In occasion of her first exhibition in the United Kingdom and with ARTUNER, we sat down with Italian artist Serena Vestrucci to explore some aspects of her engaging and protean practice. Indeed, working simultaneously across different channels, Vestrucci produces several bodies of work that are varied and yet thought-provokingly cohesive. Here, we discuss in depth her series Trucco, featured in the exhibition Memories Arrested in Space organised by ARTUNER at the Italian Cultural Institute in London and which was awarded the prestigious Premio Cairo 2017.
While our exhibition Memories Arrested in Space has now closed, you can still explore Serena Vestrucci’s artworks on ARTUNER.
Alisei Apollonio: In previous interviews you have explained how the series ‘Trucco’ came about to be as a result of chance: stranded in your friends’ kitchen and confronted with a deadline to present some new works short afterwards, you resorted to the contents of your makeup trousse and your friends’ tea towels. This was not the first time that you capitalised on ‘chance’ and ‘accident’ to create. Can you tell us more about the role of mistakes and coincidences in your practice?
Serena Vestrucci: In my art practice I try not to leave out a priori any materials, in order to keep my work as open as possible to new developments and new paths. The techniques I use in my work aren’t simply trickery to floor or fool the public. In a way almost instinctual, sometimes fortuitous, I catch myself bumping into “unexpected” materials; this happened in Trucco and this family of works where the eyeshadow, powdered and directly manipulated on the canvas using the fingers, becomes subject and object of my own painting. The interest in inversions, undoings, and unveilings of meaning is without any doubt pivotal in my work. I am confronting Duchamp and his shifting of art’s focus from the aesthetic to the critic.
If I am not mistaken, you use only the best seller eyeshadows from some of the most popular brands. How come you made this decision? And why exclusively eyeshadow?
It’s important for me to use colour in a way that is functional to the work, rather than as simply decoration or composition. If I selected certain eyeshadow palettes to realise Trucco, it is because these are the most demanded in the market, the most sold, and therefore the ones which best mirror the present. I am not interested in indulging my personal taste, but rather considering reality as a matter of fact and from there taking action to alter it. When I make up the canvas I just act like whoever uses the eyeshadow on the eyelids, I just shift the field of action.
Abstract art has for so long been dominated by men, that using makeup in this context is a particularly subversive act. Women face a lot of pressure in terms of presenting a flawless and enhanced version of themselves to society, with a particular accent on hiding one’s age. Your use of makeup on canvas, however, often purposefully highlights the creases and imperfections of the canvas (its ‘fine lines’). Can you tell us more about this?
As you rightly noted, my made-up canvases do not hide the marked folds on their surfaces. On the contrary, their presence stands out, becoming so vivid as to enter with evidence into the form of the work. The “wrinkles” that appear in these works are not intentionally realised, they are not artifices, but actual signs impressed by the raw canvas on itself, after months and months spent rolled up. Hence, they are authentic, natural “fine lines”: I just keep them, rather than stretching and erasing them. Anna Magnani once said to her make-up artist: “Keep all of my wrinkles, do not erase one. It took me a whole lifetime to get them”. The beauty of this phrase’s irony underpins the secret of knowing how to accept wrinkles, knowing how to live with the relentless flow of time. My entire work is based on the time and its passage.
Speaking of media, time duration is listed along with eyeshadow as the medium to create these paintings. It’s not the first occurrence that time features prominently in your work. What relationship do time and Trucco have, and why is it so important?
An artwork’s wall-text or caption usually exclusively reports the dimensions and the materials that compose it. From my point of view, time is very concretely one of these materials. If I dedicate to a project two days, two months, or two years I believe that this time belongs to the nature of the work, and finding out this information could help to deepen the viewer’s knowledge of the work, helping them to understand the technique through which it is realised. I haven’t understood yet if time works with me or against me. The relentless changing which we cannot avoid terrifies and fascinates me at the same time. I think that everything that exercises a fascination on us always goes with a certain component of disquiet. I believe that these two things go together.
Your practice, if taken as a whole, is very diverse: ranging from painting, to sculpture, to installation, to performance, etc and yet it’s very consistent. What are the guiding research questions or ideas that you explore in your work and what drew you to them?
I think in art it is possible to distinguish two different approaches. There are obsessive artists and schizophrenic artists. I certainly belong to the schizophrenic ones. I do not focus all of my work on a single aspect till the soul is eviscerated, but I move quickly and simultaneously from a practice to another. I am attracted by everything that is ordinary and apparently useless. I am captured by the attempt of finding meaning (or, on the contrary, overthrowing meaning) in trivial happenings.
Without any further comment, I leave you quoting a brief, yet intense and important text by Eugenio Montale, which collects and summarises all of the arguments we have mentioned.
“Why do we work? Surely to produce useful things and services for human society, but also, and mostly, for enhancing human needs, namely for reducing to the minimum the hours when it is the easier for the despised spectre of time to show himself to us.
By enhancing the useless needs, man is kept occupied even when he is supposed to be free. “Spending time” in front of a video or attending a football game is not really laziness, it is a pastime, namely a way to ward off the dangerous monster, to keep it at a distance.
Killing time is not possible without filling it with occupations which stop-up the vacuum. And since few men are capable of unflinchingly staring at that vacuum, here is the social necessity of doing something, even if this something is just in service of anaesthetising the vague concern that the vacuum will appear to us again.”
Eugenio Montale, Ammazzare il tempo (da Auto da fé. Cronache in due tempi, Il Saggiatore, Milano 1966) translated by Roberta Genovese and Frances Whorrall-Campbell from Italian to English.