Interview #62

Chiara Terraneo

* The following text is an excerpt from an interview made in 2016. The original version is published in PANORAMA (DIORAMA editions).

Chiara Terraneo (Cantù, 1984) studied at NABA (Milan), WDKA (Rotterdam), CFP R. Bauer (Milan) and Magnum Photos (New York). Her work has been exhibited at Inchiostro (Alessandria), Gason Lisak (Barcellona), I Never Read (Basel), Pelagica, Spazio Florida and SPRINT (Milan).

Your work is divided in illustrations, photography, video, production of ceramics and publications. Where did you start from, and how did you develop your work in various media?

At first I started with drawing, then graphics, then photography. Then came the return to drawing, which was difficult but necessary and pressing. A drawing goes somewhere where the photography does not, and I use photography for other purposes. Drawing is physical, photography is ocular although it involves the movement of the body. Ceramics, is… I needed to build something physical, and then here’s the clay. The publications are meant to sort the ideas and to give them a body and a direction, and then putting them out into the world.

You have a very personal style, almost childlike: how did it develop?

I think it was an evolution of the hand. I’m not interested in realistic drawings, although I appreciate the value. For that I have photography. At some point I needed to simplify, wipe clean the marks and go faster than the head. The thoughts can do good and do wrong.

What is your educational background?

Art school, Graphic Design studies at NABA and Erasmus at WDKA in Rotterdam: it was my first approach to an international situation and where I encountered photography. I worked as a graphic designer for print publishing. Then I enrolled in photography at CFP. R. Bauer in Milan. Then I worked in London as an assistant photographer for a study that deals with still life, where I refined my lighting technique. I started to draw again. Various workshops, Sarah Jones, Alec Soth… And an experience at Magnum Photo in New York as an archivist.

In your work there are several references to the Romanesque and medieval iconography, to bestiaries and botanical books. Where do you get your inspiration?

I keep a notebook in my pocket, my backpack or purse, in which I make sketches of the people around me. Fast sketches, black bic, preferably. On the public transports, in coffee shops, while I eat. Movements, gestures, postures, sentences that say something, or the impressions that my mind creates suddenly, my emotional state at the time. Then there are the exotic trips I do around the world. I am fascinated by medieval European bestiaries, by ancient Indian figures, by herbaria with imaginary herbs, those with stylized herbs. Medical tests, anatomical studies on paper, forms of Alchemy. They are like Chinese boxes that lead to other Chinese boxes. Then there’s my love for Romanesque wall paintings… For its childish and didactic tone: I need to explain, I need to indoctrinate, and you need to understand well. Each object, person and plant, all sizes, in those panels in the ambos of churches, serves a specific cause, there are no extra things. I’m interested in their resolution of space. Then there’s the African-American art from the beginning of the century, such as that of Clementine Hunter; but I’m an insatiable researcher.

Traveling is ofter the core of your work. In 2015 you did a residence in Barcelona in the space of Gaston Lisak, where you started a research on the Greek myth of the foundation of the city.

Gaston invited me for an artist-in-residence program at his studio, and I wanted to go back to the origins of the town that hosted me. I discovered this Greek myth for which it is believed that, during the voyage of the Argonauts, Heracles and Hermes recovered the ninth lost ship near the Montjuic, the Hill of Barcelona where the Botanical Garden now stands; they fell in love with the place so they founded the city, Barca Nona. Online research first and then in the physical city. Every place has its own colours, buildings, nature that vary with the lights. My palette was inspired by waking up in the early morning to seeing the sun on the sea, the gardens, the parks, which flowers in the parks, which beasts. I asked myself: “What would I have seen, arriving from the sea, as the first on land?” I made myself permeable to Barcelona: black almost disappeared and everything became a perceptual pattern.

You also realized a project on the topic of bullfighting: how did you develop this research and into which works has it been translated?

Succeeding Barcelona, I was asked to do some drawings for Bullfighting in the Mediterranean area. I decided on the myth of the labyrinth of Crete’s Island. Each project is an opportunity to experiment. I tried the largest sizes, I picked up a pencil and brushes, unknown for some time. Each instrument implies a new way of moving and a different approach. The colors are delivered from the Palace of Knossos; the pencil line is slimmed down, cleaned up after having meet the Greek vases with black and red figures. And then the minotaurs appeared, made in metal as a votive, with Greek bodies and the head stolen from the Egyptian parietal art.

Lately then, you have approached the ceramic and fabric; These practices provide an articulated process and a very direct and profound relationship with the matter. What are the origins of this interest?

I needed something useful, I needed to produce something tangible and usable. Besides, the fabric fascinates me, and this is just the beginning.