Michael Salerno

“a place that exists beyond language”

When did you start creating collages and taking pictures?

I’ve been creating images of one sort or another for almost as long as I can remember, but I made my first series of collage-photographs — a series called “Skulls/Boys” — in 2006. I say “collage-photographs” because they start as collages, but the end result is a photograph of the collage taken during the process of making it. In some ways, the images in this first series were a progression of the work I had been creating for the zines I was making in the years leading up to this. I started making zines in 2001 and in them you can pretty much see all of the elements that I’m still obsessed by and working with today. So these zines were really formative for me and they lay the foundations for what would follow aesthetically, emotionally and thematically.

How do you find the balance between the vision you have and the mediums you are using.

I work in quite a few different mediums, but it’s always essentially the same process and the idea and emotion I have will generally dictate what form it should take. I just try to find the best way to articulate what I’m trying to express. Sometimes the idea is clearly a still image, other ideas have movement, sometimes I hear sounds, sometimes there’s no images at all and just words. 

What inspired your style of work?

I’m really into things that have a strong mood and I like building little worlds that give me an emotional charge. I’m also really into contrast and how not only the meaning, but also the complete feeling of an image can change depending on what it’s placed next to. I use this kind of contrast a lot in my work, in both my collage-photographs and my films and videos.

Where do you get inspiration from? Are there any particular artists, photographers, painters you look up to their works? 

My work is really personal and a lot of it is very rooted in the sensations and feelings of my own childhood. It’s like there’s this place inside me, a place that exists beyond language, and a lot of my work is an attempt to articulate what’s inside this place. I always refer to my work, particularly the collage-photographs, as “interior landscapes” because thats what they feel like to me. I’m also really interested in childhood in general. I think it’s such an extraordinary time in our lives. When I think back to my earliest memories, maybe four years old, everything seems so dark, so mysterious and so completely moody. Everything’s over-sized, out of proportion, and my perceptions of what I see and feel are so rich. I can’t make sense of it, but something about this just keeps pulling me back in.

How long does it take to create a piece? What is the process behind it?

Generally, with my collage-photographs, I tend to work in very concentrated, short bursts. I always have at least several projects that are in progress at any one time — usually film projects, because they tend to take a long time — but with the collages, it’s not unusual for me to not make anything at all for very long stretches of time and then have a burst of activity where I make a whole lot of work in a very short, intense period. I have to be in a very specific mood to make this work, so I wait and wait until there’s a sense of urgency about it, then it’s kind of like an eruption. The work needs to be pure, it needs to come from the right place, so I never try force it. In the meantime, I make films.

Would you say that there is a main thread connecting all your artworks and if so, what is it? 

Yeah, there’s a very strong thread. All of my work is about childhood, and I really like to see images of children next to images of tornadoes and tornado-destroyed landscapes. There’s a bit of an obsessive element to it too, because I essentially keep doing the same thing over and over, trying to get closer and closer to something.

What kind of talks would you like to hear around your artworks? What kind of conversations would you like your artworks to spark?

I’m not sure. I never think about things like that. But, I guess if I had to choose an ideal response, it would probably be that people don’t think anything, but that my work could hit them in an emotional way.

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