FP Your works conjure an inner space, even if there is always a strong dialogue between inside and outside.
TT There is a really intimate and yet completely open dimension. What I call intimate is for me a mental space. This, for me, is intimacy.
FP The body is also very important to you—even more so when it is kept out.
TT In my view the rational and irrational, the mind and senses, always mingle. What I like is to let them slip one into the other, and be complementary rather than opposite. Just like Boetti, who turned himself into Alighiero e Boetti. It is about being double, about taking one’s double by the hand and doing things together. I am interested in structuring opposites together, to give life to multiple possibilities. I don’t believe in categorical opposites. Rilke gave a beautiful definition for art: of artworks he said, “Seul l’amour peut les saisir,” as it translates in French. There is a completely irrational movement that allows people to attract and be attracted, as in the case of love. Saisi—I really like this word in French, which means that we are caught by something. And in this being “caught,” we are also “catching” something. It is a double movement.
FP You often use mirrors, which conjure the double. The small ones in the “Polder” that I just saw at the Centre Pompidou [in the group exhibition “Les Archipels réinventés”] are like the eye of the work looking from the inside out, from multiple angles.
TT The mirror is a passage to another space. In that particular “Polder” there are also small video monitors, where images flow. In that miniature architecture I tried to show that other spaces exist, and they are concrete. I also tried to point out the dimension of control pervading our daily life: think of security cameras and the like. For example, at the supermarket, the exit, with its magnetic security system, marks a frontier in and out of what is presented as an open, inviting space, yet is actually controlled. In that “Polder” the eyes of the cameras are directed at certain angles to make visible spaces we would not notice otherwise. Same for the little mirrors. In later, larger installations, I have always tried to use the mirror to the same effect: as another space that invites you to go beyond. Just like Jean Cocteau, whose characters go beyond the mirror into another dimension. In mirrors, ghosts and vampires can’t see themselves, my dog does not recognize herself. This interests me and plays into my work: it is not about what the mirror reflects, but about its capacity to create other worlds. I use it to create holes in the architecture, so to speak—to open up other angles. That’s what I tried to do in my installation for the Venice Biennale in 2007.
FP In many of its concerns—gravity, energy, infinity—your work shares a certain consonance with Arte Povera; you spoke about Boetti, and I’m also reminded of Giovanni Anselmo.
TT I was very sensitive to the vocabulary of Arte Povera when I was a student. It was a good answer to Minimalism—I say this even though I like Minimalism very much—in the sense that the Arte Povera artists were saying, “Okay, maybe we can reduce everything to the essentials of form and space, to this purity, but there is another aspect that is mental, maybe even ‘poor,’ in which there is an infinite field of possibilities.” The important contribution of Arte Povera is its ability to draw on the world of the imagination, of fancy—which can never be erased—with a minimum of materials.
FP When you have a show, you usually get to know the venue in person well in advance. What is your working method?
TT I do that for all my exhibitions. I go to see the space, take pictures and re-create it in a model. Then, usually, I do more things than I should! My works are all delivered but I do not end up installing all of them. I don’t work with 3-D simulation, but rather like the old-fashioned architects, with floor plans. It takes a lot of time.
FP So you’re very patient.
TT I’m very patient! My dad teases me because he does everything with the computer, AutoCAD, etc. I seem to waste a lot of time, but I also gain time because I can really concentrate. Sometimes when you work in simulated space you can be seduced very quickly by a solution. You can arrive too easily at the correct scale, giving in to things that just “work” and look effective. But, after working on a model, when you’re in the actual space, you say “Gee, but it’s tiny!” I like this perceptual shift, because then I have to respond to reality again. And I want to keep this kind of freedom. When I get there, that’s when the work is finished, in that moment. This is what the legacy of Duchamp is all about: waiting for the unexpected, to make something with it. And for me this appointment is important! I work in the space late into the night; I like being able to intervene, discover unforeseen things. And then I like the surprise of seeing that things which worked in the model no longer work well, or not at all in the same way.
FP Do you begin from one object that inspires you to compose these carefully orchestrated spaces, or are you already thinking in terms of the ensemble?
