in conversation with maurizio cattelan on his 'breath ghosts blind' show

Jul 23, 2021

set within milan’s pirelli hangarbicocca, breath ghosts blind marks maurizio cattelan’s return to milan after more than a decade. one of the world’s most renowned contemporary art figures, cattelan is known for revealing the fractures in our everyday existing, depicting reality, even in its most dramatic aspects. composed of three installations, breath, ghosts, and blind — the same three words that also form the title — the show presents visitors with powerful representations that encourage reflections on the most disorienting aspects of our present times, as well as on existential concerns such as the meaning of life or the inevitability of death.

ahead of the show’s opening (read more about it here), designboom spoke with maurizio cattelan about the solemnity of the exhibition, the meanings of animals in human history and what he hopes visitors will take away after visiting.

DESIGNBOOM (DB): is there a common theme that underpins the works in ‘breath ghosts blind’?

MAURIZIO CATTELAN (MC): I am not sure whether works of art have a theme in general, it sounds like they have messages, and messages sounds a bit like advertising, so it’s quite risky speaking of themes. if they share something, I guess that the lowest common denominator it’s me, myself and I, in the end. but I also hope all that ego does not limit the interpretations, and that there will be room for more relevant themes and matters.

DB: how does the exhibition unfold across pirelli hangarbicocca’s spaces?

MC: you may know that I received a very catholic education. to me, pirelli hangarbicocca’s spaces looks like a giant church, and I think that this interpretation is not so far from truth, as industrial architecture at the very beginning were informed by churches’ shape. my feeling is that it’s a sacred space, and I tried to treat it like that.

DB: ‘breath’, the first work visitors encounter, presents a man in a fetal position and a dog, both lying on the ground facing each other. what is the association between the human figure and that of the animal?

MC: animals are mirrors for the human being, in them, we understand ourselves. how many and what meanings and powers have animals invested in the history of humanity? many more than you could attribute to a single human being. I’ve always wondered what it meant to say that the dog is man’s best friend, I tried to understand it with breath.

DB: ‘ghosts’ is a new version of a historic work, originally presented at the 47th and 54th venice biennale with the titles ‘tourists’ (1997) and ‘others’ (2011). does the significance of the pigeons’ presence change each time, and what do they signify here?

MC: it is an interesting experiment. does the same installation changes from space to space? does it change if the number of elements changes? does it change if the visitors are different? I think the answer is always yes, and no at the same time. in either case, it always leaves you that awkward and disturbing feeling of being under surveillance, observed and not very being able to observe.

DB: the last work on view is ‘blind’, a memorial that uses the september 11 attack on the world trade center in new york as a starting point. why did you choose this particular moment as source material, and what themes does the work address?

MC: the 9/11 attack was one of the most iconic gesture of this era, and many artists comprehensibly worked around it of this reason. blind is not only about that, art is not about getting a commentary, or memorial of the historical fact. some may see a crucifixion in its shape, some may see a 2001 space odyssey monolith stabbed by a plane. I’m sure that my therapist would have seen even more meanings, but I’ve not being visiting in a while!

DB: what do you hope visitors take away from the exhibition? what discussions do you hope it provokes?

MC: my hope is that visitors would not feel the same as they were when entering. art is all about the power of transformation.

exhibition info:

name: breath ghosts blind

artist: maurizio cattelan

institution: pirelli hangarbicocca

curator: roberta tenconi and vicente todolí

light design: pasquale mari

duration: 15 july 2021 – 20 february 2022

location: via chiese 2, milan, italy

admission: free upon reservation

catalogue: marsilio editori