INTERVIEW WITH VALENTINA MEDDA
ELISA MUSCATELLI – How would you describe your artistic practice to someone who is approaching it for the first time?
VALENTINA MEDDA – My artistic practice is between different disciplines, on one side the image, and on the other side performance and installation and site-specific action. I make projects that are always site-related, or almost always, and often participatory. And although the end result of the work may be different as language, I believe that the process behind my practice is always bodily, physical, and performative in nature. The object of inquiry in my work is primarily the relationship between body and space, it has been for years in the mode where, in a more existential and intimate mode, the body served me as an element to be able to find in the place an almost sense of identity, or at any rate both to try to re-appropriate the space. And then slowly this object of inquiry moved into a somewhat more purely political, even philosophical dimension, where the interest is no longer to see body and space as two separate entities but to actually see them as in a continuous dialogue, where there is a loss of boundary between the two elements, so where there is, on the one hand, an extension of space, this space that becomes a body, and on the other hand a body that becomes more and more hybrid. After all, one of my references is definitely Merleau-Ponty, who talks about a body that in its being in space is the original coordinates. So the body is an instrument of observation, a perspective from which to look at things, but it itself is space itself and the coordinate. The participatory projects that I do are projects that rarely target a community in the beginning, in “Cities By Night” it happened, but that was because I was interested in the element of the minority, the vulnerable minority, and so I took women as the object of study, but it could have been any other minority that perceives itself as vulnerable within the space. Instead, I am interested in the relationship and the encounter precisely with the others, and I am interested in making a community through the project. And that’s what happens in “Untitled#,” where people in becoming archives become parts of a transnational community, which is bound by being part of this project, but which at the beginning and originally were very different people from each other, and which did not sociologically belong to any specific category.
EM – Your works are often based on social participation. How do you represent the role of the artist within this encounter?
VM – I think, and this is an absolutely personal position, that the artist has to create an imaginary and raise questions and trigger mechanisms, which is what happens in “Cities By Night,” where people, once they experience the performance version of the project, find themselves among themselves talking about what happened and then also talking about maybe even possible solutions. I don’t think it’s the role of the artist to play the position of the city planner or the politician or the municipality. I don’t think it’s up to the artist to have to make up for shortcomings and to have to do projects that are bordering on social activity.
EM – Cities By Night | Bergamo is the project that was presented in Bergamo for Festival Orlando, a work about women and their relationship with the city. What made the need for this project arise? How come the choice to examine the female body?
VM – In “Cities By Night” what interested me was to investigate the perception of danger rather than the danger. Because I believe that the real dangerousness of space does not exist, or exists only in certain terms, anyway it is not objective. What is perceived as dangerous for me or, what is dangerous for me, based on my world positioning, my skin color, my identity, my perception of myself, social class, and so on, may not be dangerous for someone else and vice versa. And in addition to this perception, this subjectivity of danger is very much influenced by preconceptions, prejudices, cultural habits and background, and so on. So what I was interested to analyse was on the one hand the distinction between danger and perception, and on the other hand thinking about, pointing out the fact that violence, the first violence and then also the real violence, since sexual violence happens in the street in most cases, the real violence is the perception of the threat itself, which makes me self-limit my exploration of space, my mobility as a woman in the city, the night and so on. I don’t rule out doing this with another group of people who they feel are in the minorities, or who feel potentially attacked or attackable. When I thought of the project for a space in America, in Cleveland, where then unfortunately it didn’t fit, because we couldn’t make the work, I had asked to be able to work with what for me was the most vulnerable group in the city, which is young black male boys, who are targeted by the police, where you know that Cleveland is one of the cities that has a particularly brutal violent and racist police force.
EM – Reflections on the body and memory often emerge in your works, between past traditions, traces, and the search for a balance with contemporary space. How do you structure this dialogue?
VM – My work investigates, as I said before, the relationship with space, this relationship clearly includes and incorporates what are traces of presence on the one hand and the way in which the body returns, and the space returns to the body in some way, in this sense I talk about the elimination of boundaries, I am more and more interested in constructing a kind, in some world, of hybrid body. I don’t think the architectural space is so distant from us, and I’m really interested in the areas, and the points of contact.
EM – What has been an impactful historical, literary, or cinematic reference for you in the development of your artistic and personal career?
VM – My references are mainly philosophical for my background. They are the phenomenological references, Merleau-Ponty, as more political references, Focault, and certainly also then feminist, post-feminist, post-materialist references, ranging from Cavarero to Braidotti, to Butler, to Haraway, to Halberstam. They are also references related to theater, to dance, as they used to say physical theater, especially the visionary nature of some authors like La Socìetas, Pina Bausch, but also Peeping Tom, Constanza Macras, with its deliberate roughness let’s say, its deliberate non-perfection, and then certainly there are the references of the performance artists of the 70s, 80s, 90s: Janine Antoni, Ana Mendieta, also Abramović certainly and Valie Export. Among the men, not that I think with this category of thinking, but definitely I feel the women are closer to me because of the political use of the body, at a time when women were not even allowed in any way to make art, so doing it through the body, which was the only tool they could have and could handle, had a value of a certain kind, which I then made my own and recognized, but I have among the male references definitely Francis Aly͏̈s, he is very close to me, especially in his more participatory and more ephemeral performances, this making and unmaking, this ice cube, this moving this mountain, these shovels, this endless action.