I visited the XIII Florence Biennale: Eternal Feminine | Eternal Change.
As the title suggests, the exhibition finds in the many facets of femininity its core theme, Investigated through different Art languages. The show develops along two lines: the Eternal Feminine and the change that continually redefines the boundaries and contents of the concept of femininity. Two pavilions, 450 exhibitors, daily events including meetings, conferences, screenings and award ceremonies. Fibre Art holds a special place, declined in the various languages of the textile medium: contemporary art, design, and fashion. To begin with, in the crowded theatre area of the Fair, a standing ovation welcomed the Leonardo Da Vinci Lifetime Achievement Award for Design given to British stylist and activist Vivienne Westwood. Then, in the Spadolini Pavilion, a display of mannequins, videos, and photos remains to trace the stages of her career in fashion, design, with campaigns to defend human rights and the environment.
In my opinion, the most exciting interventions are to be found in the Cavagnilia Pavilion, where Fortunato D’Amico curated SPECIAL CONCEPT.
Here, First and foremost, the guest artist, Sara Conforti (Torino, 1973).
After her diploma from the “Aldo Passoni” State Institute of Art for Fashion and Costume Design (Turin), she studied History of Modern Art and Art Literature at DAMS in Turin with a Master in Environmental Communication from IED. From 2003 to 2011, she was the creative assistant of Michelangelo Pistoletto and Cittadellarte-Fondazione Pistoletto Cultural Manager. Since 2013 she has collaborated in designing artistic projects and performances with the Campagna Abiti Puliti, the largest clothing industry alliance of trade unions and non-governmental organisations to improve working conditions. For FAIR and the Campagna
Abiti Puliti, Conforti created and supervised the docufilm “The wings are not for sale” (2021).
Since 2014 she has collaborated with Associazione Tessile e Salute to draft artistic projects to disseminate eco-toxicological impacts in the textile and fashion industry. Artist and activist, she explores the complexity of the social fabric and gender. In her research, the garment from the object-symbol of a hyper-consumerist society becomes the pivot of reflections that lead from individual to collective identity through the reactivation of shared processes and manual practices that flow from the biographical dimension into choral works. A vision of art that becomes a moral and political commitment, informing a method rooted and involving the community, the place and the moment in which it recognises itself and builds relationships, to overcome a pervasive culture that fears duration in time, of which the consumption of clothing is a faithful mirror.
“Centosettantaperottanta | What comes first” is a site and context-specific installation, a project born in collaboration with the Moleskine Foundation and inspired by the theme of the AtWork 2022 educational project.
The installation is made possible thanks to the donation of valuable production waste from companies that apply eco-sustainable and certified industrial processes. The 100% Polyester fabrics have been produced with yarns from the recovery of post-consumer plastic bottles. The prints are made using water-free and energy-saving processes.
Centosettantaperottanta is an experimental container between talk, archive and performance. The artist has been developing this concept for over 10 years, investigating contemporary culture through the relationship between dress and habitus.
“The workshops represent a space of exploration dedicated to the female universe where the public and private value of dressing meets the possibility of unveiling itself. Focused on a taxonomic practice, the
workshops decline and multiply the different chapters of research that digs into the wardrobes to seek and share answers on the relationship with contemporaneity. PET clothes – in particular – become the protagonist of “affective” autopsies and the fulcrum of a journey of the self for the birth of new narratives that inspire change. “(S.C.)
A little further on, the installation by the artist and performer Loredana Galante we already wrote about a few days ago.
In the same pavilion, you’ll find a collaborative project by three international artists from different disciplines: Ercole Pignatelli (1935) whose artistic career includes two participations in the Venice Biennale (1978 and 2011) and countless awards with works exhibited in public and private collections all over the world: in Europe, from Milan, passing through the European Parliament in Brussels to the United States – New York, San Francisco, Washington, Philadelphia; Laura Zeni (1962) an artist and designer whose creations range from painting to sculpture, design and jewellery, and who has participated, among others, in the Fuori Salone in Milan, the Biennale Italia-Cina in Turin, the Archivio di Stato in Rome and had a personal exhibition at the Triennale in Milan, as well as works in permanent collections such as the Museum of the International Sculpture Park in Portofino; and Giuliano Sangiorgi (1979), singer-songwriter and musician, founder of the renowned band Negramaro (2000), and who has collaborated on wide-ranging projects such as Rezophonic (2006) and La Notte della Taranta (2007) and with known artists like Dolores O’Riordan, with whom he sang a duet in 2007, as well as Jovanotti, Elisa, Claudio Baglioni, Patty Pravo, Adriano Celentano, Franco Battiato and many others.
“Anime” is the large carpet designed by Laura Zeni. The work defines a space that welcomes the silhouettes of the artist and Ercole Pignatelli’s display cases. A feminine universe told through a gallery of objects/paintings complementary to the soul/body narration. The unpublished poem by Giuliano Sangiorgi, “Nudi”, seals everything in a microcosm that gives the visitor an intimate and collected dimension, almost an exclusive and personal relationship with the feminine.
