[October 28 2021]
interview by VALERIA DELLA VALLE
photos by ALESSANDRA PADOVANI
In conversation with multi-disciplinary artist Ambra Castagnetti who uses mediums such as sculpture, painting, installation, and video to explore the essence of humanity. After spending the summer at L’AiR Arts as the first international artist resident at the Atelier 11 of Cité Falguière in Paris, Castagnetti has been invited to participate to the La Biennale College Art workshop 2022 and her latest solo show “Aphros” is on view now at Galerie Rolando Anselmi in Rome.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — I would like to start from the concept of epiphany in your work. Speaking of your artistic process, you said that everything always starts from a mystery you feel attracted to…
AMBRA CASTAGNETTI — Sometimes I come across something and I suddenly feel attracted to it, and I crave for possessing it. I need it to cross me, swallow it somehow. My work allows me to overcome and transfer this sensation into a new image.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — A sort of catharsis. The sensation will always stay with you but It’s not heavy as it’s resolved into something else.
AMBRA CASTAGNETTI — Exactly. It’s a way to resolve these urges I have.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — You conceive time in a peculiar way. Understanding it is the key to understand the philosophy behind your practice. You have referred to time as a sequence of fixations in the space. It is stiffed in the images. The correlation with Bergson’s conception of time is evident but what is interesting is that, while for the philosopher the spatialization of time has a negative meaning, in your practice turns out to be something positive.
AMBRA CASTAGNETTI — Indeed. I think the time we live is different from the time we quantify. We can always go back to the time stiffed into the image, we can live into it over and over again. The spatialization is positive because it’s cyclic.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — It resonates with Nietzsche’s eternal return.
AMBRA CASTAGNETTI — For sure. I don’t perceive the time as chronological, to me it’s more a series of returns. I can go back in time through what I have perceived and see things from a different perspective each time. Time is more like a perpetual present. I perceive time as a series of cells being part of the same beehive.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — So these cells of different times coexist in the same reality. This means that if we look at history under the lenses of what you call ‘perpetual present’, our relation to past shifts completely. In fact, you refer a lot to ancient art and mythology.
AMBRA CASTAGNETTI — Yes. I am very interested in iconography for instance, I believe in a sort of genetics of images. I feel we live in this eternal cyclic present, and therefore I can relate to an image or artwork drawn thousands of years ago by someone so profoundly different from me on any social and cultural level. I mean, probably even the anatomy of our brains is different, and yet we can understand each other. I feel a great sense of continuity.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — Somehow those images or cells allow us to overcome all social and cultural barriers such as language, social structures, different lifestyles.
AMBRA CASTAGNETTI — Yes. When I say ‘images’ or ‘cell’, I refer to perceptions and feelings. To the essence of a reaction to something. The visual language travels through perceptions. I might not understand the structure of a language, but I will always understand a perception, a feeling. Perception generates knowledge.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — Like a ‘hyper’ language. Do you think the role of the artist is to navigate this beehive and intersect connections?
AMBRA CASTAGNETTI — Possibly. We can try and trace a spectrum of interconnections between the cells, this would give us the opportunity to travel through time. In my opinion, the artist is extremely lucid, awake. He can see constants and associations. I think the artist is like the scientist, they both start from an intuition. There is nothing more creative than science. The difference is that art is free, it doesn’t have to demonstrate anything to be real.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — Which is coherent with your idea of time, cells and beehive. If everything is intuition and perception, there are multiple truths to a single reality.
AMBRA CASTAGNETTI — Indeed. This is the reason I don’t feel comfortable asserting or refusing anything.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — You have recently been invited by L’AiR Arts as a first international artist resident. The work presented there, Black Milk, focused on exploring the notions of domination versus submission, body versus sculpture.
AMBRA CASTAGNETTI — I wanted to create a series of sculptures around the ideas of constriction and imprisonment. The artworks are tied up with laces as an interdependent system. What I am trying to communicate is that being tied up doesn’t mean to be imprisoned. The spirit is free even if the body remains constricted. We are constantly tied and linked to others, and always will be. All around us it’s an intricate spiderweb but to be aware of this means we can find freedom within the system. I think awareness will set us free.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — And, in your work, the symbol of this intricate universe of laces is the snake.
AMBRA CASTAGNETTI — Yes, it is. The snake symbolizes the laces we use to tie up ourselves and the others. It’s the symbol of the confusion of Nature, of chaos, and yet it represents the ways we find to overcome this confusion, writhing and climbing, and finally find our space and possibilities. In Serpentine, the snakes became one with the laces in a fusion where domination and submission are two sides of the same coin.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — The notions of transfiguration and mystification are also largely explored as instruments able to allow us to navigate the chaos.
AMBRA CASTAGNETTI — You know, in certain cultures, when someone suffers from a mental illness, they operate a sort of ritual. Imagine that the person believes to be a sailor. They would let him dress like a sailor, act like one, do whatever he would not be able to do as his true self, but he is able to do as ‘a sailor’. The subject can transform into something else; this would give him the opportunity to rethink himself and have a better understanding of who he really is. As I was saying, it’s about freedom and yet accepting our chains. We can take distance from our social, legal, medical, cultural, sexual chains stimulating little catharsis so that we can go back to our bodies feeling liberated. For instance, if as a woman I use a strap-on, I can perform a sexual act as a male. I can look at my body and at others with increased awareness. I am interested in stimulating these performative acts to reach a mental awakening.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — Metamorphosis is the answer to our search of identity.
AMBRA CASTAGNETTI — Yes, only by looking at ourselves from a different perspective we can understand what we are. Here’s the paradox.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — Is this what to expect from your solo exhibition opening Aphros in Rome this week?
AMBRA CASTAGNETTI — Yes, it will include the Serpentine but also the Tauromachia and Cheree Cheree, a never-before seen body of work. Aphros is a mythological creature which represent the sea foam. I’m interested into the idea of foam as a fermenting substance, mother to every form to be. Aphrodite, the most beautiful creature, was born from it. My work with Tauromachia represents my willing as an artist to go back to the essence of it, to when there were only infinite possibilities to be. You know, until a certain point, humans and dolphins have the same embryos.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — It’s fascinating. In fact, in Cheree Cheree removing means finding the essence.
AMBRA CASTAGNETTI — Yes. We start from the present to understand the past. By removing, I was going back to the origin of it. As an artist, especially at the beginning, the point is to understand what you are doing and why. Everything begins with a sensation which is almost animal-like and instinctive, a creative impulse. This process of removing the excesses, the noise, helped me understanding my reasons.
VALERIA DELLA VALLE — How do you understand when you have finally found it?
AMBRA CASTAGNETTI — It’s a feeling. You are always thinking you can do more, remove more, until you know: here it is, waiting for you.