Zenzic — In Conversation with Anna Barham, Chiara Camoni and Caterina Avataneo
At the foundation of any artistic collaboration, trade or union, either if it is a long term relationship or an accidental affair, there is the idea that exchange is a form of power.
The Italian independent curator Caterina Avataneo, who is also working at Arcade Gallery and as Assistant Curator for the Lithuanian Pavilion of the 58th Venice Biennale, invited artists Chiara Camoni and Anna Barham to work together and to conflate their own practices. The invitation resulted in Zenzic, an exhibition that was recently presented at Arcade in London.
The duo-show consists of an installation made by Anna, a spiked structure in the shape of a Z built with different material that works as a display for Chiara’s drawings. On the walls are hanging two long necklaces made of interlaced terracotta and dried flowers made by Chiara.
As Caterina tells me: “Zenzic is an old mathematical expression used to define the power of number two, that, however, doesn’t develop in multiple but far beyond its own double. The exhibition starts with the two different practices of Chiara and Anna to find a strong element in common that is the relation between people”.
I asked a few questions to Caterina, Chiara and Anna to know how this exhibition found its way of being.
“Zenzic is an old mathematical expression used to define the power of number two, that, however, doesn’t develop in multiple but far beyond its own double. The exhibition starts with the two different practices of Chiara and Anna to find a strong element in common that is the relation between people”.
— Caterina Avataneo
EO: It seems to me that at the foundation of Anna and Chiara’s research there is a core, that they share in common, that evolves in different forms and ways. Like in a star there is a fulcrum and there are many spikes that branch off of it. They are different ways of describing the Relation. Also, the 'difference' in itself is a central topic of the exhibition. Caterina told me about the explicit reference to Gilles Deleuze Difference and Repetition. For you, at the beginning is the encounter with each other. Can you tell me about how you combine the many different aspects of your artistic practices in general and in the context of the show?
AB: The star is a good image: the center of gravity around which things orbit. Perhaps for my practice this core could be described as an interest in the permeability of boundaries which I explore in various ways: through language, thinking of words as boundaries for concepts - definitions - or of the language we use to articulate and define ourselves or our ideas, and then looking and playing with the ways this breaks down and language takes on a life of its own. Or the ways that we are not coherent individuals but are constantly renegotiating our subjectivities and identities through complex relationships with human and non-human others. And of course, especially in this show, the permeability of boundaries that occurs in collaboration.
CC: We worked in an organic way, adding an element or a thought one after another and in consequence. So the aesthetic differences weren’t a problem. We were mainly involved in the process and in the beauty of doing things in this way. I feel this show is done by three people: me, Anna and Caterina.
EO: Anna’s and Chiara’s research uses different media. I would like to ask you in which way the two distinct approaches meet each other?
CA: Anna’s practice involves mainly video, text and live events that set up shifting relationships that include their audiences as further agents in their production and transformation of ‘sense’. She observes structures of language and production of ‘meaning’, questioning subjectivity and authorship. Chiara employs more traditional medium in her practice: drawing, terracotta, vegetal print, etc. Often the surrounding becomes material for her work, from the natural elements of the landscape to the people themselves that participate with Chiara in the act of creating an art-work. Chiara explores togetherness and the act of sharing by doing and I think that it is here that the two practices meet, with their different aesthetic outcome. There is in both Anna and Chiara a need and interest to test the collaborative nature of producing meaning.
AB: The piece that I have in this exhibition acts as a container for Chiara’s work, and a way for the viewer to experience it . Many of the decisions I made about its size and height, about which panels would be reflective or opaque or transparent etc were determined through my conversations with Chiara about her grandmother’s drawings and the necklaces, but they were also informed by the architecture of the gallery and the way it is used by both the people that work there and also the visitors. It acts as a mediator for the encounter between the work and the viewer.
CC: I think the two distinct approaches meet in the way we see, in our way of feeling. It’s about the encounter of people… and only subsequently about their works.
EO: Chiara’s form of expression incorporate aspects connected to handicraft while Anna focuses on the inner structure that connects things manifested through computer technology. Formally how do you decided to build together the exhibition?
AB: My work is not specific to computers - I’m interested in them as a contemporary technology through which we communicate with each other and manipulate the world, but I’m also interested in much older technologies that do this like language or printing. I think this underlying interest in how we manipulate the world through tools and how we have extended our consciousness through objects and materials is a common thread between Chiara’s work and mine, even if hers maintains the hand literally while mine uses the idea of manipulation in its more figurative sense.
CC: When I saw the structure of Anna I thought it was the most unexpected way to show the drawings that I could imagine ... And then I realized that this was the point: to give the drawings a new set up, a Zenzic aspect!
