Alessandro De Angelis

Interview by Jefferson Pires, CreativPaper

You were born and grew up in Turin, Italy. What was that experience like?

I understood the true value that Turin held to me after I moved out. As babies do, I started realizing it only after it was taken away from me -or, I may say, I took it away from myself. Growing up in Turin not only meant being surrounded by art and baroque buildings, it wasn’t just living in the heart of Italian modern history. It is a way more intimate city, reserved, always cautious about sharing its treasures. Hard to crack open. Cold at first sight, Turin is ready to embrace anyone’s own nature to its ecosystem only if the person is ready to be challenged and tested by the sharp colors of the city. Turin is a cautious city, where caution does not mean fear for the other, but a demand for respect. Turin’s gates can be opened by anybody, it is only a matter of taking the effort to find the right key. That reflects my personality as a product of my hometown. My ice shell is only a defense system designed by my brain and life experience to protect my core from who is not willing to dig deep enough to get to know my true self.

Would you say each of us are ants in the colony that is the universe, working consciously or unconsciously towards a common goal?

Definitely unconsciously. We all work towards goals that we think we are able to define, but we often miss the perspective of things. As I try to portray it in Butterflies, it just takes us a glance at the sky to understand that there is more that we don’t know than what we actually know. We think we understand the dynamics of our colony -or universe-, but we often don’t even comprehend the mechanisms that rule our everyday life. How can we think that we know where we are headed to as a whole, if the most incomprehensible and mysterious thing we have to deal with is our own mind? This doesn’t mean we are doomed or that we have no purpose, even though nihilism is a philosophy that deeply fascinates me. If we believe in the existence of further dimensions than the ones we can perceive, dimensions that include parallel timelines and alternative universes, then it is inevitable to give nihilism its credit. However, can nihilism enclose its own meaning? Could the fact that at the end of all, if nothing even matters, the only point in time that really has any kind of value is the present one? Would it make sense for a sentient being to consciously work towards the unknown? Yes. Wouldn’t that make us fundamentally unconscious then?

Death, although a part of the natural cycle, can have a rather strong response from us humans emotionally, often negative. How do you approach that topic as an artist?

I think that death is one of most romantic topics one can talk about. Similarly to the previous question, even with death we tend to miss the bigger picture. There is so much we don’t know about it, yet we act as the only translation to the word death is end. As we discussed previously, we are conscious beings unconsciously working towards the unknown. I deal with this topic in my some of my compositions. As Neo in The Matrix, the protagonist of Leap of Faith has a decision in front of him: he can keep living his ordinary life made of mainstream patterns, or he can jump in the clouds unaware of what he will find beyond it, not knowing if there will be anything at all, only conscious that no matter what, it will be something he never experienced. On the other hand, Conversation with a dying moon has a similar, yet different take on the topic of death. It deals with the randomness of events, including death, which doesn’t look anybody in the face: whether you are a horse, a human being, or a celestial body, everything dies and there is no such discussion as “Why me?” Even what we worship and we see as untouchable has an end. It’s just the sequence of cosmic patterns that dictates it, and there is nothing wrong with accepting it.

How do you find a balance between aesthetics and meaning in your work?

It is really tough to have those two match. They usually build themselves and interlace during the creative process. I usually play music while I create and let it dictate my work, which means that my artwork often absorbs the meaning and the shapes of the song I’m listening to, or the feelings that it evokes in me. Balance is a fundamental word, and I am truly glad you asked this question. Nothing can exist without balance, not even the universe itself. Therefore art as well has the obligation to respect -or at least pursue- balance. A piece of art that only focuses on aesthetics risks to appear frivolous, while something that only focuses on meaning risks to fail to convey the message.

Is it true that our anxieties and deepest fears are often the strongest vehicles of change for us as a race?

Yes, yes, and yes. Being static is the easiest way to deterioration of body and mind. The only way to slow down the laws of entropy is in my opinion to keep pushing forward as a human being, and in order to do that we need something to direct us. The entity that does the most efficient job at this is fear. Anxiety is the voice in our head that helps us stay on track, it’s the spy in our car that warns us when something in the system needs to be fixed. Without fear we would never face any improvement because we would be satisfied with our current situation. This satisfaction would silently drive us towards the edge of the cliff, and by the time we realize that the brakes are not working, it would be too late. In Soft Sounds From Another Planet I give my graphic representation of Japanese Breakfast’s homonym song. In her song, Michelle Zauner says that “they [the soft sounds from another planet] will never let you hurt me”, stating that they are her protectors, a sort of guardian angels. Well, my protectors are my fears, which keep me vigilant about the flaws of my personality so that I know that I have to work to fix them before I reach the cliff.

Could you tell us about your time in New York? What were the early days like after just moving from Italy?

Right after I moved from Turin to New York I was terrified. I guess it was my own leap of faith. I was scared of being swallowed by the monster represented by the city of New York. Saying that I loved my time there would not be enough to explain the role that it served in my life. The part of New York that truly stole a place in my heart is Brooklyn, which is where I spent most of my time. It made me feel as if I was in the center of the world, where my ideas were free to fly. I see New York as a heavy sledgehammer that regardless of anything else started pounding on my head and cracked it open to let everything flow out. The feeling of freedom that the city is soaked in awoke all the hibernated ideas that were in my head. Now that I left the city it hurts a bit to talk about it, but it’s a good kind of hurt.

What are you listening to at the moment?

It’s been a couple weeks that I have been writing a lot and when I do that I mostly listen to instrumental music, mostly classical. Contemporary composers such as Max Richter, Olafur Arnalds, and Hans Zimmer manage to strike the right chords to unleash my creativity and let my mind travel as far as I want. They make me experience the stories that I rehearse in my head over and over and almost make them feel real, as if they truly happened. I think that those moments are windows, which overlook those parallel timelines and alternative universes that we discussed about earlier. At the moment I am listening to …And They Have Escaped the Weight of Darkness by Olafur Arnalds. As the title suggests, it makes me feel a sense of lightness and freedom; however, this feeling is still somehow attached to the memory of the weight of darkness. It conveys me the bittersweet feeling of a long story that comes to an end.

Of all the elements you feature in your work, is there one you are drawn to the most?

The most prominent element in my work is the super moon. Disastrous environmental consequences aside, I have always thought how beautiful it would be to witness oversized neighboring celestial bodies orbiting our planet, showing off in front of our eyes. When I look at the super moons in my finished artwork I often feel like observing a blue whale swimming by me. So massive and majestic that I am petrified in front of it, and there is nothing I can do but staring at it in all its nobility. It’s something that makes me feel as if time was stopping in order to let me enjoy the moment as long as I need to.

How does Alessandro take his coffee?

Black. No milk or sugar. The main quality of coffee is its bitterness, and if we dilute it then we defeat its purpose. My coffee needs to be the slap in my face that wakes me up, not the caress that puts me back to sleep!