FEDERICO NESSI — SPOON BENDING AND SUCH

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ARTIST & CO-FOUNDER OF PERFORMANCE COLLECTIVE PSYCHIC YOUTH INC., FEDERICO NESSI, TALKS TO DIRTY ABOUT HIS YOUTH, PARIS AND PLAYING WELL WITH OTHERS.
TEXT Anthony Spinello

 

 

Psychic Youth, Inc. was founded in 2008 by Ricardo Guerrero, Ana Mendez and Federico Nessi. They are an interdisciplinary performance collective with a heavy emphasis on musical collaboration.  Inspired by Throbbing Gristleʼs psychic rallies, PYI develops happenings that serve as ritualistic experiences where intuition and improvisation lead the usually task-driven acts. As a reaction to these times of global uncertainty and over-saturation of media, the collective focuses on obsessively analyzing human behavior and the power of the individual. A heavy dramatic intention and an appreciation for the occult are some of the components that form part of their ceremonies, during which they aim to engender empathy and attention in the viewer.

Since March 13th, Psychic Youth, Inc. has been impulsively manipulating their latest project, TRI, an installation at the de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space aiming to attain the ideal environment for the improvised performances they’ve been holding within this site-specific piece.  Approached with no predetermined direction, TRI as developed through an instinctual set of movements and/or chapters, during which the dynamic of the space has changed drastically, thus affecting the intention of each individual performance.  Ten performances have varied in both mood and concept, the collective altering everything from the tone of the light to the source of the sound to the presentation of their assemblages of everyday materials to the focus of their actions.  The one consistent factor within the performances has been the groups’ endurance-based practice, each installment averaging three to four hours.  They’ve ranged from the introduction of masked characters slowly maneuvering the structures, to group meditation sessions, to the reinterpretation of a 3-minute song into a 4-hour set of musical arrangements.

 

DIRTY: HOW WAS PSYCHIC YOUTH, INC. CONCEIVED?

FEDERICO NESSI: PYI was conceived psychically.  We all came together at the same time (early 2008), as strangers, in admiration of each other’s work. The name came from industrial music pioneers, Throbbing Gristle.  I gave a talk on them at Miami’s MOCA in mid-2008 and became a bit obsessed.  Psychic Youth is the term they used to refer to their audience.. The ‘Inc.’ is in a way a negation of the term, almost as if questioning the truth behind psychic abilities (we’re 21st century cynics at times).

 

D: DESCRIBE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH ANA MENDEZ. SOUL MATES?

FN: She’s my baby’s mamma and the creative love of my life.

 

D: DO YOU HAVE PSYCHIC TENDENCIES? WHAT AM I THINKING RIGHT NOW?

FN: As a kid I was convinced I did.  At 10 I was attending seminars on metaphysics with my parents (spoon bending and such). As I grew older, teenage angst kicked in and along came the questioning of my systems of belief.  Now, in my late twenties, I am aware of my ability to connect psychically with myself and others, but I am also too jaded to invest myself whole-heartedly in these psychic tendencies.  I’ll find myself making a door open in front of me but then convincing myself it was probably just the wind.

What are you thinking right now?  You’re probably thinking ‘there’s no way in hell this guy made a door ‘magically’ open’, but then also questioning your own belief in psychic abilities.  But, what the fuck do I know?  You should trouble a psychic with these sorts of questions….

 

 

D: CURRENTLY YOU ARE IN PARIS FOR AN UNDISCLOSED AMOUNT OF TIME, ANY PYI PRODUCTIONS IN THE WORKS?

FN: I am currently working on a PYI video (abstracted recollection of previous performances).  I am especially excited about this video because I am approaching in a similar manner as we approach our performances – with no set structure and based on improvisation.  I’ve never worked on video without a predisposed outline.  I am also working on proposals for PYI projects to come.

 

D: HOW DO YOUR PERSONAL ART ENDEAVORS DIFFER FROM PYI?

FN: They don’t.  I’m having a hard time drawing the line these days, and I’m letting myself go with it.

 

D: HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR A PERFORMANCE?

FN: It depends on the performance.  There have been instances we give ourselves the necessary time to sink into these characters we take on.  We’ll do breathing and stretching exercises.  We’ll communicate extensively on our intention for the performance and research our influences obsessively. There have been others we don’t prepare at all, and I mean no preparation whatsoever.  We sometimes thrive on this sense of uncertainty.  Again, it depends on the performance and on the headspace we’re each individually in at the time.

 

D: WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR INSPIRATIONS?

