In Giulia Spernazza’s work, material, nature and symbol are combined in landscapes that appear to be soft, even when wax and fabric are transformed into stone and marble dust.
Giulia Spernazza is an artist who was born in 1979. Moving between various techniques, but today linked particularly to textile art, her research is about time, soul and space. Time because, through the use of fragile (or vulnerable, as the artist would say) materials, we immediately think of how an external force or the passage of time could impact the work, modifying its structure. In this way, two different temporal dimensions coexist in the viewer’s gaze: on the one hand, the present, visible object and, on the other, the imaginary possibility of destruction, a future change.
Thus, without the need for additional explanations, Spernazza’s work represents a reflection on impermanence, the search for balance and the importance of the here and now. It is no coincidence that inner investigation is one of the fulcrums, which the artist’s language revolves around. The concept of space, on the other hand, plays a functional role. When placed within an environment, the works become microcosms which the artist confronts herself with in search of new visual and material harmonies, prolonging the meditative process with which the whole process is saturated. Over time, Giulia Spernazza has experimented with painting, sculpture, artists’ books, installations and, finally, performances, a change that marks the transition from an abstract dimension to a more concrete one consisting of matter and action. In this process, painting was incorporated into three-dimensionality, even in the case of works placed in wall frames. Her sculpture, initially composed of delicate natural references juxtaposed with ephemeral human figures, has become increasingly essential and conceptual, representing an extreme search for formal synthesis.
Today, one of the artist’s favourite materials is undoubtedly wax, which she uses to give form and support to her works. Its function, however, is also to gently coat surfaces, creating soft, luminous tones. Another medium explored by Spernazza is fabric which, by its very nature, has very strong affective references linked to the body, the skin and life experiences imprinted in the weave of the fabric. The fabric often becomes the body of the work, the material that fills and generates the form. Giulia Spernazza is also a dancer and it is no coincidence that the body (or the soul of the body) is also present without needing to be revealed.
The artist’s favourite tones are scales of grey, white and neutral colours, which have become her distinctive and unique trait. In these ethereal, almost monochrome landscapes, the eye focuses on delicate details, variations in luminosity and barely perceptible material layers.
Last year, I had the opportunity to talk to Giulia Spernazza about two events in Rome where her works took centre stage. First, the Vulnerable exhibition, a one-(wo)man show held at the Faber Gallery and, second, the set design created for the show “The Gas Heart” at the Trastevere Theatre, a re-elaboration of Tristan Tzara’s masterpiece directed by Andrea Martella.
On the occasion of the solo show, new works created during lockdown were exhibited and I noticed a small change – from the natural, soft aspect of the wax-soaked fabrics, the form of the knot emerged, placed as a disturbing element and almost in contrast to the aura of the previous works. In addition, the end of the exhibition coincided with a performance of a participatory nature: Giulia Spernazza, sitting in front of a large pile of knotted fabric, untangled the knots one by one. A lengthy, silent and meditative action in which the public was invited to participate. An empty chair became an implicit invitation to sit in front of the artist, a call to make contact without the need for words.
Giulia, the change in your work, signified by the very shape of the knot and the iconographic meaning it carries (an arrest, a restraint), evokes the complex experience that we all simultaneously went through. Observing the arrangement of the works in the gallery, I noticed that these knots tend to gradually unravel until they are almost completely unknotted, in a sort of resolution. Is the knot just a temporary element, or a form you would like to continue exploring in future works?
My research is extremely multifaceted and is always evolving, constantly changing while maintaining a recognisable language. The Nodi/Snodi (knotted/unknotted) series was conceived during lockdown, a period in which my work began to take on dramatic connotations, at first unconsciously. Precisely because of the different atmosphere emanating from the works, in contrast to the usual ethereal mood, I realised that I was inevitably absorbing the feeling of disorientation, stasis and waiting which we all found ourselves in, and I decided to take the knot as a symbol of what I perceived both inside and outside myself… isolation and slowing down could potentially bring to light parts of us that had previously been ignored. When I complete a cycle of works, it is as if the seed for the next one was already present which, coming immediately afterwards, is inevitably linked to the previous one and is an expression of its development. Consciously or unconsciously. At the moment I have some new ideas which follow the same idea of the knot but transform it into something else.
In your Nodi/ Snodi series, you concluded the exhibition with a performance. How did the transition to action come about?
The performance concluded my solo exhibition Vulnerable at the Faber Art Gallery, a real introspective journey in search of the essence, the most authentic part of a human being. The idea came about during the creation of the Nodi/Snodi series. The conceptual meaning of the gradual unravelling visible in the works, passing through the phase of manual creation, revealed interesting implications of an emotional nature that then led me to consider such a repeated gesture as something transcendental, beyond the result of the work itself. I would like to add a memory to this. I was unravelling a bundle of wires that I wanted to use for an installation and I realised how much this simple practice of unravelling led me to keep still, slow down and be present in what I was doing. Initially, impatient and anxious moods emerged then, as I relaxed and slowed down, I was able to untie the knots more easily and entered a prolonged meditative state.
