Provocative and contentious, the work of Clet Abraham, which you can find in the exhibitions of Fluctuart, does not go unnoticed. His colorful and playful road signs aim to rebel against the system. Artistik Rezo takes us to meet a committed artist.
Why did you choose the street to express yourself?
The street is a way to re-appropriate an audience, which is otherwise filtered either by public institutions, commercial, by governments, or galleries. So it’s a way to free oneself from the shackles of these structures. After, personally, I see the street art as a protest art. Its wild side is for me fundamental and even perhaps its reason for being. There is a part of rebellion that allows to express concepts that cannot be expressed otherwise.
Fundamentally there is the will to make pass a message: more than the art itself it is the message which interests me. The panels, moreover, it is not a coincidence: they are the visual symbol of the authority. To work on the panels is to question the latter. That’s my message: rediscussing authority.
In 2010, in Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, you took advantage of the empty space following the removal of a painting by Bronzino, to hang your self-portrait. It stayed there for 24 hours, nobody had noticed it before.
Was this a way of making room for contemporary art in a city like Florence, a city of the Renaissance, perhaps a little closed to contemporary art?
Yes, absolutely. Today it has quickly opened up to street art, but before 2010 it was a frozen city that played on its past.
You have had problems with the courts: the Florence public prosecutor’s office fined you €10,000 for your sculpture L’Uomo comune, accusing your work of being an abusive construction.
Yes, but I was acquitted in March. The whole accusation fell, it was completely annulled so I won, actually.
In 2015, in Japan, your girlfriend was arrested, guilty only of being present while you were creating a work. In your opinion, governments are afraid of art, precisely because of the power it exudes as a means of expression?
I always say that my work is a barometer of democracy. In democratic countries, my work passes well. It is true that there is a direct provocation on the authority, so the countries that have difficulties with that react badly. There are also countries where I will never work because it is too risky.
What is the difference between art and vandalism according to you?
It’s personal but, for me, art builds while vandalism destroys. An artistic act can have a destructive part but it has a constructive purpose. Vandalism stops at destruction. After that, of course, it’s case by case.
As a French artist living in Italy, which of these two countries do you find more open to street art?
There is not a big difference but France is a bit ahead. Paris is a particularly open place, but so could be Milan, where my work has always been very well received and welcomed. I say welcomed and not formalized: my works are so critical that they are very rarely formalized.
How do you choose, in general, the cities where you work?
It’s a bit of everything. It can be a search for visibility but also a pleasure, places that attract me, that intrigue me. The last two years I’ve mostly traveled to the United States, looking for something new: the signs are different, as is the atmosphere. It’s exciting, looking for something new, going beyond your limits.
What is your daily life like during the confinement?
Honestly it’s very painful, it’s something I deal with quite badly. I react by working, drawing a lot, including things that are not necessarily related to street art, to try to empty the bag, as they say. I’m not going to complain because I have everything I need, but internally it’s very difficult, I won’t be able to stand this situation for long.
What are the future projects that you can reveal to us?
I have a project in San Francisco, maybe at the end of the year or beginning of next year, as soon as it will be possible to travel again.
I have another interesting one, which I’m really enjoying, planned for Christmas, in Florence. I can’t go into details: it’s a nice project, provocative but nice, not nasty, in relation with the iconographic elements related to Christmas.
Interview by Violagemma Migliorini