When we first came across the work of Anglo Musco we were truly awestruck. Collages of hundreds of naked human bodies in spiralling chains create webs, nests, hives, roots and shoals to resplendent yet unsettling effect. His work is paradoxically otherworldly and visceral at the same time. We talk to him about the technicalities and inspirations behind these epic undertakings.
Detail from Hadal
Hi Angelo. You studied Fine Art back in Italy. How important was this practical training in your development as an artist?
I did have traditional training at university as a painter and I studied in both Naples, Italy and Granada, Spain. As far as what I do digitally, I am self-taught. I had a feeling of what I wanted to create, so over the past 15 or so years I surrounded myself with people who I could learn from and through constant work I have become an expert in this medium.
How integral a role does this digital manipulation of your images play in the final product and how do you think you would realize your artistic vision without it?
Moving into the digital space with photography has made my artistic vision more attainable. I used to have to work from tiny contact sheets and scan photos and it was both time and labour intensive. Now I can see immediately if I’m capturing the material I need at a photo shoot and we can make adjustments on the spot so I enjoy the process much more today than I did even a few years ago.
When did you start taking photographs? Is photography a big part of your life aside from the ambitious art projects you undertake or a means to an end? Do you always carry a camera?
I started using photography during my University in Spain because I didn’t have very much money for supplies but I could use the facilities and the expenses were covered. I started doing installations using the bodies of my fellow students and expressing myself with photo images.
I don’t have a professional camera with me all the time. I carry a small camera in my bag to capture something as a visual note. The camera is more a tool I use when I start doing research on a work and then I go out specifically with the camera to capture images and conduct research.
Detail from Tehom.
Your works are highly collaborative, sometimes involving hundreds of models and multiple photographers. Could you tell us more about the process of finding people to take part, their attitude towards being involved and reaction to the end results?
Yes, the work is very collaborative and when volunteer models participate they give so much to the work but from what they tell me they also receive a lot from being part of a unique creative experience. Everyone works hard, and everyone leaves with a feeling of accomplishment.
I have several people who regularly participate and then I also do outreach to engage new models in the work. Some people are very comfortable with the nudity and others maybe exploring it for the first time and they always are amazed at the feeling they take away. Then when they see the finished work they get very excited and very proud knowing they are represented in the work.
You have spoken about the importance of the editing process. Some projects, such as Xylem which took a year and three shoots to compile, must seem like a mighty endeavour at the outset. Do you know exactly what you want from the word go, or does the design evolve over time depending on situations and ideas as they arise?
I actually do know exactly what I want from the start. That said, there can be organic changes that come out of what happens at a photo shoot and as we build the work. The work is finished when it achieves what I first imagine.
Your work uses patterns found in nature such a root formations, shoals of fish, webs, beehives and nests. Could you tell me more about how nature inspires you aesthetically and symbolically?
I am always drawn to the power of aggregation, how the combination of many elements creates something greater than the sum of the individual parts. I use massive numbers of bodies and I see that in nature, the recurring power of aggregation.
Detail from Ovum
Perhaps it is the multitude of nude bodies but your work often resembles biblical art by Renaissance masters - scenes from the last judgement for example. Is this a conscious inspiration and could you tell me if there are spiritual dimensions to your art?
I understand your question and where you are coming from with this idea because the medium of the nude body is closely associated with classical art forms which were supported by the religious organizations of past societies but I do not draw inspiration from religious themes beyond the mere fact that it, along with other classic forms, is a part of my heritage.
For us your photo collages are both intensely beautiful and also strangely foreboding and sinister. Please tell me about the mood or emotions which you intend them to provoke in the viewer.
I like that you are able to see different elements to the work as I prefer to allow the work to speak to each person and have them feel or interpret what it means to them or what it makes them feel. With Hadal, which was shown in the 53rdVenice Biennale, I enjoyed the fact that people would be so adamant in their feeling about how the work was spiralling upward while for others, they felt a darker direction of the pattern spiralling downward.
Finally, what are you working on at the moment and what can we expect from you in the future?
I was working on what was supposed to be a small work last fall, but in the end Ovum required over two million bodies. I’m exploring related pieces to Ovum as I put together my first solo show in Paris for the fall of 2012. I have several other projects at various stages, for example even before showing Xylem, the forest, in Miami in December I was working on a related piece. In a word there is not enough time in the day. There are several new projects that I’ll be starting in the next few months and there is a definite evolution feeding from the production of the last year. I feel that one of the next pieces is going to be very large so please stay tuned.
We certainly will... To keep up to date with Angelo Musco’s innovative projects or to register as a model (go on we dare you!) visit his website.