Alumni Work: Giovanni Maisto Ferreira

Wed 13 Sep

Giovanni Maisto Ferreira is an artist exploring various types of media within his practice to highlight a very personal perception of our contemporary society and its dysfunctions. His creative process is mainly translated through 3D objects, spatial design and performance.

Giovanni studied Transformation Design at the Willem de Kooning Academy. His graduation project / film ‘touch’M’ has obtained great success. Last year, he developed the exhibition ‘Touch Me, To See Us’ at showroom Mama. In this interview, Giovanni shares about his experiences at WdKA, vision as an artist and dreams for the future.

How did you end up at WdKA? 

“My journey to WdKA was a bit serendipitous. I initially came to the Netherlands for personal reasons, following my boyfriend at the time. I had previously been living in Germany. When I arrived here, I learned Dutch, but I feel more comfortable speaking English. Initially, I pursued a career in teaching and even completed a year of teacher training to become a German teacher at HR. However, I quickly realized that teaching wasn't my true passion and I yearned for a more creative path.

In just three months, I created a comprehensive portfolio that showcased my ideas, sketches, and concepts. While I had always been drawn to interior design and fashion, I hadn't actively pursued projects in those fields before. When I applied to WdKA for Transformation Design, it was an exciting day. The tutors seemed impressed with my portfolio, but one of them suggested I consider fine art instead. However, I was determined to explore a more commercial practice, which led me to choose Transformation Design as my field of study at WdKA.”


How did you experience your time at the academy? 

"My time at the academy was quite an adventure. The first year was particularly challenging as I had to navigate through a lot of new experiences, such as meeting new students, adjusting to a different culture, and not being fluent in Dutch. Despite the initial difficulties, I found the freedom to explore various disciplines within the Transformation Design program to be incredibly exciting. There was one assignment that stood out as my favorite. I was tasked with creating a cover shoot where I served as the art director, developing a concept for the autumn season. I chose Vogue as the magazine and centered the theme around harvest, drawing inspiration from pumpkins and green vegetables. It was an immersive experience where I conceptualized the dress, model, and location. I fell in love with art direction during this assignment, and receiving positive feedback and a good grade from Mona Dekker, one of my favorite teachers, was a rewarding moment of recognition.

I also thoroughly enjoyed classes focused on image and idea, which had a strong visual and conceptual orientation. We delved deep into the concepts, considering all aspects and experimenting with different approaches. One of the aspects I appreciated about Transformation Design is its versatility. It allows you to explore multiple directions, whether it's photography, spatial design, or fashion. This aspect fascinated me, but at times, it also posed challenges, as I sometimes felt a bit lost in the vast possibilities.

Another highlight of my time at the academy was the opportunity to participate in an exchange program during my second year. I went to the School of Visual Arts in New York, which turned out to be an amazing experience. The school had renowned lecturers who were incredibly inspiring, being accomplished artists themselves. I remember one of my favorite teachers, who taught the performance class. It was during his show that I had a realization, thinking, "I think I should be an artist, not a designer." Prior to that, I had always been more focused on design, but the freedom and creativity I discovered in the performance class sparked something within me.

I also developed a passion for drawing during my time in New York and even had the opportunity to create a whole show with 26 paintings. The vibrant and competitive environment of New York was energizing, but after six months, I was happy to return to Europe, where I found greater value in friendships and family rather than solely focusing on career and money.

Upon returning to WdKA, I had some amazing opportunities. One standout project was creating a work at Wijnhaven called "The Voice of Wijnhaven.". It was a project comissioned by the Off Blaak | Vrijhaven program, for which I made a "waterfall'' for the Wijnhaven building. During my studies, I went through different phases, and around that time, I felt it was my "installation art" era. I also had the privilege of participating in the "Public & Private" minor led by Niek Verschoor and Natalia Londono Sorzano , which was truly incredible.

In my third year, I fell in love with ceramics and had the chance to create a performance piece for the opening of het Nieuwe Instituut. That moment was when certain things began to come together for me, and I felt a sense of clarity and purpose in my artistic journey.”


