We met Chiara Camoni on the occasion of her participation in the Io Dico Io – I Say I exhibition at the Galleria Nazionale in Rome; from 25 June 2021, the artist will reflect on the last fifteen years of his artistic career in a personal exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Bordeaux.
Sara Buoso: Dear Chiara, congratulations on your presence at the Io Dico Io – I Say I exhibition at the Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome. In your research, mainly related to sculpture and drawing, you touch on fundamental aspects of artistic research through a feminine positioning. At first, one can perceive the familiar and intimate dimension of your work from the point of view of a woman artist who wants to overlook the ethical, political and social values of art and by quoting a feminist motto, I could say your practice responds to ‘the personal is political’. Secondly, I observe how your works become enriched by all those values that derive from the relationships you always intertwine in your work. Thirdly, your works suggest a backward movement that goes beyond the idea of the art-object specifically your sculptures, and this sounds like an invitation to re-read the creative process of the art-making. Would you like to tell us how you convey all these aspects in your practice?
Chiara Camoni: All three observations are relevant. In fact, starting from the latter, although I am interested in the artistic process per se, I defend the self-sufficiency of the work of art; to the extreme, a work of art should not need any caption, but lives in its complete form. Sculpture adapts well to my practice as drawing does because in both languages, I find my personal opportunity to unroll time, to incorporate the process that occurs before and after, and the use that will be made of it. My sculptures are in this world, I can pick them up and use them. As an example, I always refer to a vase. What am I doing when I model a vase? Am I making a vase or a sculpture in the form of a vase? If I use it to put water and flowers in it, for example, I charge its ambiguity even more. And it is precisely in this never resolved indeterminacy that I also perceive the process by which this object / sculpture was formed. Whether it is a sculptural technical process, or a natural, geological, sedimentation, a waiting process, or even more a collective and shared process, this is where you feel the relationship with other people, where you feel the workshop and the craftsmanship dimension. But there is also an “after” dimension where the work of art remains open to many possible interpretations. In fact, the work of art is never closed; it is not merely what I want as an artist, but the work of art continues to exist independently for possible uses or fruitions. I am passionate about Etruscan statuary not so much for its aesthetic values, but more than anything because I feel that those figures have accompanied dead people to the afterlife. Going back to your “personal is political” quote: I agree, that’s right. In this historical moment, I felt even more the value of relationships. Every day I have been collaborating with a small community of people that has developed around me and my work. In this sense, everything stems from a personal fact – the choice to live in a village in the Apuan Alps – this has become a political choice to some extent because I decided to contribute to the construction of spontaneous communities by sharing of non-linear paths, especially in this historical moment of separation and homologation. In a broader discussion on the role of the female artist, I often wondered who were my older sisters in artistic terms, where they were and if I had ever been in dialogue with them. Perhaps there was no such dialogue in my lived experience, more than anything else it happened through study; today, however, I feel the responsibility of establishing a dialogue between people, which takes place in real life, particularly with women of different generations, even younger ones.
S.B. Another innovative breach that you are launching is the idea of not being afraid to face the limit that traditionally divides the noble arts and the minor or applied arts.
Materials can tell us many things, they are very eloquent. A lot could be said about an artist starting from the materials he/she uses. If an artist works by following a project that is already defined from the beginning, I am sure he/she would find him/herself by led by the process. Computer design is very different from putting your hands in a piece of damp clay for example. Myself, I need to be guided and surprised by the matter I use. While I work, I don’t know what clay can become. Maybe it becomes something I don’t like, but then I crush it down and the same very shape I’m destroying can suggest me another direction to follow. In this sense, to position myself within a specific technique and knowledge is also a way to be closed to their materials, having a physical approach to them that design does not allow you to follow.
S.B. You define your works as ‘active sculptures’. This leads me to think about your new series of works Vasi Farfalle/Butterlies Vases, 2020, where I perceive the evolution of your material approach. Would you like to talk about this series?
