Giuseppe Abate
Studio visit, I wanted to talk about the practices and research of artists through a particular focus on the use and choice of materials in contemporary art. In this interview, I would like to start from this very consideration and tell me how your specific interest in chicken as a material for your art came about.

I studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, and I already felt that there were too many issues associated with this medium that prevented me from freely expressing myself in it. These issues concerned both technical aspects - what is the right brushstroke? Thicker and coarser or finer and more detailed? Does dripping fit in, or is cleaner work better? - and theoretical - what do I talk about in my paintings? How do I express this concept and what is its justification through painting? Is the comparison with tradition always necessary? -.

For a few years I continued to draw, but I became disaffected with using the brush. Then I started attending the Material Futures course at Central Saint Martins, aimed at using environmentally sustainable materials for design products. Although the term eco-sustainable, in this period of greenwashing, can be as perplexing as you might imagine, this specific focus of the course triggered thoughts in me about using waste materials.

There is also an anecdotal story that led me to the chicken. One summer's evening I was at the cinema when a KFC advert appeared on the screen with Colonel Sanders declaiming to the tune of The Godfather: 'Cause when you're on top everybody wants a piece of you'. This phrase with a bitter aftertaste (the ultimate self-affirmation of capitalism where only the strongest wins) opened my thoughts and connections between advertising, society, chicken and violence.

Can you tell me more about what the use of chicken as an artistic medium means to you?

The chicken represents first of all a convergence of theoretical discourses. As I said, I have always been interested in the theme of advertising as a creator of desires, capable of being satisfied with the consumer products promoted (in this sense, Edward Bernays' theories on advertising were enlightening, an evil use of psychology). And chicken advertisements have done an excellent job of inducing desire, especially if we consider that until the 1950s chicken was bred almost exclusively to produce eggs and was not thought of as a regular consumer good.

Another issue that can be analysed through the chicken is violence, violence between man and animal (capitalist overproduction of meat leading to intensive farming), but also violence between man and man (chicken shops are the scene of fights in many countries). Finally, the manipulation of people's perceptions: to give a practical example, it is possible to turn an unhealthy food such as fried chicken into an exotic and healthy one by calling it 'Chicken Katsu'.

However, chicken is not only a theoretical crossroads but also a practical one, a way to approach different artistic techniques. In these three years, in fact, I have experimented with mosaic (produced from eggshells), painting (egg tempera with pigments produced from blood, eggs and chicken shells), sculpture and treating skins (in this case, those of the feet) to create textiles.

Giuseppe Abate - Lord Cardigan / 1 B Baht, 2021, tempera all’uovo su tela con pigmenti Sienna Rooster Blood, Black Burned Bones, Eggshell Complexion, Livorno’s White; 29,5 x 35 cm cad - Courtesy the artist
Giuseppe Abate - Lord Cardigan / 1 B Baht, 2021, egg tempera on canvas with pigments Sienna Rooster Blood, Black Burned Bones, Eggshell Complexion, Livorno’s White; 29,5 x 35 cm cad - Courtesy the artist
What has been the most relevant and significant exhibition, project or residence experience in your career?

Definitely the exhibition at Michela Rizzo's Here comes the rooster (December 2021-February 2022), in which all the projects related to this material of the last few years have come together. You can find the series of canvases The Cockpit, depicting scenes of violence in London's Chicken Shops. The pigments used for the depiction were created by me, starting from the manipulation of chicken waste: Sienna Rooster Blood (produced by boiling blood), Livorno's White and Eggshell Complexion (produced by grinding eggshells) and Black Burned Bones (created by burning bones and whose name recalls the typical Barbecue sauces with which this food is accompanied).

Then there are mosaics made from eggshells depicting, for example, chicken shop signs such as 'Chicken Bites' and sculptures made from egg cartons depicting cartoon characters eating chicken - the chicken is all-pervasive and is present in the streets of both real and imaginary cities. From the latter series I really love Foxy Loxy who represents a fox with a belly full of chickens and who is the character in the Disney short film Chicken Little (1943), commissioned by the US government from Walt Disney as anti-Nazi propaganda.

Giuseppe Abate - Foxy Loxy, 2021, cartapesta da cartoni delle uova; 95 x 35 x 70 cm - Courtesy the artist
Giuseppe Abate - Foxy Loxy, 2021, papier-mâché from egg cartons; 95 x 35 x 70 cm - Courtesy the artist
Giuseppe Abate - Piroette, 2019, Arazzo realizzato con 60% di filo ricavato da plastica riciclata e 40% di filo naturale; 184 x 490 cm - Courtesy the artist
Giuseppe Abate - Piroette, 2019, Tapestry made of 60% recycled plastic thread and 40% natural thread; 184 x 490 cm - Courtesy the artist
So far we have talked about your recent activity related to chicken as a medium, but you have also produced many works related to embroidery (such as Abbecedario and Piroette). What meaning do they have for you, and how do you fit it into your path?

Embroidery was a way to continue my artistic practice at a time when I no longer had the desire to express myself through painting. It was a way to eliminate all those anxieties I mentioned earlier about brushwork. With half-stitch embroidery, I could focus solely on the subject. In Abbecedario, for example, I depicted for each letter of the alphabet a supermarket product that is highly recognisable to all Italian families, because urbanised society is much more familiar with these objects than with the plants and animals that usually make up the Abbecedario. I was also able to develop my interest in embroidery and textiles during several residencies promoted by curator Paolo Rosso in Guwahati, India. Here I produced the first works that I consider coherent with the activity that I carry out today.

So far we have talked about your research through matter, but I would like you to tell me about yourself through other suggestions that come not only from the world of art, but also from literature, for example. Choose an artist and a book to tell us about yourself.

An author I like very much is Massimo Montanari, who in "Tastes of the Middle Ages: Products, Cuisine and the Table" tackled two themes that are close to my heart: man's relationship with food, or rather man's relationship with the first form of technology (for food processing) and the construction of national identity through a shared taste. As far as artists are concerned, the question is more complex, I do not have masters whom I quote in my works or from whom I draw for techniques. But I do have two points of reference in the way I see and experience art, Robert Rauschenberg and Urs Fischer. Both were always dynamic and took part in different movements, without ever stopping or becoming copies of themselves. In addition, both have an intelligent, ironic (sometimes bordering on cynical) way of seeing art and their own works.

Giuseppe Abate - Giuseppe Abate nel suo studio, 2022 - courtesy the artist
Giuseppe Abate - Giuseppe Abate nel suo studio, 2022 - courtesy the artist

STUDIO VISIT presents a series of interviews with artists from Apulia or whose research is connected to themes linked to the territory. The common thread running through the various conversations is the exploration of matter: its use, its compositional specifications and observations. The aim is to create a multi-voice dialogue, a mapping of the materials used in contemporary artistic practice, stretched between the search for new possibilities of materialisation and the reactivation of old ones.

STUDIO VISIT is a column edited by Elena Bray for the Salgem magazine.


Elena Bray (Turin, 1994) graduated in Philosophy from the University of Turin with a thesis on the Aesthetics of the Ugly. She then attended the 24ORE Business School master in Rome with an internship as assistant curator at Cripta747. She currently works as an independent curator, producing exhibitions and collaborating with non-profit spaces.
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