This and other questions were answered by Mimmo Rubino, aka Rub Kandy who calls himself an art-designer. Which by his own admission then is nothing more than a made-up term. From scratch. Not too bad, one more excuse to keep looking for poetic solutions to practical needs.
Hi Mimmo, let’s start right away with a difficult question because it is existential, not to say ontological.
Your very dense biographical introduction for the Philosophy Festival in June 2019 stated:
“Mimmo Rubino, known as Rub Kandy, lives in Rome.
He calls himself an art-designer, trying to hold together, in an invented term, conflicting creative practices that can be reconciled only in the terrain of maybes, prototypes, exemplarity. Problem-solving vs Problem-searching. Accurate processes for negligible goals. Poetic solutions to practical necessities. Aesthetics of failure, Crisis-Surfing, self-sabotage, cult of neurosis, egocentrism in the public, the interference of social in the private. Uninhabitable rooms, half-full glasses, vices, procrastination. dreaming to find order.”
And here’s a hypothetical set of questions that might have come to curious people reading this biography of yours: What is an art designer? What is the relationship between Rub Kandy and Mimmo Rubino?
Many years ago a high school teacher of mine told us students probably something quite obvious that I had not yet thought about, however: a problem is not necessarily something negative. I would add, as known to many, the meaning that the word crisis takes on in Japanese in the semantic sense of opportunity. In this sense, it seems to me that I can detect a conceptual closeness between some of the utterances in your biography. Specifically Problem-solving vs Problem-searching, Aesthetics of Failure, Crisis-Surfing. Am I wrong?
Two decades ago Davide Grassi and Igor Stromajer registered the domain problemarket.com (now no longer active 😭). A kind of parabolic quotation of the value of problems. The idea was more or less: everything has value, so many important things come from solving problems, WE QUOTE THE PROBLEMS!
In a passage in the film doc Helvetica, two designers (I think NORM) tell in exact words the value that the question, the problem, the “constraint” has for them and, in general, in graphic design. The constraint is fundamental. The blank sheet is tough and not too useful. Universal language says nothing if there are no universal things to talk about. You need terrain. Grip.
The more or less serious testimonies about how problems and solutions are linked cannot be counted. So yes, a much discussed topic, probably one of the cornerstones of our development. Analyze and solve the problem… of course you have to understand and look at the problem, identify it, choose the point of view… if you approach the problem of global warming with air conditioners, I don’t know if you have the problem and the solution clearly in mind.
Let’s put it this way: the solution to a problem is maybe always a bit of an ideological question, I mean, it depends on your ideal and even more often on your goal. What do you get out of a problem? The seller of refrigerators profits from the problem of heat. The inventor (and let’s take everyone in between, designers, mechanics, artists) can gain a solution from the decomposition of the problem, which can sometimes even be aesthetically interesting, for example if you find the right word for just that thing there.
Coming back to the more artistic question, well, the artist, or at least I, when I talk about problems and crises, I always add the value of error, the little pains of the young painter that never die in me. Master Gianni Motti, my friend and mentor, often joked with me and said, “When your back is against the wall, you have to do a somersault”. He is a lover of soccer and the figures of the old soccer, the libero, the fantasist, the COUNTER-ATTACKER… Here, paradoxically, the artist also has an ethical role, that of recognizing the flaws in the scheme and launching the counterattack. Besides, and this is more my method, you can feel sorry for yourself, but with style :-). Crisis surfing indeed. Hence, one of my main problems you know as a friend: that of moving only at the end, just before the deadline, and waiting for the energy, the wave. One of the advantages of the artistic method is that you can use these “energy” frictions. Linear planning sometimes kills the creative project, which doesn’t need to be delivered by monkeys on LSD (although…), but definitely needs non-linear prototyping. That’s pretty much the opposite of corporate planning (even though modern companies rely heavily on artistic methods and often hire monkeys on LSD to do the brainstorming). In short, while the producer’s refrigerator must work, the artist’s refrigerator may not work at all, because it is not used to refrigerate food, but is literature of the aesthetic journey, of the eternal struggle of people to tell difficult things (yeah yeah yeah) with words, objects, forms, sculptures. In this sense, the method of an artist, even if close to a designer, remains perhaps a more authoritarian method, less necessary to save materials, production and time (is that a luxury?) and therefore more open to talk about the travails of those who made them. I always think of a phrase of Lodola: “In my shop window there is a sign “Here we sell potatoes”, but I do not sell potatoes, I sell the sign”. Art designer seemed to me, when I wrote it, a way of saying this strange thing: this need of an artist to draw heavily on the magnificent potential of the creative method of applied art, this equally important need to leave in the process the famous openings, the opacities, the hooks and, why not, the personal literature. After all, we are only what we are. It’s better to look in the mirror once in a while. In short, it means that I would like to be a designer, but then I get lost in thoughts of my ex-girlfriends.
