Paola Pivi interview

The Italian artist on her mischevious new Rockbund installations

One Cup of Cappuccino, Then I Go
Italian artist Paola Pivi has introduced a leopard to cappuccino and covered a crocodile in whipped cream. Ahead of her show at RAM,she tells Time Out how hard her work is to write about

It’s getting late in upstate New York, when we reach Paola Pivi by phone. She’s there working on a sculpture, a Seneca Piper twin engine plane mounted on two metal poles, one at each wingtip, which cause the plane to somersault forwards. The title of the piece is How I Roll.

Making audacious, impactful, funny work is very much how Pivi, 41, rolls. When she was still a student, the Milanese artist had a ten-wheel truck flipped on its side, unscratched. Then, in 1999, she exhibited a Fiat G-91 airplane on its roof as part of Italy’s Golden Lion win at the Venice Biennale.

And it’s not just vehicles that Pivi upsets. In 2007 she created One Cup of Cappuccino, Then I Go (pictured above), a ‘performance’ at the Kunsthalle Basel. The floor of a caged-off room was covered with 3,000 plastic cappuccino cups. Many had been overturned but only a small photograph at the far end of the room showed the leopard, borrowed from a German magician, that created the carnage.


Animals are a large part of Pivi’s practice. In 2006, she made the wonderfully titled Ffffffffffffffffffffff, a series of photographs showing an alligator, ridiculous but no less deadly, having emerged from a pond topped with whipped cream. Pivi has also floated a donkey and a pair of ostriches on the ocean in small boats, flown three goldfish (each in its own passenger seat) across the Tasman Sea, covered a polar bear in chicken feathers, and introduced a pair of circus zebras, named after Juventus footballers Baggio and Del Piero, to snowy mountains in central Italy’s Sirente-Velino regional park.

Many of these works are category violations – the stuff of jokes and religion. At first, there’s no such thing as a virgin birth, or a crocodile covered in whipped cream, but when such ideas are introduced, we find them compelling. These strange juxtapositions are central to surrealism, but Pivi is quick to distance herself from that movement.

‘It’s not surreal,’ she says. ‘Surreal art destroys. [Surrealists] paint things they imagine. I gave those zebras a wonderful weekend in the mountains.’

‘To write about my work is probably as hard as it is to write about art. It’s an open universe, a black space. You might think to yourself, “What I’m writing is very stupid”. I don’t say it’s surrealism and give you that highway to drive down.’

It's a cocktail party
It's a cocktail party

Pivi’s works don’t reference other things in the world and nor do they seem to argue anything. They’re closer to how Roland Barthes sees haiku: they don’t describe a scene or a feeling; all they say is, ‘So!' With titles like If You Like it, Thank You. If You Don't Like it, I Am Sorry. Enjoy Anyway, Pivi simply seems to be showing up at the universe's door with a bottle of wine.

Yet if we're interested in her works, then Pivi says they're not without meaning. 'For me, something interesting is semantic. My artworks contain the seeds of freedom of thought. It's not about new ideas but how to handle your thought, It's not about new ideas but how to handle your thought in a free way,' she says.

Photos of zebras, To Me (2003) which look entirely at home nuzzling in the mountains, will be shown in Shanghai, as will Thank You Ocean (2003), the work with the clearest connection to the time Pivi spent living in Shanghai from 1998-99, inspired by a trip to China as a photographer's assistant. The piece, a shaggy 2x2m square made of plastic pearls, is a larger version of a work she exhibited at ShanghART in 1999.

'I'm drawn to environments that are interesting and alive, in the sense of having lots of life,' Pivi says. These days, she lives in Alaska, home to 'moose, bears, dogs, eagles, salmon and beluga whales.'

What goes around, art comes aroundPivi was invited to show in Shanghai by Larys Frogier, the new director of Rockbund, with whom she has worked before. She says the core of the Shanghai show, Share But It's Not Fair, is three installations. One is What Goes Round- Art Comes Round (pictured left),a line of fake bear skin rugs that loops the floor, walls and ceiling of a room. There's also a new piece, as yet untitled, that will see 500 red and yellow pillows dangling down from above, floating in the space. 'It's very simple and very complex,' Pivi says.

The third major installation is It's a a Cocktail Party, which is made from nine oversized faucets, 'like when you open the tap to wash your face in the morning.' Each is 5.5m high and pours down a different liquid- ink, facial tonic, glycerine, orange juice, wine, olive oil, espresso, milk and woodruff syrup. 'It's a very demanding operation to bring it over.'

The show is a mix of old and new works without an obvious thematic thread. 'Usually I do one show, one work,' she says. 'I don't believe in narrative. I don't think art is about a long story.'

Showing these works together poses no problems, she claims, except perhaps for art critics. 'They're not going to kill each other, and the combination isn't going to damage your mind.'

Share But It's Not Fair is at Rockbund Art Museum from Saturday July 7 to September 9. See full event details