On the occasion of her first solo show in the United Kingdom organized by Arcade, Sisters, we met Chiara Camoni (Piacenza 1974).
Sara Buoso: Dear Chiara, having seen the solo-exhibition ‘Sisters’ at Arcade, the first words that came into my mind were Material and Feminine. Christian Mooney, the director of the gallery, also mentioned how your practice can find references to the historical work of Italian women artists, such as Marisa Merz. Can you tell us a little bit more about this artistic approach?
Chiara Camoni: In the exhibition, I wanted to talk about an Identity and a Belonging to the idea of Being Female. I have been recently involved in a discussion about the network of women artists in Italy, as I had proposed during my recent intervention at the Women’s Library in Milan. While we can find many ‘sisters’ in contemporary arts, including artists to whom I am personally or collaboratively related, it’s more complicated to find ‘mothers’, both because they were less and because it is more difficult to reconstruct the different traces of history. Thus, it becomes important to reconstruct a small history of art, of different generations, not only of artists, but also of women intellectuals and philosophers, to think of this meaningful passage, so that the idea of female identity can continue in an active way. As a female artist, my personal identity arises in an archaeological way, related to an arcane place, a territory where I always come back, researching a kind of ambiguity, a duality. The Sisters on show at Arcade, some of them are friendly figures, others are sinister, some smile with irony, others are black and in the dark. They are presence before sculpting. From the causality of the matter they appear to me, like sculptures in a grave: they accompany us, they appear to us. They have an artistic, an aesthetic value and a function. Sculpture is giving shape. It is the act of giving shape to a sculpture that characterizes it, through a practical function and by being tuned to it. I am obsessed with the relation between Sculpture and reality, as Arturo Martini said in Pittura Lingua Morta: “An apple modelled by Fidia remains an object, but a painted apple is an expression of art, even when it is painted badly.” For example, a Vase is a sculpture and an object, placing the equivocal limit of the matter. Other objects that I’ve been interested me for their ambiguity are toys founded in tombs, everyday objects, or the sculpture-whistles, 2016, which I staged as if they were thought for an improvised but powerful concert. In the exhibition, the sculptures carry candles. They are like in a small grotto, a cave. Hence, the decision not to put anything else.
S.B. What can you tell me about the title of the show?
C.C. It’s a text that I conceived, such as a rhyming, an archaic jingle. It seemed to me the most suitable thing, without the need to include additional words in the exhibition’s press release. Such as an archaic and infantile sound, playing with the word Sisters, who whispers obsessively in and out of the text. The Sisters are figures close us, such as imaginations from the unconscious. Some of them are made of clay, working with the eyes closed, a practice in which I am particularly interested in. There are the ‘naughty sister’ – Sister # 3 – and the ‘tearful one’ – Sister # 2 – who cries wax while holding two twisted candles: in this process, the wax spreads everywhere, and the sculptures grow, change. The ‘aunt figure’, the oldest one, sees her hair growing – Sister # 4 – which is the closest sculpture to earth. In the end, there is the one holding three candles – Sister # 1, the closest to us, which more classically carries the shape of a candlestick with two arms and two vessels.
S.B. Could you talk about the relation between Matter and Abstraction, which I have noticed in other works such as Vuoti di pieni/Pieni di vuoti (Voids of Solids/Solids of Voids), 2016, Untitled (Mosaic) # 2, 2012, Untitled (Terracotta Army), 2012, as very well illustrated in the catalogue for the exhibition ‘Certain Things’ at the Nomas Foundation in December 2015.
C.C. It is an operation of unrolling / rolling the matter, in relation to the works you refer to. The creative process is what confirms the organicity of matter, but it merges with biographical aspect as well. In Sisters, it’s a process of becoming, a revealing of the cosmos, where the figures illuminate on display.
S.B. Would you tell me a bit more about your practice?
