Sacred Songs of the Body Electric: Interview with Servadio

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Sacred Songs of the Body Electric: Interview with Servadio

In this interview with Servadio, he talks about the ritualistic power of tattooing, and why contemporary tattoos are fine art.

It was the existential quality to Servadio's work that immediately drew me in. Each energetic line swiftly coming together with a kinetic electricity to create an emotive portrait, a barren landscape, a tired dog. The movement, the underlying spirit of each image seemed to have a narrative beyond, but with, the body beneath it. But there was also something ancient, yet so completely contemporary, about each tattoo that deeply resonated with me...it wasn't only about aesthetics; there was a philosophical depth, a poignancy to each of Servadio's pieces that held me captive. His tattoos, resting on skin, breathe. They live and speak volumes. They fill spacial voids, and make music all their own. 

September 7th The Old Baths in London will be hosting Servadio's tattooing performance art piece, Body of Reverbs, as part of an incredible line up of visual and auditory explorations concerning the body and ritualistic experiences. In addition, this event celebrates the release of the B.O.R. book and LP which is, in itself, a collaborative project that deserves reverence. 

What specific moments in your past have helped you become the artist and tattooist you are now? Can you remember the first time you made something, or when art first captured your attention?

Considering myself an artist took a very long time, but the act and need of creation was always a constant in my life since I was very young. Probably the very unique thing I was good at, and I remember receiving compliments for, were my drawings, even if they were on my bedroom walls with markers. Spontaneously, when creation is an inner need, it doesn't need any consciousness or awareness of it. So, there was a tension there that evolved during my teenage years into graffiti, illustration, paintings and evolved into tattooing and wider art practices later on. I would say the first love was expressionism, thats how I learned to draw, that's were I recognize myself into: the gestures, the struggle, the translation of reality through your inner perspective.  

What are your thoughts on social media...are our lives becoming more vacuous and empty with highly curated facades, or are we becoming more deeply connected to those around us? How has it affected your life/work?

It depends how we use these platforms. I grew up in Italy, where mass media is strong and corrupted, and the chance of having a self promoted environment can be extremely beneficial for new cultures to grow. I am also very fascinated by the chaos involved on it, the unpredictable links that are generated from one side of the world to the other. 

There is a need, I think, to have an active and conscious attitude towards social media. The layers of superficial information that we are gathering daily is very thick, instead of occupying our attention with one thing and getting deep on it, we saturate our head with thousands of different facades. I am very intrigued how our bodies are reacting to this surplus, look for example at tattooing: blast overs, second and third layers. To me it reflects exactly these aspects of our contemporary life, which is getting faster and inhuman, we don't need a body anymore to keep up with all the tattoos that we can get, so we layer on top, different bodies, different skins, according to different stages of our life. Chaotic bodies.

Your project Body of Reverbs has this intoxicatingly primitive, ritualistic quality, and it’s pushing the art form of tattooing to new levels of expression. What is the process like for each performance? Why do you think something like this, or tattooing in general, is so cathartic for the person being tattooed?

Thank you. Each performance is unique because it's the result of the all different vectors involved: the space, who s preforming and mainly the needs of who is getting tattooed. That's why we always start with a meeting, all together, to understand what and how we are going to do it, what sort of experience we are going to deliver:

It can be a strong, loud and brutal process, or a very dilated approach, careful actions, in very specific parts of the body. 

The cathartic experience is because we are taking tattooing out of the tattoo shop and trying not to treat it like a product, and give it all the respect that it deserves; that's why connecting sound and pain act deeply on the person creating a sensorial feedback: literally the sound of the needle picking the skin gets amplified, processed and comes back to the persons ears and body...Also in term of sound vibrations, as we often use quite big sound systems.

I recently started to work with a good fiend and acupuncturist Mik Boiter, and often we work together on private ritual where we focus entirely on the person. It is thanks to Mik that we can find the right places on the body where to tattoo. Just like the mummy Otzi, found in the alps: his tattoos where in fact acupuncture in a time where medicine, magic, ritual and tattooing were one unique thing. This is where I want to bring tattooing back with this research.

You’ve likened the feeling you get during Body of Reverbs to that of a shaman...are you interested in/do you practice magic? How would you describe your personal belief system or philosophy? 

During the rituals we act as a medium to canalize the energies between us, the tattooed person and the audience. Starting from the necessity of bringing back tattooing to its very ritualistic roots, I am building a new practice from scratch. I have no knowledge on magic; I am acting by witnessing where there is the gap and filling it. Attraction often comes from necessity. Lately I am getting deeper into studies related to proto-magic folklore in south of Italy, especially studies from Ernesto De Martino on the ritualistic crying practice to dead people before the burial. The reason why I feel like a shaman, but not like a magician, is because a shaman provides a service for the community he lives in, and one thing that resonates with me is the explanation that every “magical” practice is made of “gestures” and “intentions”. Thats how I feel, towards my gestures and intentions, I try to move the tattoo culture forward, or perhaps backwards.

I read/love that you’re a fan of Anselm Kiefer, which completely makes sense...his artwork, and the film Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow totally mirrors your desolate landscapes and textural line quality. Why do you think you, and others, are so drawn to deconstruction artists like Kiefer, or Tinguely? Where else and in what else do you find stimuli and inspiration for your work?

I think the reason behind those landscapes is because it's primarily the environment I live in, connected to the the infinite layers of inputs I perceive daily. It is very psycho-geographical my approach on what artists like Kiefer are coming from. I will explain myself better. I like to think that every place breathes his own spirit according to whatever has been happening on their grounds throughout history. I get very inspired by this and by how we relate to the environment according to what is, what was before and how it will develop in the future. That's why the post industrial theme is a constant, crossed over with desolate landscapes of a frozen sad countryside: it is in the first case London, Hackney Wick where I live and the second the desolate countryside mixed with industrial areas of where I come from, near Venice in Italy.

The portraits you do of women have always really resonated with me...you seem to effortlessly capture the duality of power and powerlessness that the female condition is naturally endowed with. What is your philosophy on the concept of the male gaze within art? How do you imbue your subjects with such a depth of personality and emotion?

Often I start from reality, most of the women I draw are actually life drawings of friends and models, other are from my head, mixing reality with what I like and how I feel, often drastically inspired by a book I just looked at. It is a balance on what I see and what I feel. Thank you for addressing my subjects in the way you do, I think it has to be natural, and not pretending to be always successful. I don't like to trace things from books and other references, that makes it a sure win and good looking, but that's not part of my research. I try to look for something different.

You’re well known not only for your work but also for your perspective on the commonly capitalist and exclusive tattooing community. How do you stem the tide against exploitative tattooing, and what do you hope for the future of tattooing?

There is a certain excitement around how tattooing is developing recently, I am very much looking forward to see what is going to happen. The fractures and dislocations from tattoo shops to private spaces transversely taking over social medias and blogs are redefining the rules of what tattooing is and means in the contemporary culture. Traveling around and having to talk about this topic with different people in the “industry” gives me access to opposite opinions, which often are reflections of feeling. Fear and curiosity are the two main ones. If you thought you were special because you knew how to apply a tattoo, now it is not enough: more and more the focus is shifting to who is behind the tattoo, the perspective and background of the artists, their personality, their way of workin,. That is why I think tattooing it's starting slowly to collide with art.

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