Drawings from Lighting. Curated by Laura Santamaria


An in-depth conversation with Laura Santamaria, artist and curator of Drawings from Lighting

The light and the graphic sign have always shared affinities in the historical-artistic discourse and the project Drawings from Lighting seems to contribute to this investigation with an innovative input, starting from a specific physical phenomenon (the Upward Positive Leader) to discuss the energy and the vitality of Drawing and Light. Could you better describe this analogy?
I can not think of word to start this conversation except ‘energy’, the manifestation of this force through natural, human and artistic approaches. The natural phenomenon “Upward Positive Leaders” projects us into the vision of an upside down lightning, that, similarly to a tree, lets its branches growing upward. It is an invitation to reconsider the pre-established, dogmatic visions of things by activating a different perspective – I would say overturned – of our way of seeing and participating into the world. The metaphor of this lightning is the pretext for an existential identification with it, finding its roots in Romanticism, where the natural phenomena were responsible for originating ideas, mirroring affective and psychological conditions, thus leading the artist to new understanding of human consciousnesses, therefore artistic ones. It was my intuition – and also thanks to the dialogue with my fellow artists – to bring back to the center this interpretative dynamics in contemporary times, focusing on the role that artists have in interacting with cosmic forces through a shared project. The limits of nature in the nineteenth-century, have extensively expanded because we have a new mapping of the cosmos, we have reached the space, and achieved evidence for the invisible reality that moves our perceptual parameters, starting with quantum physics and neurosciences. We have encountered the infinite in the true sense of the term. We are facing a progressive approach to a metaphysical territory where everything becomes possible, moving beyond the natural and visible world. This new understanding of horizons from Romanticism to the contemporary, maintains that intuition of being in relation to nature, and finds a new beginning in the practice of drawing: it is a beginning from the self, through the gesture of one’s hand and one’ s vision, which become the place of union among the two. Lightning becomes a paradigm for discussing talk our existence.

How has the project been articulated for the recent exhibition at Madeinbritaly, at the 20 Bristol Gardens’ in London?
The exhibition Drawings from Lightning at MADEINBRITALY was possible thanks to the dialogue with the director Marco Venturi, coinciding with the introduction of new energies into the project, such as for new invited artists, and through a constructive dialogue with this gallery that, although of new generation, is already very active and sensitive to the intellectual, artistic dynamics. With MADEINBRITALY we have worked on the idea of ​​exhibiting the practice of drawing, a language to which the London art scene is very attentive. In addition to the newly published artistic book Drawings from Lightning, we are exhibiting three new works from the collection – drawings by Debora Hirsh, Barbara De Ponti, David Casini, who have advanced new reflections on this subject. Also for the first time, a photograph by Alessandro Di Giampietro – from the series Lightning Portraits, portraits of the artists participating to the project; a landscape from the series Vespri by Valentina D’Amaro, showing an inedited palette of blue’s variations, emerged from the drawing in the collection. And in conclusion, four of my drawings – the latest production from blacksmoke – which investigate new signs of ‘the flame’ that since 2008, have been articulated through progressive experiments, giving new versions of the flame-sign, as in my work in the collection. In addition to the exhibition’s format, we are also focusing on the practice of talk, understood as a field of dialogue and confrontation with the public, which always turns out to be very attentive and sensitive. The idea is to create a community around drawing, and the fact we are developing a narrative, an inter-textual practice, as well as a conceptual framework, I think it is a very interesting aspect. Along with the purpose of giving a new statement to Drawing, this is a way of transferring identity and existential questions to the work, such as underlining the condition of establishing a relationship with the cosmos, through forces that act beyond the tangible.

