Time, memory, the landscape of the mind, manifestation and metamorphosis, resurgence and collapse and the crisp crust of Sicilian pastry: all elements of the paintings, drawings, sculptures and installations of Manfredi Beninati.
Based in Palermo, Manfredi started working as a contemporary artist in 2000 after a three year stint as a film director’s assistant. He has fostered a love for cinematography since his youth, when he often missed school after staying up all night to watch films.
In 2005 he represented Italy at the 51st Venice Biennale, at which he was awarded the audience prize. His ‘Diecembre 2039′ exhibition at the Max Wigram gallery presented a series of large-scale drawings of his close family: his mother, his girlfriend, his son and his brother, who has since passed away. Accompanying sculptures picked out and developed motifs from the drawings.
There is in Beninati’s work a manifest tension between serenity and anxiety. The works have an emotional power which harks back to the landscape of memory that links our childhood, adolescence and present.
QThe White Review — You have described the process of working on thirty to forty drawings at a time as ‘an organisation of the imagination’?
AManfredi Beninati — To me art is about sharing your personal experiences with the rest of the world. Therefore the difference between a good (significant) artist and a bad (insignificant) one derives from the quantity of yourself you let into your work. Personal experiences translate into memories resulting from a period of time during which you have learnt something that allows you to discern them in a more sophisticated way than before. The same applies to a work of art. You need time to develop something not necessarily pleasing to others but strongly personal. Something that even just in a single detail shows a hidden spot of our reality through the imposition of your point of view, through trying not to let the other’s expectations influence your work. I think you need to spend time with your work and develop a narrative, and that’s why I’m constantly working on so many drawings, paintings, sculptures. I keep each one with me for months or even years.
QThe White Review — There is a restless emotional dichotomy in your work – a tension between serenity and anxiety. Is it something to do with your interest in being as objective as possible?
AManfredi Beninati — Exactly… in life we experience good things and bad things. They are all necessary events in the making of ourselves, so we should treat both, goodness and badness (or serenity and anxiety) with the same amount of care and respect. Maybe one day we will wake up to find out that the roles have inverted, that good is bad and vice versa. That’s always possible.
QThe White Review — Your work is often described as having a fragmented narrative; does this have anything to do with your passion for cinematography?
AManfredi Beninati — I’d rather say that my passion for narration makes me passionate about cinema and art, as well as any other medium that allows you to tell a story. In my art it is true that there are always lots of fragments that, if you want, you can piece together following your own sense of narrative and make up your own story, your own film, if you prefer. This is more evident in my installations, which are always conceived as if they were film stills in three dimensions, depicting a moment when all the human characters have left the scene, and you can decide what’s happened a second before and what will happen a second after you have left.
QThe White Review — Do you have any comments on the Venice Biennale; its place in contemporary culture, your contribution to the 2005 event and the upcoming biennale?
AManfredi Beninati — When I became an artist in 2000 I didn’t know much about the contemporary art world, beyond MOMA, the Tate and the Venice Biennale. Those were my only three reference points. To the 2009 Biennale I sent a fresco portraying F. T. Marinetti playing noise on the intonarumori (an instrument designed by the author of The Art of Noise, Russolo) that I made in Los Angeles (my son Leone was born there a couple of weeks before). I could tell you a lot about my first Venice Biennale, the 2005 one, where I made my first installation ‘To take notes for a dream that begins in the afternoon and continues through the night (and is not cancelled out on awakening) or Waking up on a beach in the scorching sun.’]. It was a cinematographic set made by professional set carpenters at Cinecittà in Rome. It was a great experience.
QThe White Review — Do you think contemporary artists have any moral duty to civil society?
AManfredi Beninati — This is a recurring question in my interviews, so I can answer it by memory: yes they play a very important role in society. Their role is opposed to philosophies. Art reveals mysteries concerning us as individuals and society, whilst philosophy explains why they are there. The moment that an artist turns philosopher (which happens often) then things don’t work anymore. André Bazin influential French film theorist] once said that cinema is anything between Hitchcock and Antonioni. I would quote him saying that society is anything between Art (any form of art) and Philosophy (symbolizing knowledge, rationality).
QThe White Review — Are the concepts of truth and beauty interesting to you?
AManfredi Beninati — Actually, not at all. Unless by beauty you mean balance, in which case I would reply, maybe. And… Unless you mean realism by truth, in which case I would say… certainly yes. The two issues come together for me. My own balance is the fulcrum of my work and is obtained partly by juxtaposing realism and blurred, undefined, incongruous elements.
QThe White Review — I have read you compiled a catalogue of artists who you have learnt from and who have influenced your work. Who is in it?
AManfredi Beninati — Have I? I don’t remember doing it but I can satisfy your curiosity anyway. Here are the first ten to come to mind: Marco Ferreri, Ermanno Olmi, Franco Piavoli, Andrej Tarkovskij, Medardo Rosso, Piero della Francesca, Giorgio de Chirico, Giacomo Serpotta, Gaetano Zumbo, Homer.
QThe White Review — Folkloristic, poetic amalgamations of images are formed in your drawings and paintings; do you have any comments on these themes?
AManfredi Beninati — They represent my personal imagery, I guess. They just appear in my works without being invited. You know how it is when you are working in your studio completely absorbed in your world. Things sometimes just happen by themselves. Sometimes you even have to fight against disorder, and that takes a lot of energy to control, to try clear the work of the junk that keeps accumulating. That’s what happens in my studio, at least.
QThe White Review — The series of drawings and sculptures I saw exhibited at the Max Wigram Gallery in the exhibition Dicembre 2039 each focused around a specific protagonist; your mother, your girlfriend, your late brother. Can you tell us about this show?
AManfredi Beninati — The drawings in that show were made over a period of seven years, the sculptures over a couple of months. I made the first of those drawings back in 2003-2004 and was intending it to be part of my private family album along with another ten or so drawings, each one depicting the private, inner world of my closest family. This body of work was not conceived to be shown in public but to remain part of my private collection of my own works. It all started when I moved to a very big studio in Rome where the vastness of the space enticed me to make what I had been doing up to then drawings] in a much larger scale. In 2004 one of them ended up being shown at an exhibition at the Royal Academy in London where it remained after a gallerist sold it to an English collector without asking me first, so that my project was left severed from the piece that started it, titled ‘Flavio and Palermo’ and dedicated to my brother who passed away in 2006. I eventually decided to do the Dicembre 2039 exhibition just too re-unite Flavio with the other members of his family. My wife (who never met him) is there with our son Leone.
QThe White Review — In an interview conducted for UOVO magazine in 2007, when asked about emotional themes in your work, you said ‘I hate good people.’ Could you elaborate?
AManfredi Beninati — That interview was formulated in Italian and then translated into English, so it could be either a case of misinterpretation or incorrect translation or just me lying, which is something I do a lot, especially in interviews where I make up stories that, of course, get taken seriously by the interviewer. I believe that an artist should only tell his truth through his work, although I love talking to people in words. It is also true that I tend not to trust “nice” people, anyway.
QThe White Review — From your work I’ve learned things about your life and those of other people. Would you say that art is, and is about, people?
AManfredi Beninati — Art is about us humans, of course. We invented it, didn’t we?
QThe White Review — Your works present the internal connection that links us to our childhood, adolescence and the transient present: do you think these memories constitute an individual?
AManfredi Beninati — Indeed they do. I think our whole adult lives revolve around our childhoods. We are all looking for the flavours and smells of the time when we were innocent.