its about life
Let's make it clear: the gavel is about to strike and I haven't had the time for a proper introduction. Although I am an adventure seeking quixotic creator, I resolve my life to logic and intellectual values. Mysterious are the works of life, but hitting the right questions gets me closer to the right answers, and silence has confided in me as many a claim as the most intricate analysis. Many mistakes have made me learn that the road to common truth is of a personal matter. When in doubt I fall into visceral instincts to dig out life. Faith and intuition help me stream through limits. Reality can be as hard as a concrete wall or elusive as a dream. I don't dig bogus smirks. And I still haven't mastered disappointment. I need the stakes to be abundantly high and close to the heart because that's the nature of the game we're playing. For let's face it, we could be doing a hell of a lot better with what we are given in this world.
I did a lot of pathfinding in my life. As a youngster growing up in Buenos Aires I was all about long theatre nights, digging the measure of life’s depths and heights. I’ve been working on and back stage since a toddler; filming on tape and editing with videocassettes at home. I also painted assiduously: school notebooks, corridors and stairways, a canvas, whatever it was I could get colour on. The walls of my bedroom were plastered with human anatomy sketches, body dynamics and figure studies, the Mexican muralists, Italian masters. So when I decided to shoot off to study Economics and Philosophy at New York University it couldn’t have been a more divergent outcome from my late adolescence. I read constantly: biographies, art and science books, the classics, philosophy and myth, comic books aplenty, wonders of literature and philosophy, Ernesto Sabato, Jorge Luis Borges, Edgar Allan Poe, Garcia Marquez, Alejo Carpentier, Franz Kafka, Friedrich Nietsche, Herman Hess, and everything I could handle around skirt racing and nights out. I was still very ignorant about the bigger picture of life. Although I'd done a lot of traveling in Argentina as a rock climber, down to the southern most tip of the continent, or up the Andes to Perú, to extraordinary adventure, I had no idea what the world was about.
New York was hard, fun, and surreal. I was always in a state of inflamed and intimate fascination, living reality as if I had been placed in a film of my own making. I love NY. It feels like quartz. It's always on the edge and anything can literally happen anytime. And anything does happen anytime.
I graduated NYU after spending time in Hawaii studying oceanography (possibly the most liberating time in my life) and art in Florence (pure bohemia). Getting back to Buenos Aires by the end of 2000 was a necessary nut of a thing to gnaw. The country was a mess, and it was about to get screwball by December 2001. I needed desperately to work. I tried different entry angles, and then I landed this dream job as a Product Manager in L’ Oreal. That lasted for over a year. I was in charge of make-up for Miss Ylang, the biggest selling brand in Argentina. It had been recently bought to marry into Maybelline (and subsequently swallowed by it) and this was a transition period. I quickly got pretty good at it. Call it naivety or star quality. What I enjoyed the most was the four months of training on the streets with the salesmen. I travelled the entire city from neck to bone on buses taking it all in. I had the time to read through Umberto Eco, William Faulkner, Raymond Chandler with delight. When I finally got the desk job I was handling over 400 products on five different spreadsheets, local, continental, and the less realistic numbers we sent to matrix house in Europe. We didn’t know what was about to happen the next week, yet we were forecasting data a year and a half into the future. I got an idea of the corporate world from inside, it was a big yappy double crossing cathouse. When I was handpicked with four other rising stars for an indoctrination period by a big shot from France who came into the room telling us L’ Oreal was our life, nothing else mattered, I knew I was gone.
I eventually found my way to London through Switzerland sometime in 2003. I had already written my first novel, Comedia (to be published years later by Milena Caserola in Buenos Aires), and was getting transfixed into writing a second one. I knew I was heading into a life as an artist and I still didn't know how deep this cuts into your personality and the mystery of life proceedings. Were it as a writer or as a director or as an actor the only way around it, it seemed, was to be successful young and then dart towards the soft cushion of status. But I dwell in a different interior world myself: and this, then, was only the beginning of a long and winding road.
When in Switzerland I had taken up modelling. A friend of mine was represented by one of the top agencies in Milan. So I called a photographer, got me some headshots, and presented myself to Maristella Beccucci, director of Joy Models. She took me in on the spot. That same day I got my first catwalk casting for the Milan Fashion week, simply strolled from one side of the room to the other, and I was confirmed for the job. It all seemed pretty easy stuff. So I did that for a while. The glamour apple bite, the ego maniac superficial tension in attractive beings showing some skin and sexy poses was like a child's game. And like in any profession of demand in this world, I met wonderful people as well as the odd unbearable prick. It's all part of the cocktail. The first time to walk a catwalk and face a wall of camera lenses, flashes, fashionistas and designers was a funny rush of strangeness.
