InterviewInterview

INTERVIEW WITH RAFFAELLA BALDASSARRE

Italiano (Italian)

Translation by Elena Redaelli 

Raffaella Baldassarre is among the artists selected for this year’s Tramanda. Born in 1972 in Naples, she finds her way to the fibre art world through an unconventional path.

Baldassarre has a degree in Childhood Neuro and Psychomotricity Therapy and has been involved in children with autism and other developmental disorders rehabilitation for over 20 years. 

Alongside this, she has also cultivated a deep interest in writing and embroidery. She dedicated her time to these practices, first as a self-taught artist following her mother’s early teachings, then taking part in various workshops, and finally enrolling in the High Fashion Embroidery Master at the Maria Mauro Fashion Design Academy.

Her work has been featured in the Clinical psychology course at the “Federico II” University in Naples and has been the focus subject of a film by Cristina Ferraiuolo (for which she wrote the text) selected for numerous documentary festivals. Her studio participated, among other events, in the “Open Studios preview” under the Madre Museum’s Matronage. She has exhibited in several shows, and her works have been selected and awarded in national and international contests.

We took advantage of her double attendance in Turin- at Tramanda and Paratissima – to interview her and make a point of her research’s evolution.

Per un pezzetto di pane |2019 |organza, tulle, panno lenci, cotton, silk, nylon. canvas, wood 135X140x3,6 cm Photo Credit Maurizio Esposito

Can you speak about the artwork on display at TRAMANDA, for those who won’t be able to visit the exhibition?

 

Yes, with pleasure. “Per un pezzetto di pane” is a 150×145 cm work in organza and lenci cloth, the upper part representing a human brain with embroidered neurons and synapses, the lower part featuring an army of mice.

The strong contrast between materials and colours is intentional. On the one side, the organza’s white transparency stand out, and on the other, the lenci cloth’s intense black animates the colony of mice.

This work acquires a dual level of interpretation visually expressed in the possibility of observing the work both as material and as the shadow cast on the canvas. As if outside and inside, thought and action were in dialogue[1]. – The mouse is the symbol of the human being whose actions become more and more similar to those of lab rats: induced and unconscious. Conceptually, “per un pezzettino di pane” is a work that takes its inspiration from my experience of working with children and rehabilitation. I am often asked for therapies based on the operant conditioning approach. In one specific case, the request to use this technique led to a reflection. This is an extensive and complex issue. Neurons, representing our cerebral system, question what we do not by free choice but are guided more or less consciously by the idea of a reward. It is a reflection that I believe concerns all humans beyond my work experience. When this reflection is extended to the therapeutic relationship, or to any other relationship where inequality is concerned, or where there is a hierarchy of powers, the ethical question becomes pressing and necessary. Embroidering this has helped me, if not to resolve it, at least gain awareness of it.

[1]An observation of the art piece moving between the embroidery and its shadow is also a feature in the work’ un giorno di giorno, notte fu’.

Per un pezzetto di pane (detail) |2019 |organza, tulle, panno lenci, cotton, silk, nylon. canvas, wood 135X140x3,6 cm Photo Credit Maurizio Esposito

Per un pezzetto di pane (detail) |2019 |organza, tulle, panno lenci, cotton, silk, nylon. canvas, wood 135X140x3,6 cm Photo Credit Maurizio Esposito

How, when and why did you start using the textile medium in your artistic practice?

 

In 2012, when I first exhibited my installation ilpostodellecose (bottles and found objects), I received an unexpected visit from an important gallery owner. After a few questions about the work on display, he then asked me if I used materials other than the glass in my practice. I believe that with his words, he turned a key, giving me the push to start something that I’d wanted to try for a long time and didn’t dare to undertake. I had always used thread to create, but I never thought my inner drive could be translated into a proper art practice. I started embroidering the next day a new project titled “Nuvole” (Clouds), to which I reserve an intimate space, never shared with the outside world. I owe a lot to that encounter. However, before Tramanda, I thought I was doing something that I would never show to anyone.

Miseria e nobiltà |2017 |nylon, coral, brass plate |25×4,5cm Photo Credit Maurizio Esposito

What themes do you address in your pieces? And what are the sources of inspiration for these works?

I am drawn to the human position, the way each person faces life, the contradictions, the difficulties and the injustices. And yet the man’s ability to move forward, find strength and resources within. What I see around me is inspiring: people, the children of the therapy, a woman in the underground, but also matter and objects. I learned to observe when I started studying psychomotricity. Part of the training consisted of sitting, watching and recording everything the children did and how they did it, without interpretation or judgment. It’s a complex task, but it allows you to look at things in a different way: an attentive, global but neutral sight as objective as possible.

Lately, according to this view, I have been addressing labour issues. The macroscopic cases of exploitation and the widespread, daily abuse that affects many workers: violence, mobbing, the man who dominates the other man.

That is something that humiliates millions of people who nevertheless get by every day. At the same time, I reflect on the issue of social exclusion. I am talking about the loneliness of those who suffer, about the mark we carry when we step outside conventional boundaries, about the tendency to distance ourselves from the discomfort of others. I am just at the beginning, and the theme is challenging. I still don’t know if I will be able to come to terms with it and find a synthesis; I hope so.

Un giorno di giorno notte fu |2020 |wood, acrylic, tulle, silk 150x45x5cm | silk embroidery on tulle mounted in a door frame Photo Credit Ludovico Brancaccio

How do you go about making work?

 

I don’t always follow the same path. Sometimes I think about a topic for a long time. For example, as I told you about the work selected for Tramanda, I found myself in a state of emotional suffering that forced me to think. I had to come to terms with moral and ethical questions. These reflections then found expression through embroidery and sewing.

