Interview with Giorgio De Mitri – Modena
by Pietro Rivasi, translated by Guido Deep

Giorgio De Mitri is a cultural agitator, a "facilitator of ideas" as he likes to describe himself. At the top of the international creative scene for more than 30 years, he has been the heart & soul of events that have gone down in history such as De.Fu.Mo and The Bridges of Graffiti.
Giorgio De Mitri
Modena, Italy

Interview with Giorgio De Mitri – Modena




Interview with Giorgio De Mitri – Modena
by Pietro Rivasi, translated by Guido Deep

Giorgio De Mitri is a cultural agitator, a "facilitator of ideas" as he likes to describe himself. At the top of the international creative scene for more than 30 years, he has been the heart & soul of events that have gone down in history such as De.Fu.Mo and The Bridges of Graffiti.
Giorgio De Mitri
Modena, Italy

The interview’s photographs were chosen and inserted by Urbaner team.

When did you develop an interest in writing and / or urban art in general?

It’s hard to establish the very moment it all sparked, as printed words have always fascinated me, especially if rendered in a “non-usual” way. I remember a wonderful book by Paul Eluard entitled VOIR (illustrated by Picasso, Chagall, Juan Gris, J.Villon, F. Léger, G. Braque, G. de Chirico, P. Klee, Max Ernst, Joan Miro, Y. Tanguy, André Masson , A. Beaudin, Man Ray, R. Magritte, S. Dali, Balthus, Léonor Fini, O. Dominguez, F. Labisse, Fautrier, Dubuffet, Chaste) that I discovered on the shelves of my home’s library as a child. Surely that helped arouse my interest back then.

How was the situation in Modena regarding these forms of expression, do you remember if there were already signs of these cultural movements?

I don’t remember seeing any tag or burner around…

What were the first signs that you saw in person and why did they catch your attention?

The first sign I remember was an inscription in via Luigi Riccoboni: VIETATO VIETARE (It is forbidden to forbid).
It was written in capital letters, I had no problem reading it… the handwriting was excellent! It was the early ‘70s, but that slogan still sounds relevant now, even after 50+ years. I think it was a sign of the things that would come over the following years, from the booklet Le Tracce by Franco Vaccari, to the catalogue of 1984 – Evolution and regeneration of writing, going through the artists that Pietro Rivasi brought to Modena for the “Icone” event, up until this very project (Urbaner) which this interview and research is part of – I believe.

As mentioned, printed words have always fascinated me, it’s as if they were subtitles to my way of seeing things and walking on earth. From the words of Eluard mentioned by the great ones of the last century, to Modena’s telephone area code (059) written on the electrical substations of our home-town, the path is long and we still have a long way to go.

Una tag 059 - Foto archivio Urbaner
Photo: Urbaner archive

Do you believe that there were clubs or situations, either institutional or not, that may have contributed to their development in the city?

If we talk about physical places, first and foremost I’d like to mention the Palazzina dei Giardini, then the Archimede, the San Geminiano and finally the Graffio. If we talk about people, without Oscar Goldoni there would have been no Galleria Civica and I would not have been lucky enough to fall in love with photography, and in particular with the kind linked to the work of artists. I associate an image with him, the one of Keith Haring climbing a net, with a pair of Jordans on his feet, which perfectly sums up my life path. With Marcello Targi Parmeggiani from MenteLocale, in June 1989 we went to interview the Radiant Baby in Pisa, while he was painting the famous TuttoMondo. Seeing him again after a few days in that photograph was a kind of enlightenment.

Oscar and that particular exhibition dedicated to Gianfranco Gorgoni‘s work changed my life. The venue was Palazzina dei Giardini, the same place where 22 years later Marco Pierini invited me to curate and produce Kindergarten, and where Fausto Ferri gave Pietro Rivasi the opportunity to curate 1984. That’s what I mean when we talk about the power of a physical place and the strength of the people! Just go and check the catalogue of that exhibition and think about the title of Gorgoni’s most famous book, Beyond the Canvas, to grasp the reasons. Be it right or wrong, I have always associated an artist’s work with his person.

Almost all of my favorite artists are my friends and their work accompanies me on a daily basis. On the walls of the Palazzina del Vigarani there were many of the protagonists of what had become my passion: contemporary culture in its most significant interpreters, from Keith Haring to Bob Marley. Oscar, god bless him, had allowed me to print the photo of Marley by Gorgons that I later gave to my class and studio mate Patty Di Gioia, for our sixth anniversary.

