Provocation is in the eye of the beholder

Kenzo and MOMA radicals Maurizio Cattelan & Pierpaolo Ferrari talk ambiguity, stuffed animals and their biggest project yet

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Cattelan & Ferrari
Cattelan & Ferrari

Provocateurs, raconteurs, even perhaps, saboteurs, long-time collaborators Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari construct surreal, often macabre images, of oversaturated degeneracy. Juxtaposing breasts with knives, thick spaghetti & blackened eyes, cactus phalluses & blood-smeared thighs – their unmistakable work can be found within Toiletpaper Magazine, the duoʼs cult photomontage biannual. Recent campaign work for Kenzo, Toiletpaper & tableware for New Yorkʼs MOMA aside, Cattelan and Ferrariʼs latest photography project, 1968: Radical Italian Furniture, is a kaleidoscopic journey through the Dakis Joannou Collection of Italian Radical Design furniture, developed in collaboration with the DESTE Foundation.

Mashing candy bars & coffee tables, waxed nymphs & ottomans, fetishists & fat credenzas, Cattelan and Ferrariʼs eclectic interpretation of Radical Design – that aesthetic school wholly opposed to the central reasoning behind just what exactly constitutes 'good design', makes for a deeply sensory excursion.

We spoke with the duo about séances, permanence, normalcy and the joys of ambiguity.

Dazed Digital: Lust, gluttony, greed & sloth all characterise a great deal of your work. Is that simply a fixation with excess, or a deeper meditation on the theologies of sin, consequence & morality?

Maurizio Cattelan & Pierpaolo Ferrari: Toiletpaper focuses on concepts that have always existed; think of Arcimboldo in the 16th century, photo-collages at the very beginning of photography. Or, the “exquisite corpse” working method; theyʼre all based on alienating ideasʼ associations. When a Toiletpaper image works well, it could appear trivial at first sight, but it might also reveal a second level, a symbolic interpretation. In some way, Toiletpaper images create new worlds, or open parallel ones. On the other hand, violence, sex, the grotesque & ironic, they have all been part of art for a long time – they are both antique yet contemporary issues.

DD: Surrealism, multiplicity, scatology, pornography & occasionally the macabre, also characterise much of your imagery. Can you describe your interest in the perverse/forbidden?

Maurizio Cattelan & Pierpaolo Ferrari: Itʼs more about what interests the viewers and this is what we like about the Toiletpaper images. If they are good enough, anyone can find different stories. We donʼt look for meaning; ambiguity makes them better, because every picture could live many lives. There are some people who see tenderness where others only see stuffed animals; you never can tell.

“We would like to evoke familiarity and disgust at the same time. We desire to bring seemingly normal situations to their very extreme.” – Cattelan and Ferrari

DD: What do you consider the role or purpose of provocation within art?

Maurizio Cattelan & Pierpaolo Ferrari: Itʼs like when you're telling a joke, but no one laughs: most of the time, provocation lies in the eye of the beholder. We would like to evoke familiarity and disgust at the same time. We desire to bring seemingly normal situations to their very extreme.

DD: You recently began creating campaign work for fashion house Kenzo. What do you think about the intersection of art and fashion?

Maurizio Cattelan & Pierpaolo Ferrari: Weʼre fascinated by the overlapping between these two areas, so when Carol & Humberto (Kenzoʼs Creative Directors) asked us to ideate their campaign we felt very lucky: it's not that common to find people that like Toiletpaper so much that they want to use it so widely. We thought that a fashion campaign for Kenzo would be a great opportunity to circulate our images in a new way, and test their strength once more.

DD: Oversaturated colour and highly visceral imagery characterise all of your work. Are these attempts to move beyond the limited dimensionality of print, given Cattelanʼs sculptural tradition and Ferrariʼs photographic one?

Maurizio Cattelan & Pierpaolo Ferrari: Our work has always been about the power of images: if they work, they can last for centuries. Itʼs the possibility of permanence that interests us; whether it's a few seconds or eternity it doesnʼt matter. What matters is to "impress" someone elseʼs mind. Somehow itʼs like possessing it, even if only for a moment.

DD: Elements of Dadaism, Surrealism, idolatry & post-modernism all recur within your imagery. What should audiences draw from your elaborate scenes and stream-of-consciousness constructions?

Maurizio Cattelan & Pierpaolo Ferrari: What we do is extremely simple; we treat the familiar as unfamiliar. This allows us to draw out the absurdity in our world; what has been hidden in normality is exposed, it brings surprise and when surprise mixes with the absurd it usually results in humour.

DD: Tell us about your forthcoming new monograph 1968: Radical Italian Furniture?

Maurizio Cattelan & Pierpaolo Ferrari: Shooting it was like being in a vast playground filled with expensive & delicate toys. Something magical was going on there, a world of inanimate objects started to flow & hybridise, encouraged by the Toiletpaper spirit. Those 1968 objects ensured the future by doing it: the book will give them a chance to live in the future theyʼve built.

Maurizio Cattelan & Pierpaolo Ferrariʼs latest work, 1968: Radical Italian Furniture, is available April 2014, through DAP in the U.S. & Walther Koening in Europe.

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