C.C. When I was talking about the surprise that usually accompanies my approach to materials, I was also thinking about vases, because for me, the vase – as I said before – is the place of ambiguity par excellence and is precisely positioned between the dimensions of both craftmenshio and sculpture. Every time I pull up a vase, I re-make the world and this is truly a creative act that goes back to the beginnings. A vase in fact, is simultaneously full and empty, inside and out. I imagine that the first sculptural gesture in the history of mankind was to model a bowl. I cyclically make pots, and last summer I went around them for several months. In the series Vasi-Farfalla/ Butterflies Vases, it happened that the shape of the vase merged with the shape of the butterfly by analogies. Butterflies are very beautiful insects but they can also be disturbing ones if you think carefully: they have many, too many, eyes even on the wings, hairy antennae, very long trunks, and then they are continuously dedicated to transformation. And I have found that their process of transformation met very well with the very process of modeling vases. For these works, I have prepared the enamel that covers these sculptures by mixing minerals, sands, soil and above all ash by burning the dried flowers of my garden. By cooking the material at high temperatures, all these materials melt and vitrify. In 2020 I also made a series of flower drawings during the lockdown. Not being able to move in space, I believe that many of us have sought a different type of movement: no longer on a horizontal dimension, but on a vertical one. In this sense, I believe, our gaze has become sharper on everyday things. We have looked at our windowsill’s flowers with a new attention and with a different depth. Instead of going far, the gaze has remained there, penetrating everyday things. Myself, every day I have picked a flower and held it in front of me, I have drawn it without looking at the paper, concentrating only on the flower and addressing questioning to it with many of those unanswered questions that characterized those months. These cut flowers, slowly leaving, acted as mute interlocutors to me as if participants in a mystery. Another example, at the end of winter when I usually go out for a walk, I find that paths are full of crocuses because crocuses really want to be born on the paths: they have all the woods around them, but no, they want to be born on the paths and there are so many at same point that I can’t help but step on them. I think it is absurd that something so delicate and beautiful, really want to be right there where the passage is. But in this disproportion – between an alleged fragility and the strong impact to which they can be subjected to – it seems to me that the key to beauty lies in.
S.B. This is a poetic thought. What I find interesting is that yours is not an imposed graphic nor an analytical study of botany. Instead, it is a way of accompanying the sign through a voice that nowadays is as strong as it is necessary.
C.C. I found in flowers something ephemeral and fragile but also disturbing and brazen, like a topos for representation that is, at the same time, something new, such as a personal form of resistance. This is a resistance to the violence of communication, images and words of the contemporary world: in this sense, I give support to my thoughts through cut flowers which are destined to last only a day. And yet in such a contrast, in this unresolved imbalance, I continue asking myself what role the artist is…
Chiara Camoni, rosa (della liberazione), 2020, pencil on paper from the series FROM THE WOODS AND FROM THE GARDEN. RESISTANCE PROOFS. Courtesy SpazioA, Pistoia
Chiara Camoni, Sister #01, 2020, polychromed terracotta, iron, wood, dried flowers, cm 125 x 70 x 60 approx. Photo Camilla Maria Santini, Courtesy SpazioA, Pistoia
Chiara Camoni with Silvia Perotti, Paola Aringes, Lucia Leuci, Il Tronco e il Trapezio. Corso Buenos Aires, 2013 – 2020, wood, bones, wool, teeth, fabric, rubber, iron, flour, oil, cm 200 x 200 x 200 (dimensions variable), detail. Photo by Roberto Apa, Courtesy SpazioA, Pistoia
Chiara Camoni, Vasi-Farfalle, 2020, installation view, dimensions variable. Photo Camilla Maria Santini, Courtesy SpazioA, Pistoia
Chiara Camoni and workshop’s participants at Museo Carlo Zauli, Faenza Kabira, 2019, video, 10′ 04″. Courtesy SpazioA, Pistoia and Museo Carlo Zauli, Faenza
She is interested in the visual, verbal and textual aspects of the Modern Contemporary Arts. From historical-artistic studies at the Cà Foscari University, Venice, she has specialized in teaching and curatorial practice at the IED, Rome, and Christie’s London. The field of her research activity focuses on the theme of Light from the 1950s to current times, ontologically considering artistic, phenomenological and visual innovation aspects.