contemporary art / history of art

Artwork of the Month / September 2022

superficie #3 (surface #3)
Rossana Taormina

Frottage: charcoal on canvas
200 cm x 145 cm

“superficie #3” (surface #3) by Rossana Taormina is a frottage with charcoal on canvas. Hence, the picture is in more or less intense shades of grey. The artist placed the canvas on an urban pavement and rubbed the charcoal across. Accordingly, the grout lines between the square shaped tiles are visible and form a grid of horizontal and vertical lines at right angles to each other. On the single tiles, there are little regular points perceptible. These probably originate from the work on the surface to roughen it, to avoid slippery. The imprint was taken from a cement sidewalk in Palermo. This is a first hint to the origin of the artist.

Additionally, there are other, irregular lines, which often transcend the symmetric grid. They are the traces from the long-lasting use of the pavement. In the course of time, people passed by: walking, driving cars or motorbikes, riding on horsebacks or carriages, pulling carts by horses, donkeys, mules or even only by human effort. Sometimes, a heavy object might had fallen down and broke some tiles or a corrosive liquid had been spilled. All these interventions left their tracks, likewise the weather. The burning sun might have damaged the surface and the rain might have washed the existing cracks even deeper.

Moreover, the colour application is not regular. This could be caused by the artist’s intervention with an irregular pressing of the charcoal. Likewise, it could be also the trace of a former or actual incident on the pavement. Were the darker areas on the canvas oily or wet stains on the floor in the moment of the application? However, the by-passers have left their traces. Due to Rossana’s frottage, they become visible and get attention, since they are disconnected from their context, where people still continue to pass by.

This mapping of the daily routes of people, remind – due to its structure – also a city plan. The regular symmetric grid could refer to a planned city. But it is uncertain, to which time of urban planning it might refer, since the regular orthogonal plan was applied in different periods. Already from the Greek antiquity, we have notes of this style. The ancient romans planned their cities as an even regular grid with two crossing main axes, regardless the unevenness of the terrain. In the late middle ages and during the Renaissance the idea of a regular plan was newly interpreted and even the urban planners in the colonies revived the chessboard pattern. In Sicily, the Greek and the Romans left their traces. Later, it was partly implemented to construct new quarters, like in Palermo or to reconstruct destroyed villages, like in Rossana’s home area the Valley of Belice, where an intense earthquake devastated many villages in 1968. Nevertheless, sometimes the rectangular disposition could be softened by adaption to the ground or foiled by pre-existing ways or sites. A famous example for an anomaly in a chessboard pattern city is the Broadway in Manhattan, which – in parts – crosses diagonally the otherwise rectangular city blocks. Even though, today’s course is adjusted, its origin dates from the times before Europeans arrived on the island and was first a path of the Native Americans.

Furthermore, ancient orthogonal planned cities had been modified in the course of time and adapted to the actual requirements. Interpreting “superficie #3” as city plan, the irregular traces of usage might be seen as modifications in this sense. People, who lived here, left their marks, no matter if it was with or without intention. Additionally, the darker zone could reflect an elevation or a lower part in the territory. This reveals another reason for the darker shades in the image: an indentation in the ground – resulting from attrition – had provoked the stronger intensity of the grey.

Finally, “superficie #3”, with all its incisions remind the artist – and not only – to the “Cretto di Alberto Burri” in Gibellina in the Valley of Belice. Here, the Italian artist covered the ruins of the city with white concrete. After the earthquake from 1968, the old city remained as it was and Gibellina Nuova was 11 km away from the historical centre. Burri spread the concrete over the ruins like a huge shroud, but he preserved the streetscape. Besides, this enormous land art installation might recall the “Shroud of Turin”, which is said to be the burial shroud of the Christ. It is bearing the negative image of a man and some people believe it is the impression of the countenance of Jesus, a testimony of his being on earth. Similarly, Rossana took the imprint of a small section of a city and with that, “superficie #3” depicts the traces of transit from many existences.


Rossana Taormina

Born in 1972 in Partanna, Sicily, Italy, Rossana Taormina studied fine arts in Palermo, after a work stay in Rome. Since 2011, she exclusively pursues her artistic career. Since then, she participated in many group shows and had several solo exhibitions. First, she was mostly on view in Sicily, but by the time, she enlarged her radius with exhibitions all over Italy and abroad, for example in Greece, Spain and the United States. Lately, Rossana’s creations were presented in several solo exhibitions, for example in December 2021 in Modica (Futuro remoto); from February to April 2022 in Cernobbio (Le Chronache del Filo Bianco) and in May 2022 the gallery Lo Magno Arte Contemporanea took older and most recent works to the Bologna Arte Fiera.

Moreover, national and international magazines dedicated articles to her oeuvre or published interviews with her, among others La Repubblica (Italy), Vogue Living (Australia) and Beaux Arts Magazine (France). The last one mentioned her work in occasion of the publication of Charlotte Vannier’s book “From Thread to Needle”, where the author presents various artists in art history and contemporary art working with embroidery.

However, Rossana’s oeuvre is far from being reduced to embroidery. Certainly, she works with threads and fabric, but she is also using various materials and techniques. Frequently, found objects are the starting point in her creations. She embroiders at flea markets discovered photos from unknown people or adds elements to ancient maps and nautical charts. Old negatives from photos are likewise included as leaves or ancient textiles. Sometimes, the artist’s research guides her to take a canvas into town and to depict urban elements by frottage, like in the series “superficie” (surface) from 2015. One of these works, “superficie #3” is our artwork of the month of September 2022.

Rossana’s artistic practice is strongly influenced by the experience of her early life. One of her first contact with artworks, was the construction of the “spazio utopico di Gibellina” close to her native town. For the reconstruction of the city of Gibellina, the – at that time mayor – Ludovico Corrao called renown artists to help building a great museum en plein air, by contributing artworks for the public space in the 1970s.

This reconstruction became necessary because of the devastating earthquake in the Valley of Belice in 1968. Many people were killed or injured. The towns and villages had been strongly damaged, if not destroyed in January of the year, Rossana’s hometown included. 100.000 people got homeless. Even nine years later, many of the habitants still lived in temporary accommodation. In consequence, the future artist experienced the sentiment of loss in her urban and social environment. Hence, she developed a kind of obsessions for memory; the found objects in her artworks are an expression of it. With them, she conserves the souvenir of anonymous existences, giving them a new space. When she is working with photos and objects from unknown persons, she is keeping the necessary emotional distance. Whereas she uses for her works with fabric, if possible, textiles coming from her own family. In her series “superficie”, she reflects on traces, the human existence left in urban space. Thereby her artistic practice is based on remembrance, in personal, social and cultural point of view. It is a research of a bygone time.

Rossana lives and works in Palermo.

Instagram: @rossana.taormina