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We are mirrors of one another


Stefano Mirti and Gioia Guerzoni interviewed Antonino Cardillo for the magazine Opere

Opere 32


, with Stefano Mirti and Gioia Guerzoni

This interview is the result of a long process. Beginning with two sessions of video conferencing. And continuing with a series of meetings in Venice, then finishing with various other video conferences sessions to correct, polish, explain better. The writers may be certain that even though the account was always the same, in the first two conversations they had in front of them two different people. At the appointment in Venice, a third person emerged (different from the first two). Obviously then, in the final video conferences, they had to deal with other persons who from time to time affirmed that they were Antonino. As a final disclaimer to this introductory note, the e-mail address confirms that the conversation that follows took place with Antonino Cardillo.

— Hello Antonino.

— Hello, how can I help you?

— That interview, for the magazine.

— I think I remember, or maybe not. Anyway it doesn’t matter, OK, here I am. Where do you want to start? I warn you, I am a terrible subject to interview.

— In what way?

— Between me and the world there is a mist that stops me seeing things as they really are—as they are for other people. In the mirror it is Sunday and in the dream one sleeps. From which one is often lost.

— We’ll risk it. There would be many possible starting points. We’d like to start from the conceptual references of your work. To understand what it is you do, are there significant theoretical fundamentals?

— I think so. You know better than I do that good novels are built on evil feelings. Or good theories. Maybe also, in some cases, architecture. But perhaps more than theoretical, I’d say speculative. I don’t know. Sometimes I don’t understand it myself. It’s as if there were a tiredness of the abstract intelligence and that is the most terrible of the tirednesses. At least, I get very tired.

— Leaving aside tiredness for a second. Let’s concentrate on the term speculative. Where does that come from?

— Maybe I would start from specula, from the Latin. Or rather from the place from which it is observed. I like to imagine myself as a specula. An eminent place to look, or, if you prefer, explore. A kind of telescope. Moreover, you teach me that sincerity is not a question of will, but of talent. It seems clear, no? No problem can be resolved. When a situation becomes a problem it has no solution.

— How do you mean?

— It seems clear enough: problems are by definition without solution. No problem can be resolved, and all solutions bring fresh problems. I don’t know if you recall the prints of Piranesi. Or at least the Palazzo delle Esposizioni of Adalberto Libera at the EUR in Rome. There you have a plastic manifestation of a series of problems without solutions. The ultimate, you would agree.

— On Libera at the EUR there is much fertile ground to cover. But aside from sincerity and unsolvable problems, which maybe we’ll talk about later, do you use the telescope to look at the stars?

— No, I should say not. Let’s say it’s a device for looking inside oneself. It could be an observatory to contemplate one’s own soul. One’s own desires, own fears. I produce images like X‒rays; if they can, they will go through anything. You look at them, and they penetrate you right through. No more, no less. It’s like my collection of Piranesian engravings. I’ve got about 20 of them, bought over the years. You take one, look at it, but after a second it is looking at you. It pierces you right through. Lays bare your fears. This condition of suspension, Piranesi and I, my fear and his fear that we mirror through one of his engravings, I like this sensation. I feel liberated.

— Right. Amazing. I didn’t think we would start in this way, but from the first exchanges it seems it will be an interesting interview.

— I think that depends on you, not me. The sacrifice of just one is better than the corruption of the many. It was valid for Piranesi, it was valid for Sottsass when he went into the desert, and it is valid for me.

— Clearly. Or rather, it’s not at all clear. Anyway, let’s pretend it’s clear.

— A society of people that doesn’t dream cannot exist. They would be dead in two weeks. Mouthfuls of silence, nothing more.

— We agree on this too. Maybe we can move on. Given the theoretical and conceptual fundamentals have been established, if we want to give some ‘physical’ basis to your work? Are there architects or places, buildings which over the years have particularly fascinated or interested you?

— We could start from the Palazzo Barberini in Rome. Everything, in time, has its time.

