The golden light of the Lungotevere is reflected on the roofs of the city of Rome and enters with arrogance into the rooms from the warm and welcoming atmosphere of Cristiano Leone’s new apartment. On the table books and latest projects of what we could call a multi-faceted figure: philologist, academic, curator, popularizer. Different aspects of a single existence in a continuous search for new contemporary perspectives to re-read and enhance the Italian artistic heritage. Director of the program of Villa Medici, careful curator and inventor of the Festival O at the Baths of Diocletian, Cristiano Leone has given new enamel to important cultural institutions.
1 – Let’s start from your background, where have you studied?
I am a novel philologist, I have an academic background: I graduated in Paris and Italy, I did exchange programs since the beginning of my studies. I started at the University of Naples and there I met my university mentor, Laura Minervini: when we met, she understood how passionate I was about pure research, so she advised me to go away and have as many experiences as possible abroad and study how many as many languages as possible. I deepened my knowledge in particular of the languages death Latin, novel, Castilian, old French. I started very early to publish, I wrote my first book during my three-year degree: the translation of a Latin text: the first commented edition of The Thousand and One Nights, compiled in 1100 by an Oriental for Westerners. Then I continued to do research while specializing in Romance philology, at that time I discovered another writing in the Berlin library, published with the Accademia dei Lincei and later I started a European PhD, international between France, Italy, Spain and Zurich.
2 – When did you start focusing on your curatorial vocation?
While I was teaching in Belgium I realized that I was mainly interested in dealing with cultural projects for a larger number of people, not a niche. So I decided to resume my studies: I studied management with an executive MBA, so I completely shifted my asset to much more entrepreneurial aspects, I worked in a spin off for a healthy industry group and I created an online training academy, to then return to France where I worked for the Universitèe de la Sorbonne, with the establishment of educational and cultural programs and taught at the Science Po – where I had two professorships in comparative aesthetics and civilization – and then returned to Rome at Luiss, where I currently teach cultural programming.
Mentre insegnavo in Belgio ho capito che mi interessava principalmente occuparmi di progetti culturali per un numero più importante di persone, non una nicchia. Così ho deciso di riprendere gli studi: ho studiato management con un executive MBA, quindi ho spostato completamente il mio asset verso aspetti molto più imprenditoriali, ho lavorato in una spin off per un gruppo del settore healthy e ho creato una Accademia di formazione online, per poi tornare in Francia dove ho lavorato per la Universitèe de la Sorbonne, con la costituzione di programmi educativo – culturali e insegnato alla Science Po – dove avevo due cattedre una di estetica comparata e una di civiltà – per poi tornare a Roma alla Luiss, dove attualmente insegno programmazione culturale.
3 – The transition from Romance philology to cultural programming when exactly?
The Sorbonne experience, with the establishment of degree courses, played a crucial role: taking care of experimental projects together with teachers and researchers in the field of creation and education. The principle is the same, even today when I have a more creative job, I feel like an orchestra conductor, as I combine musicians, artists, creators trying to develop multidisciplinary projects, creating synergies between different artists. Together, we work to enhance the historical heritage.
4 – How did you find yourself at Villa Medici?
I always think that in work it is more important to be in contact with inspiring people than in prestigious institutions, in the case of Villa Medici I had the great fortune of being able to combine these two aspects. I wanted to work with Muriel Mayette – Holtz – whom I was able to appreciate as the General Administrator of the Comedie Française, as a spectator – I always felt a strong, energetic woman. When she was appointed director of Villa Medici, I contacted her and told her that I lived between France and Italy and I wanted to work for the synergy between these two cultures: this is how we met.
5 – How did the meeting with Muriel affect you?
For me she is what is called âme sœur, intellectually it was my finishing school. Today I try to merge an academic, analytical and synthetic vision that embraces the public in relation to art, education and culture; this I learned thanks to her.
6 – What was the best moment of these three years at Villa Medici?
One thing that has remained in my heart is the meeting with Emmanuelle Riva, a great actress of theater and cinema, she is in my heart also for Hiroshima mon amour. She came for a lecture, we had dinner together and I got to talk to her thoroughly. He knew it would be his last conference, he was 93 and he was very sick, worried about how the world was evolving. I remember her as a woman of great simplicity and extraordinary professionalism, despite her weak strength she managed to make a magisterial intervention: a moment of grace. Another unforgettable moment was the meeting with Jean-Paul Goude, the greatest French advertiser. Here, they come back to mind with all the details, the dinners, the chats, the reflections, the doubts and the good moments lived with these extraordinary characters.
7 – Is Villa Medici’s Villa Aperta project your project?
It is a project that already existed before I arrived, that had been suspended and I recovered, rethinking it. In the format: more than being an electronic music festival, it is a festival where visual artists and musicians meet, to allow dialogue among the various forms of creation. Last year I also invited the Nobel Prize for Literature Gao Xingjian, who performed a performance with Fred Frith, a great English guitarist. I try to contaminate genres, bringing together artists of extremely varied and different sizes, who then perform on stage the performances expressly designed for the place.