CA: Zenzic started from the fascination I had for two existing works by Anna and Chiara. Anna was recently commissioned a new work for the show Liquid Crystal Display at Site Gallery, Sheffield (currently touring to MIMA, Middlesbrough) where she created the Crystal Fabric Field Bracket (1016) as a way of building that mimics how crystals form. The modular form adapted to the space and shaped a display structure hosting the other works of the show and thus determining how the visitor would encounter the exhibited works. Chiara’s work is an older one, a series of 250 drawings of stars made by her Grandmother during the course of 2006. Both works involve somehow elements such as repetition, the other, commitment in time; and with their approach generate poetic tracks. The delicacy and strength of the two works gave me the idea to propose Anna to produce a work that would host Chiara’s grandmother drawings and to propose Chiara to produce a work responding to Anna’s structure, that’s how the second work by Chiara in the show became part of the project.
EO: In both your artistic practice there is a strong element that is the intervention or participation of the other through different performative aspects. Can you tell me more about that? In particular, I am interested in knowing how do you relate to unpredictability in your work?
CC: When I start working with someone else I do not know exactly where we are going. The result is always unpredictable. Sometimes artists can delegate the realization, having a clear idea of the result. For me it's the opposite: I like to enter places that I do not know yet and let myself be transported. It is a kind of dance. So, in the end, the work also surprises me.
AB: It is the same for me. The intervention or participation of the other is for two reasons - one is to explore the boundaries between the work and the viewer (I am also a viewer). The second is precisely to create unpredictability, to open the work up to something unforeseen, that creates space for me to breathe.
CA: I would like to add that I feel that both Anna and Chiara “extend” the idea of participation and look at contamination, by human and non-human agents, as generative.
EO: Both Anna's and Chiara's work interacts with the environment; Chiara explores the private dimension of her relationship with her grandmother in a piece she started in 2006; while Anne's work belongs to connecting with others, sometimes being complete strangers, as through the internet. Do you think that there are differences in this way of interlacing the other's life?
AB: I’m not sure they are so different. Of course, Chiara’s working relationship with her grandmother is very personal, specific and sustained but she also makes work through interactions with groups of people that she knows less well or not at all. In the works that I make that involve other people, like the live production reading groups, the connection is very human - it is not the computer process that makes the connection, that is just the material, like the clay that Chiara uses - the real connection comes through speaking and listening in a group.
CC: I think the relationship is not in difference or in similarity, but in connections. We have worked on the cure. I took care of my grandmother's work, giving to the word "curator" an affectionate meaning. Then with Caterina and Anna, we probably continued this way of taking care of ourselves.
CA: Building relationships can be dangerous; you can’t predict what the result will be and how the personal and the collective will balance. Zenzic for me was a new way to approach my curatorial practice and gave me a deeper insight into the creative process.
EO: The relation has something to do with memory but also with oblivion. What is the memory for you? Relationships can become dead ends, how important is it to cut?
CC: My grandmother's stars are all statements; every sign says: I am here. It was a way to record time. Obviously everything is destined to end, but we are authorized to create our own version. The drawings are not only memory, but they are also still saying things.
CA: I don’t think memory is something so present in the show. But on memory I can say that believe it to be the most private and personal that we own... together with death (according to Jacques Derrida).
AB: I suppose if you think of memory in terms of repetition and that it’s not an exact copy each time, that is something interesting, but I agree I don’t find it so present in the show either.
EO: Is it possible to include the other in one's work without engulfing or being swallowed?
AB: It’s a delicate and subtle negotiation, but I think it’s possible - you have to be alive to the other.
CC: Yes I hope it is possible, and I hope to be able in my work, by allowing the means and the results to be open.
EO: As we are constantly moving, changing, leaving and sometimes not even coming back, relationships seem to have become more and more fluid. Please do not mistake my words; I think it is a good thing to have the possibility to reinvent our own life continually. However, this often leads to a one -dimension relationship. How do you think your work reflect this aspect of our time?
CC: Giving weight, substance, soil to human relationships.
AB: I’m very excited by the recognition and discussion of fluidity in our time. For me, it comes out of feminist discourse and brings nuance, connectedness and possibility.
CA: I think fluidity allows to understand better reality. I am interested in the idea of metamorphosis and perpetual change (not necessarily in linear forms of time). I think I will try to explore this in future projects.
EO: Zenzic is an exhibition about relationships, differences between people and repetition in the sense of social and human belonging; Is Zenzic a social experiment? And in which way it can affect the reality that we live in?
CC: It isn’t an experiment; it is a small adventure, a small story. As an artist, I do what I do looking for a Sense. For my life, for being in the world, in this history. And when it happens that the Sense is shared by other people, it seems to me to be like a small miracle. I believe that we can change things by contact, one by one. Of course, I also believe in significant change. But my way to resist - to war, to pain, to every day news - and the way I can do it best is by rebuilding the world every time: making a vase, creating a whistle, doing a Sister.
CA: Can’t add anything, Chiara spoke for everyone here.
AB: I have to agree! I hope that Zenzic brings a sense of aliveness and connectedness, to be aware of how we all touch each other.