Kittesencula is first of all a sticker, for everyone and anyone; black on white. It was part of the Roman nightlife hubs for years, slowly expanding, until it quickly plastered the rest of the city and the whole of Italy. Kittesencula then became a very popular t-shirt in high demand, then a, perhaps slightly hardcore, blog for us old fogies, and finally as a brand it has branched out in many different directions. We interview the creator, colleague and old friend Nicola Veccia Scavalli, who tells us a bit about what goes on behind the scenes and, in these long and dreary self-isolation hours, is able to get to the bottom of some questions we have not had the opportunity to ask him in 10 years of friendship. Enjoy!
When and where was Kittesencula born?
Kittesencula was born, if we can say so, in 2001.
At the time I was sharing a pre-press studio with two other characters – we worked in graphic design and we used to develop photos, photolithography and pagination for some of the most down-at-heel Roman editorial activities, big and small. Drago was just born out of the ashes of Castelvecchi. I used to regularly catch up with the publisher Paulo von Vacano just for fun, and we would come up with crazy plans such as the invasion of the Kamchatka peninsula. In that period it always felt like spring in Rome. The rigorous and aseptic graphic design bubble had just started to deflate and, backed by Steve Jobs’ “think different” school of thought, we were often in search of ways to have fun while making just enough money. We had just surfed through the ‘90s, gloriously riding our convictions (some better than others), and for our generation, who had just witnessed the twin tower disaster, it was time for some healthy and profitable decadence.
My Golden youth in Trastevere had just come to an end, I was living in Piazza Vittoria and I felt like it was time to do something. It was 1995 and I did not want to succumb to getting a “real” job, so instead, I took seriously everything that I considered to be fun. Over the years, in one way or another, I had always been in touch with people that put on nights in the city, and I was fascinated by the world behind the production of flyers and promotional material. First of all, by the Studio Mariotti: whenever I commissioned something there, there was usually some form of discussion, which was incredibly stimulating. Kern&Track then came onto the scene, born from the ashes of Punto e Linea in Via Merulana. They were incredibly trash: they developed the tapes of the Banda der Trucido (mythical mixtape) for the producer Piotta. That is when I became friends with Stefano Orsini and Alessandro De Sclavis, two die-hard AS Roma football club fans (the most I have ever been a fan is to say Forza Roma!). I would end up sharing with them more than I ever thought possible. By then I was working with international institutions and in environments linked to the Roman council like Zone Attive and other entities that no longer exist: I was developing skills and contacts that I would end up using with my two new partners in crime. We decided to equally split a studio between the three of us – well, studio… a real pigsty, a basement in Viale Manzoni. It was bustling with people coming and going, from the most unlikely to the most respected figures, from the art and publishing worlds, from national and even international circles. The studio was frequented by directors of foreign Academies, art editors, children’s books editors, photographic editors, alternated by various types of unleashed brokers (that is how things worked before), small-town printmakers, and the whole underworld of “planciaroli” – those in the business of print and distribution of flyers for thrift shops… It was all rather exhilarating. A big, anarchic burp, in which the most humble work formed the basis of all human relationships. In doing so, it destroyed the snobby urges of some of our clients – who though, it has to be said, must have had a good sense of humor given the large dose of “reality” they were subjected to every time they came. These were formation years, of cigarettes, of the smell of acid, of films, System9 and QuarkXpress. I was having the time of my life. I found my own clients, I went to work when I wanted, and if I came in reeling from the night before, at lunchtime we would close the doors. We ate, we slept, we laughed, and nobody gave a shit about us. Very apt.
But above all, why?!?!?!
There is no reason why. Between the sayings “vaffanculo” (go fuck yourself) and “sticazzi” (I don’t give a fuck), “kittesencula” (nobody gives a fuck/stick it up your ass) is one of the essential Roman mantras said by those people who have spent a lifetime living there. From an actual physical point of view, however, Kittesencula rose thanks to an editorial push made by Drago. In those years we tried to marry the ideology behind “meetings” and “slides”, and a “cool” and “street” type of thinking, with a certain Roman resistance, somewhat desecrating. Which had nothing to do (but wanted to) with the various start-ups and communications agencies that were popping up everywhere. In contrast, we of the editorial world, just wanted to tell them to fuck off and relegate them to their function of plain advertisers. We were jealous, obviously. We had to come up with the impossible just to make ends meet, while theirs was an increasingly profitable business. But it was good-natured jealousy, reckless, old school, it wasn’t personal, it could have been aimed at anyone. In a way, it was constructive. One day, Paulo came into the studio because we were putting together a promotional booklet of stickers for the book The Golden Age of Neglect by Ed Templeton (published by Drago in 2002), which was going to be taken to the Frankfurt Book Fair. We had an empty 20 cm strip on the 35×50 Fasson (adhesive paper). We argued for a long time, everyone who was present had an opinion on how to fill in the gap. From the many suggestions, at some point, came out a “chi ti s’incula” – the grammatically correct version of Kittesencula. From the end of the room, Stefano said matter-of-factly, without even looking up: “actually, you say it chittEsEncula” – with a Roman accent. That was it, the end of discussions. The empty space on the booklet had been filled.
When the Kittesencula stickers made their debut on the streets of Rome and then throughout Italy, the use of stickers then was not so widespread. How did you come up with the idea, and how did you manage to reach out to such a big audience in such a small amount of time?
