Drawings from Lighting: in conversation with Laura...

Drawings from Lighting: in conversation with Laura Santamaria

Two appointments confirm the relevance that the project Drawings from Lighting (2013-2022) – artist’s book and collection of drawings, founded and directed by Laura Santamaria – assumes in the contemporary art scene. On the occasion of the donation of the artist’s book to the Museo del Novecento, Milan, and the presentation of the project at the Civic Library of Como, the artist discusses the fundamental role that drawing plays in contemporary times, reflecting on the impact that the project has in the artistic, cultural, intellectual, collecting and institutional fields.

Various artists, Drawings from Lightning, 2013-2023. Offset print, Cordenons Modigliani paper, 42 x 29,7 cm. Courtesy the artists

Sara Buoso: Drawings From Lighting is founded on the symbolism of lighting, which metaphor does the project intend to suggest?
Laura Santamaria: Let’s begin from the assumption that the main historical context of reference, on which my reflections and imagination are rooted, is Romanticism, where the closeness with the natural elements finds a sense of knowledge and empathy right in the awareness for which that sense of unity was at the threshold of being lost, due to the advancement of the industrial era and materialism. In the Nineteenth century, nature was experienced as a place of solitude and rediscovery of the self, and as a parameter for one’s being within this world. It is no coincidence that in such period the symbols and the iconographies of the past were rediscussed again; for example, we can find within the romantic thought the most archaic iconography of the lightning figure, both from the perspective of the primitive populations (who associated the serpent with the lightning), and in a classical viewing, thinking the thunderbolts by Zeus or Baal. I citate the lightning as I perceive it as one of my allied elements, from which ideas and images can flow as if it were an imaginative source, but also processes that are formulated through emotions. The romantic sublime is, indeed, above all a physical emotion, and the lightning is light, energy and instant, it is disruptive and unpredictable, a white stripe that is easily associated with the sense of line in drawing, a line drawn by an invisible hand that has always been linked to a superior entity. In the specific case of Drawings from Lightning project the reference is the Upward Positive Leaders of the reverse lightning, in which the positive and negative cloud-ground polarities are reversed, therefore the lightning appears to rise from the Earth towards the Sky. This sense of subversion seems to me to be an interesting image capable of creating the metaphor of the artist’s role, in non-destructive terms but, on the contrary, in terms of luminous and energetic restitution to the Cosmos. An idea that has been instantly greeted by the artists I invited to interpret it as the first formulation of a shareable and, at the same time, spiritual vision, which takes the form of a vital presence in the contemporary context, reaffirming the sense of being an artist in its strength and complexity.

Alessandro Di Giampietro, Untitled #7, Lightning Portraits series, 2015. Offset print, Cordenons Modigliani paper, 42 x 29,7 cm. Courtesy the artist

Drawings from Lighting today celebrates ten years since its foundation, a period in which it has had the opportunity to touch on different artistic, cultural, private and institutional contexts. What does it mean to think about an evolving project?
Ten years ago, when I created the Drawings from Lightning project, drawing did not enjoy a central position of attention, today however we can find many realities that focus almost exclusively on this medium. One can surely assert that the panorama has changed considerably, for example, compared to the emergence of digital art, drawing has unexpectedly gained ground and confirmed its autonomy. My project was born as a utopia: the vision had to be broad and accommodate the majority of graphic possibilities. This has been a fortunate idea since the collection that was generated brings together unpublished and experimental productions, in an evident and silent dialogue among them, which we presented on 11th October at the Museo del Novecento, Milan, in a liturgy that involved the public. The drawings collection is wrapped in its own dynamic because over time the boundaries between one work and another tend to soften, there is much more understanding towards the works that are more experimental and propose different tools other than the pencil, some elements are repeated within disparate formal solutions and emerge in chorus. We can only imagine how many other possibilities they will offer us in the future. This uniqueness does not end in this testimony but can also be found in the research of many Italian artists who have been working with drawing for a long time. I can say that Drawings from Lightning is more similar to the processes with which a work of art is generated rather than a real curatorial line. In this case, drawing is the language picked to activate a dialogue with the Museo del Novecento, and to proceed with the collective donation of the pieces, which find the best setting in the museum space, in a logical continuum, since the Museum is also the environment in which many artists present in the project were trained during their years of study at the Brera Fine Art Academy. Returning to the origins, after the creation of the first cabinet of drawings created at the Kunstraum T27 – Kunstverein Neukölln, in the first exhibition held in Berlin in 2014, I spent a period of reflection during my London interlude, when I was engaged in the large installation for the Whitechapel Gallery (2015), but I felt that I had to go back to imagining a destination for that first nucleus of drawings, which were evocative of the folders of drawings and prints that have trod the European streets since 1500. I therefore formulated the hypothesis of a contemporary edition of those folders with the publication of the artist book (selfpublished, 2016). The edition led us become a meeting point with institutions such as archives or libraries, to which copies of the book are donated, and where exhibitions have been presented, such as the one at the Poletti Library in Modena (2017), and the one at the Municipal Library of Como, on view from 24th October 2023. Spaces that interpret the ideal setting to dialogue on ideas, through talks, and where to meet the ever more attentive and numerous public.

Various artists, Drawings from Lightning, artist’s book (selfpublished, 2016). Courtesy the artists

These two described events, at the Museo del Novecento, Milano, and at the Municipal Library of Como, are a confirmation of the need to rethink the role of drawing. What contribution would you like to bring in the contemporaneity?
My imaginary includes the prehistoric drawings in the caves, with the archaic and essential strength of the line, the lucidity of the Renaissance drawing that opens the way to perspective, the seals of Giordano Bruno in the “Articuli adversus mathematicos” – that I saw at the Library of Como – the scientific drawings, the spiritual drawings by Hilma af Klint and Emma Kunz, the pencils of the Como abstract scene such as those of Aldo Galli and Carla Badiali, Fontana’s drawings that let the line run while imagining the space, the metaphysical works by Giulio Paolini, together with many others that above all reveal another space: the one made of ideas and subtle energies. Drawing is a spiritual weapon, able to establish a dialogue with one’s inner visions, giving them a revelation, it is the instrument of perception of the abstract thought. A practice that has always brought attention to the gaze as it is capable of interpreting the interconnections amid visions of the past and the future by questioning the present, which has always been a privileged habitat of the imaginary and the intimacy of the genesis of ideas, like a multidimensional mirror. The authenticity that is expressed with drawing through the range of experiments that are specific of this era is similar to the sense of truth and radicality that is needed: the line is capable of escaping the convulsive aesthetics of contemporaneity and remains a territory of mystery and, at the same time, of light around which to gather together.

Sara Buoso


Various artists, Disegno specchio
curated by Laura Santamaria
24/10/2023 – 07/11/2023
Biblioteca Comunale Paolo Borsellino
piazzetta Venosto Lucati 1, 22100 Como


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