But the most interesting aspect for me was the involvement of the audience. The decision to make the performance participatory was linked to the title of the exhibition, Vulnerable.
Dissolving one’s own darker aspects, after having seen and accepted them, means revealing oneself with one’s own fragilities, without the intervention of defence mechanisms that distance us from ourselves and others, and prompts us to engage in authentic relationships. Throughout the performance I felt the power of the encounter, being and remaining open to sharing a space and time, here and now, where only patience and silence reigned – a beautiful experience of intimacy.
As for the set design of the show “The Gas Heart”, you operated on the material (foam rubber, which is a new medium for you) by cutting and removing layers, rather than adding them. Do you think that these changes (knotting, cutting, creating representations by using the body) mark a turning point in your artistic research?
The scenic installation I created for “The Gas Heart” was an ad hoc work. I started with the idea that the characters, as the author himself presents them to us – prisoners of their own fears and conditioning – were united by a visual metaphor that contained the illusion of reality. These characters mistakenly believed they were facing a wall that prevented them exploring space and relating to others but, in reality, this wall only appeared to be a solid, impenetrable wall… it was only made of foam rubber. It had the peculiarity of being soft, yielding and easily pierced, and by imagining that one of them was going to accidentally hit it and cause a small hole, here the enormous (self) deception is revealed… accustomed to see this wall with resignation and as a pretext for not exploring the world, continuing to live apart from the others, thanks to an unexpected event they realise that they only had to touch it and experience it to realise that they could “demolish” it at any time. The material, fragments of their clothing, which found their way into the accidental holes, completely poking through in some cases, symbolised the progressive liberation from fear of these human beings who, until then, had made use of this barrier because absurdly it gave them security.
This work has given me the opportunity to measure myself with larger dimensions, to deviate slightly from my research, providing me with several ideas that I am developing for future projects. Over the last year I have been thinking about new themes, such as re-construction (the dimORA and soft floor installation), which have led me to investigate the concept of home, for example, as a place of intimacy and an extension of being.
I don’t know if I can call it a turning point. I like to think of this work as an eternal becoming, a journey that reflects my evolution as a human being in the most authentic way I can think of.
I continued my dialogue with Giulia during the Diagonale/Spazio exhibition, held this time at the Fondamenta Gallery in Rome, where Giulia has an artist residency together with her collective. On this occasion, too, I noticed how innovative elements had entered Giulia’s artistic production. The work proposed for this exhibition, Delicate Moment, is placed horizontally on the floor of the Gallery in the form of a large sphere of marble dust and sand, from which fragments of stones emerge. These fragments – very small at the edge of the circumference and progressively larger towards the centre – finally come together in a small mound, a ‘construction’ where the rocks appear wrapped in worn-out remnants of waxed cloth. Sand and marble dust have been meticulously filtered by the artist to achieve delicate variations in thickness.
Giulia, can you tell me about your latest work, Delicate Moment?
This work stems from a reflection on the need to create a new space-world in which to live, which starts with a renewed inner awareness and with which the human being will interact in a different way through a constant and intimate dialogue with nature.
It takes a circular form, the symbol of a spiritual and transcendent world in dialectical relationship with the Earth, whose matter is represented by the different materials that it is composed by. In this sense, the large expanse of sand and marble dust testifies to the importance of nature, after the long difficult period we have experienced, in the process of re-construction, evoked by the fragments of bricks, which are bare at first and then wrapped in pieces of clothing symbolising human beings. As these elements gradually increase in size towards the centre, they move closer together until they overlap, creating a heap that mimics the creation of something becoming taller. Even the slightest shift of one fragment would end up altering the balance of the whole, inevitably leading to a change in all the elements in order to restore harmony. This highlights the importance of each individual part which contributes to the ‘birth’ of the central form by remaining in place and also the action of reconstruction itself, a life force based on new assumptions in the knowledge of what has been. The slivers are protected by remnants of clothing worn out because they have been “soaked” in life, with their progressive loosening and expansion representing the growing dialogue between all the elements. The work as a whole produces a mysterious sense of emptiness and an apparent suspension of time that usually occurs following a trauma, both internal and in the community as a whole. A profound silence is released, suggesting the need to start again with a new perspective that strives towards essentiality, balance and a respect for nature.
images: (cover 1) Giulia Spernazza, «dimORA», site specific, installation, Ph Manuela Giusto (2) Giulia Spernazza, «Delicate moment», 2022. Ph Manuela Giusto (3) Giulia Spernazza, «La casa del vento», 2018 (4) Giulia Spernazza, «Sciogliere», participative performance (5) Giulia Spernazza, «Affiorano frammenti», 2020. Ph Manuela Giusto (6) Giulia Spernazza, «Serie Nodi-Snodi», 2021. Ph Manuela Giusto (7) Giulia Spernazza, «Nodi-Snodi», 2021. Ph Manuela Giusto (8) Giulia Spernazza,«Delicate moment», 2022, detail. Ph Manuela Giusto