Awaiting Venice Biennale 2024: Lucia Veronesi

To launch this new series of interviews we met Venice based artist Lucia Veronesi in her studio on the island of Giudecca.
by Lara Morrell
Lara Morrell
Lucia Veronesi

Tell us a little about your background, and how and when you ended up living and working in Venice?

I studied at the Brera Academy in Milan, and I arrived in Venice, exactly twenty years ago, in 2003. I studied painting and then completed a master’s in curatorial studies, which brought me here to Venice – as the master ended in 2003 we had an internship to do, and I decided to do it here at the Biennale in Venice. It was supposed to last a month and a half, and have I now been living here for twenty years!

I worked a few years at the Biennale, and benefited from some very enriching experiences, always within the realm of contemporary art, but at a certain point, I decided that I wanted to reclaim my own artistic practice. So, I left the Biennale and got back to work.

Venice has always been a city that I considered, until not too long ago, a transitory city, in the sense that every year I told myself, okay, let’s stay for another year, let’s see how it goes. Meanwhile, I would think about which other city I could move to, and twenty years have passed. Now I can firmly say that I consider Venice my city; it’s a city I love and the city where I have decided to live. However, entering this city was gradual because I always considered it a somewhat precarious and transitory city for my work, and also for its incredible beauty that makes it almost seem like a precious treasure chest – almost unthinkable to live in.

In reality, it’s a city where the quality of life is very high. I am absolutely in love with this city and believe that there is no other place I could move to.

How was the process of getting back to your practice after a brief hiatus and how has it evolved since?

I explored painting again, but at a certain point, I realised that I could explore painting with other means, by using different media. So I started working a lot with collage, which I can now say is my main medium. For some years now, I have developed works that have expanded into space, using fabrics and sewing, by creating large fabric banners with a sewing machine and which are actually nothing more than a further development of my collages, conceived almost as fabric collages, where I work with the same approach, it’s a technique that has allowed me to broaden the scale and the dimensions of the work and therefore to relate to space and the architecture where these works are displayed.

The first work I made with fabrics, without sewing them but rather through installation, overlapping fabrics, actually originated during a residency in Norway in 2019. It was then that I realised that using fabric could truly open doors for me. Fabrics are a fantastic world because when you talk about fabric, you’re talking about material, you’re talking about different things; patterns, different weights – lighter fabrics, heavier fabrics – it’s a bit like working with oil paints, pastels, or water colours. Fabric, too, is a flexible material – a highly interesting world, indeed.

When I returned home from Norway, COVID struck, and we all ended up stuck in our studios and homes. That’s when I started sewing, initially by hand, experimenting with smaller works. I hand-sewed until the opportunity arose for a fairly large exhibition.

It gave me the impetus to consider a very large installation with banners of 3 metres by 4, or 3 metres by 2. That’s when I started using the sewing machine. The use of the machine, the threads, is akin to working with a pencil. It’s like drawing, only you use a needle and machine. For me, it’s very much like a painterly gesture, deeply tied to my concrete practice of overlapping, not just with paper but also working with oil bars or oil pastels, rather than wax pastels.

My banners, I consider them somewhat like sculptures because they often get installed – they are hung from the ceiling, so within the space and you can walk around them.

I work simultaneously on collages, fabrics, and videos. Because, let’s say, all these techniques feed into one another, working on video might inspire me or things might come to mind that I can then apply to collages, or vice versa. I don’t work in isolated compartments, there’s always a lot of heterogeneity.

Could you expand on the role that language plays in your work?

Yes, along with the use of fabrics, in recent years, I’ve also developed research into language, that is, on the relationship between words and the work. Language, words, phrases are part of the work itself, as a visual element, not just content-wise. So, for about a year and a half, I’ve developed works where words and phrases are sewn, almost drawn with thread. Sometimes they’re actual letters cut from other fabrics and then re-sewn onto the base fabric, which clearly hold conceptual significance in relation to the work but they also become visual elements within the work. For instance, here you have the word ‘A’ stitched onto a piece of fabric, which might slightly hinder readability, but it creates a visual relationship, a form of interaction that interests me a lot.  There’s a definite interaction, similar to when working with collages. So, I use words as a formal element and this relationship between language and visual form is one aspect of my work that I’m increasingly developing and will now continue to explore further.

What are working on at the moment?

A new production following a commission by the Italian Council’s and the subsequent acquisition of the work by an Italian museum. The project is named “La Desinenza Estinta”. It’s a project that has led me to conduct research during these first three months in London, Zurich, and Trondheim in Norway, and it’s related to the relationship between language and botany. It all starts from research where two botanists teaching at the University of Zurich have classified thousands of endangered healing plant species in three major zones of the world: South America, the Amazon, North America, and New Guinea. These species are not becoming extinct due to climate change or the Anthropocene, but because they are disappearing along with indigenous languages. These are unique languages, the only ones capable of recognising these plants, giving them a name, and knowing how to use them in medicine. However, this knowledge is no longer being transmitted, neither vertically within the same indigenous population nor horizontally between indigenous populations—there are over 250 different ones —risking the extinction of the language. Consequently, if you no longer know how to recognise a plant, the plant becomes extinct, even though it remains on our land, it is almost as if it’s absorbed by the forest, becoming a background element, and no one can recognise these plants anymore. Therefore, there are consequences for our medicine as well because these healing plants are still used in Western pharmacopoeia. So, the project originates from this research, concerning botany and the extinction of language.

The final work will be a large tapestry of 5 metres by three, where I will visually process all this data and research, adding another layer involving female figures and the botany of the past. I will draw a parallel between the situation and the oblivion into which these plants fall. The fact that we forget about these plants if we no longer know how to name them, and the oblivion in which many female figures in botany fell in the past centuries. They made many discoveries, contributed significantly to the field of botany and natural science, but were forgotten or sidelined, perhaps even fighting against a system governed predominantly by male figures.

For example, in 1707-1800, women were not allowed to take part in scientific expeditions, so some, notably Jeanne Baret, disguised herself as a man to travel to the other side of the world. Therefore, the attempt is to create a kind of large manifesto, where I try to bring to life or keep alive the names of these forgotten plants and the names of these women. I have conducted a lot of research, especially in London, on this topic and found numerous minor stories of female botanists. Now it’s about putting all this material together and creating this work. It will also be accompanied by two works: a tapestry and a two-channel video specifically made using stop motion, combining live shots taken in botanical gardens and stop-motion work.

So, the most exciting, interesting, and challenging phase is now arriving. The work will be acquired by Ca’ Pesaro, and become part of Ca’ Pesaro’s permanent collection. It must be completed by July 2024. However, I’ll start a series of exhibitions taking me from Trondheim to London, Lecce, and Venice, with a stop in Zurich from May onwards. Considering that I also have to create the catalogue, everything must be ready by mid-April at the latest, so I have five months – I better get back to work!

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