C.C. My is a practice in autonomous, but also of working with other people, such as an affective proximity. For example, I made some drawings with my grandmother, causal projects – La Grande Madre, Capolavori and Amanuense, as described in the text Racconterò una storia – where there is something unique that I would never have achieved by myself, a proximity and an inside. But I also work with children, with friends, and with people from my city. Working primarily at home, I came to realize how home is also lived by other people. In the collective sessions, truth and free-play emerge. By working with children, I leave the process open to interferences and unpredictability. With children, you can transgress the rules in the artistic work. In other occasions, I was interested in participation, such as for workshops designed for Nomas Foundation: a series of spontaneous activities both for children and for adults, which continued throughout the period of the exhibition, around the idea of a vase grid. Another example is work, Il Grande Baccano (The great uproar), 2016, where I worked with 750 childrens. In this case, I could not use the initially proposed recycled materials, so I decided to use a percussion instrument to establish a synergy between the parts such as a unique vision.
S.B. What strikes me in your work is the freshness of the images that, although tied to an archaeological dimension, present themselves as active presences, invoking a public participation. In this aspect, I find affinities with paintings by your husband, Luca Bertolo.
C.C. My work starts with an archetype to project the arcane. My sculptures are active. Their strength lies in the context of art, so they make sense and my practice tries to let the sense of sculpture emerge. The sculptures are present as if they are talking, they ask for the time to be listened. They are in an active present, like a perceiving whisper. In the case of Sisters’ exhibition, Chirstian Mooney has now, for example, the custody of the sculptural grotto that I have realized on at the moment, and I asked him to update me on its course during the time of the show. He will establish a familiarity with the figures during the path of making and becoming of the works. Similar works are, for example, the sculptures with flowers – Ninessa # 2, Ninessa # 3, 2015, that, when in the collector’s hands, they ask him to take care of them, by watering the plants.
S.B. Referring to the title of the catalogue and of the exhibition ‘Certain Things’ exhibition at the Nomas Foundation, what do exactly you mean by this definition? Does it come from the use of everyday objects or is it more wide understanding of your artistic practice and the artistic matter?
C.C. These words are positions, affirmations, like working with sculpture. It is a public statement from the classic idea of monument, but it is also a challenge over time. It is a process of working with transience, a process of becoming that will be informed by the practice itself, such as for the example of the Goddess with snakes, a Cretan statuette representing a female figure capable of giving life and death, a very strong image. In my attempt to reproduce that image, such as in the opera La Venere senza serpenti (The Venus without Snakes), 2015, the snakes are no longer there, because it is no longer the time. Working with the archaic, in my case, does not want to be a stylistic citation, but it is a love for that space, such as for the drawing with my grandmother, and as if there was a common thread between times and places. This thread loosens like extensions. An example of this, it is the video which documents the project of a statue inserted in a grotto, an archaic and pagan female figure depicted by Luca, to whom I worked last summer in religious and pagan places, such as a hermitage in Abruzzo – Una storia (A story), 2016. In the production time, it happened that I turn on the camera, where I recorded the image, the sound and the production process held in Pistoia. In the video, I resumed the project’s research: a catalyst, a movement, a synthesis, an opening, moving from my talking with friends to the making of the work. Of course, I’m tied to the classical idea of the art-work, but I’m trying to move towards the real. It happened that the last day of the project, the police contacted me to tell me that the statuette had been stolen. At that point, I had just finished the video of the sequence, and the statue seems to be still present in that record of the process. It is the artist’s gesture today: a moment of life.
S.B. What remains of the other 7 Sisters?
C.C. I have not thought about it deliberately, well … it may be that they are about to appear …
Chiara Camoni, Sisters, 2017. Installation view (nocturnal), Arcade
Chiara Camoni, Sister 3 (detail), 2017. Iron, glazed clay, candles, fire, 155 x 35 x 35 cm
Chiara Camoni, Sister 1 (detail), 2017. Iron, glazed clay, candles, fire, 180 x 134 x 110 cm.
Chiara Camoni, Sister 2 (detail), 2017. Iron, glazed clay, candles, fire, 168 x 60 x 80 cm.
Chiara Camoni, Sister 2 (detail – clay), 2017. Iron, glazed clay, candles, fire
with weird whiskers.
Three Furies sisters
in the night resisters.
with an S that whispers.
Five sisters here refers,
were good listeners.
were horse riders.
Nine Sisters are blowing
whistles and throwing.
Ten Sister Candelabra