An interview with Max Fletcher, our 2019-2020, Sainsbury Scholar in Painting & Sculpture, in which he speaks about the works he has produced during his residency at the BSR.
How is literature important to your work?
I often use literature as generative device for making work. Yet, it is the footnotes, marginalia, or the act of translation, rather that the text itself that I tend to engage with when making work.
In Rome I have been working with the play titled El Nost Milan, by Carlo Bertolazzi. It was written in Milanese dialect and despite being in many ways radical in form, it never achieved popular success. In this occasion I’ve also collaborated with artist Andrea Celeste La Forgia, with whom I’ve made paintings that isolate various characters speech which is then translated. One of the paintings we produced, for instance, is based on the translation of a speech by the character Gasper. In short, the translation of El Nost Milan becomes the basis for a series of paintings.
The other painting that I’ve been working on, also made in collaboration with Andrea, is based on a postcard sent to Antonio Gramsci while he was imprisoned by the fascist government. The postcard quickly becomes detached from its original context, and the act of enlargement into a painting drastically changes the nature of imagery. The painting itself has little reference to literature but becomes a placeholder for a wider set of questions that do engage with literature. Gramsci’s writing advocated Luigi Pirandello’s Liola, another dialect play. The play was seen as being capable of subverting and undermining the official policy of the state. Yet, the play’s lead Liola, is a misogynist, and Pirandello was a supporter of the Italian state. My work seeks to question such antinomies, querying the space between ideology and literary form.
How have Gramsci and Pasolini influenced your work and what is the connection between them?
Perhaps Pasolini’s most famous poem and the title of a collection of his poems is Le ceneri di Gramsci or Gramsci’s Ashes. That Gramsci had a profound impact on Pasolini hardly needs to be stated and affected much of his thought. It is however a shared view on language and dialect that has most shaped the work that I have made in Rome, especially the collaborative work with Andrea.
As an adult, Pasolini learned Friulian dialect, something that despite shared roots with the Italian language was no small undertaking. Many of his early poems and theatre were written in Friulian, while his early film scripts were often in Roman. For Pasolini, dialect represented not only an authentic voice, but also the voice of history, often ignored in the present day. Gramsci was perhaps a little more suspect of dialect, seeing it as something of a paradox. On one hand, it offered a counter to the unified Italian language, and he was supportive of new generations learning it. On the other hand, he saw dialect as inherently provincial, and to solely speak in dialect was to be excluded from the possibility of affecting wider societal change. The paintings that I have made with Andrea seek to utilise such a contradiction, while also placing dialect theatre in relation to other realist fiction.
Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser)