Ruben Montini – Deconstructing taboos

Ruben Montini and his radical performances that literally give you goosebumps.

Ruben Montini, born in Oristano, Sardinia in Italy, fearlessly takes risks in his work that shows extended vulnerability as well. His work is bold and confrontational – pointedly addressing gender and the politics of pigment – but also tender, beautiful and loving from the queer culture that explores and interprets themes of social claims of the 60s and 70s. Rooting within his Sardinian traditions, Montini incorporates the aesthetic rituals with his bare body that marks his visual language. His performance defines present actions that react to socio-emotional, political, cultural and historical conditions. The artist strikes to radically alter his work to echo the marginalized voices in a competitive mainstream society that face prejudice and bigotry.

Hi Ruben! It is my upmost pleasure to do this interview with you. Let’s begin with a general question. You are well-known as a performance artist. Would you mind telling our readers how did you come to realise that you want to become an artist? And why did you choose performance as your medium, or shall I say visual language? 

Hi Francesca! Thank you for inviting me to have this interview with you. I believe this is the first time that I was asked such a question in a written interview! And I love to have the opportunity to answer! In fact, only a few days ago, I was listening to the video interview of a famous Italian Art Journalist and she was asked exactly the same question. As most of people in the art world, she said that she can still vividly remember when her mother used to take her to see all the beautiful monuments in art cities such as Naples, Rome, Paris. 

Well.. for me it was very different. I was raised in a tiny village located in the centre of Sardinia. Summers were a moment for us to visit our family on the Garda Lake, where I live now; my father was born here so as the mother of my mother. Therefore, the main part of my family was here and we would come visiting them every summer, sometimes for Christmas as well. Except from some visits to Verona or Milan, we would spend most of the time on the lake with our relatives. And then I would go to summer camps by myself.. Venice, Rimini, Süd-Tirol, London, Cambridge, etc.. But my love for art, was something very innate and instinctive. My mum is very creative too. She used to be a primary school teacher, even though she would have loved studying art. So, I think I inherited the love for art from her. As a child and teenager, I have undertaken private piano lessons, English etc.. so as it was accustomed to every child coming from a “buona famiglia” in Sardinia. We would all played the piano, or the violin, or the guitar!  But visual art was never contemplated among those “subjects” that a young child should have learned in private lessons to compensate the lack of it in public schools’ curricula. 

My grandma used to sell milk from the family-run business in the front room of her own house, and I remember that – when I was at her place after school – I would make some little drawings (usually bananas or cocktail glasses with some orange slice decoration on them) to give as homage to anyone who would come in to buy milk or cheese! And then in the evenings, I would perform in front of the entire family.. dreaming to be as beautiful as Pamela Prati or Valeria Marini.. two Italian show-girls, both with Sardinian origins, that were starring in Il Bagaglino at the end of the 80’s – early 90’s.

Basically I was doing already what it would have then become my job, not only my passion!

I always loved the feeling of being looked at and observed; especially the adrenaline that animates my body before, during and after the performance. It creates a special connection with the audience, an amazing pathos that no other medium can give to the artist and to the public. 

When it comes to my research, given the political urgency of most of my works, I strongly believe that performance is the most appropriate tool an artist can use to scream loud his/her own point of view on certain topics.

The representation of identity is often shown in your work. It consists of possibilities for it can be extended into a socio-emotional, political, cultural and historical circumstances. Why is it important for you to explore in this context? What does it mean to you as an artist? 

You know.. I can hardly say that I plan what to work on.. and this was since the very first attempts when I was a student at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia and then at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design of London. I would always have the pressure of bringing my everyday issues into my work. I am obsessed with them, and they naturally float into my works.. I never work on given topics..  I rather create my works starting from what is occupying my mind in that specific moment. Works such as FROCIO (2009) in which I tattooed on my left leg the word “faggot” (in Italian) come from my everyday need of having to affirm myself as a homosexual young guy in front of my family, my friends, my classmates. So as my more recent performance MADRE (2019) comes from my inner desire of becoming a mother, in my early thirties: a dream that has to face my biological impossibility (being a biological male) and, in a wider sense, the restrictions of the Italian law that makes very hard for homosexuals to become parents. 

Your work engages the dilemma of the social conflict on sexuality and gender. Do you think such extend is more visible to the public?  And whether are there any changes in the narrative of queer culture?

Several rights have been acquired for which the LGBTQ+ movements have fought strongly for a long time now. But we still have lots to conquer to be considered equal within a white male hetero-normative society. We are still hoping and working for a law that would finally consider homophobia as crime, putting this kind of discrimination on the same level of the one towards people of different races and beliefs. 

My research strives to open the eyes of the viewer, but I am aware that art cannot change this world. It can show us some alternative ways, give us a glimpse of what else could be possible, it can make us dream with open eyes of a different world. But I doubt it can change it.

Speaking of a link between the present and the past, apart from performing, you create Sardinian brocade tapestries as your visual poems to connect the public in a form of intense communication regarding socio-political and socio-cultural matters. Such delicate technique of hand embroidery expresses such intimacy and time devotion. What drew you towards it?

I began working with embroidery and stitching in an attempt of embodying a cliché related to the idea of femininity and women’s perception so that a woman is always considered as someone who is able to mend a sock or making some cute little embroidery work! Therefore I forced myself to take this cliché to an extreme, stitching and mending pieces of Sardinian brocade one next to the other, day and night in my home-studio in Berlin. I was very fascinated also by the geographical displacement of such an activity: a gay guy, living the Berlin life, in Berlin… stitching traditional fabrics from my island! It was subversive in a very subtle way! And I have done that for so long that, a certain point, it completely overlapped my daily life. Now, it characterises my work and defines my everyday life, even before defining me as artist.

I never think that the audience would try to understand of all the hours and the skills  that are required to produce certain works. In fact, I have no skills at all. I don’t know how to stitch nor to embroider. I do it my own way, which is – I believe – the easiest way anyone could come up with if in need of mending his/her own sock and not knowing how to do it. Instead, what interests me is to produce beautiful works, visually powerful and enchanting – that hit the audience’s eyes at the first glance. Only later, reading them, and while putting them into context, the public should realise that the topics that I am referring to are not usually easy or “beautiful”: they are, indeed, very problematic issues that we all have to face in our own lives, such as the fear of being abandoned, the fear of losing someone, the loneliness of the self, the terrible feeling of being wrong and discriminated, just to quote a few. 

What’s next for you? Can you give us an insight into your plans for the coming years? 

My first virtual exhibition produced by the gallery that represents my work (Prometeo Gallery Ida Pisani) has just ended. For this project, every single day of the entire duration of the exhibition, I produced a new edition of a pillowcase with the word ISOLATO embroidered on it. The new work was eventually shown on the IG of the gallery every evening around 6pm. 

My practice in the studio has become even stronger now during the lockdown and I am taking part in several online group shows at the moment. 

Meanwhile, since performances are allowed only if streamed online, I have just produced a new live work for Corpi sul Palco, a streaming of new live works produced in our own homes by several Italian Artists, curated by Andrea Contin and visible on www.corpisulpalco.com

Since 2016, I am working on a long term – itinerant project Questo Anonimato E’ Sovversivo (This Anonymity is Subversive) that I take to every single Country of the European Union. 

We planned to finish the work by June 2020 but, since the lockdown, we had to reschedule the next “stops”. Therefore, as soon as the pandemic will be over, I will start travelling again to complete QAES starting from MNAC The National Museum of Contemporary Art of Romania in Bucharest. 

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