Weaving the space: interview with Eleonora Gugliotta

Room # 10 - Neurological, Psychiatric Hospital of Volterra, 2017. Fine art print, 90 x 60 cm

Italian

Translation by Eleonora Lo Prato

Eleonora Gugliotta was born in 1989 in Capo d’Orlando (ME) and after spending her university years in Palermo, she moved to Milan where she specialized in Visual Arts at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts. Immediately attracted by the expressive potential of photography, she later went on to experiment with other languages ​​such as performance, installation, urban intervention. She has participated in numerous group exhibitions with projects ranging from installation to performance in which the user is often invited to interact with the work. She made her debut with a first solo exhibition in 2015 at Piero Manzoni’s former studio in Milan; in 2017 in Venice she collaborated with the Spain pavilion during the Architecture Biennale; in 2018 she is present with a project at MACRO in Rome and in 2019 she is the winner of the first prize of Paratissima Art Fair Turin.

www.eleonoragugliotta.com

Frame from the performance “Funeral Rite to the Earth”, 2020

Thread is one of the mediums you use most frequently in your work. What was the decisive element for this choice? What expressive possibilities – and what limits – does it have in your artistic research?

Whether these are  yarns or hair, the filaments are for me ideal tools that allow me  to intervene in space and beyond. They interest me for several reasons: sustainable, functional and aesthetic.

Sustainable because of their easy availability, for their strong connection with nature (the first fiber conceived is the natural one) and it is a material that tends to be scantly used and not harmful to the environment. The functional aspect is certainly linked to their resistance, flexibility and elasticity, virtues that make it also a very versatile and at the same time durable material, in fact it adapts to different uses in addition to the classic weaving. By controlling the direction of the single thread it becomes like the mark of a pen that draws what the hand orders and the mind decides. If stretched, the wires become similar to straight lines, sometimes becoming points of connection and junction between several elements or visible trails of the motion of bodies in space. Leaning on surfaces in their randomness or immersed in liquids, they recall both the chaos of the cosmos and the sinuosity of forms known in nature – its perfection and imperfection -. The way in which the material is treated also has to do with aesthetic reasons.

Armonia, 2016. Wool threads on the wall, 140 x 190 cm

A limitation that several times has prompted me to question myself about my real belief in continuing with its use is the association – often automatic – that the thread has with the female figure, I am referring to the less emancipated one. Obedient, caring, patient and servile, devoted to home, sewing or doing embroidery, waiting dreamily and silently for her man returning from work … In short, a series of configurations that represent an ideal of a submissive woman against whom I struggle with a certain conviction.

Then I felt, having worked on the subject of prejudice, that giving up this material for these reasons would have meant submitting to my own prejudice, and so I simply left that thought out

Dimora, 2020 Mixed media; 10 x 12 x 10 cm

Award-winning at Paratissima 2019, your “Ambienti” project photographs installations made with wire in abandoned spaces. How do you relate to the place in which you build a new architecture? Is it an ongoing relationship that develops from the moment you begin to be part of that environment or is it a project that you develop and define starting from an inspection and before the actual implementation?

The criterion I use to create the installations of the Ambienti series is dictated by my personal overview built mentally in a long process of observation of the chosen shot, immediately after identifying the site of intervention. Everything related to the construction method, as well as the aesthetic and formal side of the project, is generally formulated by being interpreted from a specific side or point of observation, precicely the one from which it is photographed. A bit like the site-specific installations photographed by George Rousse – who strongly inspired my work from a formal point of view – teach us the perspective of observation is essential for reading the composition.

From the point of view of gesture control, when I start to “weave the space” I myself become the pencil that runs on the sheet to construct the scene, and every single thread measures and becomes a witness of my steps that run and retrace the space, seeking a dialogue with it. Like a spider I follow a hypnotic flow, slow and accurate, sometimes compulsive, not always controlled, often not at all.

The gestural flow is therefore marked by a rhythm determined by the feelings of the moment and therefore for me it is never totally pre-configurable. To come to the point, control and chance are alternated, in the same way as our existence is constituted by a continuous alternation between reason and irrationality. An art that leaves no room for chaos / chance is an art that is a bit monotonous to me or it is decorative.

Portrait 1

What does it mean for you to redesign a space that has been lived and abandoned, dialoguing with its past, moving among the objects that bear witness to its memories

It should be noted that the settings of my interventions are chosen with great care, as they are not simple ‘places of the past now abandoned’ but spaces that I define “places of Modernity”, or sites that, for their original function or their architectural feature, identify the precise historical and social moment of crossing from the past to the future era. Specifically, that period of transition in which everything, from everyday tools to living spaces, but also and above all the very concept of life, needed a radical change. And what to do with what was no longer considered functional, aesthetically avant-garde, responding to an increasingly frenetic existence, to a pressing, nagging and deaf consumerism?

The answer was simply: nothing. We haven’t even asked ourselves the problem, or at least most of the time. The fact is that I firmly believe that inside every object or place (artificial or natural), every action (the most instinctive or the most constructed), something much greater is hidden, a complex history or a very simple meaning and it deserves our interest. And that is why I bring to the attention of those who look at scenarios to which no more importance is attached, spaces whose voice no longer wants to hear anyone. Yet those places, those objects, still exist and carry with them all the memorial baggage they are soaked in.