In early 2019 at the Macro in Rome, I attended a live lecture by Nicolas Bourriaud on relational aesthetics. In that lecture, the French critic quoted British artist Liam Gillick who often repeated, “My work is like the light in the fridge. It only works when there are people to open the fridge door. Without people, it’s not art – it’s something else – stuff in a room.” Does your refrigerator light work well? Are we really what we eat? Is your fridge usually full or empty, and what do you keep in it? For your works in public space, depending on the type and age of the people you involve in the artistic process, how does your relational approach change? If you want, you can give some examples.
My refrigerator is always empty or you find moldy stuff in it. The light comes on wrong, like randomly, always when it’s closed. If a famous collector opened it, he wouldn’t notice anything. Shit!
I’m also physically bothered by the fridge, ‘this vertical coffin.
Of course we are what we eat, for millennia and millennia we have been reincarnated in the same flesh: we eat other species and reproduce with our own. Inside you have the memory of the first form of life. we are like a sourdough starter, a mush of copy copy copy copy cells…a foam.
I basically have two approaches in public space:
the more autistic one, more focused on writing, meaning I go straight ahead and bring the work home and try to block out the context, one example is REVOLVER, the concrete mixer. Another is the Simon Bolivar staircase. All things are aligned with the outcome.
The more workshop/workshop/prosperity, works that do not emerge from a fixed project, but rather from a method, from certain rules that I give myself, in a more or less clear way. Works that then evolve with more or less luck, depending on the actor. An example of this is L’Albergo delle Piante with Angelo Sabatiello, where we were agitators as artists rather than designers. Another example is the workshops. You know I like to do workshops that I set up as if we were a communication agency: You come up with the idea and build it together, nobody knows what’s going to come out of it. Or another example is the collaboration with Biancoshock in an abandoned factory in the northeast of Milan. Neither me nor him had a project there, but we played around and ALL OF THE LIGHTS came out.
The editor of “Non Essere Cattivo” says in the making of the film that Caligari “doesn’t waste a film”, that the film was already cut in the director’s head. Everything was written.
In a text by Kiarostami, on the other hand, the director says that making a film for him is like choosing the players of a team, putting them on the field and enjoying the game.
I think those are two valid attitudes. Sometimes you have a prior vision and draw it, sometimes you’re a diviner looking for water. For example, in Cyprus I searched for water for a week and then found a cistern and called an Orthodox pope to have him say a blessing mass.
If you agree, I would take a closer look at some of the works you mentioned. Simón Bolívar steps, made in Panama in 2013, is part of a series of works related to the anamorphic concept that you developed with some regularity, especially between 2010 and 2013. Why did you choose anamorphosis as the leitmotif for this particular moment of research? Is it possible to identify a relationship of dependence between perception and illusion? Although this anamorphic phase is now over, don’t you feel that the geometrization of space reappears with a certain continuity and coherence in your artistic practice?
