Could you tell me about your current show at Alma Enterprises? How did it come about?
I was looking for a starting point for a project a while back and came across this incredible 'event' that happened sometime between 1995 and 2003 when the Italian artist Roberto Cuoghi became his father by adopting the habits and mannerisms of a 60 year old man, he piled on 7 stone and basically lived as his father for 7 years which I thought was incredibly intense and committed.
I came across this image floating around the internet unowned, of Cuoghi as his dad, a moment where father and son are in the in the one body and thought to myself ‘now there is quite the man’.
This work of his was what Cuoghi became most known for yet it was always written about as being not a work just something he did. It's very interesting for me to think about what exactly an artwork is and what are the circumstances that someone signs off on that, so I wondered if I could, sign off on a work that remained unclaimed.
I ran a check on Cuoghi at his local Births and Marriages office in Modena, Italy where he was born and it came back unconfirmed so I thought that if his work didn't exist as a work and he didn't exist as a person then I would make it happen and began to gather up legal documentation to legalise him in an illegal fashion. I opened a bank account in his name, bought works of his with it on the secondary market and used his signature to authenticate my card. I put myself online as Cuoghi himself after I had legally changed my name to his and began to get invitations to produce works for shows as Cuoghi.
Why are there three works missing from the walls?
Part of the show documents a moment where I was contacted by a museum in Ireland wondering if I, Cuoghi, would be interested in having my work exhibited as part of a group show titled ‘In Real Life’.
The show was about identity, transformation and biological hacking so I just couldn't say no. I had three images made of how I imagined Cuoghi/his father looked ideally, a work which had never been made, and went through a very protracted and often funny process of having them be part of the show. When I tipped the museum off that their show on hacking had in fact been hacked they sent my Cuoghi drawings back to Cuoghi's gallery in Milan. So we had no work for the show at Alma, it's with Massimo de Carlo in Milan.
Have you had any response from Roberto Cuoghi himself?
Nothing that I know of. Sometimes the works depends very much on involving the people I choose to work on or inhabit even, but for this project it really wasn't about having a conversation with Cuoghi directly, it was about becoming him legally and so his input didn't make or break that process.
What is your next project?
Testing the limits of artistic practice is really important for me. How much trouble can a playground handle you know? I mean looking for the tipping point is quite the motivation.
Art for me has always been about challenges; interesting work isn't always comfortable. As an artist you respond to what’s happening around you, you try it on, wear it a little, see how it works, I'm really interested in what it is to be a cultural producer today, how that works, the power dynamics that come with that role and, for me, my work became about shifting my focus away from producing original art work to looking at what the focus on making original artwork produced. All I saw for a period was artists working mad hours to support a practice that they spent a fortune on and got nothing back from. My work became about circumventing those relations and so I began to see art and the art world as a vehicle to work for me rather than the other way round.
So! So many projects in the pipeline that all really set out from the basis of staying afloat, you know? I've always been interested in frameworks of exploitation when you become reliant on a system to repay you for your efforts whatever they may be, you are not playing your own game, you are at the mercy of power structures that have their own criteria and rewards so I like to set up my own rules to play by that keep me ticking over and paying the bills.
Where do you take your inspiration from?
I have to say that all my projects start from genuine art crushes. I love the works I get involved in. I mean art is my cultural landscape it’s my conversation, my lifestyle, my reference, the ideas of others, like any type of information, sit in your head, in your body, it’s a very intimate relationship that you have with your head ? so nothing strange really, just a real fascination with a work and its maker. I mean I don't consider myself to be an appropriation artist in the art historical meaning of the term. Today everyone has a thoroughly different relationship to information than previous generations. Our production of it, distribution and consumption, is worlds apart from what has gone before it so appropriation today is a very different thing. It kind of needs to be rewritten.
Roisin Byrne and Ali MacGilp