Ambienti #1 – Milano, 2015. Fine art print, 60 x 90 cm

Ambienti #5 – Stalla, Caprauna, 2017. Fine art print, 60 x 90 cm

Faced with some scenarios, I feel the need, with an almost sacred care, to bring my attention, my color, my caresses, my time into those spaces. The time I spend inside them is like an intimate dialogue between two strangers without a voice or time who, however, want to know each other deeply, who attract each other and start making love.

This game or gesture of gratitude, ephemeral and useless if we want, even difficult to use by those who are not there, perhaps poses the question: what is art if not the aura behind an action? I fill with color and unpredictable signs, dismal lifeless static ruins that exude memories that no longer interest anyone. I like to believe that, through my intervention, those heavy blocks can lighten their weight, they can almost become ethereal or at least the center of a scene as they have not been since time immemorial.

Multilivello – Gratitude, 2018; Mixed technique on plexiglass; 63 x 69 cm approx

Frame of the performance “Catarsi Crisadelica”, 2016

The stratification of memory and consequently of human experiences and feelings is a very recurring theme in your works; I am thinking, for example, of the works of the “Multilivello” series but also of the performance “Catarsi crisadelica” or, as mentioned above, of the same project dedicated to abandoned environments. Is your art (also) a voice that transforms individual experience into universal and compresses time into an eternal present in which past, present and future can dialogue or is it something else?

 

Absolutely yes. The reasons for each single work I carry out are very deep, and concern the intimacy of the human soul and its experience in the world, and often take their cue from my personal history to become investigations anyone can recognize themselves in. During my academic studies I realized how my attention turned towards objects, tools and places.  Only later I would discover the symbolic reason that lead me to them.  What I was interested in exploring started from the behavioral dynamics of the individual, and to do this certain factors were essential, without them I believe nothing would ever have been possible: acute and patient observation skills, an insistent curiosity and the deep courage to probe personally the terrain of that complex world which is experience.

And it was this process that led me to finish my academic studies with the performative project “Catarsi Crisadelica”, a very intimate work that concerns the evolutionary process of man, his difficulty in detaching himself from the known world to adapt to an uncertain world, hyper-constructed, disarming, very distant from the purity and simplicity that initially regulated this world, a world which therefore – more or less gradually or gently – presents itself to us. Multilevel, a series of collages with materials such as fabrics, yarns, papers and other materials are assembled and worked on multiple layers, highlighting different levels of interpretation of the work, which recall the existence of multiple levels of experience in a man’s life.

Multilivello – Dono, 2019. Mixed technique on plexiglass, 90 x 90 cm

Often the fiber-art installations are monochromatic: your works (all), on the other hand, are always very colorful. What role does color play in your works?

Color for me represents very trivially vitality, strength, joy but also hope, optimism, alternative, openness. The set of these colors that come together with each other is for me an energetic push to restlessness and to the darker side that often prevails around us and within us. During an exhibition, some time ago, a young student said to me looking at the images of my installations in abandoned places: “those colorful and unpredictable taut threads are like children playing with their gray and rigid grandparents”. I think that boy has perfectly grasped my intention as the tension I create through those colored textile geometries, which emerge with a strong chromatic contrast from the dark and gray of the past time, are like footholds to stay alive.

particular Ambienti #5 – Stalla, Caprauna, 2017. Fine art print, 60 x 90 cm

When I was 23 I arrived in the gray Milan from my sunny and lively Sicily, I made a series of splashes of color with ecoline, I chose one of these shapeless spots and I had it tattooed on my arm, then on my whole side I had a phrase from a poem by C. Pavese reproduced indelibly, announcing an optimistic promise: “Every new morning I will go out into the streets looking for colors”. Those “colors” are perfectly replaceable by the word “peace” or “joy”, which has always been sought after by everyone. Well, they happen to be always there with us, only sometimes we forget it or we don’t know it. So seeing that spot of color on my body serves to remind me that I have with me everything I need for my journey.

Spoglie: Sicilia, 2020, capelli su carta trasparente, 150 x 96 cm

From wire to hair: how did you come to experience such a particular medium? What technical and symbolic characteristics convinced you to this choice?

In addition to the common characteristics of these two filamentary materials (albeit in different scales), that is the aesthetic, functional and sustainable ones mentioned above, I believe that the main reason why I chose to work with the element of the hair was more the meaning that this assumes in Western society or, perhaps it would be better to say “westernized”… At a precise moment in my journey I was facing the theme of prejudice, of modesty as the result of a persuasive social construction induced or handed down through the expressive medium of art. With the various series of works that are part of “Microcosmic Scoria”, my experiment which had a clear provocative, sarcastic and experimental intent started with firmness.