That photo resembles another image that I adore, Stacy Peralta on the table portrayed by Craig Stecyk: in both pictures the faces of the main characters are not visible, their hair and the movement of their head are spectrum and punctum at the same time. (Here you can find the foto). Both are part of my personal collection and represent two key moments of my life, one linked to music and another to skate and to its matrix, surfing.

The Big Wednesday has deeply influenced me, and Get Up Stand Up is very relevant today more than ever, unfortunately. At Archimede, in via Cesalpino, in 1989 if I’m not mistaken, thanks to the guys from Progetto Mezz, DeeMo and ZeroT were invited to paint a wonderful piece on a large garden wall, which eventually was dismantled.

DeeMo then made another piece, this time on wooden panels, again with the Archimede boys during the “summer of the courtyards” in the cloister of San Geminiano: DO THE RIGHT THINGS. (I think it’s now kept at Letargo, the meeting place of the Ritmopolitan). In the same courtyard where I spent long hours reading the comics that Daniele Iori had donated to the library, I discovered Andrea Pazienza who is second to none for his sign. After that, the same authors of Archimede, once they moved to via del Lancillotto in what had been the Graffio, gave life to a new project, the NAIN/MORE. In order to give character to the venue, they commissioned another piece from ZeroT, MAJOR FORCE, which was then covered by Delta during the DeFuMo jam session (so it goes).

Parete esterna del More, lato cortile, prima di De.Fu.Mo. autore sconosciuto - Foto Archivio Francesco Bevini
More club before De.Fu.Mo. anonymous – Photo: Francesco Bevini archive

Parete esterna del More, lato cortile, prima di De.Fu.Mo. autore sconosciuto - Foto Archivio Francesco Bevini

As for me, I have always collaborated with the same people: Giordano Cuoghi, Gianni Carbonara, Maurizio Zilibotti and Nino Toselli who, together with their companions, were the cornerstones of the Mezz Project.

DeFuMo was and remains a very interesting project even 20 years after: how did you come to do something like this in Modena and what is your perception of the impact it had on the city?

DeFuMo was born from the need to defend the walls of Graffio, which namely became NAIN/MORE. The idea of working with three “giants” of the writing movement, developed itself during a meeting in Paris with Futura, Delta and Mode2.

For those like me who have lived in Modena in the 1980s, Graffio and everything that revolved around the creative minds who gave birth to that experience, Alessandro Jumbo Manfredini, Fabrizio Biccio Maselli, Mauro Tesauro, Francesco Ricci, Giorgio Tavernari, Filippo Partesotti, Alberto Bobbera, Andrea Barbieri, Renzo Masterfunk and all those mentioned in the famous manifesto recently exhibited at Dilettanti Geniali, represented a real epiphany.

When I got to know of the existential threats to those walls which had hosted so many beautiful moments and so many people dear to me, I was driven to do something. The NAIN/MORE guys felt in danger with respect to the continuity they had guaranteed to Graffio and Delta, Futura and Mode2 gathered my invitation in the best possible way.

Their generosity, combined with that of the people who passed by in via del Lancillotto during those days, some photographing, Enzo and Paolo Ragazzini, some filming, Claudia Tosi and Paolo Freschi, some bringing clothes, Luca Benini, some playing records, Fraser Cooke, allowed us to give life to an experiment that involved many friends: from those days, a site, a film, a DVD, a pack with three t-shirts and a booklet were released independently and distributed free of charge. Not to mention that, even today, those walls are still standing and the trace of that jam is still clearly visible. All this despite the Parcita, a deadly cocktail served by Pino Nerilli at the bar!

Recently, in August 2019, we had a reunion in Burgundy on the occasion of the Art on the Roc festival, where our three heroes painted a couple of monumental walls. The result was amazing and I realized during that event that the echo of the work done together in Modena is still very strong, even after twenty years.

The film about the new episode of DeFuMo is curently being edited. The material was shot by Marco Molinelli, Paolo Freschi and Paolo Cattani. I’m taking care of it together with Nicolò Faietti who accompanied us as a photographer. I rate highly Nico and his artistic work, he is a multifaceted artist who is leaving new marks around the city.

