In Metamorphosis. We are in perpetual mutation, our body changes slowly but constantly, so much so that at a certain point in life it seems to us a new moult, a new skin. Our mind, our habits and our certainties are perpetually put to the test, they oscillate and transform. To grasp the totality of our mutations, through the balance of a life is a very complex practice: metamorphosis is a very delicate process, in which a multiplicity of elements are hidden and intersect, that cannot be identified at first glance. In metamorphosis, Marta Roberti’s exhibition curated by Cecilia Canziani, tells the story of the mutuality that exists between man and animal, which is not the progressive transformation of Homo sapiens but the similarity of the two species, which is sometimes so close as to be like a fusion capable of dismantling the boundaries of identification. The frame of the exhibition, Galleria Sara Zanin, hosts sixteen works configured as two series of works: S’io mi intuassi come tu t’inmii and Lotus goddesses. Self-portraits of the artist, animals and mythological creatures follow one another, telling the myth and bringing with them multiple meanings. The artist granted Juliet Art Magazine a pleasant conversation. Below are the results!
Claudia Pansera: I’d like to start this interview by talking a little bit about you. But I also want to give you a cue. One rainy Sunday afternoon in November, I was lucky enough to see you portray, on a small notebook some plants. This struck me very much, because I have always noticed aspiring artists or amateurs trying their hand at drawing. Therefore, what does this exercise represent for you?
Marta Roberti: I remember very well drawing on a rainy Sunday in November at the Botanical Garden in Rome. It would have seemed like an incomplete visit to me if I had left the garden without drawing, and so, despite the sheets of paper getting wet, I sat down in front of a plant. It was actually an exercise called “blind drawing” and I practice it as often as possible using plants as models. Without ever looking at the paper you have to draw the outlines of what you are observing fixedly. You try to draw very slowly activating a coordination between eye and hand: the pupil follows the lines of the contours of the leaves and the hand follows. It is an exercise that I have been practicing for several years, since I got to know the book Drawing with the right side of the brain by Betty Edwards. In the method she proposes, we start from the idea that knowing how to draw is knowing how to see, and that in order to draw well, it is necessary to deactivate the left hemisphere, discursive and rational, and instead activate the right hemisphere, which is intuitive and capable of grasping shapes. In order to draw, it is necessary to forget that you are drawing a flower or a nose, but see a flower or a nose as shapes without a name. It’s a meditative exercise, a way to turn off the mind that talks to us all the time to get in touch with the outside.
In metamorphosis. How was this exhibition project born?
In metamorphosis is a project born a little more than a year ago, thanks to a collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute of New Delhi that, in view of the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri, had asked me to think of an exhibition project on Dante Alighieri. I proposed to the director Andrea Baldi to make tapestries in Kashmir, starting from my drawings inspired by the Divine Comedy. It wasn’t the first occasion I had to refer to the poet, since I had recently sent my application to the Bando Cantica promoted by Mibact and Maeci, which asked me to imagine an artistic project on Dante. At that time I was intrigued by the theses of the philosopher Emanuele Coccia, who traced in new terms issues that have always moved my research, defining metamorphosis as the very paradigm of life. “Regardless of the species and kingdom to which they belong, all living bodies, present, past and future, are the same life that is transmitted from body to body, from species to species, from epoch to epoch. Metamorphosis is the relationship that unites all living beings to the planet, of which they are the expression: life is only the butterfly of this enormous caterpillar that is our Earth”. While I was solicited to think about two projects on Dante I was also pervaded by the theme of metamorphosis, and so I imagined going in search of this transformative paradigm within the Divine Comedy. From this idea were born the project Bestiary of the Other World, which won the competition Cantica, and also the series of drawings entitled S’io m’intuassi come tu t’inmii, exhibited in Sara Zanin’s gallery. The drawings of metamorphic figures identified in Dante’s poem and exhibited in the gallery are the images I made in view of their reproduction in the form of tapestries. The drawings that speak of transmutation are in turn the passage for a further metamorphosis from paper to fabric. These tapestries that will be on display at the Italian Cultural Institute in New Delhi in February were made by artisans in Srinagar, Kashmir, using the chain stitch technique. Each cotton thread was colored by a dyer who attempted to reproduce with natural pigments the colors I used in my designs. The artisans then tried to translate the drawings and, in particular, the myriad of small marks traced with oil pastels, into colored threads. It was my first collaboration with other artisans: a huge challenge that I didn’t realize when I proposed this project. To make my drawings the starting point from which others must make another work using a technique so different and normally used by them for another kind of imagery, was exhausting for the Kashmiri artisans. However, it was a great privilege to know that in making these tapestries they found new strategies that they would reuse. Something similar happened for me as well, because while I didn’t want to simplify my stroke, I did try to make the forms more easily translatable, and this mode I acquired will continue to influence my work.