Anamorphosis appeared for the first time in an artwork. I was supposed to do the graphics for a techno record by a little TRIBE I frequented, RIOTEK. At that time it was all vector stuff, silkscreen drawings and synthetic strokes. Then I decided to do the opposite, to go back to raster images, all photographic. So I went to an old factory and drew the whole cover from life, literally, the titles, the info. The main part was a stylized skull, which I later trademarked to the tribe. The skull was a reference to the very famous work “The Ambassadors” by Holbein, which featured a skull that was only visible from one angle. The skull, the classic vanitas, survives far too long in underground iconography, and at the time it was all about the skull. In the morning, at parties, at first light you could see skulls walking around. The work was called “The Eternal,” the title of a Joy Division song, a reference to the factory where I had done the work and whose entire former roof was made of asbestos.
From then on, I did a series of about ten anamorphoses. I liked it because it was a beautiful way to work, there was painting, architecture and photography. Of course there was a bit of wow effect and illusion, as you correctly note, although I tried not to overdo the special effects, but rather to emphasize the sacred and magical aspect of the image. The first book I stole from the school library, “Art and Illusion” by Gombrich, is outdated in more ways than one, but certainly a kind of initiation book for me as an 18-year-old, like the kid Bastian in the attic with “The Neverending Story.”
There is a technical/perceptual/illusory part of art that always makes us dream, and where art gets bogged down in concepts and analysis, in methodologies to the point of boredom, where it flirts with a flicker, sometimes with the worst commercialism, art magically returns to deceive us with a Pixar cartoon, with some work at the Biennale that says nothing and yet makes us enjoy it as striking beings.
I’d like to ask you more about the first approach you use in public space, “the more autistic, more derived from writing, meaning I go straight ahead and bring the work home and try to block out the context.”
On April 14, 2022, you posted a picture on Facebook and Instagram of a Parisian graffiti:
“Graffiti is a testimony.
Art, not art, that is an irrelevant attribute. Its aesthetic revolution was to produce signed works without the work, or to make the signature the work. Nothing that could be analyzed according to the categories available at the time. Just as the introduction of the DJ with the base changed all music, hip-hop or not.
Graffiti is not a “you like it/you don’t like it.” Graffiti doesn’t care about you. Graffiti is a testimony. Graffiti is I WAS HERE.”
What is your relationship with graffiti, with writing (although the more purist of the distinction may not see them juxtaposed one after the other)? Have you done them, been part of crews? If so, how have they affected your artistic and non-artistic research path?
How freaking boomer is it to write the serious stuff on Facebook? You could have saved me that embarrassment.
The first time I saw an aerosol can was in my brother’s hand, he was twelve and I was eight, we bought it with other kids at Giannattasio, the hardware store in via Messina (Potenza ed.). He asked us several times what to do with it and he said “paint bicycles”. The result was a TEDDY BOYS on a small wall and ULTRA’ POTENZA and MATERANO CONIGLIO with a CAZZOCONIGLIO drawing.
Around ’95 there was a good scene in Potenza, we’re talking about the province of course, a small thing, but the way Italy is, the province has often done better than the city, albeit with some delay.
Of course I did graffiti, the whole package, from writing on the pupa under the school to libertarian posse stuff and a bit of bombing on buses and so on. Although I mostly liked drawing, while nowadays I prefer ignorant writing and a return to naive writing NOEMI TI AMO, back then I was one of those in the 2BK crew (Briganti del Basento ed.) who loved puppets.
I’ll try to summarize what I think about graffiti (at the time they used to call it Aerosol Art and woe betide dripping color). I think that while in the art schools veteran-Guttusian artists were breaking their dicks to defend some failed pique of their own .. like a fresh wind, albeit a little late, came this new thing. We have suffered for years from the cancel culture against writing, “eh but it’s just writing” “eh but it’s just script vandalism” “eh but it’s just gang stuff” “eh but it’s just exhibitionism” … and instead all the disciplines of marketing, visibility, graphic design, branding, were passing by while in art schools they were busting their balls with chiaroscuro. It is to this day inexplicable how writing still does not find its respected space in Art History, always dismissed as a phenomenon and never addressed as a formal revolution. Indicative how precisely street art is treated as a revolution and not a restoration, but that is another story.