By submitting to the user an object – presented as an artistic object – covered, however, with textures composed of hair, dander, dust, crumbs, fluff and other waste microelements of man’s daily life, he was immediately placed in front of his inhibitions, his modesty. It was interesting, and I must say funny, to notice the reactions and behaviors they had immediately afterwards. At the end of a series of tests I had deduced, with an absolute personal vision, that the feeling they manifested in front of these minute and defenseless elements corresponded to the one they had with their own intimacy. It amused me to believe that when they laughed amused I thought that they lived their intimacy with a certain freedom, tolerance and lightness, when instead they reacted with exasperated disgust or with fear, phobia, scandal, etc., here those feelings coincided – very likely – with the their relationship with intimacy.

Microcosmic Slag – Prototypes; on the left prototype of toilet paper roll, on the right prototype of plate

Another reason for the use of this material is the presence / absence of the human figure, an element that somehow also appears in almost all the other works, and which, however, in the projects in which this specific type of “human trace”, This relationship becomes even more evident; I think precisely because the fur / hair is nothing more than an extension of the body. Anchored to it, it carries with it important genetic information that lasts over time, yet “civilized” cultures have from time to time increasingly reduced it to useless, unsightly and unsanitary waste of the skin. In the event that it is found on the head where it returns to be essential, to the point of bringing those who do not find them to transplant them. It gives life to manic care and attention only to return to consider them disgusting at the sight of one of these no longer attached to the scalp. Thinking about it better, isn’t it a bit strange to you too?

particolare 2 Armonia, 2016, Fili di lana su muro

What are your sources of inspiration and what is the genesis of your works? How do you proceed from the idea to the realization?

I tend to like to start first from the expressive language that I feel the need to experience rather than from the theme. This is because, as I have already said, for me the instinctive component and that linked to action are essential phases of the ideation, also because I discover the common thread during the course of the work. I must also say that I often re-elaborate ideas born as real “intuitions” during my childhood.

In my artistic career, academic studies and the ability of some teachers to convey the best of this fantastic world that is art were fundamental, in addition to my taking part in the artistic proposal of the city where I lived. In Palermo, for example, studying Graphic Design at the Academy of Fine Arts gave me a good aesthetic-formal foundation, mainly linked to the use of technical tools such as computer science, photography, graphics, applied to contemporary art – starting from technical and graphic realization of an artistic project to arrive at its presentation and cataloging. In the early years in Palermo my interest in art was mainly focused on photography and street-art. Later I discovered some languages ​​of the latest trends in contemporary art in which I recognized myself most and which have given a very strong imprint to my work to date.

Having then the opportunity to live in a metropolis like Milan and discovering better the phenomenology of contemporary art, sociology and philosophy of art, but also cultural anthropology, inevitably my mental processes of elaboration of reality have gone more and more transformed, moving towards a certain type of critique of contemporary society. In this way, various authors began to stimulate me and not just visual artists or some specific artistic languages, I was more interested in their stories, perhaps even more their ideology and their social commitment. Serge Latouche, Guy Debord, Jean Baudrillard, Georges Bataille, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Michel Foucalult, Jacques Lacan to name a few.

But the main figures who have greatly inspired and influenced my work are the artist friends, historians, sociologists and anthropologists I met in the last 5 years, many of whom are united by belonging to libertarian ideologies (some more or less consciously).

Spoglie – South America, 2020, hair on transparent paper, 148 x92 cm

What project are you working on right now and which one would you like to work on in the future?

During the first half of this particular year, in the forced isolation and prolonged estrangement from my main affections (geographically far from me), in Milan I had very strong reflective stimuli linked once again to human relationships, to our fragility and difficulties of adaptation, themes that have always been investigated in my research. This time, as never before, I also heard the cry of a wounded, exhausted, furious and violent Earth. While the echo of this violence resounded around us all, my only feeling was compassion for Mother Earth rather than for her children. We living beings are nothing but the inhabitants of this gigantic house, which, however, we have not been able to care for, respect and that we have actually squeezed every last drop. Land of whose death we are solely responsible

In that context, series of works were born in which I related geographical representations of portions of territories with tangles of human hair, thus preconfiguring a sort of earth hysteresis (to quote Baudrillard). In fact, in addition to being considered sacred for some cultures and having foundations in very ancient rituals, human hair is in fact – together with nails – the only part of the human body that continues to grow after death.

Different moments of the performance “Funeral Rite to the Earth”, 2020

During the summer, performances were made that were Funeral Rituals in honor of the Earth. Inspired by the funerary rites of Ancient Greece, my hair was pulled out to be arranged to cover the body – represented by places in our land – and trasform once the ritual is finished: remains. Hardly distinguishable layers of hair that recreated the silhouettes of the various continents of the Earth, imperceptible, fleeting, just like the memories of the lost person.

Spoglie, Studio 5, 2020, collage, 33 x 27 cm

And after death? I like to believe there is a REBIRTH.

New material surfaces are being prepared in which continents will be visible, whose shapes are modeled on shapes that are compared to those known but in fact non-existent, sprouted from seeds / values ​​such as respect for the freedom of others, equality with the different and the weaker , the rejection of any kind of imposition and power, the denial of material enrichment … hence their name of “Utopian Continents”.

Paesaggio utopico, Studio 1 2020, collage, 35 x 35 cm