Defumo, Beautiful losers, Kindergarden, Bridges of graffiti: can we claim they’re part of the same path, or do you consider them disconnected experiences, although certainly they have common ground?

They are four milestones of a human and intellectual journey. In 1989 I commissioned Nicola Peressoni aka DeeMo to write an article on the phenomenon of writing, for what eventually turned to be my first publishing experience, a magazine called MenteLocale published by Intellighetsia – a publishing house that Ettore Zanfi had asked me to direct.

Those were the times of the Biennale for Young Artists hosted in the city of Bologna, in which I had studied and where DeeMo together with his mates from Isola nel Kantiere was living a unique experience that a couple of years later, would have led to the release of Stop al Panico, a title that is trending massively again. I was in Bologna to shoot Musica per Vecchi Animali by Stefano Benni and Umberto Angelucci and a mutual friend, Francesco Martorelli, introduced us. From that moment on, DeeMo became my first contact person for anything that concerns graffiti. I’ve never actually painted and I’ve never gone “outside”: yards, trains, illegal walls are not part of my career. It is therefore essential to me to be able to rely on someone who has gained his grades on the field.

Over the time, others have joined him: ZeroT, Futura and Stash, followed by Mode2 and Delta, Reas, Bean, SKKI, Jay, Doze, Teach, Eron … there’s always something to learn from those who are playing the game! Having said that, the experiences that have marked my path are studded with the same figures. Many others have been added over time to those mentioned above, Kostas Seremetis, Phil Frost, Tom Sachs, Aaron Rose, Steve Lazarides, Danijel Zezelj… not to mention photography and design! And that’s about the last millennium. DeFuMo, in 2000, Kindergarten, in 2011, and The Bridges of Graffiti, in 2015, were born on the same ground and grew thanks to new experiences gained over time, thanks to the people mentioned above.

Os Gemeos all'ex AMCM, Modena 2005
Os Gemeos at ex AMCM, Modena, 2005
Os Gemeos al More, Modena 2005
Os Gemeos at Graffio/More/Tube – via del Lancillotto, Modena, 2005
Nina all'ex AMCM, Modena 2005
Nina at ex AMCM, Modena, 2005

I discovered the work of Os Gemeos in 1998 thanks to Allen Benedikt in an American magazine, 12oz Prophet. When the time came to involve the brazilian twins in an articulated project such as Joga Bonito in 2004, it was Mode2 that acted as intermediary. They too have passed through Modena and some signs are still visible, coincidentally on the same walls in via del Lancillotto. On the other hand, those of the former AMCM were swept away by demolitions.

Una fase delle demolizioni nell'area ex AMCM - Foto archivio Stefano Soranna
A phase of the demolitions in the former AMCM area. Photo: Stefano Soranna’s archive

Mode2 also introduced me to Todd James aka REAS, Barry McGee aka TWIST and Stephen Powers aka ESPO in 2001, on the occasion of their participation in the Venice Biennale with the installation STREET MARKET.

Reas was invaluable in helping us frame The Bridges project. And this is when photography comes back into play: without the work of Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant it would be impossible to retrace the movements of these phenomena.

Again Mode2 with regard to the BBC: I met SKKI and JayOne thanks to him. Same thing goes for Eron: it was DeeMo, together with Luca Barcellona ie. Bean, who had the intuition to associate him with The Bridges of Graffiti project. I will never stop being thankful to them.

Beautiful Losers is part of a parallel strand, related to different people, in particular to Aaron Rose and the group of artists around him.

The points in common are given by the artists who have participated in all these projects, Futura, Reas, Tom Sachs, Craig Stecyk, Ed Templeton, Os Gemeos, just to name a few of those I have collaborated with over the past twenty years. For others, paths have been different: for example José Parla aka EASE, who just yesterday inaugurated his first solo show at the Brooklyn Museum.

There is one thing in common to all these artists: thanks to the dining table, everyone really likes spending time in Modena! As Mode2 perfectly put it: “We Work for Food”. I must say that Giancarlo Rubaldi together with Franca, with their sandwiches from the Bar Schiavoni, and Massimo Bottura and Lara Gilmore, with the Osteria Francescana and the cuisine that made them famous in the world, were perfect accomplices in making many of them to love our city so much.

What’s your opinion regarding the way in which these forms have evolved over the years, until today?