So when I moved to London Maristella got me in touch with Annette Russell. Anette was a retired model from the late post - swinging 60's to a revolutionary rawness I adored. She owned a pretty hard core agency that by all means did her justice and resorted to the name of So Dam Tuff. This was an extraordinary time. I was penniless (the money I had earned working as a grill-maker in Formentera over the transition summer to London was gone in a breath) so I needed to find ways around life. Finding a life in London is certainly tenacious. So being a part Annette's tough guys was a good way of getting around. I mean, I had a bulldog stamped on the cover of my photo book. That has to make an impression. And thanks to her one of my first jobs was as a part time high paying live model for a new series of top quality mannequins for Adele Rootstein in Chelsea. They did so many mannequins out of my body, and persona, that they actually called the new series on me: Felix and co. Steve, the sculptor, became a good friend. He also taught me how to go through six pints at the end of the day and head back home walking.
As a male model you can go around life without really needing to press your soul into a full term career. You do what you want. Some get happy and stick to the sport, and then it's up a different league. And I had tasted it now and again. It wasn't on my mind at all. It was just a way of making ends meet somehow. And have fun through it. After years of doing the runs, with agencies representing me in several European cities, the casting calls became a drag, and it was a waste of time: the non - certainty of the whole thing simply faded my interest. But I was already on a different pace.
Mark, one of my mates from modelling managed a venue, and we did some acting courses together at Central School of Speech and Drama. He got me into bartending at the Southside Bar, a basement Aussie night joint. The place people get pissed and knocked. Mark learnt me the trick, counting bubble, cocktail mixing, and how to grab a beer by the neck, proper. My girlfriend at the time was working for a big catering company, Rocket Food. So that also heaved me into bartending through corporate parties and special events. It got me through to see much of what I couldn’t have in any other circumstance. Castles, marriages, parties, stuff you don’t believe, places you don’t know existed: and then people dine there. The owner was a sweet faced Englishman with top league eyebrows and a glowing smile who knew the client comes always first. I learned the service. After a year I was head barman and earning good money as a side job. I must have opened over twenty thousand bottles of champagne. And got me through a first impossible draft of El Observatorio: a three part book I never got to the print. It was way beyond my reach at the time, still is today.
As I was getting back into my acting through the Method Studio and a great coach, Giles Foreman, I got a call from the Mar del Plata Film Festival. They needed someone to organise the film prints for Ken Russel in London, as he was a guest of honour and were doing a retrospective on him. My mother, as the young daughter of an ambassador in London, had acted for Russell’s first important film: a gem: Amelia and the Angel. I was happy to be of assistance with anything to do with filmmaking. And seeing Mr. Russell at his home in South England on several occasions was a reunion of unique timing.
I got invited the following year to work for the Mar del Plata Film Festival in Buenos Aires as Jury and Special Guests coordinator. Something I pretty much relished. I was a young dangerously good looking contestant with a refined edge. The young programers of the Festival, most of them now close friends, nourished into me an obsession for beauty, film, truth, and experimental stamina. I would then be invited again to coordinate protocolar activities for Special Guests in 2006. Working the entrails of a film festival the size of Mar del Plata Film Fest was an enhancing experience, and had the chance to meet many of the film talents in the country, as well as international giants of film and its history.
These were hard times anyways. My family was always in economic hardship, to put it lightly, and my father was about to die from cancer. It was in Mar del Plata, during the festival, that Teresa Costantini, and extraordinary woman of the arts, suggested I should get in touch with Thomas Prattki at the London International School of Performing Arts (LISPA) in London. She would guarantee a full scholarship for me. I would later work with Teresa extensibly at her production house Buenos Aires Producciones. She has proven to be a friend, a mentor and a patron of the arts in many ways.
LISPA under the guidance of Thomas Prattki was a life changer. I know of no student who has gone through the training who does not feel the same way. Going through movement analysis, reaching peaks of imagination with the body, into neutral mask, and then the times of comedy, the vibrant energy of commedia dell’ arte, tragedy, the chorus, the Buffon, the grotesque, to go all the way into the clown was a rollercoaster of extraordinary events. Prattki had taken over the Lecoq school in Paris after the old master had passed away. After ten years he opened his own school in London with a might and a courage as I have ever met. A master as there are few in this world. I will always be grateful to him.
