For the past 20 years, Italian photographer Angelo Musco has been creating a massive database of elegant, monochrome snapshots of the nude human form. "I think we have about 10 million images," he tells The Creators Project. That, in and of itself, sounds like a triumph, but Musco takes it up a notch by stiching together thousands of pictures of the supine models into intricate wall-sized "bodyscapes"—composite, naturally beautiful forms that toe the line between Jonty Hurwitz's microscopic sculptures and Tomas Saraceno's cosmic spiderwebs.
Following a line of human-covered forests, [birds' nests](http:// http://www.secristgallery.com/artists/angelo-musco/), and bodies of water, Musco's most recent series, Aves, is a vignette of a feather floating weighlessly through the air. The irony, Musco points out, is that the image is actually made from thousands of photos of human limbs and torsos, collaged together á la Vik Muniz' illusory installation, Album, which involved grafting dozens of pictures together to create brand new landscapess. "As you get closer and closer to the image you discover a completely different world. Things are not as they first appear," he says.
Musco's meticulous process, detailed in the video below, often takes several years. "It is not simply taking a picture, but weaving together and building the image," he explains. With such a long time scale, his creative process evolves with the big events in his life, and each image is imprinted with the thoughts and emotions of his everyday being. "When we are working on a piece that can take two years of my life to complete, the work becomes an ongoing diary of life and events during the creation of the piece."
Fascinated by the melancholic atmosphere of his photos, as well their small-scale attention-to-detail but large-scale scope, The Creators Project decided to ask Musco about how he plans each image, the inspiration behind Aves, and how he began collecting millions of bodies in his hard drives.
The Creators Project: What first compelled you to create pictures from hordes of human bodies?
Angelo Musco: I'm drawn by the strength and power of individual elements and their power to become the driving force of a major composition; the unified sense of purpose is what makes the collective body possible. What they can achieve when they get together—the aggregation of elements—is what I hope to convey with my work, that every individual element is not only complimentary, but essential to every other.
The work has definitely grown over the past few years. The evolution of using larger and larger numbers of bodies has come through experimentation and the need to find new ways of creating the images I see in my mind and to express the language I’ve been working on for the past 20+ years. I actually started using the body in college but using massive groups of nude bodies really came with a piece called Aranea, a large spider’s web. The whole piece is made up of bodies—even what we call the negative space, the area behind the image, the whole space is bodies.
How would you describe the art form you've created?
I find it very hard to answer a question like this. I’m fascinated by so many elements in nature, the richness of where I grew up, and a pride in that history which I take and translate into my own expression
The human body is central to my work, and the images are often figurative landscapes (called ”bodyscapes” by many) or abstract impressions of bodies, so that works. I’m working in a modern day medium, photography, but perhaps coming from the ancient city of Naples, Italy, and growing up in that mystical city has influenced my psyche, so there are many classical references in the work, including my use of the nude body and the elements of nature.
Walk me through your creative process. How do you plan out the massive scope of your photographs? Where does your inspiration come from?
There are two different ways of looking at my process: the conceptual and the physical. On the conceptual front at this time, the work is flowing like an ongoing dialogue where the end of one piece informs the start of the next piece. Earlier, most of the works were standalone projects, but now they are connecting. Containers of life, natural architecture, and using the nude human body are constants in the work. Now when we are working on a piece that can take two years of my life to complete, the work becomes an ongoing diary of life and events during the creation of the piece. Each piece is a journey in itself and the final work may have evolved greatly from the original concept. It is not simply taking a picture but weaving together and building the image, and when you are working on pieces like Aranea, a gigantic spider web, we [myself and studio assistants] feel like we are the weavers of the web. The labor mimics the inspiration, whether a nest, a web, or a forest.
The physical is more straightforward. There are photo shoots to orchestrate with individuals, small groups and large gatherings of 80+ people at a time. Heading into the shoot, I have in mind what I need to accomplish and we will map that out beforehand. Then it grows with the introduction of the energy from all the models. Then we go into the studio and use the figures and shapes from the photo shoots to connect and build the image. Lately I keep coming back to this image of weaving and working the materials together and melding them and adding layer upon layer to build the work.
