Giandomenico Tonatiuh Pellizzi was born in 1978 in Cuernavaca, Mexico. He studied Philosophy at St. Johns College and is a graduate from The Channin School of Architecture at the Cooper Union. G. T. has worked extensively in many seminal collaborative art projects and with various established artists. He has exhibited at the Whitney Museum of Art, MOMA PS1, Centre Pompidou, PAC Murcia, and the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo and various art galleries in New York, Zurich, Berlin and London. His first exhibition as a solo artist, “Transitional,” at Y Gallery in September 2011 was reviewed in ArtForum and The Brooklyn Rail. This year he will be exhibiting at the Jeu de Paume in Paris, The Museo del Barrio Biennial, and a solo exhibition at Y Gallery in May. G. T. lives between New York and Mexico.
Aldo Sánchez: After working in a collective, how did you decide to start working as a solo artist?
G.T. Pellizzi: Well, I was interested in reconnecting with some things like my personal relations with Mexico and Europe, and exploring my own individual practice. I studied architecture and went traight into working collectively, so I didn’t have very much experience producing by myself; it was a very interesting process for me, and a big challenge too. It is really great to get my own place, fix it up and start developing my ideas, working with crafts with people in Mexico and producing work, so . . .
AS: Why did you study Architecture as opposed to Visual Arts?
GT: I almost had to trick myself into becoming an artist, it was a slow process of overcoming insecurities and taking art practice off the high pedestal I had placed it on. I even worked as an assistant for artists when I was in high school, especially for Ray Smith, but as a kid I had bought in to the whole idea of the artist genius: like there is no way I’m anything like Michelangelo so impossible to think I could make art. Then I studied Literature and Philosophy and that´s when I decided I wanted to do Architecture because I like using my hands and making things. So I wanted to do something that had a balance between intellectual rigor as well as manual labor. And also as part of a romantic Greek idea of doing physical and mental work in order to balance the two.
AS: What area of philosophy triggered your interest in making art?
GT: I guess it was the Greeks. Their gymnasium as an actual social space is very interesting to me. You know, they would wrestle and do sports and then they would go through the baths and wash after sweating or whatever, and then they would go into another space which is where they would discuss and debate politics and philosophy and everything. So a lot of plays and texts like Socrates’ dialogues would take place in that space. And so this relation between the physical and the mental was inspiring to me. The word poetry, [poiesis in Greek] also means “to make”. There is a relationship between making things physically and creating thoughts intellectually.
AS: Your father is a scholar, art critic, collector with a great eye. Does he express opinion of your work?
GT: It is intimidating at first. I guess that’s kind of why I slipped into making art almost secretly.
AS: In anonymity, in a way?
GT: Exactly . . . anonymously in a group, so it wasn´t me there, as the person making the work. You know, I didn´t have to be the central figure or the persona of the artist which is always a cliché. When I studied architecture, I took some classes in the Art school, a few with the artists I admired, and so it was really hugely influential. I took a class with Walid Raad in my first semester and it completely blew my mind. I´ll never forget the first day of class. And then I also started doing projects, collaborations with my sister who is also an artist. It was a hugely inspiring moment for me. And then I just slowly started working with a collective while I was studying architecture, until it took over my life completely.
AS: Do you talk about your work with your dad?
GT: Absolutely. Now I consult him all the time. I tell him my ideas and we talk about things and he is an amazing resource; it’s always incredibly helpful to talk to him. And he is very supportive. At first I was a little more cagey about my work and things, but he´s always been very supportive and always there for exhibitions and openings and things like that. And also, you know, he has a lot of artist friends, established artists that are very influential to me also, and with them, I was always a little bit nervous about talking about my work.
AS: You have become more confident in that way, especially now as a solo artist…
GT: Yeah. Well, it’s harder now at the same time, because the responsibility is all on me, so it’s tougher and scary sometimes. But at least I have more experience with the process now so it’s also easier in some ways. It wasn´t like that two years ago.
AS: In regards to your background, your father is Italian and your mother is naturalized Mexican, American born with Irish-Swedish origins. How have these origins—and your being born in Cuernavaca yourself—influenced your work?
GT: Hugely. It’s very important to me; my relationship with Mexico is very important. I love producing work there. It’s a very different space from producing in New York.
AS: The influence comes more from your Mexican part? You have lived most of your life in the States, right?
GT: Most of it, yes. Part of me is Italian, somehow it’s there, for sure. But I haven´t produced so much in Italy. I think, as an artist, surroundings are very important while producing, you know? I guess it’s not a great answer for that question [laughs]. But traveling is very important to me. It has been a huge part of my education.
AS: Have you ever been a starving artist?
GT: Yeah, I was a Bushwick starving artist for a few years, maybe like 4 years and it was great to have my studio and apartment right next to each other. It was a very nice community around the studio with events and parties. It was a very great time. Good times!
AS: Lunchtime is very different now for you. You used to eat with at least 5 other guys at the studio, and now you eat by yourself at your studio . . .
