• Sun. Dec 5th, 2021

Interview with Gaia Coals

Version: Italian

Translation by Marina Dlacic 

“The color of the Belgian sky is very different from the Italian one. I walked the streets of Antwerp in search of my place and something that could make me feel at home, I collected blue objects. I looked at the ground to find the blue I had in mind: I built my new sky”

Gaia Carboni

Gaia Carboni, aka Gaia Coals, was born in Milan in 1995 and lived there until she obtained her diploma in Sculpture at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts (2018). After two years in Antwerp, at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, where she specialized in site-specific artistic practices in the broadest sense, she participated in several collective exhibitions, including “Vagare al margini” by the collective “Co_atto” (Marta Orsola Sironi, Ludovico Da Prato, Stefano Bertolino). Furthermore, the artist does not  go unnoticed  at the “Apparent Empty” exhibitions coordinated by Chiara Spenuso; “Billboard project Antwerpen-quarantine edition” by Sanja Tomic and Spank Moons, and “Out and about” organized by the BRDG association, and several residency programs including “Viadellafucina16” in 2018 and “Viafarini-in-residence” in 2021 .

The factor that strikes most of all when observing your works is the “polymateriality”. How are your works born? What are the sources of inspiration?

Space has always been my starting point and the inspiration for all my works. Since the beginning, that is, from the time of academic studies, I have been interested in the themes of public art and the dynamics that are generated in the physical space around the monuments and from here I began to deepen the relationships between places and communities, which for me are inseparable: it is people who transform spaces into places. Paradoxically, my approach to urban space is not affected by the influences of contemporary art but by architecture (thanks to a friend with whom years ago we began an interesting comparison). From the first ideas, I ventured into an anthropological and philosophical journey to perfect the reading and understanding of metropolitan spaces which, despite the first experiments, today are almost entirely lacking in contemporary art. I am talking about the first pioneers in the field such as Ugo La Pietra and Maria Lai, who today we consider masters, despite their legacy has not been as thorough as it could have been.

The sky in a room, my blues comes from the blue”, found objects, 6.50 x 4 meters, 2019

What is the genesis of your works, how does the idea arise and how does it take shape, how do you choose the artistic techniques and materials to be used in your works?

My research path has developed in an organic way starting from “inhabit” understood as the feeling of belonging to a place, the procreation of a bond of interdependence that necessarily leads to taking care of it. In the etymology there is already a reference to habit, and therefore to a prolonged attendance over time. All the places that we define home generate in us an attitude of taking charge and respect.

I was interested in thoroughly investigating this relationship of responsibility, and for this reason I began to study more in depth spaces that were not purely domestic but in which the “sense of inhabiting” was crucial. The same listening attitude leads me to intervene in various places by choosing materials and shapes that are as respectful and coherent as possible and this has resulted several times in the use of ropes and weaves, and even more often in the technique of embroidery and sewing. Sometimes, as in the case of the installation in Krugerplein, the choice was dictated by the need to use a natural, light and easily workable fiber such as jute ropes. Other times, as in The sky in a room or The tent for Narnia, it seemed to me that I had no alternative: the only way to take care of the people and places to which those works were intended was to dedicate the time and effort to them that necessarily the needle and the thread require.  Although I have no specific skills in embroidery or sewing, it has always seemed natural to me to choose that method: I believe that all the sincerity of my intentions is also perceived in errors and clumsy forms. I also want to underline that on these occasions, before starting, I always ask for advice from those who, on the other hand, are the proper professionals such as weavers, textile artists and restorers.

“La tenda per Narnia” (The tent for Narnia), intervention for A domestic Landscape – Act II, curated by Serena Correale, embroidery on canvas, 100 x 290 cm, June 2021.

“La tenda per Narnia” (The tent for Narnia), intervention for A domestic Landscape – Act II, curated by Serena Correale, embroidery on canvas, 100 x 290 cm, June 2021.

“I delivered the bond between Serena, Barbara and Carolina to the threshold of the closet; embroidery brings to light the memory of the house, the fourth element of the family”.

How do your works relate to the space in which they are set up, and to the public / user of the work?

