The Greatest #6 Interviews: Francesco Vezzoli // Mogwai

The Balance Issue



This is the point of view of an artist that allows an open and free interpretation of his art, by showing his strength and his weaknesses as a man. The claim of being true to yourself and who you are through irony is his presentation. Francesco Vezzoli tells us the value of intellectual honesty: something that all of us should have in order to spread our ideas.

Francesco Vezzoli THE GREATEST

Some people’s narcissism can be seen as a kind of protection, as well as a kind of dream. What is narcissism for you?

I understand and find licit what can be called “boutique narcissism”, when people buy clothes because they see themselves more beautiful wearing them. Everyone has the right to feel confident and comfortable in their own skin. I would say that a superficial narcissism is acceptable; something like a tighter t-shirt that shows muscles, makes me smile and, in a way, it’s tender too. On the other hand, what I find detrimental is narcissism within a relationship. When people think that they want someone because they’re as good looking as them, or as famous as them, is just sick. We might accept it in an occasional intercourse, but when it turns into dependence, it can be seen as a sort of pathology.

Concerning narcissism, we can gauge this is a fundamental aspect of your pieces. While you are dealing with it, are you more a debunker or sympathetic?

To be honest, I am both. If I assess that I am ironic or sympathetic on a theme, I would take a non-original position. Several years ago, when I was at the beginning of my career, Germano Celant gave me an important lesson concerning my videos. He told me that if I took part in my videos, projects would have a stronger moral value. They would have turned into an act of courage and assumption of responsibility. It’s absolutely true. I don’t like to be photographed and I hate self-representation. I’m struck with panic. When I show an image, I let my mood feel free to come out. In the end, if I act as a moralist or comprehensive, I wouldn’t tell anything personal. I would take a position as a critic, while I am an artist. As an artist I have to expose my weakness and strength in that moment, so that’s why both attitudes live in my work. The reaction belongs to the audience.

Francesco Vezzoli THE GREATEST

The theme of this issue of THE GREATEST is balance. I’d like to debate this topic with you concerning aesthetic. To be more precise, I’d like to know how you deal with symmetry.

A lot of my works are focused on the face and the eyes, so I am really into symmetry. However, I can’t talk about symmetry without linking it to decoration as well. Concerning interior decoration, symmetry has been attacked and detested for many years. It was seen as something reactionary. I think that, as we are living in a reactionary era, not ideology but for customs, symmetry is sought and required by society. There is a research of it in terms of bodily perfection; otherwise we can’t explain why gyms are one of the few businesses that thrive in crisis. Alike, I love to show a sort of symmetry in my works and installations. It can be seen as a little provocation. Symmetry doesn’t annoy me, actually, I see it as a tender research of an external balance that is nothing more than a mirror of the unattainable interior balance. However, after many decades full of balance, nowadays people seem to be inclined towards an extreme self-destruction or self-preservation, without any mid point.

And what about asymmetry?

I prefer symmetry to asymmetry, because symmetry is a villain. I mean, especially in an art debate, symmetry is seen as something bourgeois and, as I play a lot on this status, it amuses me. I already know that critics are going to say “Oh the asymmetry!” while a punk artist will say “Oh NO, the asymmetry!”

As we are talking about balance, I feel the necessity to talk about chaos too. Do you think that it is necessary to have a scheme or a rule to make chaos?

When I studied in London, one of my idols was Vivienne Westwood. The punk movement used to have behind it an ideological matter linked to a rebellion against the political status of Great Britain in that period of time. Here’s why that movement survived: it was full of anger and motivation. The aesthetic movement that comes out from it, worked because it was a consequence of the awkwardness of youth. In fact, when the social motivation lacked, the real punk movement ended. So I would say that, if you don’t have a strong motivation behind your actions, you couldn’t be anarchic. Glossy anarchy is worth more than any dictatorship. The only rule or scheme that I admit is intellectual honesty, unless you believe in something and you are fulfilling someone’s desire it’s fine and justified.

You have mentioned your years of academic education. You started to work with embroidery while you were attending Central Saint Martins in London. Which was the reason that pushed you towards this kind of manufacturing?

It was a naughty choice. I used to feel the environment where I was studying as a fake punkish microcosm, so I started to embroider. I wasn’t nostalgic or anything linked to memories. I talked about little bourgeois; basically I talked about me. I found a language that was a claim to authenticity. It was a way to say: “Where do you come from? Be true to yourself.” During those years at Central Saint Martins I used to wear glossy loafers. I saw them on magazines such as The Face and I-D, used as a mockery of the rich men of the seventies. So wearing them was such a funny parody to me.

There is a lot of irony in your art pieces. You play with irony over icons and communication. In order to make authentic irony you have to be a brilliant person. It is a bit like taste, you can’t learn it. Does there exist an example to explain what irony is?

It’s really hard to explain what irony is, especially in art. Irony is a category of the spirit that can be easily confused with something else like sarcasm. In my works there is a lot of irony, but often it is misunderstood. For example, the Anglo-Saxon audience think that irony within art doesn’t have a considerable value. From my point of view, as the contemporary art gained financial power, we have assisted the lack of irony within it and it’s a shame. If we think about the colossal prices of contemporary art, it seems like as this field has a sort of responsibility linked to the business weight achieved. I see a similar loss in fashion too. I remember how Inès de la Fressange or Pat Cleveland used to walk on the runway. Their impertinent beautiful moves and how they ended in front of the photographers with hands on hips was just perfect. It was so funny and fascinating, as well as the glorious shows of Moschino or Chanel. Models used to play with their role. Everything was funnier and close to an idea of a dream. It probably deals with the fact that I am talking of an era that still felt the influence of feminism. Nowadays some models walk as if Gloria Stainem has never existed.