How have the graffiti influenced my development?The VERBO, for sure, the love for words. And then that ULTRAS, let’s say GOLIARDICO attitude that makes you smile under your mustache when you see the writing MICIOO (right) OOOO (left) on the parked SMART. I mean… you know it’s poop. Come on guys, you don’t do that….How awesome is that? ❤️
In short, going back to the beginning of your question: The approach is that you just do certain things at some point. I remember a derby between Potenza and Matera where a man walked up to a Celerino in a relatively calm moment, lifted his helmet and threw a punch that knocked him to the ground. Obviously, he was arrested immediately. But now I’ll tell the story. It happened. I don’t know if this need to tell is born of real poetry or frustration. I don’t. But I am an art lover, not a security guard, and unfortunately I see poetry even in silly gestures. I am happy as a wagon with S U P E R C A L I F R A G I L I S T I C H E S P I R A L I D O S O.. WHAT DOES IT MEAN? protests someone… NOTHING, I reply. I JUST KNOW THAT IT IS SO and THAT I ENJOY IT.
It’s hard to find meaning in a jerk who throws a punch at a policeman for no reason, if you don’t understand that sometimes the poetry is in the vice, in the perversion.
The climax of this stuff I had with the opera WORK WILL MAKE YOU FREEEEEE what a mess on that occasion 🙂
TEDDY BOYS NEVER DIE!
RIP BROTHER MY BIG LOVE!
That’s right, the work WILL MAKE YOU FREE that you installed between April 25 and 26, 2011 in Pigneto, created quite a stir especially in the media… Would you like to go over the highlights as well as the meaning with which you had conceived it?
I wanted it that way 🙂 What shocks me the most is that 11 years have passed. At that time I was mostly interested in WORD and the abusive side of uranium art. I often collaborated with Lorenzo Lo Sasso, a designer with whom we had a project called BLACKLAB, an abusive iron sculpture that had already produced Trilly (2001), then an Untitled (2002) and then RATZINGER (2009). The first works were more romantic and figurative, then I had taken a more straightforward path…. in short, I was the cat that went to the lard, we were drunk 🙂
We mounted on a small bridge in Rome the inscription WORK WILL MAKE YOU FREE, In iron, arched, a bit Disney. More or less literal translation of the Auschwitz sign. Throw in the fact that it happened to be April 25. The comrades of the Pigneto neighborhood committee couldn’t believe that, on that very day, fate gave them the opportunity to show themselves as anti-fascists in such an obvious way and so, despite the fact that most, including Digos, had understood it was not the work of a nostalgic person, they began to contact journalists to tell them that “we are the ones in the neighborhood and we tell you that the Nazis have mounted a Nazi sign,” to show how hard and pure they were they even made a negotiation with the fire brigade so that they would personally be the ones to take down the sign. Thus was the frenzy. The headline “Nazi writing” appeared in some newspapers, Alemanno, mayor at the time, declared “I hope they are caught as soon as possible,” and within a few hours the guards, informed who knows by whom, called me directly on my cellphone. What happened at that point was that the newspaper headline took over, rightly so, the work and there was a holy wave of anti-fascist outrage. I mean, if you read that Nazis mounted a sign in town you get pissed off. I was at home reading the news, it was like a Simpsons episode of those where all the people with torches and pitchforks are chasing homer who made some mess.
I was prepared for pippings about nice and bad taste but not for being referred to as a Nazi. My roommate wrote me that two nice men had come by asking questions and seeing my room on Zeno Street. So on the advice of the lawyer I decided to do an interview to clarify. The rest is a work under seizure and a trial for “spreading Nazi and racist ideas…” from which I came out innocent because the fact does not exist or does not constitute a crime…I don’t remember well. I don’t feel like telling or having claims about what the meaning of the opera was or was not for me or for others. I think the work is all of that together and I keep clippings and reliefs and court papers. Of course, words can be light as a feather and it can be fierce.
When you use letters, sometimes you are taken literally. Although I do appreciate the text message a leprechaun sent me at the time – words attributed to Baudelaire, but who knows:
WORDS CAN AND SHOULD DO FOR THEMSELVES.
THEY HAVE THEIR POWER PERSONNEL, THEIR STRENGTH, THEIR INDIVIDUALITY, THEIR EXISTENCE OWN.