I had the luck of finding another master of his craft at the time, who gave me a job at his carpentry workshop when I needed one (which was pretty much all the time). John Weston is the very definition of a gentleman and always the coolest boss. We would spend half a day preparing a working table, getting its hight a couple of inches taller so the back wouldn’t strain, or going over the curvature of wood to see where it would flex. I was taught the protocol of tea brewing for the rest of the workers. And learned the class of walking planks of heavy wood on my shoulder without killing my spine. We would build modules, walls, spaces, special designs to fill enormous galleries, shopfronts or massive fashion events that would usually last an evening. Working with John made me unafraid of any heavy work. I could carry planks of wood and furniture up four flights for days on end. I worked in construction sites, refurbishing apartments, and even demolition. I worked with John for years, we are still close friends.
I graduated LISPA (2007) with a production I actually did in Paris with Emily Lewis. We had worked together for an adaptation of Garcia Lorca’s Blood Weddings at the Arcola Theatre, and it had been an interesting achievement. A two hander piece I will surely never forget, and we performed it in Spanish. Emily had found an old derelict brothel just outside of Paris, that seemed literally taken from Alexandre Dumas’ imagination, with hedged tables in private gardens to the constant gaze of stone statues. The main house was four stories high and filled with all sorts of possessions and furniture. The madam’s private apartments at the back side of the small estate was still exactly as the day she left. The fridge was full of rotten food. Her night gown thrown on the bed. We put together a group of artists that eventually built into a company of over thirty strong and made a hell of a performance there. Blue Berry Hills. It was live music orchestra, installations, theatre piece, film, music performances, as much as you could get and more. It was a devastating mess of creative endurance and love. Later Emily would invite me to direct the movement for Romeo and Juliet for Pembroke Players, touring in Japan. I can still breathe part of its culture today, the memories of a land ever present in me.
Leaving LISPA was like eating raw cake and trying to cook it in your entrails. Everything lacked pace, work, virtuosity. It was impossible to work with anyone beyond lispians: but I had my eye on the London theatre scene and did the rounds, commercials and small kicks, trying to get into bigger productions, finding an agent who could cut through it all. I wanted to get into film, as it had always been a love commensurate to theatre. By the time I had been working with Donald Ranvaud and his Buena Onda Films for about two years.
Don Ranvaud was a friend and one of those unique human beings who manages to get people together in the right place and make a match. It was with Don that I met Giacomo Cesari, a young fiercely sweet coca chewing Italian filmmaker working in Bolivia at the time. Giacomo would become on of my closest friends and creative check: his spiritual rigour towards art is as uplifting as it is severe. His "Burning Wake" shook me to the core. Together we were working for Don’s production of Evo Pueblo and shooting our own improvised short films on the side. We were filming in deserted towns, in the middle of the puna, in the salar, underground mines, strapping tripods on old 4x4 rovers and rushing through flatlands. Whilst we were in Bolivia we filmed and interviewed the cumbre of all Latin American presidents in Cochabamba for a film that would never make it to the cutting room entitled “Unboliviable”. Tension in the streets, police squads, tanks, military blockades, Evo Morales was beginning his presidency with burning opposition.
It was a tough setback when I didn’t get my first big part in a big Hollywood blockbuster. I had been rolling up to it through auditions and trucking my way into the mainstream acting scene. I was in, then I was dropped before I ever got to the fitting room. I then decided to give L.A. a try, contrarily to my manager’s insistence it was not the right time. But it was, for I knew I wasn’t going to be there for long. The call was somewhere else. Instead, I authored my first professional theatre piece and travelled with it through Latin America. ¡Lazaro! was an initiation journey in many ways: I wrote it on the road, in London, in La Mancha in Spain, in Buenos Aires, and in Northwest Argentina: an Andean region I had known for a long time but never with the quickening of the soul as I did when I was writing this resurrection piece of thievery and rascals. ¡Lazaro! was a loud cry to a dying humanity that I felt reflected in the world around me, everywhere. With support from several theatre institutions we irreverently put it on stage followed by a two hour music concert written for the piece. Mathias Britos played the Bard, and I played the Squire. It was a very physical performance, magical and demanding. We collaborated with street artists, musicians, writers, and were intimately celebrated throughout. We traveled the less traveled roads. It was an extraordinary time, and an expansive life experience. Part of this journey is digested into the first two editions of the Nn Magazines and several short videos.