8 – From the outside it seems that from an academic discourse, linked to education, you are then passed to one linked to contemporary art, techno music with a part also as art director, since there is a strong creative as well as institutional component at Villa Medici?
Yes, for me music and contemporary art, in general contemporary experimentation are the almost concrete aspect of the theoretical one taught at the university. At the base, in every project there is a pedagogical will, that is of cultural diffusion. For me, teaching the geopolitics of the Mediterranean or making an electronic music project in an archaeological context are two aspects of the dissemination of knowledge. Today it is essential that even in universities and museums, teachings come to life, a form, a body and that they can be shown.
9 – Is there an art form you prefer that you feel closer to?
As a nature, education is curious and curiosity then leads me to study. So I study different fields of creation. Those that are more congenial to me, for a talk of this time in which I am living, are music, essential for me; I studied music but I started working with musicians recently, for about three years. So now music is a kind of externalization of my inner world, in the sense that I constantly listen to music and work with musicians.
10 – You feel it more directly, the music …
Credo che ci sia una autenticità nella musica che è immediata, non si può ingannare nella musica.
11 – And what about the visual arts?
Absolutely: we all see what happens in contemporary art. I love it deeply and it is the one I studied the most, it is my universe.
12 – Do you have a reference artist?
Perhaps as a contemporary artist James Turrell, I love it and find it has a spiritual dimension that is fundamental to me in art. He works a lot with lights on the synchronization of celestial bodies. When you enter his works you have a chromatic impact that takes you away from concrete reality and takes you to something much more ancestral.
13 – Was the O ’festival born from the experience of Villa Medici?
O ‘was born because at Villa Medici the goal of Murielle and mine was to reopen the doors of the institution, so we did a rhythmic programming, very open to young people. I was asked by Electa and Daniela Porro, who directs the National Roman Museum, to think of a project for the Baths of Diocletian, to enhance them, so I decided, rather than imagine a contemporary art project, to imagine a project very based on the purely electronic music and techno and dance, because in another dimension, my personal spectator, I prefer dance. Actually, if I could choose what to be in life at all I would have chosen dancer or singer.
14 – Why do you like the stage?
In reality I like being on stage because it strengthens me, I am very shy and my whole existence has been dedicated to overcoming this shyness. Once I presented the ceremony for the awarding of the PhD graduates of all the Sorbonne universities at the Theater de Chatelet in front of about two thousand people, on one of the most important stages in France and for me it was a strong emotion: I was shaking even though they have me said it was not noticed. Returning to why I would like to be a dancer or singer, the truth is that I love those who manage to make their bodies an art.
15 – What is your talent?
The method. I think I have acquired a method thanks to philology that has allowed me to channel my curiosity allowing me to “harness”, channeling the will to touch and understand things. Connect things for a purely selfish need to find my way in the world.
16 – How do you mean being methodical or a process, your approach?
I study, whatever I do the study, I go in depth, as much as possible in the subject. At that point I reflect, I discuss with the artists to understand how that work can be valued and can welcome new challenges, welcoming them together with me. Mine is an accompanying role.
17 – What are your plans for this 2019?
Two weeks ago I presented the programming of Villa Medici, including the Thursdays of the Villa which become Carte Blanche to scholarship holders. I imagined a new format, the Symposia, of study days: two days to focus on specific topics. Since I’m passionate about the link between historic gardens and contemporary art, we have imagined a program for the months of February dedicated to the gardens; it will be called the month of gardens and we will have several meetings on contemporary art installations in the countryside, on the enhancement of historical parks and then, as always, there will be the film festival, the Villa Aperta festival, and a series of other personal projects in other areas. Soon, in the spring, there will be a project in a context that for now I have explored only as a spectator, the theater: I will have a role in the staging of a tragedy.
18 – In the future, how do you see yourself?
I would really like to be able to dedicate myself to an institution for a while and give it life by opening it, making it known, being able to work more and more on the link between historical heritage and contemporary art. What I really want is to establish in the public the idea of pleasure, of taste for culture, work on the idea of diffusion. In France the ‘vulgarization’ is a beautiful concept, in Italy it seems that either we should vulgarize in the sense of trivializing or we always tend to speak to a select few, instead I would like to be able to find the right medium and propose high quality projects in a way simple. Giving the keys to the public to understand is essential otherwise the gap between the users of the art and the artists will become ever wider and will become caricature. This is why it is essential that people understand what is happening today in contemporary experimentation and I feel I want to take on an institutional role, to make people understand, explain.
19 – Is yours a veiled criticism of contemporary art?
One cannot disconnect from reality and one must always realize that art, culture must exist for the largest number of users. You cannot turn to the elite and those who have the privilege of being elite. We who have this privilege must recognize it and give others the opportunity to use it in the same way, we must accept not hunt.
20 – Is this also a matter of communication?
Yes it is fundamental, it has a primordial role. The theme of communication is demeaning, when instead it is a fundamental, political enhancement of cultural and political communication.