Being an artist has always been known to be a tough line of work. Aside from working hard, you need to constantly be pushing the envelope to set yourself apart from others. A great example of an artist like this is Fernando Mastrangelo, a sculptor based in NYC.
Fernando is known for creating some badass art pieces using controversial materials including gunpowder and human ashes. Recently, he had a run-in with the DEA after transporting a sculpture that he made in Brazil out of 28 lbs. of cocaine to the US.
Aside from being just a badass artist, Fernando has also been making a name for himself in the tech scene. Being a long-time friend of Napster Co-founder Shawn Fanning, they decided to collaborate three years ago on a project called Al One. This project aims to create a sculpture that addresses the complexities of social networking in this generation.
Recently, we had the pleasure of catching up with Fernando Mastrangelo in his studio in New York. Here, we discuss why he chooses the materials he uses for his work, the process of creating Al One, and working with Shawn Fanning.
You’re known as an artist that uses a variety of controversial materials in your pieces. Why do you choose to use such materials for your pieces?
The reason that I’ve chosen the materials that I’ve chosen throughout my career is because they’re conceptually tied to the meaning of the work. Simple as that. It felt to me that if I was going to make sculptures using materials or casting in the format that I do make sculptures, the material needed to inheritable talk about what the piece is about or else, it didn’t feel like a cohesive work of art. So, I think of it as sort of a triangle. There’s the form. There’s the material and there’s the concept. And if those 3 things are in sync, the form, the content and the material; it will create perfect harmony for the sculpture for me. So, that’s sort of been my approach and so, the gunpowder has a certain metaphor. The human ash had a metaphor towards what I was trying to talk about with issues of gangs or it could’ve been issues of corn farming or issues of… whatever the content of the piece was or is, I’ll try to find the material that sort of talks about that. So when the viewer comes up to the work, first, they’re sort of just hopefully taken by what the thing is, the object, they’re just like “oh what is this thing” and then you investigate what it might be and you’ll just “oh this thing is made out of corn” or “it’s made out of sugar or whatever” and then hopefully at that moment, the viewer says “okay what it has to do with this thing that he’s created?” and then hopefully, they arrive at some sort of conclusion
Al One has been something you’ve been working on for the last 3 years with Napster Co-founder Shawn Fanning, tell us about how you first got inspired for that project.
I think that the amount of time that’s taken to make the piece is sort of appropriate because of the changes in social media. So, when I started the project, if you see the original drawings for it, the social media sites that I was going to use were very very different like Chat Roulette was on there, Path was on there based on [Fannings involvement] with Path and…I had a porn site on there. The idea was slightly different at the time. But, as things evolve…we started to integrate things as time went on. When, we started to program Al One. I started to remove, edit, curate what sites would be used. And at one point, I wanted [Al One] to be on every social media…but then I realized it was sort of meaningless in that sense. So we curated it down to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube. Just some of the main ones and now we basically just use those sites but at the beginning with Fanning, him and I spoke about conceptual ideas of technology and we had sort of esoteric conversations about what it meant. I sort of digested that information and came to him with this idea because he had said to me months before and he was like “oh you know we you should work a project together” and I was like “alright. What is that even mean?”, so he gave me a backstage pass to the tech world and this is what sort of came out of the conversations basically.
As an artist, have you seen all these bits and pieces of technology coming together to form someone’s life?
I feel like I got so entrenched in the conversation of technology that it came very natural to see that this is how we were starting to function. And then, making sure that Al will function in that exact same way. I wanted him to be a sort of mirror for like…if we were to exist in our most egotistical way; this is how Al needed to function. I remember I was talking about it in terms of like he’s constantly pursuing more and more friendship and more and more followers. It’s like the most egotistical side of our existence. And wanting to display that to every social media site to sort of perpetuate his own existence, which is kind of what we end up doing through our phones and through our connection to social media. So I really just wanted to try to create a mirror to that in the most outrageous sort of fashion possible. You’ve got a 12-foot crucifix that displays the social media site. You have him just standing there sort of dauntingly all black. The figures try to make it in a format and look like a Macbook, like refine him to the point where it looks machine made. So, I was trying to really push it. So that when you’re standing front it it sort of starts to make sense like “this is what I do all day!”