I start building what is, in effect, a template of what the final images will be. The template helps me figure out what body shapes and patterns are needed, and then we plan out what type of photo shoot will give us the material needed to build and weave together the image. There are videos on YouTube documenting shoots at several different locations. I usually work with two assistants on the day of a shoot, but because all the models are volunteers, we are never 100% sure who will show up. While we have a plan of what is needed, there is an organic quality that is fed by the energy of the individuals that participate that day and how we work together as a group. Then there are hundreds of hours of taking individual and groups of nude bodies and building the piece. Thousands of pictures are needed in order to create the one image. The show Tehom took almost two years to complete with multiple photo shoots happening in pools and studios. Aves P1 took several months to complete, but it is a series of nine images so I’m still finishing the last feathers.
What tools do you use?
The tools in the studio are: computers, computers, and computers, multiple hard drives, and most important, an espresso machine.
How many bodies are in each?
I have an archive of bodies that I’ve been working on for almost 20 years and I think we have about 10 million images. In the past year I’ve hosted three photo international shoots as well as several in my studio. OVUM, the nests that preceded the Aves series, probably included almost two million bodies. The feathers in the Aves series have multiple layers, so there are several thousand bodies. It is somewhat ironic that the feathers appear to be floating in the air when in fact it is constructed by several thousand bodies. That is why I have used the idea of the paradox of lightness as a guiding idea while working on this series. As you get closer and closer to the image, you discover a completely different world. Things are not as they first appear. A big part of the work is also the power of aggregation and tapping into that force which is only appreciated again when you really enter into the work.
How was making Aves different from previous photo series? What was the biggest challenge you overcame to bring it to fruition?
Technically Aves has been very challenging because the biggest body is only two inches long, so it took a large number of bodies to build the image. Keeping focused and not going blind has been a daily challenge with this series.
How do people react to your art?
Viewing art is so subjective so everyone has to be true to his or her own experience and I have to respect whatever happens. Two people will have diametrically different experiences but I hope they both feel something emotionally. I think most people who like my work connect with it on several different levels and are affected very deeply.
I do hope they feel drawn into the work… at least that’s what happens to the people that decide to pose for me. After they see the work, they want to be in it, and I couldn’t ask for a better model after I hear that, because I don’t have to explain. They know.
What are you working on now, and what's next for you as an artist?
Over the past two years I have been working on a piece inspired by the Tower of Babel and the confusion of tongues from the Book of Genesis. Today it is estimated that there are over 5,000 languages offering a rich diversity of human culture and new research supports the idea that they could have all originated from one language. Like the leaves and branches of a tree, they connect back to a single originating seed.
I have been working on my own artistic language for years and now I’m building my own city of Babel seeking out diversity of languages and culture with the models that volunteer for me. In effect I’m trying re-unifying them by the power of aggregation into a single vibrant community, a towered city of Babel. To meet the challenge of using models with diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds, photo shoots for this new work have already been conducted in London, in a converted automobile factory, in NYC at the Alvin Ailey Dance studio of New York, in Buenos Aires at the beautiful Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt, and in Berlin at the Forum Factory, home to major art installations and performances. Plans are coming together for a staged photo shoot in Paris, as well as discussions for amazing locations in Hong Kong and Budapest.
With the materials gathered in each city, we are creating a landscape built upon an interconnection of human bodies, towers which themselves are connected to one another by bridges, ramps and terraces. The reality for the viewer is that the structures are constructed by thousands of bodies, and then within the structures another whole community population is on view within the columns, windows, and arcades. Millions of bodies will appear effortlessly woven together supporting and unifying a harmonious city, rich in its diversity and industry that speaks to our common desire to be united and at peace.
Finally, where can people see your photos?
We produced Aves P1 for the Mayfair show at Lyons Wier Gallery (542 West 24th Street) in Chelsea. The show will be up until May 23 and is free and open to the public during regular gallery hours. Several new shows are in production, between 2015 and 2016 from Mexico to Belgium to New York, and obviously you can find the work in art fairs around the world.
See more of Angelo Musco's work on his website.