I would like to dwell on the more evident stylistic trait of the works here exhibied, with a focus on the cosmic energies of drawing, articulated in terms of conceptual, experiential and material approaches. Starting from this new vision of drawing, how have you comprehensively conceived the project, progressively enriched by new works?
The most surprising aspect that I constantly face by working on this project, is its continuous transformation. It is the manifestation of a strong, intrinsic vitality in the collection, such as a true metaphysical place where I have the privilege to be, acting as the first spectator. This project is constantly changing, nowadays in a very autonomous way, and I simply facilitate the needs of the moment, such as a continuous turn-over of energies. The main feature is the form of authenticity that defines participation in this vision. It is a spontaneous and natural metamorphosis, derived from the image of an upside down lightning, which I employed as a metaphor. To begin with the first works in 2013, the exhibition in Berlin in 2014, the publication of the artists’ book last year and this latest exhibition, there has always been a change in terms of potential energy, and in fact the updating of the drawings is a snap-shot of the current state of the research. We can trace a specific focus on the cosmic, drawn from the theme, but simultaneously a contradiction has arisen, rethinking drawing outside the idea of being at the origin of artistic-works. From this perspective, drawing becomes a disembodied practice, a process of essentiality and at the same time, a statement that tells us how each artist understands his/her role more or less explicitly, becoming – it is not improbable to say – a form of self-portrait. This is a force that has no precedents, no previous examples, and this is the most significant contribution of Drawings from Lightning, such as a new star that encapsulates the constellation we have been observing for a long time.

It seems to me that the common trait between the works, coul be understood as an investigation of the invisible. How would you describe the relationship that artists have developed with the art-historical imagery, and on the other hand, with to the most modern technologies?
The invisible that exists – and interacts – finds an affinity with the contents of the investigation on energy, proposed by quantum physics, understood as an awareness that moves humanity away from the logic of the tangible to directly encounter the forces that govern the extra-sensibile. The subtle nature of these themes is touched and investigated by artists who are receptors to every discovery in these fields. Art, that has always questioned the specificity of the visible, has never missed a kind of participation into the super-substantialem – mainly thanks to intuition and imagination – such as an attitude that participates in this territory, offering its own contribution to the progress of this investigation. These are articulations that spontaneously find a form in the time of intuition: the instantaneous lightning that through this passage, becomes light, energy, listening, dialogue, and vision. As for experimental practices, an example of this is Daniele Girardi’s gunpowder, where the explosion on the paper, creates a drawing from a direct dialogue with the matter. Specifically speaking on the relationship with the historical background, the work San Lorenzo by Maria Morganti, composed an ideal temporal ellipse, suggesting a dialogue with a work by Titian – the altarpiece in which a dying San Lorenzo looks up to the sky, focusing on a ray of light penetrating from darkness. This ray of light is a symbol and a prophecy, introducing a dreamlike, spiritual dimension, and establishing a significant conjunction between the contemporary vision and the iconographic tradition of the seventeenth century. The drawing Be-Side by Chiara Pergola analyzes perception, with interest in the ways in which our cognitive system balances and redoubles with reality, to reach a new state of consciousness, arguing that we participate in the world through fragments of images, organizing them each time by creating a unique, harmonic system, filtered by our subjectivity. Another artist who is working on an interesting investigation of drawing is Michele Guido who has made a work in which we see the geometry of a cactus coinciding with the perspective of a pyramid seen from above, such as a mirror-image of architecture and botanics, originated from the book Hypnerotomachia Poliphili by Francesco Colonna of 1499. This is a book that have influenced both of us. In my case, for the perspective that analyzes the relation between eros and space, as I have recently interpreted for my Hypnero (Erotic Dream) installation at the Whitechapel Gallery in 2015. I can also refer my work with fire, discussing the idea that drawing can transcend the unilateral act of imposing a sign onto the sheet, but it becomes a a territory of dialogue with matter, in which my gesture and the flame are placed at the same level. It is the matter that expresses itself and at the same time pushes me to be its medium, a reversal of roles and a new understanding of the artistic process. It is as if the principle medium of drawing, pencil for example, does not have a fixed instrumentality, but it changes the conceptual understanding of the medium, becoming author. This is an intuitive vision and I find proofs in quantum physics, where matter is described as a continuous movement in relation to other energies. In my case by developing an empathic sensitivity to the flame, I have gained access to the understanding of a perpetual transformation of matter. I became aware of being matter of a wider matter, hence in a relationship that transcends the division between author/medium/work, by being in a process, where the three components are placed at the same plane of reciprocity and time.


