IN BECOMING. Daniela Frongia, Art and Contemporaneity
Translation by Marina Dlacic
Daniela Frongia’s artist path is configured as an experimental and constantly evolving act: as a conversation with herself and with the world around her through performances, she investigates the present and today’s culture with photography and videos, and is expressed through painting, installations and weaving. Her thoughts are like tangles of threads that manifest themselves in reality through the slow and rhythmic gestures that accompany the conception of the work on the loom.
She experiences this act as an urgency that allows her to make her inner world usable, palpable and shareable. It perceives, thinks, breathes and feeds on art. “Contemporaneity is our existence in the making – she says – confrontation activates the possibilities of questioning, pushes within and around, defines new visions and sensations.” She looks and then sees; and in deep observation, often empathic, she takes note of the vulnerability of existence. Her doing is like a needle that in sewing, enters and exits, establishes relationships and fixes moments, memories, emotions that she embroiders in her soul to give shape to what remains.
Born in Sardinia, you studied and worked for a long time in Florence. How important was the Florentine experience for your artistic research?
The Florentine experience was essential to develop an in-depth knowledge of the concept of ‘contemporary’ and broaden my views. I had the opportunity to relate to industry experts, work closely with professional artists and young artists like me, especially through workshops, internships and exhibitions.
Seventeen years have passed since then and the memory is still alive and current.
“PAESAGGI TESSILI 4”, installation site specific, land art, cotton threads woven on a sandstone wall and rocks, Portu Maga beach, June 2020, ph.credit Daniela Frongia
And then you returned to Sardinia and from your return you chose thread as an expressive medium: is there a link between these two changes in your personal and professional life?
I returned to Sardinia in 2012, a very different life from that in Tuscany. Calm rhythms in large spaces.
I felt the need to slow down, to internalize, transform and share the lived experience.
The expressive mediums used have always been photography, video, painting, installation and performance. It became urgent to create a link between the past, the present and the future: the thread.
A – “There is no Jana without wires”, artist’s book entirely handmade, year 2015, ph.credit Daniela Frongia
B – The first spindle and the first yarn of wool, year 2014, ph.credit Daniela Frongia
Sardinia has a long tradition of weaving, rooted in its history and culture: from the legendary Janas who wove with a golden loom, to carpets, to the art of Maria Lai. How much of your work is the fruit of this land?
The Sardinian thread culture is rich, fascinating and, as you say, very rooted. This is why we need to approach the topic on tiptoe, with respect and in-depth study of the past.
My experimentation with fibers began around 2014-2015 when, still finding myself without the tools to be able to finance my research, I decided to create the threads myself starting from stories and from the tradition of my land.
During one of my usual walks dedicated to photography I found some wool shorn and abandoned in a field, it was a small quantity and dirty, so I decided to take it home and turn it into yarn. I had never done it before and my curiosity was immense. I didn’t have the tools to work it, I didn’t know how to wash it. I was looking for and researching information, I built a wooden spindle and some combs, both very ugly and rustic. The first thread was shapeless, rigid and indelicate.
I still keep everything in my studio, as the conquest of a precious treasure: knowledge.
It may seem trivial in an era like ours, dictated by unbridled consumerism and often of poor industrial value. Speed is literally killing the desire to know how to do it yourself to make way for the greed of possession. This is what the return to my land teaches me, to appreciate the slowness, the rhythm and above all the path that leads to the contemporary world.
“UNINTERRUPTED TRANSITS”, installation site specific, cotton threads woven in space, Ex Casa al mare Francesco Sartori, July 2020, ph.credit Daniela Frongia
Your wire installations are very extensive and complex jobs. I am thinking, for example, of the work created at the Ex Colonia Sartori or the ‘Textile Landscapes’ involving rocks, inlets, caves, beaches. What relationship do you have with these places, how do you choose them and, above all, how do your works relate to the environment in which they develop? What messages do they convey? And are they temporary works or destined to remain?
