Maurizio Anzeri is an artist with considerable buzz around him. Picked up by Charles Saatchi as part of Newspeak Part II and winner of a Vauxhall Collective bursary, he's also worked with fashion greats Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow. His strange body-work hair constructions are eerie characters populating his current solo show The Garden Party at ex-antiquarian book store Q. They stand provocatively though the room, posturing and posing in a flamboyant voodoo fashion. His other works, vintage portrait photographs stitched over with jewel coloured threads, are ful of character and beautifully wrought. His aesthetic is fashion inflected, theatrical and moving. Don’t Panic caught up with him after the opening of his latest show.
Why do you base yourself in London? Is the art scene in Italy very different?
I came to London when I was 16 years old. It was a place to pass through on the way to Berlin but then it was a very good time for the city. The first week I went out and met Leigh Bowery and so I stayed. I decided to stay and got to Berlin twenty years later. When I came here I didn't even realise it was going to be my future. It was an instinct.
Where do you find your vintage photographs?
I started to collect them a few years ago and still didn't know what I wanted to do with them. It’s an obsession that I have. I was working on another project, Enduring Second, which is a series of black ink drawings with fine Japanese shapes whose bodies disappear as they become shapes of embroidery. I started working on the photographs out of boredom, and started to apply the same techniques to the photos as a joke. But when I went to the studio the day after something clicked; everything started grow from then. Whenever I travel I always visit flea markets. The main reason for using the photographs is that it's a material you find in ever country – it belongs to every culture.
Do you ever get spooked when re-working old photographs of people, changing their appearances?
No, it doesn't. They all turn out spooky eventually. To start with I thought, 'do I have the right to do this?' But this thought only lasted five seconds. The first lot I bought was in a flea market in Paris. I was arguing about price with the stallholder. After five minutes we decided the price and it started to rain. I looked back as I left and saw that all the ones I didn't buy were thrown in the bin. It was a poetic moment. This is what is going to happen to us all. A face in a frame in someone's sitting room represents a whole lifetime, years later it will be washed away in a box in the rain. It's poetic in a romantic way. So no, I don't feel I was doing something wrong. I am re-celebrating anonymous people. In the moment that these photos were alive they are really important, I'm re-staging this. We're so convinced that when we look at a photograph we are looking at reality, I'm adding another layer to this.
What made you start working with hair?
The work with the hair started before the photos and it's connected to my obsession with the body. I can't bring myself to work directly on a body so this is the next option. Firstly hair is the most sculptural part of the body, something connected to every culture; humanity before getting to a nationality or specific identity. I'm interested in these poetic aspects. It is a concept of the body in an abstract way.
You have a background in fashion, having worked with Alexander McQueen, how does this inform your work?
At the end of my BA I was doing a show with the London Institute. McQueen's people saw my pieces and invited me to go to the studio. He got me involved in Dante’s Inferno, asking me to create a piece which reminded us all of a real bitch from hell. It was a great experience as I was just out of my BA and I had total freedom! He told me to always exaggerate, as that is what people want to see. So I created Lady Ugolino. After that I collaborated with Isabella Blow. That was great as well. You were working with a visionary, but you were also working with the vision itself. It gave me time to experiment with materials that I might never have done on my own. There is only one rule, there are no rules.
What kind of reaction are you hoping to provoke in your viewers?
The idea with my current show at Q is to create a party with guests. There are nine sculptures now but it will be ongoing with more and more complicated guests. When you are confronted by the sculptures they will talk to you about many different things, from voodoo ceremony to something in a Galliano show or in Versailles. I try to bring all these elements together in one piece to confuse you. To give you an awareness mixed into one new form, which is all of them and none of them at the same time.
What does the future hold?
I hope a lot of new experiences with unusual spaces. I know this will sound unbelievable, but this summer has been just work – seven days a week in the studio so I had to take an assistant. I was talking about all the things that I wanted to make now and she was looking at me like I was on drugs! She couldn't believe that I was already thinking about what is next and different when we haven't even completed this project. But this show has given me a kick to go on. There's more sculptures and more work with threads that are going to get bigger!
The Garden Party
is an exhibition by Maurizio Anzeri for the Vauxhall Collective
. It runs at Q Space, Soho until the 31st October 2010.