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by Astrid Korporaal and Guido Santandrea

Derek Maria Francesco Di Fabio (Milan, 1987) studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brera under Alberto Garutti. In 2010 he co-founded Motel Lucie, an experimental workshop for developing collective works and since 2010 he has collaborated with Cherimus, an association that aims to integrate contemporary art within the Sardinian territory. He has worked with German fashion designer Isa Griese as DW2♡♡8 since 2012. Recent activities include Let’s Circus, a project by Marco Colombioni at Piccola Scuola di Circo (2011), Milan, a residency at Fondazione Spinola Banna per l'Arte (2012) the solo exhibition Free Range Winter Banana at Pavillon Social, Lucca (2013) and a solo show at Almanac Projects, London (2013).

Derek Di Fabio, Ping Pong Zig Zag

Derek Di Fabio, Ping Pong Zig Zag Riff Raff Tic Tac Crick Crock Cip Ciop Din Don Spic Span Ying Yang; 2010. Series of digital picture and interventions in the streets of Quadrilatero. Certo Sentimento, Turin, curated by Frank Bohem. Courtesy the artist.

AK+GS: Your practice includes so many different activities: sculpture, drawing, video, fashion, sports, music, yoga, cooking, horticulture, literature… Where did you start? What is the discipline that most informs your research?
DMFDF: I started out making drawings at the academy, but the first work I showed was actually a sound installation, an archive of different bird sounds that played throughout the room. The sounds were found online, and I was thinking of the people who recorded them, swinging on their identities to reach those landscapes where birds stuck in a recorded time could sing, flying somewhere else and coming back in my loop.
The second work (Before Jumping) was a collection of rivers: monochrome videos of the flowing water of different rivers filmed from the centre of a bridge. The idea was not to depict an image of the river, but to project these different videos into a space in order to create an imaginarium, a location devoted to cultivating particular imaginaries; a loop in time and space.
This concept of the loop is something that comes back in my work in different ways, for example in the ongoing YSLANDS project, an open collection of research (posters, zines and photos) related to islands. I’m interested in islands as sites for social research. On these strips of land confined by shores, space can be confused with time, transforming both into a loop of micro-reactions.

Derek Di Fabio, Worm War World. 2013

Derek Di Fabio, Worm War World; 2013. 5 sculptures overlapped. Wood, graphite pigment, spray paint, oil and water colours. Displayed on metal ladder, found object (cement). When the sun is out, his house-shaped face bathes in it, Almanac Projects, London. Courtesy the artist..

AK+GS: Is this idea of cultivating imaginaries and ways of inhabiting space related to the work with plants that you made for your first solo show, at Room Galleria in Milan (Hoookuurch, 2010)?
DMFDF: My interest in islands started with a collection of webcams showing Antarctica, where you can see the consequences of human behavior in an area that is uninhabited. The plants in the exhibition at Room Galleria were collected from construction sites, where they appeared unintentionally and would have disappeared without notice. I brought them into the gallery, where they became part of the exhibition structure.
The gallery gave me one month for the show, and I wanted to explore this lapse of time and space. To do this, I invited Alessandro Agudio, Beatrice Marchi and Michele Gabriele to take part in the exhibition, which had three openings. This format allowed for the show to become a series of private episodes that generated new products.
For example, with Gabriele I made a series of prototypes for a sculpture that would work as a support for his sculpture. For each of the openings I presented a new prototype. Or with Beatrice, she made a movie using props that I had made, a table, a mirror shelf… most of them changed shapes and they were ingested in the show. Alessandro made a work documenting a houseplant that was replanted in a field outdoors, blown up on a giant poster. The space becomes a living organism exploring multiple ways of existing.

DW2♡♡8, Shooting Hills, 2013

DW2♡♡8, Shooting Hills; 2013. Workshops at Shooters Hill College, London 2013. Part of When the sun is out, his house-shaped face bathes in it, Almanac Projects, London. Courtesy http://2008daughters.tumblr.com/.

AK+GS: That show involved inviting other artists, and in 2010 you also co-founded Motel Lucie. How did you work together with the other artists in this case? Was it a curatorial experiment or a way to make works collectively?
DMFDF: I was always finding ways to involve people in my work, for example in 2009 I sent my parents to install the works for a presentation of academies, in France. The pieces were made specifically for them to install, and this action became part of the work, as well as the photographs of them at the fair, which could also be seen as a documentation of their “holiday” in France.
The concept of Motel Lucie came from my thesis at the Academy, when Lucie Fontaine had an open call for proposals to use their space in Milan for two months. Motel Lucie started with a group of artists that worked collectively and anonymously to organize one show a week in the space, and after that we continued nomadically.
The idea from the start was to include our own practice in the project, but never through existing works, in order to function instead as a laboratory or gym for “young” artists.
For the first show, we invited 36 artists to send us two limitations for a work of art. We listed these limits and sent them back to the artists, who answered us with an image. With this we designed our first show: a wallpaper.