Stickers have been around long before I was making them, but with time, they have also become the lazy cousin of tags. With my background in skating and Hip-Hop, stickers and t-shirts have always been a part of the streets’ communication medium. These elements are and always have been at the basis of my relationship with the city, if not with life: tricks, adaptation, quick observations, choice of the best spot and “protect your neck”. These are elements that come out of the two cultures I grew up with. When I separated from my first wife, I often walked around at night, on my own, like a madman, to decompress and to get rid of my urge for another beer. I used to get a wad of stickers and off I went… It was also a way to go back to my Golden years when with Aimé, Felix, Ben, Kat48, amongst others, as kids we brought the Wu-Tang to Rome in 1999, and we covered the city in stickers and posters. Or when not long after that concert, I used to cover up the stickers of the RAC band Zetazeroalfa with the ones I pressed for the Unic Records label (like Epicentro Romano, 2Buoni Motivi, Indelebile Inchiostro records…).
The difference is in the message: in the early days, it was a question of dissemination, to create visibility for a specific event or project. The later ones were not aimed at anyone and were not referring to anything in particular, but in many ways they were for everyone and referred to everything. You would walk around and they could surprise you anywhere. And I like to think that the effect was the same for everyone: it was funny, comforting. It was like a pat on the shoulder, an outlet; because maybe you were having a bad day and those words reflected your thoughts exactly, it was everyone’s voice. Each to themselves for their own good reasons, it was like when you see a familiar face or you witness a good deed. I think this is fundamentally the reason why it became close to the hearts of so many different types of people. People have put it on their foreheads, on their bums, plastered their walls with it, taken it to the other side of the world and even tattooed it on themselves.
You can do what you want with it, it belongs to everyone. It doesn’t belong to a specific genre or class: it is agender, it has no political background, no income, no color, no boundaries. It has a certain degree of freedom, let’s say. Which is quite something these days.
Why do you think that people are so drawn to the concept of Kittesencula? What is it that attracts and brings so many people together?
I am not so sure that people are drawn to the concept anymore. The frivolity of saying, “fuck everyone” is not so predominant these days. It feels like belonging to a category today is, in inverted commas, very thematic and more important than ever. Kittesencula still represents a boorishly Roman revival, proud of its peculiarities. I would like to think that today Kunt, from A Martian in Rome by Ennio Flaiano, would have attracted a ton of stickers.
Looking on the motorbikes and helmets of youngsters in Rome, we can say that Kittesencula has paved the road for realities with a kindred spirit. How did you live this spiraling of stickering in Rome?
I love it. It is a post-adolescent confirmation that everything that has a real hold on me, sooner or later, is destined to succeed. It was the same with skating, music, and my vices… Today my friend Luca Caruso (LDDLDT) curates the Sticker Festival to which takes part the best of the best of this kind of thing. The sticker phenomenon, and particularly the one in Roman scene, has become normality in some ways. There are tons of them out there now, representing different realities, Roman and beyond. They have given a new lease of life to this phenomenon, through careful research and detailed work on communications, and they are now much more predominant than Kittesenecula. I am thinking of LDDLDT but also of Welcome to Favelas and some street artists – first of all Geco – who are always on the ball thanks to an impressive methodical research.
Kittesencula.com now is also a blog with a strong, almost disturbing, visual impact. How do you select the images?
The website is divided into two: .com is the main site, while .org is a collection of around 50,000 photos uploaded from 2008. Initially, I used a very rudimentary html site (like https://www.kittesencula.com/pages/kittesencula-if-you-dont-belong-then-dont-be-long), then I moved to tumblr, which made things easier. I have spent around 20 years in front of computers waiting for corrected drafts, text to layout, emails, ftp uploads. I alternate between hectic weeks and nerve-racking waits, so it was only natural to start trawling the web whilst waiting, looking for a distraction and mainly, to collect material. I have compiled iconographical content that makes sense to me, and I think to others of my generation. We have grown up in the communications era. The music videos of the ‘90s made it easier for us to give more value to an image than its content. The show business has opened the doors to a way of thinking that is wider and has many variations and degenerations of the concept of “beautiful”. This infinite access to iconographical material allows us to play, associate and put together material that until not long ago was considered to be out of bounds. So now “beautiful” is a photo by Avedon next to an album cover by NWA, just to give an example. It is like a visual remix in an attempt to save anything that belongs to the realm of salvageable. If I knew Instagram was just around the corner and its infinite potential, I would have waited and maybe today I would have thousands of followers. But then I would have to “lead” these followers somewhere. The point is, and it is probably quite obvious by now, I was not going anywhere, and I am not going anywhere with Kittesencula.
What would be your advice for someone looking to create their own brand?
What would I know about it? I am not a brand, and I would rather leave advice to those who envision lucrative opportunities… I never made any money out of it.
PS: it would not be possible to end this conversation without mentioning those who over the years have supported the cause without ever asking for anything in return. I am thinking of Agnese Cinese, Paki Meduri, the mob of undatables from the 3 Scalini bar, as well the wives and various cousins. I would also like to thank all the artists, photographers, video makers, tattoo artists, bloggers, set designers, barmen/women and confetti throwers that have helped spread the word. Thanks and always Forza Roma!