Viola Leddi (Milan, 1993) studied at Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera (Milan) and School of Visual Arts at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts (Copenhagen). Her work has been exhibited at TILE Project Space (Milan), ADA Project (Rome). In 2017 she co-founded the research project Altalena, organizing residencies and publishing artist books.
Iconographic quotes, especially those linked to the representation of nature and the female figure, are a leitmotiv in your work.
Yes. In the last two years I thought a lot about how the female body has been represented in what is commonly identified as “history of Western art”, and about the political and social implications of these representations. I find it necessary to highlight the patriarchal rhetoric that acts through images, to try to bypass or subvert it. If iconographies are polarizations, quotations are re-polarizations: they overturn meaning, deforming and decontextualizing their shells. I believe that manipulating images is a way to further question mechanisms of representation and therefore reproduction of female body as an image, as well as of ideals and stereotypes’ creation.
Among your main references classical sculpture, painting of exotic inspiration, modern primitivism and symbolism emerge. What led you to cross these peculiarities in your female imaginary?
I try to problematize the modernist idea of eclecticism by contaminating it with womenly imaginary. In my latest paintings I loaded my girls with historical and stylistic connotations, as if they were ornaments, clothes or masks. I try to elaborate what it has for a long time afflicted the characterization of women in visual art: a cruelly hyper-feminized form of cult of appearance and vanity.
You almost always paint fantastic or atavistic narratives, and your narrative is unified by pastel colors and ironic details. What makes you look for certain sensations and atmospheres?
In the majority of my works, the choice to use such markedly girly colors comes from a desire to confront myself with a very fragile and ambiguous period of youth: puberty and pre-adolescence. What interests me of that age is the projection in fantasies and game illusions, but above all how these fantasies are channeled through the outbreak of the erotic drive. My girls are often victims of an unhealthy impulse towards a world that demands them to appear desirable and passive. But there’s also an intrinsic emancipatory potential in this type of narration, given precisely by the ambiguity of this bitter sexual desire. Unfortunately, in our cultural heritage the moment of female sexuality onset has always been looked at with anxiety and concern: fairy tales, in particular, deliver the most evident proof.
There are many books about the link between feminism and history of art, science fiction and occultism peeping out of your shelves. Does your literary interest influence the way you approach the subjects of your works?
Yes, definitely. I approached figuration because I consider it effective to search for a fluid narrative method, one that fades the outlines of identities and roles, as well as opening the field of the possibilities of being, wanting and looking at the world. I would like to research aspects of fluidity and transformation in my subjects, to distance them from any specific definition and classification as far as I can. For me, drawing is a way to complicate and layer concepts, to make them ambiguous and to try to suspend judgment, so to speak. For this reason I like to read many sci-fi stories and fairy tales: I look for transversal ways of talking about what I consider to be current urgencies.
Specifically, you told me about your fascination with Leonora Carrington…
I admire many aspects of Leonora Carrington, first of all the biographical one: I’m talking about her effort (common to other artist peers, as Leonor Fini and Dorothea Tanning) to disobey the phallocentric parameters that prevailed in early twentieth century European art scene, in particular in the surrealist one. However, what I really like about her paintings is the way she blends together animality and “humanity”. It seems to me that, among all the complexity of Carrington’s paintings, there is also an implicit question on the nature of these two terms. I am attracted to her figures: they can only be familiar in as mush as we can grasp a subtle and subversive ironic spirit.
You’re about to leave this studio, which is located above your grandfather’s, who also used to be a painter. Do you think this closeness influenced your practice in any way?
When I was still a high school student I used to visit him once a week, we would spent hours browsing through incredible books, many of which were antique, from his library. In addition to trying to educate me on drawing, my grandfather trained me to “look at the figures” above all, which seems easy but isn’t, especially now. It’s a practice that is changing considerably, so much that evoking its original features (of wonder and astonishment) sounds almost anachronistic and nostalgic. Apart from this, I believe that improving one’s aesthetic knowledge and assuming a contemplative attitude can always sharpen a certain form of “care” and sensitivity in the use of images.
How would you like your works to be looked at? When you create your works do you have in mind an ideal context for which they’re destined?
For my solo show at TILE Project Space I thought of works that could best communicate with the space which, in this case, is almost entirely covered with tiles. I then designed the paintings as custom-made “clothes”, adapting the frames format and thinking about how images would develop. Once out of there all pieces will have their autonomy, but if exposed all together they’re entities that both relate to each other as well as with the surrounding environment.