I traveled practically all of Sardinia with my parents, especially in summer, when I was still a child.
From the age of sixteen onwards, the need for independence was stronger, so I started working as a waitress during the summer seasons, in restaurants and hotels; first in Sardinia and then in Italy.
This work accompanied me from 1997 to 2011, even in different and no longer seasonal sectors, helping me to finance my studies and research, while penalizing leisure trips or classic beach holidays with friends.
Returning to Sardinia was a rediscovery of the places I lived in during my childhood and of new places, especially abandoned, identified for photographic research at various times of the year. It is a sort of mapping that gives me the opportunity to think and develop new projects to then propose them and eventually realize them in the most suitable season. Most of these works are live and ephemeral stories.
The Ex Casa al Mare Francesco Sartori, built in the early fifties, is a place of affection for me, for my parents, for my grandparents and for many other people in Sardinia. It was the colony dedicated to the holidays of the miners’ children, a “reward” for the efforts made in the darkness of the tunnels between Ingurtosu and Montevecchio.
Although it is now a ruin, visits to the structure have never ceased over the years.
I thought of developing a project in the portico overlooking the sea, a sort of gallery of threads that go from white to gray and then to black and it is entirely accessible with some difficulty. You have to get down, bend your back, skip a few strands or look out from some hole.
Anyone passing by has a story to offer with respect to the past,to a memory, to an experience or to the present; these become intertwining and bonded, new luminous and fragile paths. But there was darkness, for all the lives lost in the hard work of the mines. In this case mine wants to be a story intertwined with the past and developed in a contemporary key.
The thread is no longer the shepherd’s cloth of survival, the family trousseau or the tapestry. For me the places themselves become looms, the weaving unravels the warp and weft and the finished product adapts itself to the environment, becoming a work outside the place dedicated to art, usable by man, animals, insects and absorbed and consumed from natural events. For this I mainly use Sardinian wool threads or cotton threads.
I think that art and culture must be within everyone’s reach, even those who don’t actually go looking for it but come across, feeling amazed and / or wondering, even within an abandoned and decadent structure like the Ex Colonia.
I would like to tell an anecdote that I find very significant. Recently I was at the seaside with a friend who always carries with him natural soils of different colors; while we were on the beach we found coal residues. We decided to paint and draw two small stones and leave them resting on the grooves of a sandstone wall. From that day on, anyone who passes by this beach leaves in turn a stone decorated with coal, or wood and reeds intertwined, repeating the gesture of laying them in the same way.
At the moment there are about forty interventions and the wall has turned into a real exhibition in the making. The curious fact that arouses my interest is that in that stretch of beach there are no stones available immediately, you have to go and look for them: this is the importance of the path before the end result.
Some works are permanent, such as Uninterrotti transiti by Funtanazza, others temporary, as for Textile Landscapes. The latter live for the time of their creation, I monitor them for some time and after that I remove them. They belong to a larger project where what has been cannot go back to being, but can exist in a different form, in a different environment and are linked to an ongoing process.
The messages they convey are many, as many as the people who use them question themselves.
The aesthetic function of the installation is dictated exclusively by the final architectural result, as a design or project of continuous and repeated movements; the waves that carve the rock consuming it, the sand that continuously rubs on itself, the wind that moves the threads or the salt that brings rigidity by drying them in the sun. The empty and the full represent another essential aspect of my research; contents and containers necessary for the survival of emotions translated into tactile experiences.
“PAESAGGI TESSILI #5”, installation site specific, land art, cotton threads woven into the rock, Caletta Is Cannizonis, Marina di Arbus, June 2020, ph.credit Daniela Frongia
To create installations of this size, especially in natural environments, many factors must be taken into account, both in the construction phase and subsequently for the time of permanency of the work. Do you proceed from the place or from an idea and then find the right site to develop it? Do you structure a detailed project at the start or do you work on a general draft and let yourself be guided by the evolution of the work?