THEY HAVE ENOUGH STRENGTH TO RESIST THE AGGRESSION OF IDEAS.
I am most amused by the trial in which an agent was called as a prosecution witness:
JUDGE: “What did you think when you saw that Nazi writing?”
AGENT: “But we knew it wasn’t Nazi writing, everybody knew it, you could see it.”
There are a thousand other funny things… like then to pay for my trial, together with dear Jessica Stewart we built a really mythical street art exhibition at the time. With a bang of good artists helping me and it went all sold-out. Were you there?
Ah but you are referring to the mythical 50/50 selected artworks from 2014? Ah no, unfortunately I missed it! What was the line-up? Where did you do it?
Yes, that one.
There were Alex Senna (Brazil) , Alice Pasquini , Borondo (Spain) , BR1, Cancelletto, Cuoghi Corsello, Diamond, Elfo, Eltono (Spain), Evan Roth (USA) , Gio Pistone, Giulio Vesprini, Hogre, Hopnn, Hyuro (Spain) , Icks, JB Rock, Kristofoletti (USA) , LNY (USA), Mateus Bailon (Brazil), MP5, Mr. Klevra, Murphy, Nemo, Omino71, OX, Seacreative, UNO. Then, specially invited by me, there were Toni Bruno, Patrizia Pecorella, Stefano Benini (Switzerland) and Fabio Milito, not really street artists but recommended and recommendable creatives who had been close to me at that time.
Jessica Stewart and I, Rome, at VISIVA, a big, beautiful place that acted as a cultural center.
It was one of the first exhibitions that, against all expectations, was almost sold out in one evening. In short, we gentrified street art 😛. They were all relatively affordable, the kind-hearted artists gave good pieces at good prices, 50% went to the artist, the other 50% to my lawyer. When a piece was sold I would have Jessica, (who with her proverbial professionalism and lesser known but big heart, was instrumental, I don’t tire of loving her for it) put a red lipstick kiss on the side of the work. When the public began to see that the works were going away there was a hoarding rush, something I had only heard about. When I think about what those same artists are worth now I think the public was more prepared than we were and we would have been better off buying it all ourselves, other than Bitcoin. With 800 you would buy a one-meter piece by Hyuro (RIP), with 2000 a window by Borondo or a painting by Alice Pasquini, with 1000 a fabulous print by Cuoghi Corsello, with 800 euros a single large piece by Elfo or JB, with 400 the legendary gate photo by Biancoshock, and so on. In short, art is valuable, especially if chosen well, and we were lucky. There were wonderful works by NEMO, a beautiful board by MP5 and so on. I apologize but I can’t name them all or I won’t finish. Hogre, for example, is at the Wunderkammern these days with the right and well deserved prizes, and back then you could get a nice big diptych with 1,000 euros. BR1 had sent a beautiful canvas that you could take for 1200 euros. Pistone, Kristofoletti, King like OX…. shall we talk about the master Evan Roth? What a time. With 10000 euros you could buy a collection and instead the people who say that art with 10000 is worth nothing, bought a Panda that is now already scrapped. Long live Art and Capitalism!
A great party. I remember how happy I was when Cuoghi and Corsello showed up, coming all the way from Bologna. Hearts.
Which then all turn against curators, but there is no artist who has not been one at least once. Like in 2018, when you curated #EXHIBITIONIST when public attitude becomes form, with Biancoshock and Elfo, in a kebab store in Pigneto, Rome. In an excerpt from the press release about the selection, you wrote:
“We have put together ten of the most influential artists of the last two decades, trying to draw an orientational map of a trend that is as strong as it is difficult to define. These are artists who, although related to street art, pursue a non-pictorial research, made of installation practices, happenings, and interventions that question public space even before decorating it. Artists who preserve from graffiti culture, more than spray cans and iconography, the irreverent, abusive, intrinsically anarchic attitude, then grafting it with structured personal research and practices proper to contemporary art.”