Drawings from Lightning, artists’ book /collection of drawings, curated by Laura Santamaria, self published, 2016. Pages: 31 art works. Edition: 250 numbered copies. Dimensions: 42 x 30 cm. Language: Italian, English. Offset print – Printed in Italy. Courtesy of Drawings from Lightning


Drawings from Lightning, artists’ book /collection of drawings, curated by Laura Santamaria, self published, 2016. Pages: 31 art works. Edition: 250 numbered copies. Dimensions: 42 x 30 cm. Language: Italian, English. Offset print – Printed in Italy. Courtesy of Drawings from Lightning


Exhibition view: Drawings From Lightning, Madeinbritaly, London. Drawings from Lightning – CABINET OF DRAWINGS -Selected Original Drawings – “Drawings From Lightning” Collection. Courtesy of Drawings from Lightning – Madeinbritaly


Exhibition view: Drawings From Lightning – EXHIBITION&TALK: ‘Il Disegno in Mostra’ , Biblioteca Civica d’Arte Luigi Poletti, Modena – Courtesy of Drawings from Lightning, Biblioteca Civica d’Arte Luigi Poletti


Drawings from Lightning, artists’ book /collection of drawings, curated by Laura Santamaria. Debora Hirsh, Upward Lightning, 2017, acrylic and ink, 42 x 29,7 cm courtesy of the artist and Drawings from Lightning


Drawings from Lightning, artists’ book /collection of drawings, curated by Laura Santamaria. Laura Santamaria, Vesta, 2013, blacksmoke and ink on paper. 42 x 29,7 cm courtesy of the artist and Drawings from Lightning


Exhibition view: Drawings From Lightning – EXHIBITION&TALK: ‘Il Disegno in Mostra’ , Biblioteca Civica d’Arte Luigi Poletti, Modena – Laura Santamaria, Chiara Pergola, Barbara De Ponti, Debora Hirsh, ph Marcello Tedesco – courtesy of Drawings from Lightning, Biblioteca Civica d’Arte Luigi Poletti

What you are saying is very beautiful and the way in which you position yourself as an artist and how curator is very remarkable. How did you develop the curatorial concept, starting from the artist’s book to reach such a heterogeneous project in time (2013)? How much your artistic practice has influenced your curatorial practice in this case?
I believe that the choice of the theme and the mercurial modalities with which I propose the project – which have touched territories of four countries such as Germany, Italy, Switzerland and lately Great Britain – are very related to my existential dimension, my inability to identify myself in a specific physical space but as if a continuous passage of continuous movements. The book, the artist book is a travel object, as were the ancient cabinet of drawings, representing a dimension of knowledge of other cultures, and a mode of exploration towards knowledge, mental and imaginary attitudes. Especially in this historical-political context, approaching, sharing and transcending every circumstance that could create separation, becomes a paramount. The flexibility and the incredible mobility that this project has in presenting itself in various fields and always with new implications – from the drawing exhibition in Berlin, to the art book presented by Chiosi in Lugano, or at Fonderia Battaglia in Milan, until the talk in London and Modena – has the character of experimental and authentic approaches, which belong to the procession with which I conduct my research, plus the enrichment from circumstances, dictated by a direct confrontation with the audience. It is a fortunate circumstance thanks to the increasing community of artists expressing their participation, to a network of cultural operators and to the circuit of our sponsors and partners, but also to journalists, galleries and institutions, archives and public libraries who have participated in this reflection by engaging through conscious and constructive dialogue on the practices of contemporary drawing.

Could you tell us a little bit more about the network that you have been able to form around this theme, involving significant artists from the contemporary art scene, including the virtual archive, Drawing Storage, edited by Giovanna Sarti and Revolve: R:, the editorial project curated by Sam Treadaway and Ricarda Vidal. What are you expecting for the future?
The most recent public talk – Between the Ground and the Cloud – the concluding event for the London exhibition at MADEINBRITALY was a particularly significant moment because it confronted the curatorial-artistic profiles from different backgrounds: myself, Giovanna Sarti and Sam Treadaway in collaboration with Ricarda Vidal, but also because it compared contents and results from the three individual projects. The platform was enriched by two testimonials: Enza Galantini and Pietro Reviglio who offered their point of view as invited artists in the projects. The drawing archive – Drawings Storage – by Giovanna Sarti, has more than a hundred international artists and it offers an online accessibility, with an accurate layout that alludes to the idea of ​​an installative display as for recent publications; Revolve: R by Sam Treadaway and Ricarda Vidal is a project that boasts a growing number of publications in the form of limited editions, based on email-exchanges, continuous contaminations and aesthetic references to which the invited artists are asked to interact. Three projects that are confronted with very strong, authentic, and consistent ideas and their operative modes, having created micro-communities of artists who are in dialogue with each other, with the will of transcending the political and geographic limits, that this historical period seems to divide. Art has once again the ability to transcend every limit, every separation. The prerogatives of a direct communication in the talks are effective in the meeting with the public, implementing the conversation started in the backstage, and by deciphering common needs and wills, as emerged from the talk Drawings from Lightning – Il Disegno in Mostra – at Luigi Poletti’s Art Library in Modena, where we proposed a focus on the drawing, juxtaposed by with an in-depth analysis of the original and sight specific work B-Side by Chiara Pergola, with an introduction by Carla Barbieri – Head of the Library’s Modern Funds, and contributions by Barbara De Ponti, Debora Hirsh and myself in relation to new productions and the state of collective research.