¡Lazaro! also accentuated my long collaboration with Australian artist Jacob Logos, with whom I share a vision of life and a recurrent shoulder in prophetic brotherhood. His art inspires me to create, and I am surrounded by his paintings and sketches wherever I put my dinner table for a while and call it home. My family fortunately feels the same way as I do, and my children love it.
I then came to Switzerland to work on Masnàda Associazione. I was taken into creating a complementary piece for ¡Lazaro!, Carnal, which after 5 years proved to become a full creative universe in itself. It was 2011, I had been talking about creative universes as a means of increasing production values for years, only to meet shaking heads - pitiful looks. Switzerland would prove me right, or so I thought. I dived head into Masnàda, with the utmost resolution that an association that would heave from its heart the active collaboration in the sharing of a creative spirit was in many ways the answer for our times. I had already tasted the extreme individuality artists faced, the distance, and the impossibility to collaborate fully into expansion and construction. Yet after an initial whole hearted ignition, Masnàda Associazione’s vision was met with unappealing silence. There was a lot of giving, and very little receiving. A lot of smiling, and little collaborative action. It was decidedly not the right place for it to exist.
Switzerland is not a land of opportunity. Although in a position of privileged potentiality it lies dormant under its institutionalized way of dealing with things. There is no need to generate alternative means of cohesion. The path is traced from the first day of schooling. Art is mostly driven by work commissions set up by the government’s funding pools, and resources organised by a small group of established professionals. There isn't much economic room for novelty, one has to follow cue. And the rest of the artists are happy to hold the drippings and produce small conceptual pieces that offer nothing but hollow intent. It took me some time to understand that the audience wanted just that: to remain uninvolved.
There are many problems with institutionalizing a creative process. Ultimately it foments for wrong allocation of resources, favouritism, faux democratisation, and the advance of confort driven ignorance. To truly promote culture is to fuel funding institutions with a dynamism more available in finding an artist's drive and work towards empowering it. The "come to me" way of working tilts the balance inexorably away from creation and towards bureaucracy. And finally everybody ticks to the same rhythm. Professionally, Switzerland is a very closed system of activity, with a surplus of conceptual art, similar aesthetics, little audience, and four different national languages. Yet it has cutting edge artists that can belt a fly with a glance. They're all hiding somewhere in the woods.
I have written and translated so many dossiers, one pagers, strategy plans, provocative leaflets illustrating what my projects are about that at one point it seemed that it was replacing the actual process of creation. So I decided to start making publications rather than simply putting information on a page. Nobody reads them anyways. Perhaps you do. You’re the exception. And although it is not the way to get the gigs (having contacts is), you need to have them.
Explaining what one is going to be doing about a work of art, why, and how, becomes an art-form in itself. You then need to kill your process and, eventually, when the production money finally comes in over half a year later, find the nerve to change things and do something different. But you've done so much conceptualising already, perforated your intention with synthetic timings waiting for funding answers (whilst finishing something else in a nerve racking production chain to pay hefty essential bills), that the effort of creation becomes inverse: you then need to rediscover what the hell it was that made you do it in the first place. The world has already moved forward. You're left behind. Where was I? It should really be: where am I? And the feeling is that what you're doing has no sense of existing whatsoever. As an artist you've lost your traction, your action is useless and ultimately replaceable.
Yet the relentless power of creativity can reduce any stone to dust, and a drop of water becomes an ocean. That is, with times of depressing need of proof, and willpower to succeed into getting up and move again, things still happen. Such was the case with Carnal Creative Universe. Starting with Carnal, a theatre and dance choral piece of six dances to music sound engineering, calligraphy, chants, and about twenty artists putting energy into changing one of the few derelict spaces left in Lugano (it is now a parking lot) available for such an experience. When I finished Carnal I was exhausted, and ready to hang up the cloak for good. I had already given up my acting career in London, derailed my writing urge to a halt, had lost most of my active connection to the film industry, and was facing a trifling future in a very narrow minded place of the world big in prejudice and bigger in pretence. It felt like death under a cloak of ignorant bureaucrats. But things kept moving, for momentum produces movement when the company, albeit small, believes in what you do.
