A story in pictures about people and globalization

An artist from Italy talking to Vijesti about his exhibition "Destinations in motion", which opened in the Modern Gallery in Podgorica, impressions from Montenegro, globalization, the position of artists in Italy and the Balkans, artificial intelligence in art, trends and pace of life

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Andrea Sbra Perego, Photo: Luka Zekovic
Andrea Sbra Perego, Photo: Luka Zekovic
Disclaimer: The translations are mostly done through AI translator and might not be 100% accurate.

The art system in Montenegro and the Balkans is less corrupt, contaminated and shows more respect for authors than it is the case in Italy, where it is impossible to make a living from art that is not even recognized as a profession.

This is what he said in an interview with "Vijesti". Andrea Sbra Perega, whose exhibition of collage paintings "Destinations in motion" opened in Podgorica at the Modern Gallery.

Sbra Perega presents his observations related to the relationship between people and the environment, primarily the city, but also globalization and the present moment, combining oil on canvas, spray and collage. This gives a special liveliness and nerve to the exhibition in Podgorica, which took over the walls of the white space and occupies the visitors as well, expanding the author's thoughts and creating an energetic world of the urban landscape, to which it is impossible to remain indifferent.

Vibrant works of art provide a different experience of those busy, transiting, seemingly incidental places, in which Sbra Perega hides a special symbolism, awakening questions and re-examinations, but also emotions, all in an eruption of the fast colors of life. Inspired by travels and the world in which he creates, with man as the epicenter, the author gives a different answer to the set pace of life.

Part of the setting
Part of the settingphoto: Luka Zeković

"There are places, such as the interior of railway stations, underground stations, airports and squares, which sociologist Mark Auger defined as the main "non-places" in the city, with large movements and flows of people who do not meet every day... Through the expressionist-inspired color palette, the figures shown appear to be without identity and immersed in the solitude determined by the short passage between the paths and exterior. Through painting, I describe the concept of speed that arises from the rhythm of our time, using a metropolitan landscape that I have personally visited and photographed. I show my experience as a tireless traveler on canvas. My artworks aim to show the present and be an active part of it, immersing in the rhythm of society, they go beyond the result of working only in the studio", said Sbra Perega about his work.

In an interview with Vijesti, he conveys impressions from the exhibition in Podgorica, but also impressions from Montenegro and the Balkans, talks about art, the position of artists, Montenegro and Italy, globalization, travels, his plans...

Artist at the exhibition in Podgorica
Artist at the exhibition in Podgoricaphoto: Luka Zeković

What impressions do you have from Montenegro and the exhibition you presented in Podgorica?

Basically, I was in Montenegro at the "Ode to Life" art residency in 2017. At the invitation of your multimedia artist Damir Murseljević I spent one week here. On that occasion, in addition to the artists, I met people from the Embassy of the Republic of Italy in Montenegro. When they recently contacted me and asked me to come again and present myself in Podgorica and Montenegro, I was honored and my answer was immediately and definitively affirmative. I had an insight into the space, and based on that I chose, that is, selected the works.

All the works are part of a project I've been working on since about 2017, until today. After looking at the space and choosing some works, in agreement with the curator I chose the best ones that will properly tell a small story about each individual place, because each place is different, and so are my pictures. I am very happy and have nothing but words of praise for the overall realization. The place is very adequate and good, the organization is professional, and the guy who set up the exhibition was really professional and dedicated, and so was everyone else at JU Museums and Galleries...

There are only two paintings in this exhibition that show the same place, and in the case of London, you will notice those works that show the same station. All in all, my works, this exhibition and the whole project are actually a small story about travel, migration and what globalization is today.

From the exhibition
From the exhibitionphoto: Luka Zeković

When we talk about globalization, there is inevitably also contemporary, urban life that often happens in a hurry and thoughtfulness that is often present in the places you paint - busy bus and train stations, airports, piers, but there are also some stops like short breaks during those walks of life when we really feel life. What pace of life does globalization impose or dictate on us?

It can be one of the views of globalization. For example, if you pay attention to my pictures, you will see that the people in them do not have faces. There are masses, large groups, but they don't really pay attention to each other. It's one of the symbolisms of leaving out people's faces in my pictures, they're all like a pink stain, a brushstroke... I think it best describes the way we live life today. And yes, it is partly a criticism, my works carry that within me and I don't run away from that context.

On the other hand, I also want and like to see and show some positive perspective on all that... There is an interesting picture here, in the exhibition... In that picture, it is not a railway station, but a port for ships. It is the port of Shanghai. In the picture, as in the port, shipping containers are shown. And all those containers are full of things that will come here, to us, if you understand me? And so in a way (indirectly and without our will) we are surrounded and under some kind of invasion by all those things, phenomena, habits whose origin and long-term influence we do not know. In the end, we don't know where they come from. Likewise, we don't know anything about the people with whom we are waiting for the train, plane or ship...

From the exhibition
From the exhibitionphoto: Luka Zeković

You show those transit places full of energy. Traveling today seems easier and more accessible than ever in history. How important is it for getting to know our compatriots in this so-called Global Village, people and beings with whom we share the planet, of different cultures and traditions? How important is traveling for a person as an experiential being, and how much for you as an artist?

