Interview

“To Draw is to Know” An Interview with Andrea Mastrovito.He is an Italian multimedia artist and filmmaker based in New York.

Andrea Mastrovito is an Italian multimedia artist and filmmaker based in New York who communicates with his audience through the reinvention of drawing. “Strange Days”, the artist’s solo exhibition at CSW Łaźnia in Gdańsk, includes two of his newest works inspired by classic horror films. “NYsferatu”, a hand-animated, redrawn rendition of “Nosferatu” (1922) set in contemporary New York, touches on the subject of the unknown and challenges the classic interpretation of the vampire. In “I Am Not Legend”, Mastrovito recreated George Romero’s “Night of The Living Dead” using a new screenplay composed entirely of quotes from famous books, films, and other sources.

Strange Days, Installation views, photo by Adam Bogdan
Strange Days, Installation views, photo by Adam Bogdan

Aleksandra Mainka-Pawłowska: When did you first get interested in horror and decide to use it in your art?

Andrea Mastrovito: I remember I was really scared of horror movies until I was twelve or something. Then, one day, I realized that both my younger sister and my much younger cousin really loved them. What a slap! So I gathered my courage and started to watch horror movies with them. And I never stopped… To tell the truth, horror and horror movies (and movies in general) have been at the heart of my work since my very first solo show, “Fear of the Dark”, in 2003 at The Flat in Milan.

During these years, I realized that horror is par excellence the genre that disguises itself as a metaphor because it is first of all a thermometer of changes in society, it’s the eye that judges the modes of evolution.

That’s it – through the intrusion of horror we can see the reality of our days realizing its dangers and possibilities.

AMP: Why do you think people like to be scared?

AM: Well, fear is so close to pleasure. I mean, so many people practice risky sports or love roller coasters or riding very fast cars, motorbikes etc. In any case, I am not really interested in fear in my work. I sometimes use horror models just because they’re perfect simulacra for what I am really interested in: the subtle line between life and death, between questions and answers, between reality and its narration/legend/myth.

AMP: What’s the symbolism behind “NYsferatu”? How do you challenge the traditional interpretation of the vampire?

AM: “NYsferatu’s” birth was sooo long and it is literally soaked with symbolism on many, many different levels: from historical to social, from political to cinematic, from poetic to the final, human, intimate level. It took me three years and 35,000 drawings to make it and I consider it both a portrait of our century and a self-portrait and, of course, everything in between. So the vampire here is, primarily, a metaphor of an immigrant who escapes his devastated land. On the other hand, it represents the fear of the unknown, the “unheimlich”, the other. But, also, as you may notice watching the movie, Count Orlok is always “followed”, in every frame, by the solid of Melancholy (the famous solid invented by Albrecht Dürer in 1514). The vampire here becomes the symbol of our own personal struggle for freedom – inner freedom, I mean – a concept that, in my work, refers to Albert Camus and his response to the absurdity of life.

Andrea Mastrovito, I am Not Legend, framestill
Andrea Mastrovito, I am Not Legend, framestill

AMP: “NYsferatu” is accompanied by an original soundtrack composed by Simone Giuliani. What role does the music play in the film? 

AM: Simone did an incredible, amazing job. When I first met him in his Manhattan studio, we spent hours talking about the movie and its rhizomatic structure. I gave him a few hints, some examples of what kind of music I loved, from classic vampire movies soundtracks to music I like – from Queen to heavy metal. At some point, I mentioned Wojciech Kilar’s soundtrack for Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” with regard to Ellen’s character and he came up with the amazing idea of including the stunning voice of Syrian vocal artist Bisan Toron. I cried. It was exactly what I was looking for! Simone was able to give voice to every character – even though it’s a silent movie! – creating a series of soundscapes that emphasize not only the focal points of “NYsferatu” but the whole film. Between the end of 2017 and 2018, we had many public screenings across Italy with Simone at the piano and Bisan Toron on vocals. They were a resounding success…

AMP: To create “I Am Not Legend” you used a horror classic “The Night of the Living Dead”. What distinguishes your film from the original?

AM: At first glance, they look very similar because “I Am Not Legend” isn’t hand-drawn like “NYsferatu”, for I used a different method of “re-animation”: printing, painting, and then scanning every single frame of Romero’s movie. In my version, all zombies are erased with white paint – the whole movie, in the end, fades in a completely white screen – and, most of all, I changed the whole script…

Andrea Mastrovito, I am Not Legend, framestill
Andrea Mastrovito, I am Not Legend, framestill

AMP: The characters in “I Am Not Legend” communicate using quotes borrowed from famous films, books, and songs. Why did you choose not to give them their own voice?

AM: I wanted the characters to be totally erased, to lose their identities, not only through white paint – I wanted them to be eliminated from the inside. “I Am Not Legend” is a movie about erasing and erasing is a perfect metaphor for forgetting. Forgetting our own personal roots, forgetting the difference between reality and opinions, between truth and lies, between life and its reproduction. Actually, every character in “I Am Not Legend” is a sort of social media wall, with quotes (words, news or images) of every kind that, being repeatedly copied and pasted, lose their original meaning. It’s not a judgment on social media but just a depiction of the way we communicate today – maybe in some way we’re immolating personal identity on the altar of a new, collective imagery, even a new collective memory.

AMP: Can you tell us more about the artistic process behind the two films? What role does drawing play in your art? 

AM: “I Am Not Legend” is “NYsferatu’s” sequel. It depicts the annihilation of society, while “NYsferatu” showed the reasons that lead to this destruction. They’re part of a trilogy, where the final image of “I Am Not Legend”, the white sheet, will be the starting point of a sort of rebirth and re-construction in the final chapter, which will be, once again, based on a horror topos, the Unhappy Creature, through a new, third technique – after drawing and erasure, I’ll work with collage. In the end, both collage and erasure are just declination of the idea of drawing: when you erase, you draw with a rubber (or white paint in my case); when you do collage, you draw with a cutter. But it’s the same thing: drawing is the basis of everything, not only art. I always say that a pencil=drawing is the perfect mediator between the world of reality and the world of ideas. To draw is to know, and the word “design” comes, actually, from the Latin word “designare”, which also gives us “designate”, by which we state that we know things, we determine them and give them existence and significance. Drawing creates a symbolic form of the multiple realities we perceive and I use it to create connections between them, and new connections, in the end, equal new meanings.

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About The Author

Aleksandra
Mainka-Pawłowska

Art historian and art writer based in London. She is currently studying for an MA in art market and appraisal at Kingston University.

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