“What defines an error?” – an interview with Gian Paolo Renzi Pari

By Maria Martens Serrano - Sunday, December 11, 2016
“What defines an error?” – an interview with Gian Paolo Renzi Pari

The ongoing contemporary development of art fairs has transformed these events into free-zones of artistic expression - an artistic context in which art could appear in any way, shape, or form. How many of us walk around an art fair and in seeing some strange or unusual behavior first think to ourselves: is it art? Is Art happening right now?

“What defines an error?” – an interview with Gian Paolo Renzi Pari

The ongoing contemporary development of art fairs has transformed these events into free-zones of artistic expression - an artistic context in which art could appear in any way, shape, or form. How many of us walk around an art fair and in seeing some strange or unusual behavior first think to ourselves: is it art? Is Art happening right now? 

I met Gian Paolo Renzi Pari on the grounds of Artissima, Italy’s premier contemporary art fair. I was standing outside, trying to figure out what the deal is with the guy whose face is covered in red dots (à la serious case of the chicken pox). He asked me for a cigarette and I asked him for an explanation, and so the little ritual began: “now that you’ve asked me this question, you get to be part of my performance!” he informed me.

We all want to be a witness to art, but there’s sometimes-if-not-all-of-the-times some sort of apprehension when someone says “now you get to be a part of my performance!” Like when the magician calls you up on stage, and you don’t know what’s going to happen.

In this case, my participation was painless – I simply had to put a red dot on his face. If, in the context of an art fair, red round stickers indicate interested buyers, then Gian Paolo Renzi Pari was the most coveted art piece around. In his case, the red dots signify the curiosity of the public, and the number of people that are willing to make that first step - asking. Those who don’t ask questions don’t receive answers, after all.

In order to further emphasize the interaction as a transaction, Renzi Pari awards the interested parties with a little piece of himself: a little red dot of your own, in the form of his blood, kept safe between two sheets of glass. It felt almost clinical, to receive a DNA sample of this sort, and with it, the confrontational confirmation that some artists are willing to bleed for their art.

Artdependence Magazine: How did you develop the concept for this performance?
Gian Paolo Renzi Pari: All well-executed ideas need time to take shape - it is necessary to experiment, to let them breathe and most importantly, to give them room to grow. In 2012, I was still in the photography sector and I went to Paris Photo with some friends. We were struck by the number of stickers that multiplied day by day under the photographs, showing how many copies had been sold.  That was the first time we talked about organizing some kind of provocative action using the stickers, but we weren't courageous enough and nothing came of it. Some time later, I took my first steps in the world of contemporary art and I went to help a friend set up her stand at an fair in London. Afterwards, I roamed the corridors with a growing desire to exhibit and be there myself. That was where the idea of sticking a sticker to my face first came from.

Continuing my studies, I learned more about Piero Manzoni, an artist whose premature death I still deeply regret. Before then, the only work of his I was familiar with was "Artist's Shit" (“merda d'artista”) - my mum had a photo of it on the fridge. I was also struck by one of his final pieces in Milan in 1961 in which he signed people with his name. The thoughts it inspired but above all how I felt about that act totally captivated me and I began to explore Manzoni's reflections on the concept of "being". I was particularly interested in examining the dynamics of human interaction, my curiosity aroused by studies on mirror neurons, which can influence the behavior of individuals by reflecting that of the people around them. I understood that the stickers, but more importantly the act of applying them, might offer an accurate and ironic representation of the dynamics of human interaction. My face became a reflection of the fairs I visited at the end of the event. Thanks to the contribution of participants who, over time, composed a collective design on my face, I became a portrait of the fair itself. Turning any given situation on its head is extremely helpful for understanding it better and I wished to give the visitors a more active role than that of participation alone. Naturally the desire to go through with this idea in that specific context also derived from my desire to be part of that world and my reaction was inspired by how hard it was to access it and make myself heard. I simply reacted as my character dictates, revealing my longing for human contact and self expression. 

AD: Out of the fairs where you've conducted your performance so far, Frieze London seems to be the least welcoming - there, you had only 11 people engage in your act, and you got 1 kick to the shin. In contrast, in Art Basel you had 48 people participating, plus 1 marriage proposal and 3 invitations to dinner. You've chosen to measure/quantify this performance by taking down these numbers, but what do these numbers tell us? What could we conclude from such different results within these similar settings?
GPRP: I did not collect these figures to meticulously measure the different interactions. I did it because it seemed the best way to present the work. It was by comparing the total number of people who saw me with the people who had applied a sticker that I realized how much we struggle to ask anything nowadays. It is as if there is an ever-growing distance between individuals. Many people were curious about me but very few actually spoke to me. It is as though there is a fear lingering below the skin that prevents us from openly interacting.

It is a performance piece that grows over time and my visibility is progressively increasing. I was only at Frieze for a few hours. This performance requires enthusiasm and presence of spirit and unfortunately, for personal reasons, I wasn't entirely in the right frame of mind but I decided to go anyway. I attend the fairs as a visitor and I don't always have to be ready or perfect. I take it as it comes without worrying too much. My mood on that occasion certainly meant it wasn't the best possible performance but that's part of the game.  At some fairs I wander around for hours before somebody stops me to ask about the single sticker on my face. Then as time goes on, the stickers on my face increase almost exponentially as though following the Fibonacci sequence. My presence at the fair grows along with the number of stickers. This in turn improves my mood, causing some moments of spontaneous euphoria.

I've visited four international fairs this year and the work grows with me. On each occasion the participants create a sort of collective design on my face but, while at Artefiera Bologna and ArtBasel I asked them to follow the lines of my cheeks, at Frieze and Artissima I decided people should be free to choose the position of the sticker. These are fairs for art and artists, why limit creativity?

AD: You moved from your initial work with photography to working with materials – testing their limits and functions – and now, are you going to focus on performance?
GPRP: I don't consider myself a performer, it will never be my sole outlet. But I don't think there is any need to establish limits on the media used. It would be a useless, if not counterproductive, castration. Stemming creativity helps nobody. I do not believe that mature artists should have to define themselves by coherence – on the contrary! I moved briefly from photography to painting but I still felt confined by that sense of a perimeter and I was looking for something else at that moment. The performance that I am embracing now certainly offers me more freedom but perhaps it is only a phase. I can't be sure nor can I predict the future. We should never try to define our research, instead we should embrace transformation. Every day we are different from the last.

AD: In your website, you clearly take us through the various stages of your practice. You also include a section for 'rejected works'. Do you find it important to present the development of an artist as a process that also includes flaws?
GPRP: Ludwig Wittgenstein is to blame for that. He is a thinker who doesn't like to define himself as a philosopher, and someone who continues to surprise me and who I feel a great affinity for. He said that "in art it is hard to say anything as good as saying nothing”. This statement breaks down all procrastination and all fear. What defines an error? Many of the most revolutionary scientific discoveries were made thanks to random errors that scientists were shrewd enough to observe and explore. Errors are just as important as success, it's a process. Often, it is the fear of making mistakes and the desire for perfection that undermines enthusiasm and evolution, whether as an artist or as a person.

Anyway, my website isn't finished yet, my city performances and my photography archive still aren't on there but it's just a matter of time… something I have increasingly less of. The truth is that my real work is still hidden in my notebooks, waiting silently for the right collaborators before coming to light. The decision to exhibit everything including my rejected works stems from a simple personal observation. I am often most captivated by work that I do not admire or that I feel has nothing to do with me because that is the work that most stimulates me and inspires the right questions in me. Perhaps somebody will find their own meaning in my "mistakes" - like some aesthetic gratification, or stimuli to explore.

AD: You’ve mentioned that your interest in contemporary art had been cultivated but still limited by ‘the photo frame’ - can you expand on that? What were you looking for, beyond the frame?
GPRP: I am looking for everything other than the frame. I was a photographer for many years and I experienced a sort of symbiosis with my photographic equipment. At a certain point, I felt that I could no longer sufficiently express myself with that media. I was no longer myself, I didn't like myself and I decided to transform myself. The camera puts you in a position of detachment, it makes you an observer and I was seeking greater involvement that would also include physicality, whether with materials or myself through a performance piece. The photo frame felt like a cell that was getting smaller every day. It was perhaps this sensation that drove me to break out. Nobody had warned me that there was a contemporary art fair outside the prison though! What's more, I was quite hostile towards certain dictatorial rules for the aesthetic composition of images. I was unable to transform my mistakes into something positive and productive and so I lived with a certain anxiety. Ultimately, I needed to start again with a new instrument so that I could act with greater freedom. I imagine it is a process that works for many people. When you show your images, you always impose your perspective and that was no longer my path. People often see what they already believe and, in my opinion, one of the responsibilities of art is to overthrow this restrictive framework. It is not that easy but we have to try. 



Maria Martens Serrano is a Dutch-Salvadoran writer. She studied under a liberal arts program at University College Utrecht, going on to graduate with an MSc in Sociology from the University of Amsterdam. Exploring a broad range of interests, Maria previously worked with a news website and a human rights NGO, before becoming involved with several art fairs in the Netherlands. She now writes on topics of arts and culture. In early 2015 Maria joined the team of Artdependence Magazine as editor and contributor.

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Image of the Day

Roman Pyatkovka, “VELVET SADNESS”, (1996), photograph glued on velvet passe-partout (paper).

Roman Pyatkovka, “VELVET SADNESS”, (1996), photograph glued on velvet passe-partout (paper).


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