An exchange, a sort of communication, was created between me and the medium I used: needle and thread stimulated thoughts and vice versa. In this case, the work becomes my way of speaking, expressing and sharing concepts that I cannot otherwise condense. Other times I visualize something, as in the case of the piece “in the pink”. I see an image that begins to stay with me and follows me everywhere. Like a pregnant woman, I live with it silently and patiently until the moment comes and it manifests. Only then do I set off searching for the material I have imagined and wish to use. The search is not always easy. For example, for the “Il pippistrello si crocefigge da solo”, I used special silk that was once used for mourning veils. It is a very light and delicate material. Finding a fabric that would symbolically meet my needs was not easy. Fabrics are real treasures for me. At times, it is the material that inspires me. For example, in “Sei uno Straccio”, I started with a floor mop. 

Creating the work helped me think and distance myself from something too painful. About technique, I follow a similar path. I mean that sometimes I know how to proceed; others, I have to research, study and learn how to do things before making what I have imagined.

In the pink |2021 |glass, Alcantara, paillettes, beads, french wire, thread | rod160x8mm, flag 65x100cm | needlework on Alcantara fixed on glass rod Photo Credit Federico Rivetti

What is the work you feel most attached to, the one you would not want to part with?

 

Although it may seem strange, these two works do not correspond. In fact, the textile work I feel most attached to is Nuvole (Clouds), my first work, which I mentioned previously. I don’t think I won’t be able to part with it. I could call it ‘expressionist embroidery’. When people ask me what I’m embroidering, I say: ‘nothing, I’m following my hand’. Leaving the hand to act freely, following its movement and that of the fabric, I produce images and unexpected marks. It is exceptionally free work, which makes it different from the others subject to a conceptual and technical rigour that I sometimes feel is a limitation. 

Therefore, although it is a very dear work, I believe that it will be free to go when its time comes.

On the contrary, I would not part with my first embroideries. Even those tests to learn new techniques I could define as my “school’s notebooks “. What bound me to these works is the path to get to the final result and what they represent. I was lucky to meet a teacher who understood my urgency and allowed me and still allows me, through fashion, to learn and at the same time express myself with a rare generosity. They are a manifestation of becoming.

Sono uno straccio |2021 |floor cloth, beads, paillettes, cuvettes, strass, thread, chevron |70×51 | needlepoint and crochet on rag Photo Credit Maurizio Esposito

Sei uno straccio |2020 |floor rag, chevron thread 71x50cm | patchwork and crochet embroidery on rag Photo Credit Maurizio Esposito

According to you, what is the artist’s role in contemporary society? And what does ‘making art’ mean to you?

 

I don’t know exactly how to answer the first question, probably because I am moved by a strong inner need. For this very reason, I also feel a strong urge to share. Sometimes I meet people who, looking at my work, experience an intense emotion; they identify with it, they think of it as their own. It is an authentic, profound exchange, complicated to explain in words; perhaps the most appropriate term is “reciprocity”. I think the artist’s role is to offer an alternative means of understanding, direct, clear, without any superstructure; to create something that triggers a joint reflection, to generate awareness, perhaps a change. A form of communication and sharing that does not follow the usual relationship structures but can generate a movement, a thought. This is the meaning of making art, I would say. Creating a work that has an impact, resonates in consciousness, and brings a silent note to vibration.

Il pipistrello si crocifigge da solo |2021 |iron wire silk cotton veil |50x125cm | hand stitched on an iron wire frame Photo Credit Maurizio Esposito

What projects are you planning in the short term? And is there any dream project – an exhibition, a work, an intervention – that you would like to implement?

 

Tramanda is a unique experience that will end in mid-January. The presence of the jury member Fiorenzo Alfieri was particularly significant for me because of his background as a pedagogue. The root that sinks into the childhood soil is a life aspect with which all my dreams and projects have to deal with, sooner or later, and that’s not always easy. In Chieri, I got to know the curator Silvana Nota, the organizers and some of the jury’s members, with whom I would love to work again. The fibre art environment is unconventional, an energy source with a high level of competence and proficiency; there is a genuine desire to meet and exchange, a creative turmoil that stimulates me and benefits art to a great extent. In spring, I will participate in a collective exhibition with the other award-winning artists at Paratissima, where I have just received the Talent Price 2021. It has been a wonderful experience. Paratissima Nice&Fair is an exciting project that brings together emerging artists and young curators. I am happy it will evolve into a new exhibition.

In the meantime, I am working on a series in which I’d like to combine objet trouvé and textiles, I have already created something, but I’m still pretty much in a phase of experimentation and reflection.

My dream? I have many. Among them is an exhibition where my textile works are in dialogue with those made with glass. Although apparently distant, the concepts and materials have specific characteristics that would create a perfect synergy. It would be like bringing together the two halves of the apple. And then continue to study and experiment. As my teacher says, ’embroidery is an infinite world’, and learning is a thought that intoxicates me.

Barbara Pavan

English version Sono nata a Monza nel 1969 ma cresciuta in provincia di Biella, terra di filati e tessuti. Mi sono occupata lungamente di arte contemporanea, dopo aver trasformato una passione in una professione. Ho curato mostre, progetti espositivi, manifestazioni culturali, cataloghi e blog tematici, collaborando con associazioni, gallerie, istituzioni pubbliche e private. Da qualche anno la mia attenzione è rivolta prevalentemente verso l’arte tessile e la fiber art, linguaggi contemporanei che assecondano un antico e mai sopito interesse per i tappeti ed i tessuti antichi. Su ARTEMORBIDA voglio raccontare la fiber art italiana, con interviste alle artiste ed agli artisti e recensioni degli eventi e delle mostre legate all’arte tessile sul territorio nazionale.