Well, I think the game changed when it became possible to travel on low-cost airlines for a ticket of around 30 euros one way. A cheaper flight ticket is certainly a positive thing, because people can travel much more easily.

Is there any “But” in the sequel?

Yes, there is a “but”. But, it is not a positive way that things travel. So, "thanks" to the globalization we talked about, today we buy tomatoes that have arrived all the way from the United States of America, instead of using domestic resources and encouraging our producers. So, for example, it is not very good, and there are also a number of other factors, from the environmental and beyond. I wish we could go back a bit, which is impossible... But I hope we can at least slow everything down a bit. So, maybe even when travel was less affordable, maybe people were more grateful and honest about the experience they gain... Now you can go practically everywhere with 10 euros and maybe because of that we don't value travel enough anymore, we don't attach real importance to it , the meaning and purpose they truly carry.

Andrea Sbra Perego
Andrea Sbra Peregophoto: Luka Zeković

How much did you get to know Montenegro during the aforementioned residency and that trip?

It was really nice. I generally like the Balkan region a lot and I think that the Balkans have a very lively cultural scene, a lot of things are happening, a lot is being done in all fields, from theater, music, fine arts, film, people respect art and artists... And maybe, but perhaps, there is another thing that makes the Balkans much better compared to Italy, and that is that the system here seems less corrupt and less contaminated by it.

Do you think that countries in the Balkans are not as corrupt as Italy, where you live?

I can't know for sure, I don't really know, but I think that the situation here, when it comes to art, is somewhat better and more honest than here.

Italy and Montenegro have several historical ties that make us close, mostly because of our princess, and your Queen Jelena in the 20th century, and then later in other lines, from trade, travel, culture and so on. What are those relationships like today, when it comes to societies and systems?

Italy and Montenegro inevitably have a close relationship because of the region Present and deep roots of mutual connections. Honestly, I didn't know anything about Montenegro before I met Damir. I heard a lot about Montenegro from him, I learned something, and I also don't know how things work in interstate cooperation today... But that's not the case only with Montenegro, I also didn't know anything about many other places, and I didn't know anything about many of them even today. I do not know.

When it comes to art, we know about the most famous, leading ones, we know about American artists, we know about the art scene in Berlin and/or Germany, because it's Berlin, i.e. Germany, most people know about Italy because of various kinds of art... But oh People know little about Montenegro or the Balkan region, and I see it as an advantage, as something good and positive, because it means that Montenegro and the Balkans have not yet become contaminated places... I don't know if you know what I mean, but that what I'm talking about is related to deep feeling, truth, sincerity, soul, and not things that are visible from the outside. On the other hand, the artistic system in Italy is corrupt. And not only in Italy, but also in America, I can say that because I work in New York.

Andrea Sbra Perego
photo: Luka Zeković

The perception of the position of art and artists in Montenegro is mostly negative, so it has two effects when you witness something like this with your experience...

Maybe you in Montenegro don't think so, maybe you don't even care about it, but I care to say it and I want to use this opportunity to emphasize it. It is important to me because tomorrow maybe some people will read our conversation and say Andrea Sbra Perego, what a master, good man, good painter, artist, great! Yes, that's all probably true, but because of all of the above, I can't make a living from art. I cannot earn money through my artistic work. So, not everything that seems wonderful really is. Deep down, things are different.

That being said, how do you view art and painting?

Art is not my job, it's my passion. Without art and that work, I could not live. But I also cannot do this professionally, the system does not allow me to do so. And many other artists I know are in the same situation. I've been in the art system for about 20 years and I know a lot of artists who seem to be able to do this, but in fact they are not, because many of them work other, additional jobs to make a living or are financed by family and the like. It's really hard to do art as a job, anywhere, especially in Italy... For example, whoever I tell that I'm a good citizen who pays taxes regularly and if I also say that I'm an artist, everyone will ask me: What else ? What else do you do?

Andrea Sbra Perego
photo: Luka Zeković

What are your plans for the future?

I am currently waiting for a visa to go to the United States of America, to New York. They have a special visa system for artists. There, art is recognized as a job, an occupation, a profession, and that's why I want to go there to live and work.

Artificial intelligence can write a book, but never like a human can

Considering the impact of technology and artificial intelligence on art today, where would you say art and its creators are headed?

For some artists, it's just another medium. Anyway, I'm not a fan of that approach. I appreciate and love working with my hands. But I think it's like a kind of bubble, which can be seen in the example of NFT. At its inception, NFT was the new frontier of art. Now it seems like they are almost done. AI, artificial intelligence, is not as good and original as the human mind and free thoughts and ideas. I tried asking Chat GPT for something I needed, but the answer I got was never complete and 100 percent accurate. So, if you want, artificial intelligence can write a book in five minutes, but it is not and will never be the same book as one written by a human. Anyway, I don't think these things have a long life...

Andrea Sbra Perego
photo: Luka Zeković

If I can't change, then I have to do what's best for me

Think you'll live better there? How to improve living and working conditions in your own country?

I'm sure it's better. There is no way we can change people who have decided to stay and pursue an artistic vocation in their country, because it is not easy and living from it is not easy, on the contrary... Living from art is extremely difficult, especially if you want to to stay. In Italy, I would say, the situation is deeply broken. I tried to work and change some things in Italy, but if I can't succeed in that, then I have to do what is best for me.

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