How did you experience your fourth year at the academy and what was your graduation project about?

“My fourth year at the academy was a mix of great experiences and unexpected challenges. The first half of the year was fantastic, filled with exciting projects and opportunities. However, the second half was overshadowed by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a significant impact on our ability to use the school facilities. As a result, we had to rethink our graduation projects and find alternative ways to create our final works.


Initially, I had planned to create a physical space for my graduation project, along with a performance within that space. Due to the limitations of the pandemic, I made the decision to focus on the set design and concept first. While this work alone would have been enough to graduate, I was determined to find a solution that would allow me to realize the full vision of my project. So I decided to create a film instead of a live performance. It was my first-ever film, and I was fortunate that all the performers in the film were my friends, which made the process much smoother. Also, before the pandemic hit, I was lucky enough to secure a studio space, which allowed me to dedicate a lot of time to creating set design work. Within this project, I combined all my abilities as an artist and design: set design, concept, research, styling, model scouting, production, creative direction, performance, dance, filmmaking. It all came together and that made me super proud. I graduated with a 9. And also after graduation, the film garnered significant attention and was showcased in various events and venues, including HNI, the Eye museum, Theater Rotterdam, Nowness and Pride Rotterdam.


One of the most significant moments came when the program makers at Showroom MAMA saw my film and asked me to have an exhibition. I wrote a proposal that expanded on the topic of "touch" and used the exhibition as a research opportunity to further develop my ideas. The exhibition was originally planned for a month but was extended due to its success. Showroom MAMA typically had around 80 visitors on a good day, but my exhibition drew in around 500 visitors per day, which was truly remarkable.”


Your film is being described as a symbolic depiction of how nonsexual touch can heal parts of toxic masculinity. Why did you want to dedicate a film to this topic? 

“Dedication to this topic was of utmost importance to me as it has always held significant personal value. Touch has been my primary means of communication, influenced by my experiences of living in various countries and being surrounded by diverse cultures. I have observed the differences in how people communicate through touch in different cultural contexts. In Latino cultures, touch is deeply intertwined with social interactions, while in Northern countries like Germany and the Netherlands, there is a greater emphasis on personal space and privacy. In the Netherlands, for example, we greet each other with three kisses on the cheek. I found it intriguing to compare these cultural differences in touch.

Within my own upbringing, cuddling was a moment of coming together, a way to express love and connection. Touch became my love language, intertwining with my overall form of communication. When you hug someone, you can sense if the gesture is reciprocated or if there is a disconnect. It provides a window into someone's emotional state, revealing whether they are open or closed off. I have always found this aspect fascinating because touch communicates more than words can express. There is a depth to touch, both chemically and energetically, that captivates me.

As someone who identifies as queer and gender fluid, my exploration of touch takes on additional layers of meaning. It raises questions about the significance of my male body in the world and how I navigate social situations. Masculinity, for instance, challenges notions of showing weakness versus embracing vulnerability. These intricacies became driving forces behind my desire to delve into the topic of touch and its potential to heal aspects of toxic masculinity. By dedicating a film to this subject, I aimed to create a symbolic depiction that highlights the transformative power of nonsexual touch. I wanted to explore the ways in which touch can transcend societal norms and stereotypes, offering a pathway to deeper human connection and emotional healing.”


How did viewers engage with your film and exhibition? And what did this mean to you? 

“The responses I received from people after they saw my film or exhibition were incredibly touching and left a lasting impression on me. I will never forget the first time the film was shown at Melly. It was an online screening, and immediately afterward, I had a radio interview also conducted online. I started receiving messages from people who had seen the film, expressing their gratitude and appreciation. One message that stood out was from a father who had shown the film to his son. He thanked me for creating and sharing the film, recognizing its significance in challenging societal norms around intimacy and masculinity.

