*Featured photo: “L’Insostenibile leggerezza dell’essere”, tapestry (made during the months of confinement for Covid 19 and unfinished due to a broken loom subbio, a metaphor for the days lived in which people could not be called to come to the house to fix things, which is why I was forced to close it like this, unfinished), 85 x 29 cm, 2020. Copyright Mara Di Giammatteo
Visual and textile artist, professor of Painting, Weaving and Natural Dyeing, Mara Di Giammatteo graduated in Painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna at the Pozzati Concept School. Her research is based on the study of idioms and traditions, her languages of choice are embroidery and weaving. In her works, the word acquires a density of meanings that is accompanied by the aesthetic value of the signifier. Among the themes dealt with, memory turns out to be the main one, a sort of common thread that binds all her creations.
Art and tradition: how do these two elements combine in your research?
Through language or, to be more precise, through writing. I borrow a quote from Roland Barthes in which he states that “Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It’s like having words as fingers, or fingers on the tips of my words.” Well, my research on memory has always been pitted off like this, through writing: I’ve always been a visual artist who has always been writing.
What role and value does the word assume in your works?
Initially the word constituted the body of my painting, like a gestural imprint, a trace; I recreated new writings even through repeated cancellations. Subsequently I integrated my research with the recovery of some traditional songs, singing myself and going back to my origins, going backwards in an anthropological investigation that linked me to my territory, recognized not only in the family and “biological” sense, but especially cultural. In those same years (we are talking about the 90s) my practice was oriented more towards the creation of conceptual and sound installations in which tradition was linked to the relationship I established between my research and the popular culture found in written-oral sources. The next phase of my journey was directed towards the ancient art of wool processing, an element that belonged as knowledge and profession to my grandparents who lived on the slopes of the Gran Sasso. This is how I deepened my knowledge of tapestry weaving and natural dyes. Using dyeing plants typical of the places of my childhood allows me to mark time: each month of the year is characterized by one or more colors depending on whether it is the moment of flowering or harvesting. My research is now oriented towards this: the slow pace, writing through embroidery and weaving.
Coming to the theme of memory and the languages used, in what way and to what extent has being Christian Boltanski’s assistant left a mark on your poetics?
The meeting with Christian Boltanski, even if it lasted the very short time of setting up an exhibition, was magical! Of him I remember above all the sharing of silence, of the listening time necessary to get in touch with his works, the awareness of being “here and now”, in that precise moment, in those precise spaces where then slowly every day, the hundreds of boxes found their monumental order.
Here, silence and listening were the elements that I shared most with him, even if outside of work he was an extremely nice and very approachable person, I will always remember him as my soul guide. It was not easy not to let yourself be contaminated by his poetics.
In your works you show a high sensitivity and attention in bearing witness to what has been and which risks no longer being. The latter aspect has also recently been applied to ecological-environmental issues: how and why?
Working for over 30 years on the poetics of memory leads at a certain point to become memory and writing yourself, to look at all the work done up to that moment and ask yourself cyclically: what is left of it? What is it that remains over time? …Does a work need to survive over time?My creations are entrusted to the memory of the knowledge of the hands and the hands move to the rhythm of the heart which takes and releases words, perhaps even those of the past, of those who preceded me.
We live in a world of devices, we are suffocated by waste and perhaps art, artists, can – now more than ever – communicate with their works that there is a need to change our lives, our habits, our choices as fast as possible.
If our work remains over time, it must respond to this change, recover the temps perdu, which, as U. Galimberti maintains: “is a time where socio-anthropological and aesthetic phenomena intertwine; a time that has become unstable and cannot be projected; a time that cannot be rediscovered but must, if anything, be abandoned to be subsequently re-created with the due spacing and due pauses, which allow it to be decanted.
And for this to happen, it is first of all necessary for man to recover the notion and conception of the interval, present in the rhythms of nature, in the seasons, in the body rhythms. (…)
Past, present, future: what value do you attribute to the passing of time? How do past and present intertwine and coexist in the plots of your works?
When I think about my work, I see it as an infinite canvas; I interweave writing continuously, I add or subtract elements, I ask the same things I’ve always done and then I start again. It is an endless journey where the past feeds the present and the present intertwines with the future which will soon become the past and useful material for a self-regenerating cycle… who knows until when!
Your practice is strongly rooted in the territory in which it develops: can you describe this aspect to us?
My work and my life take place mainly between the mountains of Abruzzo and the Bologna area. I am very interested, also thanks to the collaboration activated for some years with the Museum of Rural Civilization of Bentivoglio (BO), to know and recover the knowledge related to the supply chain and the cultivation of sativa hemp. Thanks to this versatile fiber, our peasant ancestors created everything they needed, from fabrics to ropes, they exploited its dyeing and phytotherapeutic properties, they extracted the best humus to fertilize the fields. Nature is a reservoir of knowledge, we need to find a way to recover, recognize and borrow them as possible small solutions for change and improvement to restore human beings to their earthly dimension in this small world, while there is still time… are were still in time?
Finally, what direction is your most recent research taking?
Although in the last year I have dedicated myself more to embroidering words than to weaving them on the loom, probably as a consequence of the thematic choice of the exhibitions I have worked on, I am very interested in wandering between the two languages, overcoming the boundaries between iconography and logos , as happened with the tapestry S’incomincia where the qr code woven in large dimensions, if read from a mobile phone at a safe distance, opens the link to a video of a poetess of Gran Sasso to whom my work is dedicated.