Palazzo Barberini. So we’re in the early Baroque. Carlo Maderno, followed by Bernini ending up with Borromini… Interesting.

— In truth I would start from Palazzo Barberini, but maybe not for the reasons you imagine. Don’t be so direct. If you carry on in a linear way you won’t get anywhere. I would begin with Palazzo Barberini, but if you will permit me, because you cannot have a lasting culture without a certain quantity of lovable vices. You are alone. Nobody knows. Be silent and pretend.

— Right. So? What were we saying?

— You were saying that it is lived together, that we act and react ones with others; but always, in all circumstances, we are alone. I follow you, I pretty much agree.

— Were we saying that? Are you sure?

— Definitely. Obviously, as a corollary to your initial assumption we can’t ignore the fact that when the martyrs entered the arena they held each other’s hands; but they were crucified alone.

— We are getting lost. We had got to Palazzo Barberini.

— Well done. I knew I was dealing with intelligent people. I found out about you. I asked around. I know you are good. So I also know you can cover my back. Come on. The most dangerous thing is to remain immobile.

— So, sorry, what do we have to do?

— I can’t tell you… If you like, I’ll help you. One could start from the helicoidal staircase of the Borromini. And maybe carry on towards El Greco or perhaps Filippo Lippi. And if all of us were dreams that someone dreams, thoughts that someone thinks?

— So we’re not talking about Titian nor even Raphael?

— I should say not. And, for the sake of that conversation, maybe not even Tintoretto could help us much. Or maybe not. What do you think?

— We don’t know what to say. It’s us who are interviewing you.

— So, I had just arrived in Rome, some years ago. Rome for me is important, it’s the city I have chosen to live in. So, by a series of circumstances I had found myself sleeping in the Palazzo Barberini. One night, just one. A special gift. Then I got up, started to walk, and I could do it quite normally, without distorting the outline of the objects. The space was always there, but it had ceased to predominate. The mind was concerned, especially, not with measurements and collocations, but with being and significance. And with the indifference to the space came a yet greater indifference to time. I don’t know if you follow.

— Not completely, but carry on.

— At Palazzo Barberini, the higher the art, the lower the morals. Perhaps this helps…

— So, maybe it’s time to head towards the Caravaggios…

— It could be an idea, there there are some important fragments.

— From the conversation upto now, we’re probably not talking about Judith nor Holofernes…

— Exactly. And in my opinion, not even of San Francesco: as I was explaining before the answer is always inside the problem, not outside.

— But there’s still the Narcissus

— You said it. I would only say that the modern Little Red Riding Hood, brought up on the sound of advertising, has nothing against letting herself be eaten by the wolf. Or maybe not?

— I understand. Maybe. So, are we starting with the Narcissus of Caravaggio because you feel like a Narcissus? Or maybe you feel like Little Red Riding Hood?

— I’ve already said, don’t be so trivial in your interpretations. If you carry on in a straight line you won’t get anywhere with me. Plus, this fact that the Narcissus is by Caravaggio is nothing more than a hypothesis, wrote Roberto Longhi. It’s not really so.

— So you are inclined to attribute it to Orazio Gentileschi?

— No, I don’t think so. If I had to say, I’d be inclined to the view that it was painted by Spadarino, but that’s not the point. The interesting change is that we’re talking about an uncertain attribution. Think of the weight of feeling it. Of the weight of having to feel it.

— So for you this painting is a reference because of the uncertain attribution. And not for the subject?

— What do you read in the subject?

— The interpretation is quite common. We have Narcissus who looks in the mirror. The relation between the physical person and his reflection. The child at the moment before the discovery of the trick.

— I like this explanation of yours. I would never have thought of it. Thank you.

— Sorry, but you introduced the reference, not us.

— No, that doesn’t seem right. What are you saying?

— Sorry, what do you mean?