True, there are numerous factors that must be taken into account for Land Art installations made with thread. I invest a lot of time in inspections always carrying a few balls of yarn with me; I observe everything with my hands and eyes. Every crack, projection, grip, surface, width. From this I can perceive a “design” and create a project.
While working in a natural environment nothing can be changed, moved or removed. It is the work that must adapt, not the other way around; it must coexist without changing the host scenario. No nails, only natural or already present holds.
Observation is really essential, especially when it comes to beaches or parks, people who usually go to a place normally cross it at specific and laid out points. We must respect them by developing the project accordingly.
I proceed in both ways, sometimes starting from a place and others starting from an idea that leads to the search for the right place. What is very valuable to me is the possibility of being able to interpret the site where I am working in a contemporary key, not to overturn it, rather to activate a symbiosis.
A significant example for me is the work done in Teulada in 2019 for the Bisus Street Fest. On this occasion I created a work of Street Art in one of the oldest walls in the center of the town. Teulada is an important and delicate name for the Sardinian reality as around the 1950s 7,500 hectares of coast were expropriated to be sold to the NATO military base. Unfortunately, this is still active today.
“Materic Repetition # 2”, installation site specific, Sardinian wool threads woven and sewn on the wall, Street Art-Urban Art, Bisus Street Fest, Teulada 2020, ph.credit Daniela Frongia
The project dedicated to the town is called Materic repetition # 2, and aims to bring out, in a very delicate and subtle way, how the continuous succession of military exercises modifies the health of the environment and its inhabitants. Through the use of natural Sardinian wool threads, repeatedly sewn on the stone wall, concrete and visible material volumes are created that expand like an embroidery, aimed at conceptually delineating the unchanged activity of the “Alfa” area and the resulting accumulation of toxic material. At the same time, it wants to equally emphasize the beauty of the sea-mountain combination of the southern coast.
I tend to emphasize the general importance of all constant and deleterious human actions which, if materially revealed immediately, could make a necessary contribution to denounce the destruction we are carrying out in favor of the progress-regress paradox.
Bisus Street Fest was an artist residency for four days and during the night, while I was on the terrace with the other participating artists to contemplate the beauty of the stars, the sound contrast of the shootings and explosions behind the mountains was strong and vivid. . Bisus translated from Sardinian means “dreams”.
As with the work just mentioned, most of the projects are born and developed in the studio, and it often takes months of work before being installed on the chosen site.
“L’incontro”, work in progress of the installation through two embroidered and woven canvases. Quarantine diary in the study, April / May 2020, ph.credit Daniela Frongia
During the lockdown you worked on a series of small works, a kind of quarantine diary. Can you tell me what they are?
The quarantine was a very hard journey, I assume for many, a period in which I made several works at equally different times. I experienced the first part of the lockdown outside my studio immediately after my return to Sardinia from Amsterdam on 11 March. This moment was particularly hard, I was far from my space, from my tools and from my affections. However, I had with me some needles and some yarns with which I managed to create a small mobile installation: Quarantine; a large canvas, Mutations; and a stitched photographic project divided into three parts: Aesthetics of impotence – silence, Aesthetics of screaming – food, Aesthetics of resignation – waiting.
I was lucky enough to have a printer and to be able to recover materials such as an old white sheet that became the basis of the canvas, and wooden strips from which I made the frame without many difficulties and with the help of friends with whom I found myself.
In April I managed to return to my studio, I hadn’t been back since February, it was intense; a great chaos in silence and solitude.
I have made thirteen other works that contain ups and downs, empty and full moments. Bright moments and dark moments.
Alone, Inside the rooms, crossing Movements of the void, and observing from the Windows. Between Words, sounds and silences and Introspective paths. Almost Tactile Microorganisms often like Thorns. We are enclosed in our intimate walls, small architectures of air, waiting to be put back into the world – Uterus.
Then there was phase two, which saw the birth of an installation through two canvases: The meeting and the last sewing photographic project – Elsewhere.
