interviewed by Samar Martha, February 2007

Where do you live? What is your background?

Since last year I have been based in Turin, but as my practice is context-specific and project-based I am very rarely there. I was born in Barletta, on the south-eastern coast of Italy, and moved to Rome to study Psychology when I was 18. Then I studied photography in the south of France.

What is the idea behind 'Impermanent'? How do you describe your work in general?

My artwork revolves around the idea of border, of limit, of in-between, particularly in relation to issues of identity and multiculturalism. It concentrates on collective memories and private stories, especially those of individuals who are someway in a dialectic gap between places, sharing different cultures and values. When I approach their lives and their private worlds, I look for some little poetic moments in the simple acts of their everyday. My work mirrors life, re-enacting or building on it, and finally questions the viewer on symptomatic contrasts and hidden hypocrisies, giving voice to people who are often deprived of some legal or civil rights.

In 2006 I spent four months in Palestine and Israel, inspired by Agamben's analysis of, as he calls it, "the state of exception", a condition we experience nowadays everywhere in the world, but which paradoxically seems to be the raison d'être of this tormented area. I was not at all interested in the political implications of a permanent state of emergency, of this absurd undermining of the normal growth of human relations: the basis of every human civilization. It couldn't be my goal, as I am an artist, not a sociologist or a politician. I wanted to understand, to share and to artistically convey the life happenings of normal individuals on both sides of the 'fence'. (In this case semantics goes hand in hand with history!), and their strategies of survival, if possible trying to go deeper, not to stay on the surface of the events, looking introspectively into their feelings and choosing to interact only with those who wanted to be exceptions to the exception.

The story of Lifta was a key interest in my everyday search. I didn't know about it before arriving in Jerusalem but when I went down the Lifta valley to see the abandoned houses, I immediately felt that these houses represented a symbolic synthesis of all the life stories I had heard. Lifta corresponds today to North and West Jerusalem, while its lower part is the biggest and best preserved Palestinian village. Not for long though, as it is going to be completely erased in a few months, despite the opposition of Israeli archeologists, to make way for a huge hotel complex.

Ali Akilah is 96 years old and now lives in Amman. He was born and lived in Lifta; he became a medical doctor and worked in Haifa until 1948. On one screen he tells his life story, with a unique rhythm and a magnetic charisma and definitely without any polemic intent. The feeling of permanent impermanence which permeates his words is strengthened by the images on the other screen: the dismantling of a 'temporary' road block by a group of Palestinian, Israeli and international young pacifists in a little village near Qalqiliya.

What made you to go to Jerusalem in the first place, what attracted you to the area?

The particular occasion was an invitation for a three-month artist residency by Al Mamal Foundation for Contemporary Art.

This was the third time I had lived in Palestine/Israel for a while and the second art project I had realized in the area, after 'The Gift' in 2001. I have always felt very much connected with this land, eager to deepen the knowledge of its history and cultural tradition and concerned about the situation both of the Palestinians, often deprived today of the basic legal and civil rights, and of course of the Jews. People there have a special warmth, they strongly appreciate friendship and hospitality, and they transmit to you something you get addicted to. I always wished to become more of an insider, somebody aware of the different facets and of the roots, not simply an artist parachuted there to make his project.

I am also convinced that the international community, and particularly the West, has some clear responsibilities for the never ending conflict there and that Europeans have a duty to support Palestinians towards getting a land and a flag, as it was with the Jews in the last century.

My work is never political though, so many of these reflections explain my interest to the area, as you say. As an artist, I concentrate on little poetic happenings in the everyday life of normal people, the mythology of the everyday and the memories, which augment it.

How did you manage to meet Ali Akilah? Was it easy to find him? Also how was it for him to recall the past and talk about it openly?

As I told you before, I am very much interested in the history of Lifta, the Palestinian village, which is today part of West Jerusalem. I wanted to meet somebody who lived there before 1948 and was willing to tell me little stories of his life. Some friends from Al-Quds University introduced me to a young doctor, Fadi Siyam, who remembered having heard of Ali Akilah and his Maternity Hospital, while studying Medicine in Amman. So I decided to go to Amman and search for him.

Ali Akilah, his two sons and his daughter were incredibly kind and supportive. They even wanted me to sleep in their Maternity Hospital, quite an unforgettable experience! Ali Akilah was incredibly happy to recall his life events. Initially I was supposed to meet him only once, but at the end of the first meeting he asked me to come again the following day and he expressed the same wish at the end of the second day. He found it very important to leave a trace of his own story. I almost didn't need to ask him any questions, he was talking openly and sincerely as, I believe, everybody can feel in the video piece. It was very moving for me his thanking me at the end of the shooting. I will always feel very close to him.

Any plans for future projects in the area?

I believe I have a big debt towards all those who helped me realize the project and who opened their lives and homes to me. I want to show the final piece, as 'IMPERMANENT' is part of a much bigger artwork, at Al Mamal of course in East Jerusalem, but also in the West Bank. In fact, one of the sad situations today is that a Palestinian living in the West Bank is not allowed to go to East Jerusalem. So I will bring my work there myself!

Artists have been criticised for the use of situations like this. What do you say about this criticism in relation to your practice?

As I said, I reject the idea of being parachuted into a given situation and asked to serially reproduce a process experimented somewhere else, responding to the site in a week's time. I am unable to create my work without a clear understanding of the specificity of the context and a full awareness and responsible interaction with people's lives. My work is about private stories and the identity of the heroes of these stories, about the need for roots, about private and collective memories, uncomfortable or forgotten truths. It takes its inspiration from reality and goes somewhere else, there is always an added value there. I am neither a sociologist nor a politician, so I believe that my work itself is the best answer to the criticism you mention.

What other projects are you planning for the next year?

The new year is going to be particularly rich with new projects. I will briefly mention two, as one of them is also connected with my four-month residency in Jerusalem and the other one represents for me a particular joy, as it is curated by Charles Esche, with whom I really enjoyed working during last Istanbul Biennial.

During my residency in Jerusalem last year, I collected digital photo archives of university students both in Ariel, the biggest Jewish settlement in the West Bank, and in the Palestinian city of Jenin. Some of the students also received disposable cameras and photographed their everyday life. Out of the almost 3000 photographs that came out of this project, 200 photographs are going to become a book, 'arieljenin', to be published next April in Italy.
'Be(com)ing Dutch' is the unifying title of a one-year project on Dutch identity in an increasingly multicultural society, initiated by Vanabbe Museum in Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Through 2007 and until the final show, which will happen in April 2008, the project will develop through the contribution of a few international artists, me included, curators and thinkers.