Awaiting Venice Biennale 2024: Maria Morganti

We met Venice based artist Maria Morganti in her studio in Cannaregio.
by Lara Morrell
Lara Morrell
Maria Morganti

LM When did you first arrive in Venice?

MM I’m originally from Milan, but I’ve lived in Venice since 1985. I started coming to the city through an American university, NYU, that offered summer courses for masters’ and PhD students in Venice. I began to work for them, and from there I ended up staying. I’ve been in this studio since ‘96 or ‘97.

LM Could you talk me through your artistic process in relation to the works here in the studio?

MM  What I’d like to show you today is just a part of my studio, a space within the space, a studio within a studio – which little by little has defined not only a process of work but a work in and of itself – the space itself has become an artwork.

This space is called “Luogogesto”: “luogo” which means space, and “gesto” (gesture) – it is a space dedicated to the a reiteration of the gesture of painting on a daily basis. It stems from the trust I’ve always had in the gesture of painting, believing in the possibility that we as artists have to continually leave traces of ourselves through the relationship with the material of colour. To arrive in the space, you have to go up two steps – the height of the “acqua alta” walkways, but also to put the space on a pedestal, consecrating it and giving it the status of a piece in itself. The space is defined by a movement that I carry out every day. What happened is that gradually, over the years, I have worked to define my palette.

The palette for painters is usually a flat space where many different colours coexist and by mixing them the painter constructs his language. In my case, the palette has become a single bowl – a process that has taken about thirty years. At first there were forty bowls, then there were thirty, then twenty, ten, and so on. Then, at the beginning of the 2000s I found myself with only one bowl.

I’m not an artist who works through a predefined project, hence all my work has to do with embracing a fluidity, something that arises from within and then it exposes itself to the outside.

So this process of having arrived at a single bowl its something absolutely natural, not preconceived. And this bowl defines the direction of the colour. I apply a single colour each day – I arrive on any given day, I find myself for example with this red, and I decide to move the red towards another colour, maybe adding a little bit of blue and turning it into a purple, or staying within the red spectrum. When the colour is ready, I take the bowl, and I perform three daily actions…

I approach this wall which is called the “Impronta Diario ” and I leave a trace of the colour created by the bowl. I like to say that the bowl created it. That is, I am in a certain sense passive in this action, and I keep track of it on this wooden slate that is ten centimetres high and one metre long. This diary therefore transcribes the life of the bowl and it doesn’t let go of any colour.

It’s like collecting an everyday event, keeping everything, there are no mistakes. It becomes a metaphor for life, so it’s as if we collect, step by step, everything that happens. And when it is completed, it is kept archived within the “Diarioteca”. The Diarioteca contains all past diaries and all the potential diaries for the future of a lifetime. I imagined covering the time span of a lifetime, thinking about the average of an Italian woman. Now these averages have changed, but, when I started this was around 84 years old.

Also because all these structures change continuously to hold the essence of things, it is this essence that creates these structures, not the structures that cage in an existence. So this must be very clear in my work, it is important, let’s say to make things that exist for what they are, there is no form of constraint or planning. The second gesture I make on a daily basis is to apply colour on this painting which I call the “Quadro Infinito” (the Infinite Painting). The Quadro Infinito began more or less at the same time as the diaries and it is like the opposite of the diaries, because it is a continuous erasure, a continuous stratification of the same colour that slowly builds up a conglomeration of paint.

This is emblematic of my relationship to painting, which is not linked to a retinal idea, as in it is not related to visualisation, but to thinking of colour as a consistency and a matter that can be held in the hands.

The third action takes place on this wall. This is the back of that object that we saw from the other side, which is called the “Sedimentario”. The Sedimentario contains all my paintings that are called “Sedimentazioni”. The Sedimentazioni are precisely that – a sedimentation of color. They always begin with a layer of red – I never start from a blank page.

Today you see the first layer, and then slowly I start to layer more, always leaving a small part of the previous colour evident. It’s akin to saying that everything we look at is just a fragment of a body that is constituted over the arc of a lifetime.

So the passing of time and repetition plays a significant role in your practice…

Another gesture that I carry out every day is that I take a photo which is always the same. I place the camera on a wall just outside the studio in exactly the same position, I take the shot without even looking – it has become a mechanical action.

I always capture that same point, where it frames a piece of wall and the level of the water – it shows this movement of the tide. This is related to two things: one is the Sedimentazioni, this relationship with the colour, and let’s say this sedimentation that is formed, and on the other hand it has to do with an idea, which in my opinion is very present in this city, which is the relationship with nature.

On the one hand, for me this is the city par excellence, made of stones and made up of many human beings who all live next to each other. But at the same time it is a city where nature is omnipresent, and clearly this relationship with water determines a whole series of fundamental questions. Yes, in my work there is an important idea of a time – on one hand dilated and linear – with one thing leading to another, and on the other the cyclical nature of time is also present, which is that of the tides. Plus the idea about my practice that leads to the bowl returning cyclically to red, it means that there is another idea of colour which is not just a progressive idea, but it is also an idea which is linked to the concept of rituality, which therefore leads to a continuous return.

On the one hand there is this idea, of building a space to care for the gesture, therefore to give importance to the relationship with matter, to the relationship with the essence of existence, and on the other there’s this other aspect which is that of analysis.

There is the relationship with reality and the things that keep happening, and on the other there is the continuous reflection and there is the mental organisation, of all this work, the understanding.

And these two souls continuously bring each other to life, one is not possible without the other.

So it’s like flowing alongside the painting process, it is a rumination made up of thoughts and of words.

What’s your relationship like to the city of Venice today?

All this work that I’ve talked about, was really born in relationship to this place, the relationship with this time dilation, the relationship with the cyclicality of time, it could only come about here in Venice.

I chose Venice as a result of a series of random events in life, but then I decided and I chose it as a place to stay. And it was in this relationship with space, with the history of this place, that all this was able to come to life.

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