Today we are interviewing Silvia Beccaria, an artist from Turin. Her works are made using a handloom and traditional fibres enriched by adding unusual materials that are totally unknown in the textile tradition. Over the years, she has designed unconventional fabrics by weaving different materials, including silk, wool, linen, cotton, plastic, metal, paper, aluminium sheet and rubber, so as to achieve singular and unprecedented effects from the material used.
The symbiotic relationship between hands and mind, going against the rules while at the same time paying careful attention to the heritage of traditional techniques, Silvia investigates the past using contemporary languages, giving life to sculptures/garments, tapestries and extraordinary jewels inspired by the traditional ruff.
First Drops: Over the years, a lot of people have written about you in association to exhibitions or in interviews and reviews…. Which of them, do you think, has most effectively described your work?
Silvia Beccaria: The review I identified with most was written by Ivan Serra. For my personal exhibition for Lecce 2010 entitled “Aracne tra mito e contemporaneità” (Aracne between myth and contemporary) he wrote a text that I will quote fully because I think he grasped the spirit of my work: “Given just a loom and some fibres, build your own philosophy, your own vision of life, your own language to tell and recount both what exists and what could exist. The outline of a theme, the rules of a game, a daring artistic challenge. Silvia Beccaria grasps the challenge and plays with it: lightly, as all games should be played but seriously, and turns it into a fascinating journey made of dexterity and irony, deep technical skills and abilities, balance and softness. She expands the definition of ‘fibre’ to include both the traditional materials used to weave, including wool, linen and fabric, and those brought in from other crafts, including paper, metal, celluloid and many more, even using dried ears and leaves of corn. The common denominator amongst them is that they can be woven, they can be adapted to the loom, to the strict flexibility of warp and weft. This is the method used by Silvia to build her own personal language, changing graphemes into selected materials, blending them together according to the grammar rules of the loom – a strict and technically restricting machina costruens, which can unleash creativity and fantasy filtered and brought out by strict technical operations and extraordinary technical care […]. This is the secret to the balance of the opposites, the fascination and the vitality of her pieces, the secret whereby each subject and each theme pondered, from cuisine to cinema, from non-European culture to those rooted in Western history, from contradictions to the contemporary rediscovery, to issues associated to nature, is played with and reinterpreted with a very personal and recognisable style. It is a style where the care for detail, elegance and lightness appear even more surprising, considering that lightness and poetry are achieved by almost denying and upturning the rough and prosaic nature of many of the materials used. It is like producing fluid and velvety notes by playing shrill instruments. Is it impossible? No it is possible, as long, as is the case of Silvia Beccaria, you have extraordinary technical skills and are convinced that you can imagine it come true.”
PE: What encouraged you to dedicate your time to textiles art and what does it mean to you? What encouraged you to learn a textile art?
SB: I have always been fascinated by materials that allow the hands to work to achieve a “shape” and in weaving I found the instrument that enables me to express myself at best. It is a passion that I discovered as a youngster, I was amazed how fabric grows in your hand, starting from just one thread. After university, my love for applied arts led me to attend a two-year course on textile design, followed by another six years studying the different techniques of textile arts, from traditional fabrics to contemporary tapestries, to fibre art, guided by the artist Martha Nieuwenhuijs. Working with weft and warp, I realised that this was my element, and I stuck with it.
PE: What does the loom mean to you?
SB: For me, the loom is an instrument that produces a beautiful sound; with its rhythm, it fills my days and keeps me company and… fills a silence. It is like a bare canvas that the painter brings to life with shapes and colours. It is like a white sheet that speaks thanks to an author.
PE: Which aspects of your work do you love most?
SB: What I love most is the finished work, but even more than that I love the path leading to its completion. I like to challenge technique and find solutions to represent my project at best, using new shapes, colours and materials, overcoming the very rigidity of the technique. The idea surprises me and I am filled with enthusiasm for a research that is new and for an experiment that is unprecedented, by using industrial materials that are, per se, anonymous and marginal, and that are apparently hardly likely to gain any aesthetic value. I then move on to the execution, I see the fabric grow, one thread at a time, captivating the matter in the weave while allowing it the freedom to move, hinting to the three-dimensional effect that makes it so fascinating.
PE: Which difficulties have you encountered?
SB: For many different historical and social reasons whereby textiles are considered to have a practical function and are mainly associated to the world of women, it has been difficult for this art to be accepted as a language that can be used by artists. Most people associate weaving to a lesser art. In fact, worldwide, there are excellent textile artists who work with threads just as sculptors work with marble and painters with colour. What I find most difficult is to try and upturn the prejudice towards what is considered to be a “poor” art.
PE: Which themes inspire your artistic research? How do you develop them in time?
SB: Let’s say that all my creations are “woven tales”, at times recalling Black Africa in their vivid colours, others the story of a mythical Pharaoh, or celebrating Nature. Nature definitely ranks first as my source of inspiration, because it is in itself, in its many manifestations, a piece of art. The shapes and colours of the seeds, leaves and fruits, marine organisms inspire me with their beauty, encouraging me to express what they make me feel through the use of fabric.
PE: Over the last few months, you have been captivated by the fascination of fluorescence in the marine environment: do you want to tell us about it?
SB: An exhibition-competition held at the Science Museum in Naples on the topic of diatoms allowed me to discover a world of natural architectures, of shapes and lights that emerge from the ocean depths, invisible microcosms that are made of infinite natural beauty, mysterious weaves where shapes and colours constantly move and evolve; real water jewels. I felt the need to represent the marine world, giving life to contemporary jewels and luminescent tapestries that enclose the suggestions provided to me by the water world.
PE: Can you tell us about your upcoming exhibitions?
SB: A personal exhibition at the 1Stile Gallery in Mantua and another personal exhibition next year in Turin in the Gallery Internocortile.
PE: Do you like working based on a set project?
SB: Working on a project is obviously an incentive for new research.
PE: How do you like to relate with your clients?
SB: I like being able to tell my client of the path that leads to the creation of a piece.
PE: What is your dream for the future?
SB: My dream for the future is that in this difficult time in history, instead of finding little support, art and culture will be promoted with greater determination and intensity, as its main role is to educate to appreciate beauty. My other dream is to be able to continue to do my job with love and ensure that it is appreciated by an increasingly broad public.
All images are provided courtesy of Mariano Dallago, except: portrait of Silvia Beccaria, photo by Letizia Toscano; artwork Mal d’Africa, photo by Alessia Micheletti.