Through an attitude of openness and removal of prejudice, I would like my work to be the first input for a path of greater awareness of the complex system of relationships in which we are constantly immersed. I started by pushing the audience to observe insignificant details like spots and cracks and now I’m focusing on putting the visitor into an attitude of active listening.When someone tells us he has twisted his ankle, suddenly we only meet people with crutches. The amount of injuries is always the same, we are the ones who begin to notice. Here, I would like my work to work exactly like that first piece of information, to activate small recognition mechanisms that improve awareness of how much we are interrelated to others, to the world and how much each gesture always has an effect on something or someone.

Memorial for a Block” set-up. Ph Lois Cid

“No matter how hard you try, it is impossible to experience each space as unprecedented. It is in our nature to look for any signs that we can recognize as similar to the place we come from; we even recreate the basic qualities of that place.
Memory tries to manipulate outer space as a way to adapt”

What do you think is your contribution to Contemporary Fiber Art?

Although I have a good number of works that have to do with yarns and fabrics, I don’t consider myself a fiber-artist. I have extreme respect for this type of material and an absolute veneration for those who, on the other hand, know all its secrets and create beauty with it.  I wish the classifications and labels didn’t exist; sometimes it seems that in the visual arts environment, fiber artists are almost considered minor artists, not good enough. I would like to see simply the ability to create wonder and to reveal things that can only be said through these techniques.There are some artists, coming from different backgrounds, who are doing a great job of recognizing the craftsmanship and techniques of weavers, embroiderers etc …, also through the study and rediscovery of traditional processes. One example, Alexis Gautier, a French artist but residing in Brussels, who made an exceptional project that investigated dyeing and printing techniques from Italy to China via India.

“Ci vediamo giù in cortile” (See you down in the courtyard), permanent installation in Viadellafucina16, Turin (IT), 2018.

“In the context of the Viadellafucina16 condominium-museum, three hammocks were installed in the common courtyard, as an invitation to the inhabitants to meet spontaneously in the public-private space. Two panels inform about the house rules, which only include the duty to speak to other users.

A motif from a previous series of drawings is printed on the clothes, inspired by the figures called “desirantes”; according to the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar, they were in charge of waiting for the missing on the battlefield, holding a lighted lamp to indicate the way back.

A wish to the inhabitants to find the basic sociality to build a community”

How has this anomalous last year affected your work and research? And do you think that the changes triggered by the pandemic will lead to a different way of operating in the artistic and cultural sector?

Although I work mainly in public spaces and these have been for the most part inaccessible or usable to a limited extent, I believe that the last few months have been moments of confirmation for me. Precisely because people found themselves in a condition of deprivation, I had the certainty that I was investigating the right needs. In fact, well before the pandemic I had started thinking about the need to get out of the continuous flow of events and activities in favor of a different presence in the world, which would add more quality to relationships and time.I allowed myself to rethink our attitude towards digitization and the dematerialization of many elements of our lives (let’s be clear, not in a total refusal but in the education of use and attention to the mutual relationship between virtual and real).

What project are you working on right now? Is there a project you would like to be able to shape in the short or long term?

In recent months I have been dedicating myself to the theme of the relationship between urban planning and sound; thanks to these recent studies I came across a classic text: Murray-Schaffer’s “The Sound Landscape” (1985). In this essay, the author argues for the incompatibility between the city and human life due to the impossibility of detecting a synchrony between the urban soundscape and the natural rhythms of the body, such as heartbeat and breathing.  Here, this mention of breathing has invested me significantly in relation to the specific characteristics of the disease caused by Covid-19. The idea seemed fitting to explain in a simple way the crucial nodes of my research: the need to dwell in the first person on one’s own corporeality in relation to the external space, through an action that we take for granted but which instead is the first way to act on ourselves. Listening to your own breath, seeking harmony with others and with the external environment presupposes a bodily closeness and the choice of a place-moment that we have all now returned to appreciate.

Detail of the intervention performed for “Vuoto Apparente”

“I have always done my best to investigate the reality in which I found myself, in the most open and honest way possible, I have not always succeeded.”