Looking at the progress of the artists I feel mostly connected to, I am fascinated by their ability to evolve. Take anyone who participated in The Bridges for example, be it the last piece made by Mode2 for the WALLS exhibition in Berlin, or the BMW customized by Futura, or Delta’s toy cars for Matchboxes, or the daily flood of “human-too-human” images on SKKi ‘s Instagram feed, their ability to invent new paths, where the spirit and soul of each of them remains perfectly recognizable, is incredible. The medium itself does not matter much, what interests me is the emotional charge that the artist’s work brings with it.

The emotion that I felt and continue to feel in front of Eron’s (master)pieces is unspeakable, and the rugs that ZeroT is preparing for the exhibition at the Armocida Gallery are wonderful!

I hope they will never cease to have fun in what they do, and subsequently to amaze me by doing it.

The situation related to the evolution of the market and the perception of the artists’ work within the social media phenomenon is a different story. If I look at the current market value of either Kaws or Banksy, my thoughts rise spontaneously and I don’t think it’s appropriate to share them here.

Is there a piece or even just a signature, that you think would deserve to be recognized institutionally as relevant from a socio-historical-artistic-cultural point of view for the development of these forms of expression?

The Break, the carriage painted by Futura in 1980, I believe can act as a watershed. If we talk about Art History. If, on the other hand, you meant a piece on the walls of Modena, then I would say that of Blu and Ericailcane on the Sports Hall in viale Monte Kosica. And of course the Graffio walls painted by DeFuMo and OsGemeos.

Blu ed Ericailcane per Icone 2011, Modena
Blu & Ericailcane, Icone 2011, Modena

Since this research focuses on our region, I would like you to share some memories / thoughts on Slam Jam, a reality that had a huge influence on the spreading of street culture – although born and raised in a rather small city.

The founding father of SlamJam Luca Benini and I always had a common path. The main “road” is the same, and although with many crossroads, it rejoins often and happily.
Luca commissioned the first works from DeeMo and ZeroT for his clothing line at the same I commissioned the piece for MenteLocale from DeeMo. We’re talking the end of the 80s, and we still hadn’t met!
We have been friends for thirty years and we have lived many adventures together. We were joined by another key figure in this world: Renzo Cognini aka L.L.TheTeacher. With Renzo and Luca, in the first half of the 90s, we travelled around the world to discover new talents. During these times we came into contact with what has officially become our (artificial) extended family.

Luca has a big love for music and costumes and has always left the helm to me for what concerns contemporary art, in particular for what regards my great passions, books, magazines, graphics, painting, sculpture, photography and design. He has always supported me in my editorial ventures, eg. CUBE which has seen him constantly involved, from the first advertising pages dedicated to the brands he imported, to the t-shirt designed by Shawn Stüssy, another artist with a definitely recognizable sign, from the t-shirts of NAIN with the little face (puppet, can you say so?) designed by ZeroT, to the pack illustrated by his daughter Giulia. With Luca we have facilitated wonderful exhibitions. Amongst others, Fuck You All with Glen E. Friedman at the Laborario Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome in 1998, again thanks to the intuition of DeeMo and the curatorships of Rita Luchetti Bartoli.

That exhibition was followed by many others. With Luca, we organized God Save the Godfellas in Florence with Futura and Stash, thanks to the help of Marc Fraser Cooke, who had just curated Contents Under Pressure with them in London. With Luca, we started PS, Project SlamJam, where we collaborated with many of my closest friends: Delta, Futura, Boogie, Kostas Seremetis, Shawn Mortensen, Antoine LeGrand, Misha and Shauna Hollenback… Luca has always been close to me even in the most complex adventures: particularly, Beautiful Losers was able to benefit from an important economic contribution that allowed us to bring the exhibition to Italy. Not to mention all those events that have been possible thanks to our contribution, from Indelebile, in Rimini in 1994, to the various editions of the SlamTrick, designed by Giovanni De Marchi together with Giorgio Zattoni and Marco Marzocchi in Marina di Ravenna, with the likes of PusHead, Phil Frost, Tanino Liberatore and just to name a few. If you happen to visit his spaces in Ferrara, you will find the fruits of our “communion” practically everywhere. From Jun Takahashi and Madsaki to Misha Hollenback, from Shawn Mortensen to John Barnard, the “signs” are countless…