These jobs are my quarantine diary; the forms, contents and titles translate a large part of my lived emotions.
A – “Mutazioni”, cotton threads woven on a cotton sheet, cm.130×90. Quarantine diary in the study, March / April 2020, ph.credit Daniela Frongia
B – “Eleven small canvases”. Quarantine diary in the study, April 2020, ph.credit Daniela Frongia
Photography, writing and printing are other techniques that you can combine with your work with thread. What role do they play and how do they interact with your fiber art works?
Photography, writing, performance and video are tools with which I have been experimenting since the academic years and I put side by side with fiber art.
Over time, writing has become a weaving of words. The same way it happens on the loom, that perfectly intertwined warp and weft are no longer distinguished, becoming a single element – the fabric – so it happens with words. The signified and the signifier disappear with overwriting, which is nothing other than writing words and thoughts on each other and on the same portion of the surface.Thus becoming shape, stain, volume: fabric. The sense disappears, leaving room for the visual and tactile imagination; the latter given by some thread, spun by hand and sewn, often even off-screen.
Frequently, photography and videos are performative returns where the thread is an element present in the act itself or inserted a posteriori as an added link to the previous act.
A – “On the thread of thought”, autobiography, self-produced linen sheet, woven hair, ph.credit Daniela Frongia
B – “On the thread of thought”, weaving of words, Sardinian wool threads self-produced and sewn on hemp sheet, year 2017, ph.credit Daniela Frongia
Speaking of yarn, you use different types of material: industrial cotton and Sardinian wool for large installations and the most disparate fibers for small works. I know that you cultivate some of them yourself and take care of the entire production process right from the seed. I imagine, therefore, that the materials you choose have a meaning for you and that the thread also has a symbolic value in addition to the functional one. Is this correct?
When I lived in Florence, I sporadically experimented with industrial threads only and I started to keep my hair.
Back in Sardinia I did not have suitable and enough threads to be able to experience what I wanted to translate at that moment.
I started growing linen and cotton in 2015. I manually built all the tools to work the fibers by studying the entire process meticulously, especially through the stories of the ancient peoples. After more than a year of work – from cultivation, to harvesting and processing – I managed to create my first works starting from scratch. It was very tiring but just as rewarding. It gave me the opportunity to understand the importance of holding a thread in my hands, to conceive the preciousness of manual yarns that absorb the living experience in the amount of production time, to weigh the choices for its use and lead to the elimination of any waste. I recover the waste vegetable fibers – those too short – to transform them into paper sheets.
My first artist’s books tell the very experience of creating the work from the seed to the finished product. The book of wool, the book of linen and the various looms; of orbace(rough woolen cloth) and cotton. Without forgetting the book of saffron, a spice grown in my country and also used for dyeing fabrics. With this book I discovered moths.Small lepidoptera that feed on keratin-containing fibers; wool, silk, hair and rarely even cotton. My book was devoured within a few months forcing me to carry out a long disinfestation process to protect all my work. I keep the remains as a further intervention carried out by third parties; it is a sort of draft for future projects where the consumption could lead to very interesting results, partially random and up to their total disappearance.
In recent years I have also started to use my hair to embroider words on hand-woven wool sheets and to make the first portions of fabric entirely made with my hair – warp and weft of hair are woven to the vertical loom obtained on cotton canvas ; I manage to make one or two a year and it is a particularly slow and introspective work, they are autobiographical works, my DNA.
For several years I worked only with the yarns that I could produce, this method had slowed down my time, expanded visions and expanded the desire to experiment. The ideas woud come faster and faster than what I was able to realize, I wrote them down in notebooks so as not to forget them and to be able to reconstruct them mentally. Little by little I started to make projects bigger and bigger and the self-produced yarns alone were no longer able to satisfy and adequately translate my needs and urgencies. Somebody gave me bags of waste threads deriving from the looms of a Sardinian company.I remember that I had scattered them all over the surface of my studio; it was a delusion! I had decided to reconstruct them, untangling them by type, color and material and then re-tie them one by one and recreate a single thread. I made more than 50 different huge balls of yarn, and it is with these that I started to create my first site specific installations.
