goes. But in my video “Self-portrait” I didn’t see myself like him: a god. I was seated there, with the red light on, in the darkness, and I shot these images; myself, almost in profile. Then in January the video course resumed in Brera, and I did the editing in the classroom, though in the end there was no editing, just a single shot. I liked it right away. Even today it is one of my favorite works. I grew up with the paintings of Rembrandt, his graphic approach, that very strong light, although my video is very, very dark, there is just a bit of red light, it is more like one of those old darkrooms for printing photos than a painting by Rembrandt. Yet I have always thought he was sitting there, near me.
BM: “U Turn” happened by chance, an unexpected twist of fate, a short family video that becomes a work, a prank that activates a space of reflection on loss and the return to the places of childhood, in a disenchanted practice, without a plan, a bitter, ironic attitude. Where do the images come from? When did you decide that those shots made playfully had become a work of art?
FZ: “U Turn” is the first of the series in 2006. I remember it very well, it was before the summer, then I did the editing in your class, maybe in October or November. I was with my cousin, in the country at my grandmother’s place, and he had returned after many years. We took a walk along the river, because it was the most important childhood place, we would swim there every summer. He had this video camera, a MiniDV, typically used by tourists, but it made good images. He asked me to film him a little. Then you know what happens, when you have a camera in your hands it takes over, you can’t help it, you start doing strange shots, not like a tourist, and he became like a character in a film. That was all, end of story. But then I went to Florence to see him at his house, and he showed me the footage on VHS, on a television. And I loved it. I took the MiniDV and when I got back to Milan I did the editing in Brera. But here too, the editing was no big deal, because this too turned out to be a single take. All I did was to make it black and white. Maybe that was a mistake, because the original was totally green, beautiful. That was how “U Turn” happened, completely by chance. As I was editing I put subtitles, and the only connection that came to mind was the film “U Turn” by Oliver Stone. And that cowboy face of my cousin really looked a lot like Sean Penn. Nothing could be done about it. We were both screwed. My cousin with his ‘straight A’ answers and Sean Penn surrounded only by misery. Both were in the far-flung outskirts of town. Both screwed by fate. Both without a choice. My cousin, surrounded by my stupid questions, and Sean Penn surrounded by the curse of the American suburbs. But you know, in the end it is not so bad. Because they are both in a marvellous landscape. What more could you want? If there is a passage, it always ends up well… Maybe you can also have a couple of laughs with Napoleon, who while he shoots his cannons asks you: will you make my portrait?