— You said that. I pointed out a palace in Rome. You arrived at the trick of the reflex on your own. I didn’t do or say anything. It’s you who are speaking, not me. For an uneducated intelligence, any reading and any film, like any journey, is always a banal experience, it doesn’t enrich at all—that seems obvious. But you seem educated.

— So Caravaggio’s Narcissus, or whatever it is, is a possible reference?

— Undoubtedly, but you said so yourselves. Starting from Palazzo Barberini one can reach a million different places. I was curious to see you at work. As I said to you at the beginning, I am an observatory. I think you look for things in me that are in any case in front of you, in your head, in your imagination. It isn’t freedom of choice, the possibility of switching on or off the computer. Someone who always seems the same person is not a person. They are an impersonator of people.

— But if you are a mirror, and we then bring a second mirror, what happens?

— You tell me. Moreover, you know as well as I do that mirrors don’t produce great truths. Someone who always seems the same person is not a person. They are an impersonator of people.

— Yes, in fact… Burroughs said that, right?

— I don’t remember, maybe he did. Imagine a construction on five floors without walls or stairs.

— Do you know Jean Cocteau?

— Sure I do. I spent 18 months at Villefranche sur Mer. I copied all his frescoes. Full size. I know my Cocteau. I understand what you are driving at. But it is a blind alley, it won’t get us anywhere: by persisting in getting to the bottom of things, you stay there.

— But why do you say that Cocteau is not a useful reference?

— It was he who said that an original artist is incapable of copying. So you just have to copy him to be original. I understood Cocteau, I understood what he was driving at, about 40,000 years ago. To help you, by the way, he also said that an architect cannot talk about their architecture any more than a plant can discuss horticulture.

— Look, you’re wrong about that, he was talking about the artist, not the architect.

— The South roars, the North has no slopes. Don’t come the Milanese with me, it won’t work. No hard feelings, let’s go. Go to work. I don’t mind. I have to go to work. Is the architect not the artist of space?

— If you say so…

— But I’m not saying anything. It’s you who are talking. You have ideas and you’re trying to make it as if I’m introducing them. But it won’t work. I have to say you’re a bit predictable. Cite Cocteau. I understand. You want to talk about mirrors. Fine. Cocteau says: «Mirrors should reflect a short moment before reflecting images». What do you want me to say now? Your silence is deafening. Perhaps I could ask a ceasefire before the final attack.

— But these are not attacks. There is perhaps a mirror. Or at least a kaleidoscope. Do you not agree?

— Your soul is your mirror: you are yourselves.

— That’s good. Did you make it up?

— No, I can’t say I did. It’s George Bernard Shaw. Shaw, among indifferent people. But I’m not, I’m with other people.

— So shall we carry on talking of mirrors?

— If you like, why not? You asked for the interview. We’ll talk about what you want. I have no preference. Do you want to talk about mirrors? Great. Do you want to talk about houses. Excellent. But do you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to buy a submarine. Not a boat, a submarine. Not boats, not yachts, not mirrors. I don’t know if you follow.

— Not completely. You seem to be in a labyrinth, but as we explained, we appreciate your work very much.

— Unicorns can be tricked by means of trees; bears by mirrors; elephants by holes; lions by nets; and men, lastly, by adulation.

— That’s Shakespeare…

— No, I thought of it. It was to show you that to understand what I do you actually have to be good; adulation’s not enough.

— Regardless of adulation, we seem to remember that what you quoted first is a fragment (quite an important one, however) of Shakespeare…

— «The mirror only picks up other mirrors, and this infinite reflection is void itself (which is, as we know, form).» That’s Shakespeare. Or maybe Roland Barthes. Or maybe someone else. I don’t think I thought of it. But again, it doesn’t seem so important. Why do you linger over irrelevant details? I’ve told you three times, and therefore it’s true.

— We don’t know. You confuse us. Can we have a break and talk about Lewis Carroll and Alice?

— If you like, why not? Even if, again, I don’t think Lewis Carroll gets us anywhere.