As you are talking about fashion and you have a strong link to advertising too, which are your favourite spots of all times?

I loved the Pepsi spot with Beyoncé that said “Embrace your past, but live for now”. Then, jumping backwards, I would say the Lancia Delta’s spot with the astonishing Catherine Deneuve sayng “Oui, je suis Catherine Deneuve”. Undoubtedly I have to mention Opium by Yves Saint Laurent too. The scandalous spot where Linda Evangelista said “Opium, un perfume de dépandance” was just brilliant, as much as the perfume itself. I am really attached to Opium. First of all because it was the fragrance used by my mother, and I have always admired the intellectual honesty that Opium brought towards the man that invented it. 


Music is a matter of atmosphere. It conveys emotions that float out as notes. It is a sort of journey that spreads in the mind. A melody is something personal, it gives out a feeling that ends with the last chord. It is a chorus of instruments running towards the same ending, like a story. Notes are like words, they are felt instinctively, but born of balance. A long career made up of melodies, a mixture of feelings, that’s what Mogwai are. Their strong attitude is recognisable as their signature, whether they deal with an album or a soundtrack, their mark is clear. Mogwai holds a strong position in the music scenery because of their elegant sound, which grows like a novel into its plot. We have met the band to talk about their melodies and their point of view regarding balance in music, something you can reach with just a pure and symphonic sound. They present themselves as a choral voice through the words of Stuart Braithwaite and Barry Bums.


Concerning artistic fields, you can’t decide by yourself who you want to be as an adult. It is the field that chose you. Why do you think that music has chosen you?

B. I definitely agree with this vision. Music and all the artistic and creative fields have a lot to do with instinct. It’s something that actually you can’t explain easily with words.

S. I would probably say that when you find your own way to express yourself and this way becomes your job, you have to feel really lucky. We couldn’t do anything except from music.

There are people that can’t stand silent moments in life. What is your relation to silence?

S. Due to our job we need silence. I could say that we really enjoy it. When I come back home after a recording session or a gig, I love lying on the sofa just relaxing and letting peace come to my ears.

B. That’s absolutely true. I have a great relationship with silence. However, the funny thing is that when you look for it, it is so difficult to find. For example, on a plane, you can bet on the fact that you’ll share the journey with screaming babies!

Your choice of avoiding lyrics in most of your pieces belongs to a kind of honesty: “Do we really have something to say in words?” It is such an honest attitude, in a way balanced. Can you find an example of balance in one of your instrumental pieces?

S. Balance is something that really belongs to us. As we deal with melodies we have to find the right proportion of sounds in order to achieve the perfect balance. I wouldn’t highlight one of our pieces as the most balanced, all of them are. It is a necessity, and actually it comes together with the structure of the melody. A melody tells a story: it starts with an introduction, it develops through a plot in a climax and finds its own ending. Balance in our music, in a way, is something physical because it is clearly formed and structured.

Always concerning instruments and the power of expression of sounds and noise, can you find a word that highlights the quality you like the most in your musical instrument?

B. My instrument is the piano. I would define it as versatile and adaptable. You can do whatever you want with its frets and adjust the sound to follow the flow of the melody.

S. My instrument is the guitar. I would say that a guitar is socially fair. Everybody can have one; it’s absolutely democratic, not like the piano (laughter).


You have worked on soundtracks too. Can you tell me how you have worked on it? I mean, where do you begin to compose the musical atmosphere of a visual situation?

S. It’s really interesting work. It is so nice to complete a visual atmosphere with music, because it could definitely change the mood, strengthen or over tune it. About our experience, up to now, we have always been chosen because of our own world and vision. So we have never had to change ourselves so much, we just do our music for a movie or a fiction. The process is quite easy: we meet with the producer, we talk about the mood and what they need as melody and we start working.

B. Until now it has been a beautiful and easy thing to do, because, in a way, it confirmed our personality in music. If someone would ever ask a soundtrack for a comedy by Mogwai, we wouldn’t know where to start, but who knows.

You have discovered music really young in a decade that was so different from the years that we are living now. I believe that what we turn out to be depends a lot on what is offered to us. If you were teenagers now, would you let music be your life or not?

B. If we were teenagers now we would definitely try to be musicians as we did in the nineties. We have struggled a lot to start and achieve our career. Today the sources offered are massive. If you think about it today, thanks to the Internet, you can reach the whole repertoire of the history of music so comfortably from everywhere. In the nineties it was possible for sure, but not so easy. Moreover now you can record a LP even in your room at home with a higher quality than the nineties. Plus, thanks to the technologies offered today, it is also cheaper. So, for sure, we would go for music again.

The idea of a super pop hit doesn’t belong to you at all. However, even turning back in ages, which song would you steal from someone else and say it’s yours?

S. Absolutely “Dancing Queen” by Abba.

B. That’s a great choice!

Instinctive is the right word to describe you. After so many years of music, do you see your melodies closer to instinct or balance?

S. The final result of our melodies, what you can find in our catalogue of music, is balanced, because of the process that we follow to construct a melody. However we are really instinctive, especially at the beginning of the creative path.

B. Yes, it’s a mixture of both, but if we have to choose one of the two attitudes to describe us, we would go for instinct, because it’s a matter of emotion and feeling.

Once in your career ( ref. “Mogwai Young Team” 1997) you have used pseudonyms as a signature. I won’t ask you why, but which pseudonyms would you choose today?

S. That’s tricky. Probably we would choose a punk pseudonym.

B. Maybe something like ‘undergarment’.