I would like to conclude by discussing the actuality of Drawing. What role, you think, this practice has in the technological era of the Millenials and of global information, where the affective trait is mediated by the technological apparatus, influencing content and experience?
The drawing is an artistic act that is now closer to the characteristics of symbol, or to the radical essence obtained through the awareness of this act. It transcends the classical vision of being a medium for the ordering of ideas, and it seems to allude to something that comes later, a later stage of the process. The temporal centrality that it has obtained in contemporary practices, it transcends the moment of ‘after’ by being instantly reabsorbed through consciousness in process. Drawing is free from cognitive meanings and the pragmatism of words, while confirming an intellectual belonging before aesthetic. Simultaneously, it is the act of recuperating a favored circumstance of a deep intimacy, making this act capable of describing a human and infinite condition – a mode immediately extended to infinity where the gesture of drawing is a sign of this accomplishment, a sign representing endless possibilities, such as a meeting with the unknown, a moment in which sign transcends every individuality to become the space with which the cosmos manifests itself and finds its fulfillment. We can say that the artist transcends what drawing understood as a medium for ordering ideas, or as the preparatory moment of a second creative act, so that, by approaching this practice through gesture, becomes a participation in time, no longer unilateral but connecting past and future moments. Drawing is close but it is not yet a symbol, because as it is expressed through the pencil – we here say pencil but modern times the mediums are the most disparate – in that moment the artist has already crossed the limits of thinking to further ones, as if in a instant. The direct dialogue with the self leads to essence and awareness, as I said before, such as a repression of the work through a life’s research. The techniques implemented in this discourse are at the service of this conceptual intentionality, because the conceptual apparatus that leads to this choice is extremely different for each author of this project, even in terms of technical prerogatives, but the common trait is to free oneself from the more traditional, documentary, meditative, preparatory orders. So, what is happening now is the formalization of a tension towards essentiality, understood in terms of time, vision, and artistic act. Drawing is an artistic act that has now a different consciousness from previous ages, founded on an increasingly specific and ever-expanding intellectual implementation.

It seems to me that you have come touched on a theme that requires to be analyzed and rediscovered again, and I see how this network you have been able to create, can more and more expand in a significant way. Congratulations.
I must add that the artist’s book will enter Luigi Poletti’s Art Library in Modena and that my idea is to make a number of donations equal to the number of participating artists, to libraries, Italian institutes and archives that are interested. We have deposited a copy to the Biblioteca Poletti and to the Library of the Museum of the Twentieth Century, but this is an invitation to Institutions to ask for it, because the idea is to offer a testimony that can be consulted by the public also through these channels. This is important to me because it allows us to meet researchers and because I am working for the future student of the Academy in 2076. My work is completely projected towards the future so that tomorrow this project can be the subject of reflection by artists, researchers, curators, critics, educators, and new figures that will arrive. I am working to give a witness to what our ideas, our exchanges are today, and what is our inner world, because very often the single work speaks of the single author but it does not speak of the community. It is with this kind of dialogue and content, that we are working in an authentic and experimental way, placing the vision of today in a future encountering.

Drawings from Lighting
Curated by Laura Santamaria
7 – 20 Aprile 2017
20 Bristol Gardens, London W9 2JQ

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è interessata agli aspetti Visivi, Verbali e Testuali che intercorrono nelle Arti Moderne Contemporanee. Da studi storico-artistici presso l’Università Cà Foscari, Venezia, si è specializzata nella didattica e pratica curatoriale, presso lo IED, Roma, e Christie’s Londra. L’ambito della sua attività di ricerca si concentra sul tema della Luce dagli anni ’50 alle manifestazioni emergenti, considerando ontologicamente aspetti artistici, fenomenologici e d’innovazione visuale.

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