FN: Well, this is kind of a loaded question.  As children of post-modernism, we draw influence from everything around us, but I’m all for name-dropping, so here goes: THROBBING GRISLE, MEREDITH MONK, ALEXANDER MCQUEEN, ROLAND BARTHES, DUANE MICHAELS, LEIGH BOWERY, VELVET UNDERGROUND, JOE MEEK, OLAFUR  ELLIASSON, JOSE SILVA, PYTHAGORAS, TIMOTHY LEARY, SILVER APPLES, YOKO ONO, WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS, JOHANNES KEPLER, GARETH PUGH, MARINA ABRAMOVIC, ANA MENDIETA, JOSEPH BEUYS, NEU!, ALLEN GINSBERG, VITO ACCONCI, FELIX GONZALEZ-TORRES, JOHN GALLIANO, JOY DIVISION, MICHAEL CLARK, ANDRE BRETON, KLAUS NOMI, BRIAN ENO, ARIEL PINK, JORGE LUIS BORGES and the list can go on for pages…

 

D: HOW DO YOU CONCEPTUALIZE A PERFORMANCE?

FN: I guess in a similar manner as we prepare for a performance – it depends on the performance.  Sometimes we are giving a set of parameters (perform on the street, performance should be 10 minutes long, etc.), so we react to these parameters.  When the guidelines are up to us, we tend to go with what makes us feel right at the moment and try not to over-think things.  The conceptualization normally occurs when we contextualize the work, but each case has proven to be different.
VIDEO COURTESY OF ANTHONY SPINELLO

 

D: DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF A PERFORMANCE ARTIST?

FN: NO.

 

D: WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST SPECIAL COLLABORATION TO DATE?

FN: I find it hard to pinpoint one experience as ‘the most special’.  There have been so many over the past years, all very special for different reasons. From co-curating a show in college with my friend Kai for which we got our friends Glass Candy to play at the opening, to performing a 3-hour long improvised musical piece with Alex Puentes while accompanying Agustina Woodgate’s beautifully excruciating Rapunzel, I only involve myself in projects I know will turn out to be a extraordinary experience for me. Perhaps one collaboration that comes to mind as being the dreamiest is a performance I did with Ana Mendez for a Miami-based musical event called Night of the Weirds.  We decided to cover one of my favorite songs (‘Green Octopus’ by Electric Bunnies), Mendez on theremin and I did looped vocals and guitar.  We didn’t practice at all, were hesitant to even play the event, ended up going on at like 2am to a crowd of about 10 people, but the result was 5 minutes of what I feel is maybe the deepest we’ve sunk into a psychic realm with one another.  Neither of us are sure of the legitimacy of the sound that came out of our amps, but I know we both regard it as a remarkably transcendental experience.  Of course, the performance wasn’t documented AT ALL, making it even dreamier because it only lives in our heads.

 

D: IN ADDITION TO ATTENDING SOME SEMINARS ON METAPHYSICS, WHAT WAS FEDERICO NESSI LIKE AS A CHILD? DID HE PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS – A NATURAL COLLABORATOR?

FN: I was actually more of a loner, or, in other words, more of a spotlight hog. The only sport I liked was tennis, I always wanted to be the lead in whatever play or talent show number I was a part of, and I preferred staying home and drawing to running around and getting dirty with the neighborhood kids. Not until I joined a band in high school was I able to embrace the importance of collaborative efforts… of being a team player. But, even then, I always wanted to be the star.

 

D: HOW WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE AT THE DE LA CRUZ COLLECTION CONTEMPORARY ART SPACE?

FN: MAGICAL.  We got to do whatever we wanted over the course of 2 months, all with the financial and emotional support of an institution.  It was all we’ve ever fantasized about..

 

D: ROSA IS KNOWN FOR HER WISDOM AND CALLING TO TEACH. WHAT ARE SOME THINGS SHE HAS PASSED ON TO YOU?

FN: Although I shared some very enlightening conversations on contemporary art and culture with Rosa, what captivated both Ana and I the most was how nurturing she is.  We called her Tia Rosa (said in the strongest of cuban accents).  Perhaps the most endearing example of this was when we did our second performance.  This piece consisted of Aja Albertson acting as a spider-like figure moving slowly around the space tying Ana, Ricardo & I to our respective towers while we each manipulated a different sound element placed in front of us.  In other words, we were completely immobile.  Incapable of moving anything but our hands.  After about an hour, in a break in the flow of people visiting the institution, Rosa comes in asking each of us if we’re hungry and/or thirsty.   The music was blaring, the lighting was minimal and we were all ‘in character’, so we didn’t really react to her offer, hoping she’d appreciate how dedicated we were to our piece.  A few minutes later she comes in with fresh-pressed sandwiches and lemonade and practically crawls into each of our towers in order to place the treats at arms length, the whole while commending us for our endurance.  We scarfed down those sandwichitos and chugged that lemonade like the caged animals we felt like….

 

 

D: WHAT ATTRACTS YOU TO PARIS?

FN: HISTORY, high culture and dramatic beauty… and my boyfriend (of course).

 

D: TELL US SOMETHING DIRTY IN FRENCH.

FN: Pardon.  Je ne parlez pas francais…

 

 

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