I had already worked with Manuela Bernasconi, my partner and soon to become my wife, in Speirsuotio: a dance solo piece to live music. Manuela’s love and unrestrained passion for dance nourished me. The proximity to dance proved to become the focus of my work for the years I spent in Ticino. I did not want to fall into the dishwashing Tanztheater definition of anything goes because it happens to be on stage: I still had my vision of the stage as something powerful and unique; A heightened platform. Dance and Theatre are two very different languages that can co-exist. And I did everything to prove it and keep to my belief. The cost was more isolation. But time is not lineal: it is thick and viscous. Then out from the choreographic line by Manuela, and her partner at MotoPerpetuo dance company, Francesca Sproccati, we made Miss Understanding. It was adapted for music clubs, and kept presenting it to make it become a strangely powerful experience.
Open Land is an experience of a film, and post-production work load was by far the heaviest. I worked around the void of narration and placed dance sequences where there should be a plot point. This generated a triangular relationship with dance, music and image layering that I still find incredibly attractive, weird, and personal. But it is also the distilled face of how I felt at the time: as if a crime was constantly occurring and all were looking at it in silence allowing for the bloodshed to continue. I made this film with all the resources I had available, very little production money and the generosity of a lot of people. Personally it felt like performing a harakiri.
Eventually our work together with Manuela and Francesca, piecing dance to image to literature and music, would yield our final piece in Ticino, Drive In. This was a conception of unique proportions, to be experienced as an audience inside a parking garage and in the intimacy of one's own car. Set to a radio a predefined frequency, each audience member would listen to the radio play while viewing a dance performance. Drive In was one of my most personal works so far, but also strangely foreign. As a literary piece for performance I find it has a unique subtlety in depth. It was also a closure to my time in Ticino.
Il Sogno, we filmed up in the woods of Capriasca. I was living up in the mountains with my family at the time, and would sometimes take the long road down to the main village (which took about an hour through beautiful forests). The corners and the beauty of such seascape spoke in imagery. There was something unpopulated and sometimes haunting. Il Sogno is also an ode to silent film and, as the title suggests, set to the nature of reverie.
I am an outsider. I have always been one. I don’t find myself at ease following the mainstream or kissing the rails. I guess it’s because I appreciate my privacy and ultimately am my very own best friend. I’ve travelled all my life. With little to no means many times. Either rock climbing, or taking photos with my old man’s Carl Zeiss or simply trekking. I have always felt the sense of journey coupled to freedom. With an intimacy and complicity that is defined in openness.
I am a poet at heart. And a romantic. And an intellectual. And an artisan. This is something that I’ve always been as an artist. My work with leather masks, and collaboration with master mask maker Andrea Cavarra in Milan for the Snout Masks comes from a need rather than an expression. Snout Masks are small. They cover the nose and the mouth. And are used as a psychological instrument to generate choreographic material. They also came out of Carnal. But the development and studies into masks is everywhere in my life. If I were to write a book today about my artistic research it would be titled: “everything is a mask.” Words, text, body movement, music. It’s all part of a deal with an audience and the magic of creation. The concept of masks has evolved further into Mask Systems, and an ongoing research into language and cognition. I am certain that a heightened cognitive understanding will have much to do in the way we deal with the world into the future consciousness of our humanity. The resource to battle the absolute expression to technology and A.I. It is as important as being able to read the subtleties in the small spaces left by the absolute and quantitative way we live our everyday life.
So what’s next? I still want to travel the world as a troubadour, walk the streets of life, and perform dusty and shaking sweaty pieces with mighty grit, truth and a knack for elation. And that’s always coming. But I am still in Switzerland. I recently managed to pass over the Gotthard and move closer to the heart of it, leaving behind Ticino and the last of my rookie skin. I am sure to discover things anew and get a fresh perception about this beautiful and unique country. And I want to use this containment and create with growing spirit and temper.
I can’t escape my love and need for art, as much as I would gladly grasp the clear chance we’re all waiting for: turn this world on its feet to face the truth and act accordingly. But nothing beyond the outline of a full potential creative sphere is better for me today. I do not thrive in the demonic flatness of working for a market’s share, or deploying a careers in prize misgivings. I still stick to the basics, and the basics call for an intimate excellence. I will keep taking my chances close to the heart, pushing the limits, trusting the art of creation as the most powerful means of transformation and human correspondence.