The choice of thread is very important, because it is the means by which I may or may not be able to express an urgency in the here and now, or the meaning of the work itself. The duration of a work depends on the type of thread and its twisting, especially in site specific; for example, wool fibers are more resistant outdoors than indoors, to light rather than dark. Some are more ephemeral than others and degrade more easily, others can be kept indefinitely, such as hemp or linen.
“Autobiography #blue”, detail of the work in progress and completed work, artist’s hair woven and sewn on canvas, cm. 60×30, 2018, ph.credit Daniela Frongia
What are the educational or artistic experiences that have most influenced your work? What are – or have been – the main sources of inspiration?
This is a question I could stay on for hours, I’m not a talker, I rather define myself as a listener; but I know that certain things must be said and said well.
I was selected for my first workshop in Prato, Tuscany, in 2008; a project curated by the artist Robert Pettena. He was setting up his personal exhibition Second Escape curated by Pier Luigi Tazzi. We young artists gave him a hand in putting up the installation The jungle bar made with branches tied to each other, from the widest base resting on the ground to the tips that rose to the sky; this operation was combined with wooden bases as a surface on which hand-sewn jute bags containing fruit, citrus fruits and vegetables were placed with which centrifuged and squeezed cocktails were made.It was significant, the work only worked if someone consumed it, it was a sort of collective performance; the whole exhibition and the path marked me a lot. In this period I started making art videos. The final exhibition of the participants was then developed in a space of the Dryphoto Contemporary Art Gallery.
Following the meetings with Lorenzo Bruni, curator of the workshop and then of the collective exhibition Manual for hitchhikers of art, with whom I began to experiment with the first installations, with writing, photography, paper, words, performances with flour, and structures of iron and glass. It was 2009, when I also met Cesare Pietroiusti and Rossella Biscotti.
Subsequently selected for the Networking project, born in 2000 as an attempt by different local authorities to build a regional network aimed at promoting young artists working in Tuscany. Back to the present, it was the edition curated by Elisa Del Prete in which I took part between 2008 and 2009 for the workshop of Jhon Duncan and Melissa Pasut.
It was a particularly significant experience aimed at re-activating the awareness of the present, with the desire to place one’s feeling as the starting point of every action and one’s body as the primary instrument of knowledge, repository of memories at the center of artistic reflection, of all experiences, of all thoughts, of all feelings. Sound, dialogue, exercise and contact improvisation I believe have influenced my entire artistic career ever since.
Cesare Pietroiust is the tutor artist of my last workshop in Tuscany, Flexible Territories, between 2010 and 2011 at the Ex3 Center for Contemporary Art in Florence. It is in this circumstance that I developed my first artist book with thoughts written with my menstrual blood on plain paper and subsequently erasing the thoughts with black thread sewn on the sheets; a series of self-portraits inserted throughout. The work is entitled “aScoltare ermeticAmeNte il tepore. Preservare l’alGido trascorso. giUngere altrovE” (Hermetically listen to the warmth. Preserve the frozen past. Arrive elsewhere). A work that I brought to my small town, in San Gavino Monreale, during a performance for my solo show in 2013.
Cesare is the artist about whom I wrote and discussed my degree thesis in 2012 and who at the workshop told us young participating artists: “Search on the internet for any idea you can think of for your future work, you will find that someone has achieved that before you”.
In Sardinia my experiments make me approach and deepen my knowledge with people who have become important for my current research, friends and colleagues, places and museums that have accompanied my doing, stimulated my work and who still continue to embrace my ideas and my path.
