Maurizio Cattelan, La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour) wax, clothing, polyester resin with metallic powder, volcanic rock, carpet, glass dimensions variable (photo courtesy of http://www.christies.com) Executed in 1999. This work is the first of two versions. The second version slightly differs in the figure’s face and clothes.
Posted below is an excerpt from EVERYBODY MUST GET STONED, where Alicia Bona interviews Maurizio Cattelan.
Alicia Bona: Let’s start off with a very direct and simple question, could you tell us a little aboutLa Nona Ora?
Maurizio Cattelan: I like to think of La Nona Ora as a sculpture that doesn’t exist: a three-dimensional image that dissolves into pure communication – an object disappearing in the flux of information, news, comments, headlines, reproductions, newspapers and other seductive spectacles. On the other hand, La Nona Ora could simply be a bad joke taken too seriously, an exercise in absurdity.
AB: With many of your works I feel there are always interesting and humorous stories about their creation, their inception. Where did the idea for La Nona Ora come from?
MC: Ideas never really come. They go: it’s all about distribution. I gather fragments, bits and pieces, crumbs of reality. Art works need to function very quickly, no matter how complex and varied they are: La Nona Ora is first of all a quick image – a mechanism for incorporating difference in a visual synthesis. When people are different, they tend to interact only through art or war. I prefer to use art as a field study for confrontation. That’s where La Nona Ora came from, or maybe that’s where La Nona Ora ended up.
AB: The Pope is an icon, a universally recognized individual. As a popular figure in society, what does the Pope mean to you?
MC: I’m a member of society myself: so it’s not so much what the Pope means to me, but what it means to everyone. I don’t subscribe to the image of the artist as an isolated figure, hiding in his ivory tower. I’m trying to connect images and tensions, to bring together different impulses: I want religion and blasphemy to collide, as they do in our daily life. Just think of any day of your week: you wake up, you might pray and think about some metaphysical truth. And then two minutes later you are stuck in the traffic, cursing and swearing and getting mad and anxious. Our life is based on contradiction. In this sense, the Pope is just a pretext, a way to hold up a mirror to our daily mediocrity and confusion. We are living a happy schizophrenic existence, so we might as well start enjoying our symptoms.
AB: Is your view of the Pope colored by your Roman Catholic upbringing?
MC: I grew up in a Catholic family, but right in the middle of the Jewish district in Padua: in my house there were images of saints and Virgin Marys everywhere, but when I went to visit my friends, they all lived in apartments where images were prohibited. In those houses with no crucifix and no religious paintings, you could still feel the presence of something sacred, a strange respect or maybe just a pure disposition to sacrifice. I think my obsession for images comes out of those experiences: I learnt to fear icons and, at the same time, I learnt not to trust them.
AB: I don’t feel that anybody could have foreseen the lengths people went to demonstrate their reactions to La Nona Ora while it was exhibited in Warsaw. I was amazed to hear that two deputies from a small nationalist party actually pushed the meteorite off the pope and tried to move him into a standing position. Before leaving the exhibition, they left a letter addressed to the Polish Prime minister and the cultural minister explaining their act. What are your thoughts about the reaction La Nona Ora received in Poland?
MC: I might be idealistic or naive, but I think that any reaction is valuable and legitimate. Reactions transform art works, they change their shape and reception. Objects are nothing but projections of desire, images of a struggle. And I love when struggles happen right there, in the daylight, so that everybody can see. What happened in Poland was a sort of upside down miracle: salvation wasn’t coming from the sky but from the earth, from the people.
AB: People might have imagined the critical reaction La Nona Ora inspired, but not vandalism nor the fact that some people were advocating the expulsion of the director of the gallery where the Pope was exhibited. How did you feel about your work directly affecting the life and livelihood of another person?
MC: I think it’s simply inevitable. My work radically affects and changes my own life, so it’s somehow fair that it would change someone else’s existence as well.
AB: What did you think when the religious background of the director, Anda Rottenberg, became an issue?
MC: I would say it was dramatic: it’s just another example of our unstoppable hatred. We just look for pretexts to start up our next fight.
AB: As I understand you don’t consider yourself to be an artist. How would you feel about calling yourself an idea facilitator, a person who uses symbols, as a means of bringing inherent associations to the surface?
MC: Actually I always tried to avoid definitions and fixed roles. Everybody plays a different part everyday: we change our role every minute, even every second, as we try to please someone or impress someone else. I’m just a product of this situation, like anybody else: I’m an exploded, weak ego. In the end, I just believe there is a certain strength in being invisible.
AB: Do you feel La Nona Ora presents itself in an ambiguous manner, with no set interpretation, or do you have a specific message in mind?
MC: Messages are for advertising, not for art: I always thought that art is not about explanations. It’s about opening up possibilities. Advertising, just like religion, tries to tell the truth. Art, instead, should try to tell lies.
AB: What do you think about the fact that La Nona Ora is only two years old, and yet is already seen as an icon?
MC: What scares me the most is the way in which scandals and consensus seem to walk hand in hand these days. You can’t step outside of the system, you can’t be radical: everything is sanctioned, appreciated and digested. We are perennially at ease, numbed. In the end, every man kills the things he loves.