GT: Yeah, at the studio we would put a grill on the street and make hamburgers and hot dogs all summer, which was incredible; and now I only eat a salad for lunch.
AS: If you take someone to Mexico for the first time, where and what would you take him to eat? Like, you have to try this, its amazing!
GT: Escamoles and jumiles!
AS: Escamoles are amazing. Jumiles . . . I haven´t tried them. I guess I haven´t had the guts.
GT: [laughs] And to drink pulque in Huitzilac, in Morelos, right at the border of the State of Mexico.
AS: Do you crave more Mexican or Italian food?
GT: I crave more Mexican food. But I love both!
AS: Same question for Rome or Tuscany—the two places you are more familiarized with—where would you take a visitor to eat?
GT: The thing with Mexico and Italy is that even though you have good Mexican and Italian restaurants in the U.S. and New York, it's not the same experience of being in one of those places as it is to be in Mexico or in Italy, because its much more complete and diverse, you know? I was actually talking to someone who said that she had had the best meal of her life, a meal that she will always remember in Guadalajara, so whenever she goes to any Mexican restaurant in New York is never the same. And I agree, the things that you can experience in those places, is just a different reality, you know? So, in Italy, from the gelato to the little cheap restaurant where you can have great pasta. . . . I remember when I was in Florence for one summer, where I would eat pasta for lunch for 6,000 liras which is maybe like $3, and it was amazing, better than any pasta in any restaurant where you would pay 30 euros. I love food. Food is one of my vices.
AS: What is the worst culinary experience you have had?
GT: I remember when I first went to England. I was maybe 18. I was shocked by how bad the food was. And it was just so hard to find a cheap meal. The only thing you could get that was cheap, it wasn´t even cheap, it was expensive, like $8 for those little triangle sandwiches in a deli! And they were horrible, I hated those sandwiches. But, you know, I was a student and I couldn´t afford something else. Everything you ate was just bad food and it cost you like $40 in a restaurant. I couldn´t believe it. Now, England has many more different restaurants and it’s easier to find good food.
AS: What about the worst, total-disaster trip that you have experienced?
GT: Like the Hangover movie? Me, waking up in a brothel in Bangkok? [laughs] I want to say going to New Jersey or something. . . . Oh, I remember: when I was maybe 14, Francesco Clemente invited me to go with his family to Jamaica and it was really great. Brice Marden was there, so were two of my favorite artists and we were having a great time. They both have beautiful daughters, and Francesco and Alba have two twin sons, who were really cute; they were like 7 years old, we were all having a lot of fun and then, I suddenly got chickenpox.
GT: Yeah; I was horrified and I must have had one of the worst cases. I mean I didn´t feel sick but I was just covered, my entire body, and I didn´t know what was happening to me and I was so embarrassed. So I hid in my room for a day and I saw that it wasn’t going away. So, finally I told someone and they were freaked out too because none of their kids had gotten chickenpox. So I was basically hidden in my room in Jamaica, and I couldn´t do anything for like 5 days. I couldn´t even fly back because I had chickenpox so I wasn´t allowed to get on the plane . . . it was terrible. That was my wonderful Jamaica vacation, which is actually amazing, Jamaica.
AS: If you want to pig out, what food do you choose? I like burgers and fries for a hangover.
GT: Hangover food has to be greasy, fatty, you know? Eggs Benedict work well because its all that . . . hollandaise sauce! and then burgers are amazing but also chilaquiles are incredible. Fried eggs and some chorizo, yum!
AS: What about 4 a.m. and drunk?
GT: Tacos, tacos, tacos! Suadero [tender beef cuts] and al pastor [Shepherd style, spicy marinated pork meat with a thin slice of pineapple].
AS: So you are serious about the right food for the right time?!
GT: [laughs] Yeah. Oh, and I recall that my first words in Italian were Mangio un gelato a Venezia [I eat an ice cream in Venice]. One day, my whole family went to Venice and I had my gelato in Venezia! And then, my first words in French were. . . . I don´t know how it happened, but I went with my mother and my sister to France and we stayed at one of my father’s best friends, who is an academic, he teaches at La Sorbonne. We were in the plane and I asked my mother what she was going to order for food. I don´t remember what she told me but I was sure what I was going to order and it was going to be: Asperges et homard which is asparagus and lobster, the only words that I knew in French, I guess. So my mother was like no, absolutely not, you can´t order that.
AS: In a plane?
GT: No, no, we were in the plane but we were planning what we would order in Paris. So, this friend of my dad takes us to this restaurant and, you know, he is an academic, it’s not like he has tons of money. So everybody ordered and he turned to me and asked: What do you want? I don´t know how it happened but he said: You can have anything you want. And I said: anything? And then my mom looked at me like: No, don´t you dare. So I did it, I ordered lobster; but it was not good, it was very disappointing.
AS: That´s funny because it’s not a popular combination, lobster and asparagus.
GT: [laughs] No, it’s not. I think I just liked the words, you know? I liked the way it sounded.
AS: It sounded very sophisticated…
GT: Asperges et homard . . .
Photos by Margarita Jimeno.