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October 21, 2014

Talking Trash with Gilles Cenazandotti

The existence of an inherent utility in art, beyond its aesthetic function, is often a point of contention. This debate has included a myriad of voices, not least of all fashion designers, feminists, and certainly environmental activists. The question has continued to engage artists and their critics for centuries: can art have both a social agenda and still be primarily an aesthetic experience?

Gilles Cenazandotti’s sculptures seem to be the perfect retort to this line of inquiry, with visually intriguing work that simultaneously acts as a catalyst for change. Born in Bastia, a commune located in the northeast of the island of Corsica at the base of Cap Corse, his work is as much inspired by his hometown as it is a way to call attention to its environmental degradation. Cenazandotti’s Future Bestiary is a series of sculptures of endangered species built from petroleum products found on the island’s shores, one of the very substances that affect the threatened animals.

cenazandotti-1Portrait of  Gilles Cenazandotti  by Fiona Torre

“The sea has always brought us the remains of the neighboring continents, what storms tear from their coasts,” he says of his home in Corsica. “When I was a kid, it was just driftwood that I would build huts with, but in the 70s the oil from the degassing
vessels began to stain the wood that I picked up. The petroleum products followed. Today I am amazed by what I find on beaches and rocks.”

Seeing the destruction of his home inspired Cenazandotti to create a physical representation of the island’s environmental changes, repurposing the trash from the increasingly toxified sea into a new symbol of life. A found motorcycle makes an
alligator’s head, while a gas tank becomes a wolf’s body. The irony of using petroleum products to create a new generation of animal sculptures makes the ideology behind his activism tangible. “I wanted to be an activist in environmental causes,” says the artist, “I gave myself the means to achieve it.”


What sparked your desire to raise awareness about endangered species?

We force animals to adapt to our conditions and lifestyle, we make them suffer the craziness of our acts, and we make them consume our industrial production. But our survival also depends on them. If they are gone we will be put out of our own existence.

The message is simple. Why don’t we pay more attention to what surrounds us? Why do we believe that the planet is large enough and that nature is strong enough to get rid of our leftovers? We all have a share of responsibility in this matter. We must raise awareness, by diversifying, translating, and expressing new forms. This is exactly my artistic language that I try to use.

What is the process of creating your sculptures?

It’s a really long process! First, I have to collect and bring back everything from the rocks. The beaches are usually cleaned for the tourists, but a lot of other places that are harder to reach are covered in trash. I wash everything with rainwater and organic detergent, and organize the pieces by theme, color, shape, and size. Thousands of pieces are arranged from micro to macro, and every single one is looked at a second time. I try to find a plastic piece that fits perfectly in the right place. It takes about one month once the idea is conceived. I don’t cut or change the shape of the pieces I collect. The trick is to find the right piece for the right place.

What do you think the relationship between humans and wildlife should be?

There is a key word for me: respect. We are not here to stay, but our actions and choices can leave an impact beyond our own lives. I admire the elders of my village who know everything about their environment according to the seasons and mimic their actions
based on the movements of the moon and sun. We are fortunate enough to be preserved even if we are affected by the modernity that cannot be avoided. Television has replaced the vigil, and the car replaced the horse, but the chestnut and olive continue to support the roofs over our heads. Nature has always been at our service, stronger than us, and respected by our ancestors. We have tried to tame and exploit it until exhaustion and let it decay.

What was your own personal experience of working on this project? How is this going to change your perspective of life and human actions?

It changed my life entirely, and I devoted myself to raise
awareness and propagate this point of view. My mind is constantly monitoring this subject for the future of my children and future grandchildren. I hope that the fruit of my labor will allow me to fund further research on the subject.


Do you see a brighter future in the relationship between art and environmental activism?

I don’t see why a visual artist cannot speak about these topics.
I spent a lot of my time and talent on these sculptures in order
to propose these futuristic alternatives where man copies nature. Political ecologists are not the only ones capable of battling. I usually don’t find them very convincing. On the other hand, there are many artists in the world that live by the sea and who express themselves by using these recycled materials to generate an image, rather than a voice. We are more and more every day.

What is your WILD Wish?

My WILD Wish would be to go back in time to the beaches of my childhood. To carve wood and stones with my father, who taught me how to use my hands and my head to express my creativity. It was a game with no end, free and unrestrained, where only the surprise factor mattered.

But as we cannot go back in time, I wish to continue my current path of creating, showing, and selling my work to allow my own ark to land on a cleaner Earth. I would like to generate enough awareness so that it becomes an obvious, shared, and multiplied effort.

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 12.00.31 PMPhotos courtesy of Gilles Cenazandotti and François Caillon

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text by: Alejandro Jassan

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