TT I begin with certain items that trigger my imagination. Some objects resist a degree of abstraction that sets them free from their narrative—and by abstraction I mean what results from my formal manipulation, which allows me to pull them into a dimension of my own making. But other objects, I find, more easily lose a bit of their content to gain a new one, so that they refer to something else. Take a pair of shoes: if I use leather shoes, they are real shoes and I can’t do much with them. But if I make a mold and cast them in bronze, they become represented. This representation establishes a relationship that I have with the world. Same thing with a mattress: if I place it as is in a room, it evokes sleep, softness, etc., but if I wrap it and then remake it in cement, it becomes sculpture. Now it may call to mind Pompeii, speaking of a fossilized story—a kind of petrified, congealed narrative.
FP Can you say something about the materials you most love to work with?
TT Well, I am unfaithful! I use copper a lot for its conductive properties. In architecture, it is used for electricity, water, gas—and, to me, it also almost suggests a nervous system. I also like to use copper because it is an important component of bronze and is thus associated with one of the oldest sculptural materials. Its vocabulary is much more open than, say, that of plastic, which is linked to a certain time, to a different type of processing. But it really depends on what I’m doing. I use leather, stone, sand, a bit of everything.
FP Am I looking at a model of the Kunsthaus Graz?
TT Yes, not an easy building. All the walls are curved. I have tried to create an installation in such a way that when you enter the museum you also exit it. Perhaps that’s because of the relationship I had with the space: as soon as I walked in, I wanted to get out! There are all these columns, so I decided to toy with them: I made sculptures that run along them, describing linear arabesques. My installations for this show tend to refer to fragments of landscapes, things that are found outside and that are recomposed within this exhibition—elements evoking both nature and the modern world. I use sand, plants, stones, etc., but also oil splattered on the ground to call to mind a car repair shop. Things that drip and slip—even on some of the existing windows—to suggest the traces of a cryptic activity. As I said, I like the idea of putting the viewer both inside and outside.
FP And how about the show at the Migros Museum?
TT Let me show you the Migros model. The show comprises a series of installations and four wall drawings. For example, upon entering, you encounter an installation of 350 pendulums of all different shapes, suspended from the ceiling [350 Points towards Infinity]. They don’t touch the ground, and they slant at different angles, depending on the placement of 350 magnets embedded, for the occasion, in the floor. The installation gives the impression of a huge rainstorm—a rain of pendulums. And it also suggests a crazy magnetic space, with forces pulling in all directions. As you walk around it, you discover that I placed the pendulums so as to create on the floor the visual outline of a slightly irregular sphere, which alludes to infinity.
FP It seems to play with the idea of where we are in the world, suggesting we are always a bit off center.
TT And that every space est gerée par une loi qui l’est propre—is governed by a law of its own. This is evident also in another of the Migros installations, called La promessa della linea [Promise of Line]. It comprises a copper wire embedded in the wall which, after running through another wall element reminiscent of a gas cylinder, is connected to a large geometric Plexiglas sculpture resting on the floor and containing a hydrometer. The installation is about transformation and interconnection—and this copper line is the key to the entire show. It crosses spaces and dimensions, and in so doing it transforms itself. Introduced right at the beginning of the show, the motif of the copper line resurfaces, taking yet another form, at the end of what I like to view as a journey of puzzling discoveries carefully crafted for the public. I devoted the last room to large wall drawings [“Envelopments”] that incorporate copper filaments running out from the wall onto the floor. These wires connect the drawings with each other and with the space they inhabit.
FP In this new body of work the dialogue between the second, third and fourth dimensions is taken a step further.
TT Yes, it’s true. With the wall drawings, the exhibition space—and more generally the actual space we move in and about—becomes the space of the drawing. The viewer enters right into it, becomes one of the elements of the drawing.
FP And as in your earlier and smaller drawings, you here use graphite and collage. How does collage figure in this new context? It seems to further complicate subtle dimensional shifts.
TT Absolutely. Also, I tend to work in drawing by subtracting and adding, like I do with sculpture. Some things in my installations are used almost as I find them, which is a form of collage, after all.