During the official big premiere at HNI, I had the opportunity to interact with the audience directly. After the screening, people approached me, visibly moved and emotional. One person mentioned how they wanted to show the film to their own child, recognizing its power to provoke thought and promote understanding. Additionally, I had an amazing opportunity to collaborate with Glenn Helberg, a well-known psychologist and author, who joined me for an interview about physicality and gender. This collaboration was incredibly enriching, as we both come from different worlds but found common ground in our discussions and panel talks.

The response on Instagram was also significant, with numerous reactions and messages pouring in. One particular message that touched me deeply came from a mother who expressed her love for the exhibition space, describing it as a "womb." She shared that it reminded her of a child she had lost, and through the exhibition, she felt a sense of reconnection and healing. It was a testament to the power of art to evoke profound emotions and create spaces of resonance. Within the exhibition, there was a moment where visitors could interact with water, and it was incredible to witness the level of engagement. People threw money into the water, which was unexpected but served as a symbolic gesture of their connection to the work. It was remarkable to see the level of interaction and how visitors embraced the opportunity to engage with the installation in such a profound way.

The idea behind the exhibition was to bring the film to life in a three-dimensional space, and the response from visitors was beyond what I could have imagined. One person, in particular, stayed in the space for three hours, immersing themselves fully in the experience. The warmth and embrace of my installation resonated deeply with them, creating a sense of profound connection and emotional resonance.

Overall, the responses I received from people were filled with gratitude, emotion, and a deep appreciation for the themes and experiences explored in the film and exhibition. It was incredibly rewarding to witness the impact of my work and to create spaces where individuals could connect, reflect, and experience a sense of healing and understanding.”


What are your dreams for the future? 

“My dreams for the future revolve around using art and design as a means to evoke deep emotional connections and open up memories that bring joy and comfort to people. One particular example from my work is an installation I created called "smellpots." It involves three distinct smells that represent my own memories. Interestingly, when people interacted with the installation, they had different interpretations and associations with those smells, often tapping into their own personal recollections. It was a fascinating experience to witness the power of sensory stimuli in transporting individuals back to their own cherished memories.

On a broader scale, one of my dreams is to attain financial success. Becoming wealthy would provide me with the means to give back to the community and create safe, free spaces where people can come together and feel a sense of belonging. I believe in the transformative power of communal spaces and the positive impact they can have on individuals and communities.

Also, I would love to travel a lot in the future. Exploring different cultures and immersing myself in diverse environments not only fuels my creative inspiration but also broadens my perspective on the world. Experiencing new places and meeting people from different backgrounds enriches my artistic practice and enables me to create work that resonates with a global audience.”


What advice would you give to your younger self or to aspiring artists? 

“If I could go back in time, there's one thing I wish someone had told me: "You don't need to have all the answers or know exactly where you're heading right now." I struggled with the pressure of choosing a specific direction and felt overwhelmed by the possibilities. Looking back, I realize that those four years at the academy were a precious opportunity. My advice would be to embrace the freedom and make the most of it. Have fun, explore, and take advantage of all the spaces and resources available to you. It's the perfect time to experiment and try every station on your artistic journey. Some of my peers have expressed regret that they didn't fully seize these opportunities, so I encourage you to make the most of it.

Another important piece of advice is to cultivate and maintain strong connections with your fellow artists and classmates. Keep in touch and build meaningful relationships. Some of the people I formed connections with during my time at the academy have become collaborators and partners on various projects. These relationships can open doors and create new opportunities in the future.

Don't let fear hold you back. Just go for it. Take risks, try new things, and don't be afraid to put yourself out there. The creative path is filled with uncertainties, but embracing them can lead to remarkable growth and unexpected discoveries.

Lastly, it's essential not to place too much emphasis on the grading system or take it too seriously. I have witnessed many talented friends who graduated with average grades, only to blossom into incredible artists with remarkable opportunities. Remember that grades are just one perspective and one moment in time. They don't define your potential or determine your future success. Stay true to yourself and focus on your own artistic journey.”


You can follow Giovanni on Instagram to see more of his work.