Ting Cheng, documentazione di Braiding Baked Buns, workshop

Ting Cheng, documentation of Braiding Baked Buns, a workshop collaboration between Derek Di Fabio and Ting Cheng, forms part of Derek Di Fabio's solo show, When the sun is out, his house-shaped face bathes in it, 2013, Almanac Projects, London. Courtesy Ting Cheng.

AK+GS: You also involve your audience in many works that can be characterized more as “workshops” than as “performances”. Could you say your practice is concerned with setting up a pretext for things to happen?
DMFDF: For a while, I was really interested in coincidences. An example is the series of interventions I created in the streets of Turin for Certo Sentimento. In this case I re-created some coincidental situations that I found and photographed in different places in the past years, such as cars covered with fruits, bringing them together in the space of the street market. Re-making these situations became a performance in itself, an action integrated with the place where it appeared.
I think this interest in coincidences is related to the way I approach workshops; not as a way to reach a fixed product, but to create an environment to search for something unknown together. For a long time I was thinking about an Olafur Eliasson quote: “I only see things when they move”. This was maybe how I came to the idea of approaching an exhibition as a stage, integrating workshops and creating the freedom for things and people to move. It’s an idea I developed in the show at Almanac.
The structure of the exhibition was built around four sculptures as the four layers needed to enclose a volume, thinking about a possible place to live. During the exhibition, the works in the show functioned as dioramas, environments for life waiting to be activated. When I look at objects or materials, I am searching for things that could create actions or movements.

DW2♡♡8, stampa digitale, poster per il workshop

DW2♡♡8, Digital print, poster for the workshop LET’START’START; 2013. Invited by Matteo Rubbi during Let the stars sit wherever they will. Studio Guenzani, Milan. Courtesy http://2008daughters.tumblr.com/.

AK+GS: So, continuing the theatre metaphor, the objects work as a script?
DMFDF: Yes, the artworks and the workshops started with a relationship to objects. I want to show the potential of things in the space of the stage. The workshops explored different ways of surviving, of providing for needs, which was the starting point of the exhibition. As DW2♡♡8 we ran the first workshop before the opening, passing a long roll of cloth through the space and producing a pattern for each participant to cut out his or her own clothes.
The second workshop (Goop Gaps Gulp) was about exploring architecture through the need for sleep. When you sleep outside and you give your safety to the objects around you, which circumscribe your environment.
The third workshop (Braiding Baked Buns,with Ting Cheng) dealt with a decorative gesture applied to food, strengthening of its structure and allowing it to camouflage and blend with its human context.
The fourth workshop took place in a school, working with the students and fashion designer Isa Griese to create “wearable sculptures”: designed to be activated by a body. The workshop started with a poetic text, which the teenagers could give their own interpretation or continuation to by making objects that could tell a story.
It’s again related to the idea of the loop, making a cut in a timeline so that every point in the sequence has an importance, a role. For me, this style of doing things, this approach to the potential of objects and people, is more important than any formal aesthetics.

AK+GS: You have been working with Isa Griese as DW2♡♡8 on several projects related to fashion and music. How do you see these disciplines in relation to your practice?
DMFDF: Isa and I met when she was working on costumes and I was making a 4x5 m. fabric stage design for Let’s Circus, curated by Marco Colombioni. I think working with fashion is a way to play with surfaces. It is something that can change dimensions, jumping between the second, third and fourth dimensions. It is also a basic human need, a second skin.
Sound and music I see more as waves, bouncing off objects and changing directions. For example in the Cream project I realized in Berlin in 2009, I collaborated with artists to set up islands of sound hidden in a public garden, and the visitors could follow the sound to find these improvised performances spontaneously. Ideally the sound would meet no resistance from the air, and keep bouncing forever.
Working with fashion and music is a form of “entertainment”, a way of working while getting to know people and forging new relations. I like to work with actions that you need, that you can enjoy, to create more exchanges, more connections, more fights.
AK+GS: For the exhibition at Almanac, you spoke about a process of de-gendering the works. How do you see objects as having gender?
DMFDF: Objects have a function, an identity, and a type of power, so they have a gender. I don’t think this gender is fixed, but it is formed by your experience of the object. For the show at Almanac, I was trying to change this relation that might be characteristic at first, by transforming the weak into the strong, reinforcing the soft and thawing the stiff. It was a way of neutralizing the elements that catch your attention. This is what I think is interesting about fetishes: all the sexuality is focused on one thing, and it changes the hierarchies. I want to create an imaginarium: a climax of things related to each other, coming from different positions.
AK+GS: It seems that the objects you find and make part of your work are not stereotypes but orphans; things that we do not yet have a relationship with, that we don’t give any particular meaning.
DMFDF: It is again the idea of giving equal importance to details, giving them individuality and acting on their potential. For me, the works are witnesses to the process of making.


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