Marina Abramovic talks to Renzo Rosso

Acclaimed performance artist Marina Abramović was on the judging panel for the ITS Fashion award in Trieste, Italy last year. The competition has been integral to the annual International Talent Support global search since its inception in 2001 and has the clothing brand Diesel as its primary sponsor. Fashion blogger Susie Bubble attended and took time to chair a conversation between Diesel’s founder Renzo Rosso and the artist. In this Talk, they flesh out the complexities in the fluid relationship between art and fashion.

Susie Bubble How did you meet each other?
Renzo Rosso *laughs* We were girlfriend and boyfriend. We were a couple.
Marina Abramović Maybe in the past life. He’s such a joker. (Confiding) Don’t listen to him. No, we met on the Missoni boat at the Venice Biennale two years ago. This guy who looked pretty good with the blue eyes, he had a great energy, which I liked. We just had this dynamic short conversation. Then we met again during Art Basel. 

SB You met each other at art world events. How did you become interested in Marina’s world, Renzo?
RR I love art but I spend so much time on my business I don’t really have a lot of spare moments. Five years ago, I decided to become interested in art. I bring with me a teacher to see art every time there’s an exhibition or a biennale. To see art, it’s not easy, you need an education. If you know the story behind it, like why does one artist create a certain piece of art – their influences, their life – you can start to have your own fantasy based on the artwork that is in front of you. Now I’ve developed my interest and I’ve started to collect a few pieces.
MA It’s so true that when you look at artwork, it’s hard to understand whether something is rubbish or not – like Piero Manzoni, who literally made art out of shit in a can. It was an extremely important piece, but you really need context to understand it. It’s a jungle out there. In art, you can say that 80 per cent is really trash. In every century, there will be a few artists who made a real difference and all the rest are copying. It’s the same with fashion.

SB Do you see parallels between art and fashion?
MA Fashion is always feeding from art. They might take open inspiration from Baroque, Impressionism, Japanese art, but when it’s closer to contemporary art, for some reason fashion doesn’t admit where the influences come from, which is my problem. Lady Gaga wore a meat dress but three artists in the ’70s made a dress out of meat. Fashion doesn’t seem to want to make that connection between contemporary art and its influence.
RR I take inspiration from art when we’re doing collections many times when we’re designing prints or campaigns. You take some vibrations. You have to have a different configuration when dealing with art. You have to think about whether it’s the right time to use something for your collections.

SB A lot of designers are inspired by the surface and aesthetics of art. Marina, do you find the same problem with your performance art?
MA I have been copied by so many people. Steven Meisel is a Xerox of my work. I could kill the guy! At the same time, if you take a piece of Bach and make techno Bach, you have to pay the rights for the music. If fashion is influenced by Mondrian, the artwork is translated into different materials – that’s ok. I don’t like it when they copy so literally. I worked with Riccardo Tisci on a photoshoot and asked him: "Do you agree that fashion feeds from art?". He agreed so I said: “Ok, you’re fashion, I’m art, so suck my tit” and he did. It was hard for him because he’s gay, but he did it. This is the relationship between fashion and art.

SB Renzo, what is it about Marina’s work that intrigues you?
RR In my life, we don’t create art – we create intelligent design, we create windows, we create the stores, we create events, we create advertising – when we do these things, we have a rebellious spirit. We’re both rebels. I was really informed by 1968. I don’t think I’m a genius. I just think that when I see something I try to remake it for the modern world to find out what the world needs. This is how I work with my team. I push them to do the same. I want to do something special because then you can inspire people to dream.
MA: There’s something incredibly similar between us, which is that we both started from zero. I come from the fifth world, not even the third world. To get it where I am now, it took every single gram of my energy. When I started, everything was against me – they wanted to put me in a mental hospital.

SB And you created a revolution in denim, Renzo.
RR I was born just after the war. The little village where I lived was so poor. One television. I was hungry to do something. My parents educated me and sent me to the US. The American dream was very strong for me because they saved Italy after the war. I was 20 when I went to New York and it felt like home. I dreamt so much. I read books, saw movies and it was incredible.
MA: I had the same feeling when I went to New York.

SB Do your backgrounds explain why you’re both interested in young talent?
MA I think it’s so important from an artist’s point of view to see what young people are thinking. It’s the future. I’m not interested in my generation. They hate everything that is new because they’re jealous of the progress.
RR It’s incredible how alike we think. Young people are not contaminated. I can bring them support. They can then give real creativity.
MA Young people give you a sense of the time in which you live, which is so important. What we can give to them is experience. We can see something that they don’t have yet. You see the potential but they’re too young to understand. It takes you 20 years to have consciousness.

SB What are you looking for in young talent?
RR It depends on where you want them to be. You cannot say that one creative can do everything. There’s one that’s good for one role but not for something else.

SB Is originality unobtainable or dying?
MA It’s not dying.
RR Through young people, you can discover creativity and originality. For me, young people need to be politicians. They are daring.
MA When I look at young artists, I need to see sacrifice. It’s completely giving yourself in totality. You can be talented and you can waste your talent. You have to be this extra bit of complete obsession.

SB What about the foundation that you are working on?
MA I don’t like this word. Artists make foundations to promote themselves. This is more like an institute focused on the young generation. I have this concept with Rem Koolhaas; we are now raising funds. The building is in upstate New York. I want it to involve film, video, fashion, dance, performance art, theatre and science, too. A think tank for this inter-disciplinary vision. When you come, you give me your word of honour that you will spend six hours there. You’re investing your time and mind.
RR: I have my foundation where I do projects. I’m doing something inspired by the beginnings of my life. I met the Dalai Lama and he said I needed to do something using my name. Part of the money that I earn I put back into the foundation. You have to use your brand name and that way you get a following and support. At the moment, we’re building a village in Mali for 20,000 people. I’m very much involved. I was in Timbuktu in January and three days after leaving, there was a rebellion.

SB The art world has a lot of freedom. Do we need more time in fashion?
RR Today, we are in a system and you have to create numbers. I’m one of the lucky ones because I still promote creativity and freedom. It’s true that it’s not like before when you had more freedom.

SB What makes you angry about fashion?
RR I don’t like the snobbery in the industry. I like people with a joie de vivre.
MA Kids today don’t have time to make mistakes. They’re immediately taken up by the industry. Failure is so important. The reason for creation is to elevate the human spirit; it’s not just having money or success.

  • Marina Abramovic Talks to Renzo Rosso