What do you think is the difference between street art and contemporary art that should guide an artist in choosing one or the other? Is street art an attitude derived from graffiti, a youthful verve of experimentation that then matures and structures itself into artistic practices that go through certain moments of development, recognition and legitimization of contemporary art (such as awards, residencies, representation by galleries, access to the art market, purchases by foundations or museums)?
Is it really the artists who aim to become such, or are there in some cases broader processes at the institutional level that do not depend solely on their intention? I recently came across a new term, that of artification, described by Roberta Shapiro in 2004. The abstract of this essay reads:
“The observation of the general increase in artistic activity and the dynamism of social science production devoted to it encourages us to propose artification as a new field of inquiry for the sociology of art, from the perspective of social and cultural change. Artification refers to the transformation of non-art into art. It is the result of a whole social work, consisting of the transfiguration of people, objects and activities. It is not only about symbolic changes, such as the ennobling of actions or people. Artification also involves concrete changes: changing the content of activities, transforming the physical qualities of people, importing new actors and objects, reorganizing organizational arrangements, etc. All these processes, in which designation and institutionalization are unlinked, lead not only to a shift in the boundary between art and nonart, but also to the construction of new social worlds. In this article we review examples of artification, drawn from different fields: hip-hop, phonography, printmaking, perruque ouvrière, and primitive art.”
And if the questions were not already dense enough, what do you think about the role of the curator? Who are your curators of choice?
Let’s end on a lighter note. In 2016 you were invited by Le Grand Jeu as part of “Artmossphere” Street Art Biennial held in Moscow from August 30 to September 9. On that occasion you developed a work that spoke of cultural openness between the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1980s, totally counter to the Cold War climate that pitted the two blocs against each other politically, ideologically and militarily. Would you tell us more in detail about it?
In Moscow, I stared at the Olympic Village district. It had been built to house the athletes of the 1980 Olympics. The first and last in the SSSR that did not involve the USA.
It is a rather remote place west-southwest of Moscow. A place that partially preserves the memory of the Games, great roads, great infrastructures more or less preserved, and above all, a huge hive where families now live.
What fascinated me was the context, especially the spread and appropriation of hip-hop culture and graffiti in Russia.
As the Cold War and the division of the blocs came to an end, hip-hop culture, with its burden of U.S. colonialism, but also with its sincere internationalism and its strong libertarian, anti-elitist, and above all artistic component, spread throughout Russia, ready to creolize and, much like the rest of the world, embrace its local qualities.
It’s hard for me to explain it better because it was an emotional line. What interested me was what was left, how the HIP HOP SPORT USA iconography had then refined and developed.
So I went out and looked at the place, but mostly I relied on Google photos. I made a scale model of the neighborhood and reproduced the lettering and drawings I found on the buildings. Not the murals, but just the stuff like “I Love You” and “W the Pussy”…. Actually, I copied a lot of it in Cyrillic without knowing what it meant. The focus is on prepubescent children. None of them knew anything about the USSR, the history of the neighborhood, Gorbachev, Reagan, and all that crap, while they all knew something about rap, Adidas, and skateboarding, and I found that poetic.
It was also a complex work in terms of materials, there were photographs, sculptures, drawings, nothing was really a work of art, it had more the flavor of research, of a scientific reconstruction.
As a representative image I made a brand by superimposing the beautiful logo of the Moscow 80 Olympics with the Krylon spray can logo. That is what remains for me.
With Christian Omodeo of Le Grand Jeu, we thought about a text to narrate the work, but it was difficult for me to find a suitable blah. Then the following came up: the memoirs of a hypothetical peer who lived there. Was I projecting? Maybe. Is that wrong?
“What about the places where we learned our first tricks?
“What about the places where we learned our first tricks? ..the place where we grew up was made to accomodate athletes of the 1980 Summer Olympics of Moscow. Huge Village. We arrived later, everything was there before: the concrete, the cold war. The first Games in East Europe, the last of SSSR. We did not take part in that international meetings, we just remember some graphics about, like stars, adidas style stripes and things like that. Didn’t care too much about Regan but sure we loved some things coming from USA like Skateboards and spray cans we started to use to scratch our form” .