I remember the very first residence in Sardinia, at the home of the artist Fabrizio D’Aprà in September 2015, we were a group of artist friends and for the occasion we had experimented with native materials such as linen. There were several meetings, workshops, seminars, conferences and a young and elegant Anna Rita Punzo who made me fall in love with the “God Lino”.
From then on, our relationship turned into a strong and lasting professional bond, I owe to her my first important solo show in Sardinia; Perfiloepersegno, at the Giovanni Lilliu Center in Barumini in 2016 and to follow the personal INTRECCI LIBERI, at the MURATS Museum in Samugheo in 2017. She is one of the best connoisseurs of my work, art stimulator and source of countless inspirations, with her I shared and still share numerous collective projects such as the very recent First Biennial of Fiber Art in Sardinia.
Also in 2016, I got to know another important figure linked to the Contemporary Cagliaritano, Daniele Gregorini, through the large family of the Cagliari Urban Center association, within the Artaruga, hOMe Network and Salt Gallery spaces. Places where I had the opportunity to come into direct contact with numerous artists, with whom I have deepened relationships, developed projects and shared exhibitions and events. In this same period, I started experimenting with Street Art, Urban Art and Public Art works.
Daniele is an extremely curious person and at the same time has the ability to inject as many doses of curiosity to trigger continuous dialogues and comparisons. We have been companions in work and experimentation for several years, succeeding in the intent of making his painting dialogue with my threads. We took part in several festivals and residencies at the same time.I was invited to participate in numerous projects based on his idea and under his care, giving me the opportunity to experience significant works such as the last one created in Amsterdam, at the beginning of March, for one of the artist residences belonging to the Creative Continent project; and before that, by curating one of my major personal projects, the mobile installation Thῡmόs, set up at the T Hotel in Cagliari in February of this year. Influence, esteem, respect and friendship have been with us for years now.
The experiences that at the age of forty have influenced and still influence my path are truly endless. Naming them all is complex. However, I believe that the comparison with the different realities that surround us – human, animal, plant, natural and artificial – are the best stimulus to continue to develop a lively research and never an end in itself.
“Thumos”, installation site specific, February 2020, ph.credit Daniela Frongia
Your latest work in chronological order is the site specific installation for the Teatri di Vita festival in Bologna. Can you tell me about the work you created?
It was May, we had just come out of the lockdown and I received a nice phone call to take part in the Heart of Italy project. Summer hanging by a thread.
I could not leave for an inspection, I was told about the project and described the space around the theater, also through photographs.
It is a very popular park, with beautiful and secular trees, people usually walk through it for many reasons; sport, leisure, to go to the theater or to go to work.
I imagined a small alternative path to the routine, the insistent sound of cicadas continually brought me back to the Funtanazza colony, I decided to continue the same architectural experimentation with circular shapes from which to look out and walls to walk through.
The work is titled Uninterrupted Transits #2
People sat on the bench that I inserted into the installation, they talked with me and with each other. Some came to see me every day, with several of them I exchanged contacts, others told me why don’t you do this? Why don’t you create this? It would be great for us! Listening is exchange.
All these stories, these continuous transits, this discovering and asking, have become intertwined, they are the supporting structure.
There are invisible tales contained in the voids and then there are visible links that are concrete and real. And the shows, conferences, films and evening live shows of the Theater, further realities on which to look out to see beyond.
“UNINTERRUPTED TRANSITS # 2”, installation site specific, Parco dei pini, Theaters of Life, August 2020, ph.credit Daniela Frongia
Future projects and dreams: what are you working on and what would you like to be able to work on in the future?
I have several projects I’m working on, especially in the studio, many unpublished and for this reason I can’t say much more; the programs are constantly evolving also due to the pandemic.
I am mainly working on installation works and on a solo exhibition, it will still take some time and work before completion. For the future I have many ideas and even in this I am quite reserved,I am hopeful and committed and I believe that everything happens when the time is right.
“Shades”, installation site specific, Street Art. URban Art. Speeltium Square, Nieuw West, Amsterdam, ph.credit Daniela Frongia