Rome, Lille, Marseille… stages of a present and in progress path, where places and materials interact with the creativity of the Ortas – Lucy (Sutton Coldfield, UK 1966) and Jorge (Rosario, Argentina 1953), in an atmosphere of synergy with an extraordinarily large and diverse team of collaborators. Their research explores social and environmental art, by getting to the heart of issues related to identity, ecology, history, territory. At MAXXI Museum, which in 2011 hosted their dinner-performance The Meal – Act XXXII, they present, as part of the show “Tridimensionale”, the ambitious installation Fabulae Romanae, curated by Maria Luisa Frisa, featuring a video, a series of drawings and sculptures with clothing and textiles, commissioned by Ermenegildo Zegna, with the support of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, London College of Fashion (until September 23, 2012). We met them!

Lucy + Jorge Orta, Fabulae Romanae, photo by Claudia Pajewski for DROME magazine

DROME: How was Fabulae Romanae born, a work that sums up the most meaningful moments of your creative journey and, at the same time, establishes a direct relationship with the client? For the installation, in fact, you used innovative fabrics produced by Ermenegildo Zegna, chosen – as we read in the press release – “for their material qualities to represent a symbolic function of protection.”
Jorge Orta: Lucy and I have known each other and worked together for twenty years. She comes from the field of fashion, she is a fashion designer by profession, and has always been very interested in the developments of the textile industry. She has a strong attraction for everything related to the possibilities of natural and synthetic fiber. The relationship with Zegna was born in this context – they produce a certain type of fabric and we have used a piece of that fabric -, but at the same time the meeting was magic in the sharing of a common goal of life, of a common thought related to art and culture in which industrial society is associated with the artist’s poetic.

D: The dress and the house have both three-dimensional structures that likewise welcome, wrap and protect man in his individuality as in his social dynamics. What do you think are the features that they have in common?
Lucy Orta: We examine these problems in different ways and with different projects, such as “refuge wear” and “body architecture”, which explore – as you pointed out – both the architectural and the garments issues. In Fabulae Romanae there is also the idea of transformation, such as from a garment to a sleeping bag and from a sleeping bag to a backpack: that is an idea of multifunctionality. At the same time, we are particularly interested in the metaphorical aspect of the concept of refuge, of protection, of “Nexus Architecture”. The entire project, in fact, is connected not only in its architecture and performance side: the garment creates a link in our society which is between the individual and the environment. It can be said that the dress has a function as a membrane and in creating a network between the structure, the action of the performance, the dress itself and the situation within the city. In this exhibition, in particular, we find interesting the architectural idea of the tent which is like a shack, but it is also connected to the domes of Rome. We had also started to do research on the seven hills of Rome, but in reality this context is not only Roman: is a universal concept of tent-dome-architecture.

D: What are the most imminent threats from which we should protect ourselves? What is your idea of catastrophe, which is a constant “underground” presence of your work.
JO: We are aware of imminent threats from which we must protect ourselves and a lot of our works go in this direction, but it is not an ecological disaster or otherwise, even if there are real presences when we speak of problems anywhere in the world, as the water pollution… The most dangerous threats, however, are invisible, underground and silent – like individualism, ignorance towards the other, the law of the jungle – which threaten our society. And without the society, all becomes wild, and there are no more values and laws. For this reason, many of our works are relational, focused on community and connection, to allow the knowledge of one another, creating a line of convergence. In fact, we are very positive and optimistic, we believe in the ability of the individual – with all its weaknesses – and of the society itself in being able to rebuild. The problem, if anything, is that times are very slow. We see a dormant society that does not want to see some problems: the aim of our work is to give an alarm to awaken consciences and call to action.

Lucy + Jorge Orta, Fabulae Romanae, photo by Claudia Pajewski for DROME magazine

D: Some of your projects, such as Urban Life Guards - initiated in 2004 – are works in progress: how the concept of time found its place in your work?
LO: You gave the example of Urban Life Guards, but in reality this project is from a previous work called Connector. All our work is connected to others, in fact it is a single project. People have a tendency to separate each project, when, however, the creative process is similar to the roots of a tree coming out in various directions, but belonging to a single trunk. Urban Life Guards is a particular experiment, but we stopped using the term “urban”, because we don’t just speak of urban situations, but also of nature and environment, so it has become “life guards”, and from there it has been further evolved. In this show at MAXXI we found “spirits” that act as bodyguards, but we no longer call them “life guards”, because their role is polysemous, not only as guardians which save lives.
JO: Yes, our work is part of a single long process. The sculpture itself, as well as the ceramic plate or drawing, do not say much of the work. They are just a small part of what is the “human sculpture” and the “social sculpture”. We need to feel the work as a process of observation and analysis of the society, of the change and the operation of which we are observers, viewers, players. This should serve as a means to transport the audience in a social context, inviting them to tour the city – in this case Rome – as “spirits”, in order to create the story by themselves, then pulling the conclusions.