I read that your drawings are made thanks to a particular technique, which always creates the drawing and a double, a sort of multiple. The multiplicity that does not want to be a copy but a possibility. Would you like to tell us about this interesting technique and its purpose? Does it represent your expressive code?
To draw, I use copying paper: carbon paper is always placed between the pencil and the sheet on which I draw. I never see the color or graphite directly on the paper, and in a certain sense my drawings are always ‘blind’. A few years ago I started making carbon paper with oil pastels and the range of colors I can use has increased enormously. My works from the early 2000s were monochromes in blue or black of stop motion video animations, in which I manually drew every movement on paper, then edited the photographs of hundreds, and sometimes, thousands of drawings with the computer. The copy paper helped me in the repetition of the slightest variations or more often, of simple vibrations produced by the difference between one drawing and another. As I continued to draw with carbon paper, I realized that I was very interested in both the mark that remains impressed on it and the type of stroke that the paper generates on another sheet. For this reason I began to work on matrices, composing drawings on sheets of carbon paper that I then glue together to generate very large figures. Tracing the drawings on the back of the carbon paper I engrave it, and it loses the color it goes to print on another sheet: so many of my works also have a double, which later I’m going to assemble in other drawings like a puzzle.
S’io mi intuassi come tu t’inmii and Lotus goddesses, the titles of the two cycles of works. Tell us what they express and how they were born.
I have already talked about the first series so I will directly describe the second one titled Lotus goddesses. This series also has a relationship to India. In the three months leading up to the exhibition I participated in an online residency in Kolkata. I know it sounds rather strange, but actually in that period I was often connected to the platform of the Indo-European Residency Project Kolkata, where I could find all kinds of material about Kolkata and meet other artists or other relevant people living in Kolkata and invited to participate in meetings on zoom. For this residency I started a series of drawings on Indian mythology entitled Lotus goddesses, derived from an iconographic and theoretical research on female divinities that appear portrayed with animals. It is undoubtedly the continuation of the work begun with the Divine Comedy, in which mythological creatures halfway between animal and human appeared as the subjects of my drawings on metamorphosis. Hindu deities are often associated with an animal, referred to as a Vahana (Vāhanam or animal vehicle, literally “that which carries, that which pulls”) denoting the being, typically an animal or mythical entity, that a particular deity uses as a vehicle. These animals emblematically represent those who ride them, and the goddess can be seen sitting or standing on the Vahana. I immersed myself in this vast world where each female deity is but one way of the appearance of Shakti, the feminine principle of divine energy. Shakti is manifested in many goddesses (devu), each one with its own personality and iconography. It is a world from which I believe I will find it difficult to leave, because of the depth and fascination by which I feel overwhelmed. In the exhibition appear some drawings in which, as already in the series of drawings of the Divine Comedy, I used my body and my face as a model, to create images inspired by these deities riding tigers, donkeys and oxen. I wiped my representations from all the various objects that each goddess usually takes in the hands of her many arms. In my drawings each of them holds in her hands only a dried lotus flower leaf, which, going back to the beginning of our interview, I had photographed on that very rainy November day at the Botanical Gardens.
