*Featured photo:Federica Patera + Andrea Sbra Perego, Imaginal Landscape. Hot press on sewn cotton canvas, wool threads, tulle, pins, 400 x 200 x 70 cm. 2017
It is the thread that links art and literature in the work of Federica Patera (Bergamo, 1982) and Andrea Sbra Perego (Bergamo, 1982): a bridge that allows the two artists to combine different disciplines in common works. Patera’s research, indeed, investigates the concepts of translation and eternity to tell and understand how reality is built by tracing in it what remains unchanged, using languages and texts to overcome the individual sphere and bring attention back to universal language. . That of Sbra Perego, on the other hand, is nourished by travels and personal experiences in an exploration of the relationships between the human being and the environment he inhabits, experimenting with a variety of techniques from painting to photography, to sculpture and installation.
Both live in Turin and since 2017, the year their collaboration began, their work has been exhibited in various spaces and events. Among the most recent, in Verona – Manuel Zoia Gallery, Atelier Alice Voglino; in Milan – Cramum Prize, curated by Sabino Maria Frassà, at the WOP Art Fair, Lugano and with the Rar: 2015 – 2020 project by Raffaella de Chirico Arte Contemporanea in Turin, and by SCD Studio in Perugia.
Two different paths of research and artistic practice to which you add a shared project with the birth of the duo in 2017. How did you come to work with four hands and what are the dynamics through which you shape the works?
Federica: Our duo was born with the RAR project, which combines literature and art; specifically, I come from literature and Andrea from painting.
The starting point was an essay by J.L. Borges, entitled Coleridge’s Flower, which tells of the possibility of writing a History of Literature without any authorial reference, as if all the books were written by a single spirit capable of making them talk to each other. To check whether these more or less underground conversations really existed, we created an archive – hence the title of the project: RAR is a compressed file storage system, which implies that the content is larger than the space it occupies -and this archive is ordered by key words and collects citations from heterogeneous texts and through this, stories independent of the original works are composed, creating a gap between reading and writing, two intimately connected actions: the associations born during reading prompt us towards writing, exploiting, thanks to analogy, the implicit potential of an already existing text.
RAR therefore was born first of all as a literary project which was followed by the need to give space and volume to the process that led to the composition of the stories, to show the links existing between apparently distant texts and the mechanism that brings a literary text, and a work of art, to be perennial and independent from its author. It is at this point that Andrea’s experience, who in his pictorial research explores the theme of travel and movement, also through the constant use of maps, came into play. And the first visual form that the project took, when the sentences were arranged in space, was that of a map: the map of the City of RAR.
With our work, we want to give shape to the creative process: what is represented is not the content of the stories, the events narrated in the different stories (not mainly), but the transformation process that leads reading to become writing, and vice versa; the user to become ostensor and extensor, mixing the roles. The uninterrupted exchange that is established guarantees transmission, which goes beyond repetition and finds its completion in transformation. In RAR, the eternity of an experience, whatever it is (physical, material, emotional, intellectual), is measured in its ability to be a perennially prolific basin, a harbinger of understanding and intuition.
In your installations, you combine word and fiber art. Why the choice of this combination?
The reasons are mainly two. The first is more immediate and concerns the lexicon: literature and fabric have a common language; words like weft, weave, knot, thread are shared by both worlds.The second, on the other hand, has to do with the symbolic value of the fabric and with the type of approach that distinguishes literature – and language in general.A text requires, in order to be enjoyed, an approach in succession, which channels the words and phrases one way after another, as happens with similar arts such as music or singing; and the fabric, similarly, characterizes the life of nomadic populations, who move in succession in space and have their mobile homes in their tents.
In this way, our works have in the material that characterizes them a sort of clue that reaffirms that, to the overall approach, typical of the plastic arts, such as sculpture or painting, which have their realm in the visual and in the space, is combined with another, typical of the sound arts, which instead translates into time and hearing.
What is the word for you?
The word is what makes an abstract thing concrete. At the same time it has a separatory vocation: it details the world; as in a zoom, the more you tend towards precision, the more details and names increase – without being exhaustive. Conversely, the search for exactness must deal with the ineffable, which we try to make up for with images, metaphors: which, although not having a scientific rigor, if we can say so, come with their aura of meaning, their specter, to a point of recognition of the same ineffable that is unknown to any scientific rigor,if even possible. The word lies in this halo, in this loose and paradoxical knot: a compression of ties, analogies, kinships.
One of your most important works is IMAGINAL LANDSCAPE, a large installation built from literary texts and keywords. Can you tell us about this project?
IMAGINAL LANDSCAPE is the manifesto work of RAR. Its structure is a tribute to the role of analogy in literature; to the connection that can exist between apparently irreconcilable books. Inside coexist authors such as Thomas Pynchon and Stephen King, Rick Moody and Cristina Campo, Roberto Bolaño and J.G. Ballard, J.L. Borges and James Ellroy, and the texts interact with each other guided by key words that highlight their similarities through reading.The installation IMAGINAL LANDSCAPE gives shape to one of the hidden maps that link literary works to each other, beyond the boundaries of author, genre and age of origin. It is composed of 12 stories born from the combination of 140 quotes from 40 different books.Its structure includes two parallel levels: the rear one is a carpet of pages transferred onto cotton and sewn together. From these pages the quotes were cut out and then placed on the tulle of the second layer, the most superficial, to form the stories between them, literally guided by colored wool threads. Each story represents a path, a road named after a keyword.