D: How important is the on-site experience to the development of the idea, in the transition from project to work? I refer in particular to the South Pole with Antarctic Village – No Borders…
JO: We consider our work as contextual. Everything is based on the ability to observe and respond in – more or less – real time to the society in which we participate, locally and internationally. The project on the South Pole, in particular, was very difficult because it was complex. We had to find funding and organize the logistics. We were there for three weeks, but to mount it, it took fifteen years. With Lucy we were also told that it was not necessary to go to Antarctica – the concept was important, so we could only imagine the place and then, perhaps, making a drawing. But is not the same to set foot in a real situation on the other side of the world to talk of a neutral territory, virgin, feeling the wind at 120 km per hour and the perception of an infinite space. Having, then, awareness of being in a new territory, where even the concept of identity and territoriality is not like what you can imagine staying warm in the office. We take our time, but then we go into the volcano, Japan, to do our project within the crater, or at Machu Picchu, in the middle of warfare, to work with the Incas. We speak, in short, of territoriality in a concrete way, according to the territories themselves. Even when we went to the Amazon rainforest, we had no need to go really, after all we could see the documentary or look up information on the Internet, but I assure you that when you get there it’s all completely different. After living experiences like this, inevitably you look at reality with new eyes.

D: Social activism and ethical art are two definitions frequently used in relation to your work. What exactly is the meaning of “art as founder utopia”, as you’ve defined in other contexts?
JO: It is the foundation of our thinking and is the definition of our work. Personally, I belong to another generation, to the utopia of the sixties. Especially in Latin America believed in changing the world, anyone – any class – it felt like a duty. Students from all universities had the same ideals. Not everything was good experience back then, many things were wrong. The same Che Guevara – which I have personally lived the ideals – has been a disaster, many dead, so many frustrations. All this does not exist today. The thinking has changed a lot, there are different concerns. Yet, there is more need than ever – anywhere – to believe in a dreamthat can be related to the constructive and active in social reality.

Lucy + Jorge Orta, Fabulae Romanae, photo by Claudia Pajewski for DROME magazine

D: Professional and private life are as one – since your meeting in Paris in the early ’90s, you have been Studio Orta, and you like to consider your work as a co-creation, where the contribution of each other is, some way, anonymous . Is it difficult to reconcile these roles?
JO: First, there are Lucy and Jorge and their professional interaction. We recognize that we are incredibly lucky if even today, after twenty years, we are a great complement. Everything that I do not like to do, I do not know how to do or that, however, is a problem for me, Lucy likes to do it. However, all that she is afraid to do, for me is simple. We are two, and we can share the work in a complementary way, not in an overlapping jurisdictions. We need each other, from this point of view, therefore, it is very fluid. But when we talk about co-creation, is not so much related to us, as to the process of introducing into an artwork all the collective collaborations, participations, external interventions. We work with children, misfits, intellectuals, philosophers, scientists… people who we invite to become part of the work, not just to come and watch. We support a process of “daily poetry”, or of transformation into a poetic act of all that can be trivial or scientific in everyday life. This is our work as co-creation. Instead, to be able to combine these roles with the family… is a disaster! It is really difficult: many journeys, so much work, so many pressures.
LO: I stop for three months now, without going to the studio, and I stay with our children. On Summer, we always dedicate a month to them, and when it is possible they travel with us, like when we were invited for a project in Australia.
JO: Indeed, we choose to have children.

D: How many children do you have?
JO: Three.
LO: Four.
JO: Three, four … Between 12 to 29 years.

D: What was the motivation that prompted you to leave Paris in order to move, in 2000, in an industrial archaeological site in Marne-la-Vallee?
JO: It is a phenomenon common to many artists that of being unable to find large spaces in the metropolis. It is surely the case in Paris and London, and we needed to have a bigger space, both as a deposit and in order to achieve great works. This led us outside Paris. At first, we found an old dairy of two thousand feet, and we started to fix it. This has changed our whole life, because we started to do some work even bigger. But that space that looked great, with the years it has become smaller, so it was added to a mill, then another mill. But it is not just a question of space: Lucy and I both have a passion for industrial archeology. It is also a great pleasure, as well as a responsibility, to recovery and enhancement of heritage and the past. On the other hand, space is also a place to live, of work and complicity with artist residencies and students. We all live together, work together, eat together and spend time talking. A kind of communal experience that we find particularly important.

text by Manuela De Leonardis
photos by Claudia Pajewski for DROME magazine

DROME suggests you the following group show with Lucy+Jorge Orta:

MAXXI – Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo
Via Guido Reni, 4/A

Rome, until September 23, 2012