Of the works exhibited, only some have frames and glass. The others are without support and protection and are therefore more exposed, more fragile but also freer and, if you allow me to express my personal opinion, more involving. Why? What kind of reflection and need is behind it?
In the exhibition, I left the larger drawings unframed because the enormity of the drawing on this very light handcrafted paper has its own installation value. The smaller drawings were framed because I felt that the same paper in smaller sizes was not as strong from an installation point of view but it was also an experiment because I rarely frame drawings in exhibitions.
Some, perhaps those unfamiliar with your work, might see your work as an attempt at invention. Instead, I think it’s more of an attempt to understand and identify yourself that is also clearly seeking a way of expression. What can you tell us about it?
I believe that using my image, my body and my face, representing myself in these creatures in the form of a self-portrait is a way of becoming the forms that I represent. In a certain sense drawing, at least in the way I experience it, comes from a need, somewhere between the conscious and the unconscious, to become what I am giving shape to with signs. This action of annulling the distinction between subject and object, of entering and blending into what is outside of me, of making subject and background indistinct is what I have always sought since my first animated drawings. Even the exercise of ‘blind drawing’ of which I have spoken involves a sort of metamorphic process: continuously fixing my gaze on the lines that compose a plant and, at the same time, tracing them with my hand on a sheet of paper that I am not looking at, prevents my conscious self from intervening to modify the signs in view of a composition corresponding to a previous idea of form. It is a process in which I manage to forget myself and become for brief minutes that plant that I am tracing without interruption with the movement of my hand and eyes.
Does your work express an existential dimension?
If by existential we mean a reflection on what Being is, what it means to exist, and how human existence relates to other vegetable, animal and mineral creatures, my work undoubtedly expresses an existential dimension. In particular, I believe I express the idea that every single existence in its short appearance in time is nothing but a change, or metamorphosis, of Life understood in a broad sense as Being.
I realize that this may be a complicated question. However, I would like if in just a few lines, even one word, you would describe your exhibit.
Perhaps I still don’t feel ready to define my exhibition in a synthetic way by expressing everything that happened in it in a few lines. In this long interview I have tried to define the issues that concern what in these series of works consists in a novelty and what instead in them is a continuation of my previous research.
Marta Roberti. In metamorfosi
curated by Cecilia Canziani
11/12/2021 – 5/02/2022
Z2O Sara Zanin Gallery
Marta Roberti, In Metamorphosis , installation view of the first room, ph. Giorgio Benni. Courtesy Z2O Sara Zanin Gallery
Marta Roberti, In Metamorphosis, installation view of the first and second room, ph. Giorgio Benni. Courtesy Z2O Sara Zanin Gallery
Marta Roberti, In Metamorphosis , installation view of the second room, ph. Giorgio Benni. Courtesy Z2O Sara Zanin Gallery
Marta Roberti, In Metamorphosis , installation view of the third room, ph. Giorgio Benni. Courtesy Z2O Sara Zanin Gallery
Marta Roberti, In Metamorphosis , installation view of the third room, ph. Giorgio Benni. Courtesy Z2O Sara Zanin Gallery
Marta Roberti, S’io mi intuassi… Arpie, Inferno XIII, 2020, pastello a olio su carta dello Yunnan, 160 x 250 cm, courtesy the artist & z2o Sara Zanin
Marta Roberti, In Metamorphosis , installation view of the third room, ph. Giorgio Benni, courtesy Z2O Sara Zanin Gallery
Marta Roberti, Gru n°1, 2021, oil pastel on Yunnam paper, cm 37 x 37 with glass frame. Ph. Giorgio Benni, Courtesy Z2O Sara Zanin Gallery
Marta Roberti, African Blind Drawind, 2019, oil pastel on Yunnam paper, cm 34 x 25,5 whit glass frame. Ph. Giorgio Benni, Courtesy Z2O Sara Zanin Gallery
Born in Reggio Calabria in 1998. In Rome she graduated in Historical-Artistic Studies with an experimental thesis on the artist Nik Spatari. She has written for some magazines and is currently a student of the master’s degree course in Art History. She appreciates art in every declination and loves to tell it.