Barbara Uccelli‘s work, “Baby bride”, is part of a larger project investigating the phenomenon of child brides, cancer still common in many cultures.
The artist was keen on learning the frivolè technique from her grandmother to re-enact generations of painstaking female work. This old and precious lace, for centuries, part of the trousseau and brides’ veil. The preservation of traditional skills allows the artist to give her works the depth of time.
In her hands, these laces take on the three-dimensionality of sculpture, finding an unexpected relationship with space, becoming installations, sometimes reaching considerable dimensions and carrying ancient knowledge into a contemporary language. As invisible are the children, who are given in marriage without knowing, so the piece in the exhibition is an invisible bride. A dress, a lace silhouette evoking a body that is not there.
After graduating in Communication Sciences, Barbara Uccelli began her artistic training in theatre direction and choreography. Her approach to art results from personal studies oriented towards the contamination between different forms of expression.
Patrizia Benedetta Fratus defines her installations as: “made instinctively out of a desire to give form and body to another story. They are creatures born out of research into the roots of violence against women.” (P.B.F.)
The artist rescues women from oblivion by depicting them in the “pages” of a book/screen or, like in “Radici”, where five figures are installed in a circle referring to ancestral rites. Forms that evoke the thousands of goddesses found by Marija Gimbutas and made out of stocking waste.
Material rescued from the incinerator, the same that the artist uses for her projects in the shelter houses. A perfect metaphor, bags of fabric with no future become, through art, a vehicle for new possibilities, for a new life.
“Upcycle” – she says – “to give new life and meaning to material and human. Because the thread is a medium, the work is us. By telling stories, we narrate worlds.”
Patrizia Benedetta Fratus was born in Palosco in 1960 to urbanised peasants and, after compulsory schooling, began working. At the age of 23, she returned to school and, after some experience in high fashion, she graduated from the Istituto Marangoni in Milan in 1999.
She worked in the Teatro alla Scala tailoring department, and in 2004 she made her debut as an artist at the Edgar le Machand d’Art gallery in Paris. After that, she exhibited in galleries in Brescia, Milan, London and Paris. She won the Nocivelli and ArteCairo awards in 2009. Prompted by the news of continuous femicides, she made her first doll, “Cometumivuoi”, and since 2012 she has been working on relational and environmental art projects. In addition, she collaborates with shelters and schools, using art as a tool for intellectual and empirical experimentation toward awareness, self-determination, and human emancipation.
Last but not least, the work of Maria Francesca Rodi (1986) and the artistic collective “Il nodo LaChicca&LeSciure”.
Rodi studied art and fashion and then trained through various collaborations with Italian and international brands. She worked as an assistant to a pop artist until 2014. Then, moved to Australia, where Rodi worked as an illustrator for fashion brands while engaging in artistic research between materials and self-expression. On her return to Italy, she undertook various collaborations, including Fondazione Pistoletto. In 2016, she was awarded a prize in the Abito Terzo Paradiso contest. In 2017 she founded the collective “Il nodo LaChicca&LeSciure” with retired ladies from a working-class neighbourhoods suburb in southern Milan, bringing hope and regeneration through art and honest relationships. Maria Francesca Rodi’s projects meet the directives and global objectives of the United Nations 2030 Agenda.
“Albero siamo tutti” is a textile sculpture made from recycled fabrics, a pray to Mother Nature because, as the artist says, “we need to reknot the memories of those who have lived in harmony with nature to transmit its values to new generations. We need to reknot the solidarity and essence that has no gender because we are all branches of the same tree, in the end.”
Textiles are also the medium of some of the artists exhibited at the Spadolini Pavilion.
Riitta Nelimarkka, is a Finnish artist capable of using colours with extraordinary freedom. Her work, “My very determined grandma”, is a large tapestry part of a new series dedicated to the power of female irony. Her works are spaces populated by fantastic creatures, where reality intertwines with joy, play, fantasy and illusion. The artist studied painting in Paris, animation in Stockholm, art history, and music theory at Helsinki University. Nelimarkka has published more than 20 books, exhibited in museums and institutions in many countries and received international awards.
Colourful and fun is Milena Zdravkova‘s work, a graduate of the National Academy of Fine Arts in Sofia. She’s always loved textiles as a universal inheritance that crosses all cultures, artistic practice and craftsmanship. The artist has explored different techniques from contemporary tapestry weaving to design. She has exhibited in several European countries and in the United States. For her works, she uses recycled materials, hand-dyed fabrics and yarns. One of her favourite techniques is textile collage. She has been living in London for a few years.
Jules Vissers is a Dutch-Italian artist who holds a Master’s degree in Textile Art from the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. She experiments with different techniques and materials to create textile works from her digital drawings and watercolours. At the biennale, Vissers presents “Tre Grazie”, alluding to the eternal femininity evoked by Botticelli’s masterpiece’s classical and divine beauty. She gives identity, physicality, personality and freedom to the “Grazie”, delivering them to the contemporary world.
I conclude this journey with the elegant work by Ase Froyshov, an expression of the Norwegian tapestry tradition.