— Why?

— While I talk with the puzzle‒solving friend, I think of Lewis Carroll, of this man who would never have written Alice if he had not had the difficult privilege of witnessing the catastrophe of words. The written word no longer responds to the needs of total information. It has been swallowed by the image. Les jeux sont faits.

— If you say so, we believe it. We must confess you’re beginning to make our heads spin…

— I like the aspect of dream in Alice. Everything else bores me deeply. Architecture, however, is not that a guided dream. Also, you shouldn’t look in the mirror. If you don’t look in the mirror, you won’t have any problem.

— Do you like looking in the mirror?

— I like the aspect of dream in Alice. Everything else bores me deeply. Architecture, however, is not that a guided dream. Also, you shouldn’t look in the mirror. If you don’t look in the mirror, you won’t have any problem.

— There must be some mistake. You have repeated the same phrase twice.

— I live on repetitions. Furthermore, I like the aspect of dream in Alice. Everything else bores me deeply. Architecture, however, is not that a guided dream. Also, you shouldn’t look in the mirror. If you don’t look in the mirror, you won’t have any problem…

— Would you prefer to stop the interview here?

— I prefer to imagine. Like Sottsass in the desert, like San Simeone lo Stilita. Forty years on a pillar. The devil tempts him in every way, but he never gives in. He offers him anything. Gold, riches, women, money. Everything. But he never gives in. Crazy. Then at one point, the devil offers to take him to Studio 54 in New York. And San Simeone accepts. And he leaves for New York. There’s San Simeone lo Stilita on the 747 ready to go to Studio 54. That’s me. Do you want to come with me?

— It seems a bit of a challenging trip. We are fascinated by your trains of thought.

— They aren’t trains of thought, they are real journeys. At night at Palazzo Barberini. In a hot summer in the theatre on the roof of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni. Dreaming of Buñuel arm in arm with Felix Krull.

— Do you go to confession sometimes?

— Only when I read Thomas Mann. But it happens seldom. Also, when I have dreams that are a bit unusual. Dreams that are easy to interpret, dreams that are difficult to interpret. It depends.

— And when you dream, do you provide the interpretations yourself or do others help you?

— The interpretation of dreams, like the I-Ching, are things that fill up a great deal of time. They attract me, but then they bore me. Very much. I begin to strive to find an interpretation, but then give up. And I leave it to others, who find it difficult to find an interpretation.

— How do you mean?

— Basically I’m not interested in the image that others see.

— So you’re not even interested in the story of the Doppelgänger, the evil twin, and thus the fake and plagiarism, right?

— As I said before, everyone gives of reality the translation they want. That is, I accept that there are millions—or if you prefer billions—of versions of a phenomenon. And so obviously of the Cardillo phenomenon. Everyone gives a different explanation, I restrict myself to collecting versions. I like this exercise of collection. I see myself essentially as an observer. It has happened that I have ventured to design, but I think that which I have seen is much more important than what I have designed.

— That seems an important change.

— It is rare to find a good observer just as it is rare to find a good designer. There are those who say that the designer must adopt a language everyone can understand. They must be joking. No one should understand it! They should look at it and look at it again; if not what would the linguistic versatility of the contemporary designer be? What do you think, that you change the world by squatting or going to centri sociali? Come on, you’re too intelligent for such pettiness.

— Well, coming from you I don’t know if that’s a compliment. You know it is an overrated quality, intelligent. Coming back to us, how do you imagine changing the world?

— Do as Ferdinando Pessoa did.

— Which is?

— I am nothing and I shall ever be nothing. I cannot want to be anything. But I have in me all the dreams in the world. You change the world acting from within, like a virus. A virus called language. The designer must entice, they shouldn’t tell anything, they have no duty to transmit truths. As soon as truth cuts in, everything falls down. Pessoa invented 30 Pessoas. Thirty different authors. They exchanged correspondence, they wrote to him, he wrote back, wrote back again. Thirty Pessoas, and who was he? Another one.