Proceeding from the cotton carpet to the tulle net, the colored threads mark the gesture of extracting the sentence from the corresponding page, remaining suspended between the two levels: in this way writing and reading coexist, mix, making it difficult to establish which of the two came first.The installation, the circularity that is created between the layers of the work, evokes the movement, in which the viewer is called to participate, moving not only with the gaze but also with the body, mimicking the work itself, in a sort of dance, like a kind of shadow, to trace the stories that the threads indicate and the quotes compose.
Experimentation with words and fiber art is for Federica parallel to the four-handed works. One project in particular, LEVENIM, reflected on the link between word and creative gesture starting from a passage from Genesis. What was the research behind that work and what was its significance?
Federica: As you mention, the reflection on the link between word and creative gesture is at the center of the LEVENIM series: I was interested in understanding what relationship there was between these two elements considered at the basis of the construction of reality. For this reason, as a starting point, I chose the text of Genesis dedicated to the Tower of Babel [Gn 11, 1-9], in its Hebrew version, as well as the title of the work, which in levenim / לְבֵנִים has the Hebrew word for bricks.It is an emblematic biblical passage, often interpreted in a negative key, as a justification for acts of struggle, because it tells of a separation, a separation that in the project, on the other hand, becomes an opportunity for an opening.The diversification of languages and the dispersion of the peoples on earth proclaimed in the text, as well as the construction of the Tower (and of the city) left incomplete, as though a section was provided, a cut through which to penetrate inside to know its composition, allow the unfolding of a range of shades. And it is this multiplicity that is seen as capable of giving strength to creation: the more details there are, the greater the definition and understanding.
The main material used in the realization of the works is a hand-sewn wool net, which refers to the weaving of a weft, be it of threads or stories, as suggested by the Hebrew root raqam / embroider, which in the Psalms also returns in relation to the creation of man [Ps 139, 15]At the same time, it alludes to the value of the letter yod י and its associated pictogram, which depicts the hand / yad. The yod י is the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, it is the unit of measurement of space deriving from the principle and of the time needed to transform invisible words into something tangible. The yod י opens a path to the implementation of words.
The verses of the Tower of Babel are hot printed on cotton and play with the texture of the works. By introducing the parallelism between language and architecture, the squares that make up the networks and the use of plaster that transforms a soft material such as wool threads into something rigid are represented by the bricks of the Tower:”Brick as stone” is written in the biblical text. From word / davar, which is also thing, event, purpose in Hebrew, to debir / dvir (which probably derives from being behind but also to speak and therefore means oracle), that is, the dome of sacred places, the internal sanctuary of the temple, the city of books. The bricks full of words explode in the works, in which the texture of wool and plaster grows and the regular shape begins to transform.
The transition from wool to bricks, from supple to rigid, without losing the ephemeral weight of the initial material, imitates the ability of words to go everywhere, to detach themselves from the author, especially in literature, to initiate a dialogue elsewhere, with an unknown interlocutor. that once more gives them life in a present and still submerged creation.
In what direction is your work and your research evolving?
For some months our research has been focusing more and more on the use of eco-sustainable and recycled materials – and specifically fabrics -such as synthetic fibers made from recycled plastic bottles or old fishing nets recovered from the seas; on the use of organic cotton or regenerated yarns.
The reduction of environmental pollution is a problem that is never more evident to all of us than now; it cannot be ignored, and we, as artists, feel compelled to do our part.
We therefore decided to present our work to some leading textile companies in the recycling sector in Italy, with the intention of asking them if they would be interested in collaborating with us, providing us with the materials for the realization of our works.
The response was positive and we are currently collaborating with five textile companies, located in different areas of the Italian territory, each with its own specialization – from jersey to eco-leather, passing through denim.
Working with new materials and sometimes with unexpected characteristics is very stimulating, there are materials that we did not even know existed and that instead pushed us to try other types of approach in the creation of the work.
With regard to our artistic research, an important role is also played by DRIM Contemporary art ground, the exhibition space that we have inaugurated for more than a year now and which allows us to exchange with other artists, and which we have considered since the beginning as a ‘ work of art or as an extension of ours: the work of art in this case is the care of the message of others.
In 15 months of DRIM activity, we have organized, curated and financed a total of 8 exhibitions of artists from the national and international scene. At the moment we are changing headquarters and opening a new space in Turin and we are organizing an event in September that will involve several galleries of the Turin scene.
What are you working on right now? What will the next project be?
As for RAR, the project is constantly evolving and is being enriched with variations, for example with the inclusion of texts in the original language or calibrated on the production of a single author, and it is for this reason that its name highlights its founding tool – the archive – and not a final result: the intent is to give an example of the potential inexhaustibility of the intuitions, and therefore of the actions, that a work can stimulate.
The next work will be a journey through several languages, recent or not, some current, others fixed. At the center of the research there will no longer be phrases, but single words and, more specifically, the verbal roots and the stories they contain. In particular, we will start from a text and try to bring out the architecture hidden in its pages, continuing to make writing and literature dialogue with art; we will question the concept of unity, the relationship between good and evil, the archaic and archetypal value of language in relation to the creation of the world.