— But did you not just say that you don’t deal with words?

— Yes, but only as an instrument. Indeed, as a cloak for thought. If the thought is coarse, the cloak certainly won’t hide it. But if the thought is elegant it is worth everything. I believe.

— And about the Doppelgänger, what were you saying?

— A designer gradually identifies with the form of his own design; a designer is, in the end, their own circumstances. As the meaning of Doppelgänger, I choose the phenomenon where one sees one’s own image out of the corner of the eye. Something much more innocent that the first definition.

— So you’re saying that truth is much simpler?

— Every truth is simple. Isn’t it a double falsehood?

— Cardillo, we’re back where we started. Again, that’s not yours.

— You are obsessive. No, I found it in a Perugina chocolate. Is it so significant?

— No, indeed.

— There you are, great. Sure, Nietzsche said it. Are you happy? It was a Perugina chocolate bought in Germany. I go often. I love Germany. And Germany loves me. It winks at me. I know it loves me.

— It’s not that we are happy or unhappy. It’s that you confuse us.

— A story of particular facts is a mirror that obscures and distorts that which could be beautiful. While poetry is a mirror that makes the distorted beautiful. But this has nothing to do with mirrors. Nor with distortion.

— OK, so we don’t want to talk about distortion.

— But no, let’s talk about it, of course we can. I’ve been waiting for that question from our first video conferencing meeting. I told you. You are very kind, but also so predictable…

— Well, after all it’s a good way of not talking about it again. Later. So what is that story about renderings, briefly?

— As I said before, everyone can see both the original and the false in my works. After all, you know better than me that Borges explained that the original is unfaithful to the translation. So, if we start from here, my renderings are the original.

— Clearly. And that “New York Times” definition?

— It escapes me. What did they write?

— «Antonino Cardillo is perhaps the most famous example of an architect who lives on his inventions and hardly invents anything.» Is that you?

— I like it. Yes, what do you think? It seems appropriate. For the next 20 minutes I should say that it represents me perfectly. On the other hand, with all the work I’ve done, I think I’ve really merited that definition. After all nothing is true. Anything goes.

— Shall we finish the interview with Burroughs, then?

— No. I am European. Profoundly European. From this point of view, everything is manipulation. And sometimes this is good.

— On Beuys we give up. You win. Thank you.

— I told you before. I like the aspect of dream in Alice. Everything else bores me deeply. Architecture, however, is not that a guided dream. Also, you shouldn’t look in the mirror. If you don’t look in the mirror, you won’t have any problem. I love to repeat myself. Before leaving you though, I would like a final word.

— Go ahead.

— The rest of us are very superficial. We don’t enter completely into the joke. The joke is more profound and radical, dear friends. And it consists of this, now I’ll tell you. Being necessarily acts as forms, which are the appearances it constitutes, and to which we give the value of reality. A value that changes, naturally, according to the being which in that form and in that act appears to us.

And it must seem to us necessarily that others are wrong; that a given form, a given act is not this and is not thus. But inevitably, a little later, if we move on, we notice that we too are wrong, and that it is not this and it is not thus; therefore in the end we are forced to recognise that there will never be either this or thus in any stable or certain way, but now in one way and now in another, that everything at a certain point appears wrong to us, or everything true, which is the same; because we have not been given a reality and there isn’t one, but we have to make it ourselves, if we want to be: and there will never be one for all, one for ever, but perpetually and infinitely mutable.

The faculty of our being able to deceive ourselves that today’s reality be the only true one, if on one hand it sustains us, on the other it throws us into an endless void, because today’s reality is destined to reveal tomorrow’s illusion. Over and out. Don’t tell me you didn’t understand: if I’d wanted to be sure you would understand I would have put it more clearly. But times are hard and no one is doing anyone any favours.

All the best. When you get home, if you are still thinking of me, send me a postcard.