contemporary art / history of art

Artwork of the Month / May 2021

The Pillars of the Earth
Virginia Zanetti

print on Canson Baryta
100 cm x 150 cm
Edition of 5 + 1 print in 180 cm x 270 cm

Virginia Zanetti’s photo “The Pillars of the Earth” is part of an ongoing series with the same name, started in 2016 in India. As in other pictures of the series, it shows a group of people making a handstand. However, the image is turned upside down. In consequence, it seems as if the protagonists would be clinging with their hands in the green grass and hanging a part from that between earth and sky. Another interpretation is suggested by the title: the performers are carrying the terrain with their hands. Each individual becomes one of the pillars of the earth.

This performance took place in June 2019 in Sabbiuno at the Parco dei Calanchi, in the hills south of Bologna, Italy. Here is the monument of Monte Sabbiuno, a memorial to remind the assassination of about 100 partisans. These mostly young people of the Resistance were killed by Nazi-fascists in December 1944. It is a place of great historical importance. The project was curated by Adiacenze, patronised by the ANPI (Associazione Nazionale Partigiani d’Italia), supported by the Traffic Gallery and executed in collaboration with the high school ITCS Gaetano Salvemini in Casalecchio di Reno, in the context of the ART City 2019.

Before going into action, the artist made a preparation and training workshop with the participants, who were pupils of the ITCS. According to the location, its thematic starting point were the values of the Resistance. In choosing a place close to the memorial, Virginia built a bridge between generations: people who were young in 1944 and in 2019. Particularly the lives of the first generation were turned upside down by the war. Symbolically, the performers reversed the world by the action of turning over their normal vertical position into the opposite. Moreover, the artist rotated the image with the result that the protagonist are now carrying the world, defying the laws of gravity.

After the performance, the high school ITCS Gaetano Salvemini in Casalecchio di Reno, Italy, decided to acquire a monumental version. The photo was installed in occasion of the 30th memorial of the crash of a military jet into the school on 6th December 1990, when twelve pupils were killed and 88 other students and staff were injured. Now the sixteen participants of the performance represent on one photo the former, present and future students.

Another photo taken during the performance was donated to the Museo della Resistenza dal Comune di Bologna (Museum of the Resistance of Bologna). Thus, it will be part of the collection of the Municipality of the city, which contains artworks and artefacts from the antiquity to the contemporaneity. Once more, a connection between generations and different cultures will be made.

It is important to underline that the image and the action are not only representative, neither Virginia’s longstanding project’s objective is only symbolically. She wants people to share a common experience, if possible with people from different areas to renew their point of view. In reversing the perspective, one might discover different positions and possibilities, to question whether to play an active or passive role in society. “People doing handstand are supporting the world becoming the Pillars of the Earth and trigger a process of collective construction of new concepts and new ways.” as she mentions in her portfolio.

Also in 2019, photos and videos of former Pillars-of-the-Earth-performances were presented in the double show with Andreco “I Pilastri della Terra vs La Parata della Fine” (The Pillars of the World vs. The Parade of the End) at the booth of the Traffic Gallery at the Arte Fiera of Bologna in 2019. Here Virginia was granted the Primo Premio per la fotografia Annamaria e Antonio Maccaferri for her project. Soon the photos from summer 2019 will be back in Bologna. Starting on 7th of May 2021 the pictures will be on view in Virginia’s solo exhibition “Be a Poem” in the Palazzo D’Accursio, the cities town hall, in the context of the Art City 2021.

Virginia Zanetti

Born in 1981 in Fiesole, Italy, Virginia Zanetti studied painting at the Accademia di belle arti (Academy of fine Arts) of Florence. After this first degree, she made her master in art didactics and gained the teaching license for instructing art and art history. Additionally, she made a diploma in advertising graphics at the Art Lycée in Florence and a Master in Art teaching methods at the Forcom University in Rome. Since her early career, she collaborates with national and international institutions for lessons, workshops, laboratories, residencies and exhibitions. Besides many solo shows, she participated in numerous group exhibitions in Italy, but also in several European countries and in India and Mexico. She is co-founder of the Estuario project space in Prato and of the Laboratory of the Future, a discussion platform for an exchange about themes of our actual time.

Virginia’s artistic and didactic activities are characterised by a strong focus on participation and long-term interventions. At the same time, her works are a deep reflection on society, relationship, culture and humanity. They are documented by photos and videos. Already one of her earliest projects (2010-2014), “Curating the Curator”, included contributions of various artists, curators and intellectuals. During the group exhibition “Souk” in Florence in 2011, she published her private telephone number with her contribution “ChiAMAMI (CallME). In doing so, she invited the audience to call her for an exchange about her work or secret laws of the existence.

Several of her projects became even more participative. For her installation “The Eyes of the World” (2013), the artist asked the inhabitants of Latronico to write their memories or personal or imaginary stories about the places where she installed 12 round mirrors in the landscape in and around the village. For her performance “The Landscape / The Body asks” (2015, Teatro Studio Krypton in Scandicci) Virginia involved the public even more. Here the audience became protagonist, lying down on the stage floor. It was an emotional and aesthetic experience, for both the artist and the participants.

Started in 2016 in India, “The Pillars of the Earth” is a still ongoing project. The locations are chosen by their particular importance for the people of the area. In India it was a Dolomite Mine in Paradsinga, close to Madhya Pradesh, in Cosenza, Italy a mafia managed sand factory and in Sabbiuno, also Italy the Parco dei Calanchi, with its partisan memorial. One of the photos shot here is our artwork of the month / May 2021. Before the proper action, the participants meet for a preparing workshop, for an exchange about the significance of the location. Afterwards, the performers all make a handstand at the predefined place. Afterwards, the recorded photos and videos are presented upside down, so that it looks as if the people are carrying the ground. It is an invitation to reverse the personal perspective. In doing so, one might explore individual and collective potentials to contribute to the society.

In 2018 and 2019, Virginia invited residents and migrants living in Palermo (Spazio Y-Bordercrossing, Manifesta 12) and Zurich (IIC – Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Zurich – Migration Museum – OnCurating Space) to an embroidery on an ultramarine blue fabric. Symbolising the sea and the ecosystem as origin of living beings, the blue cloth was decorated by golden stars. During the process, the participants could exchange experiences related to the sea as a projection of memories and desires. As the title “Abysses” indicates, there might be also negative associations, which might be overcome by the collective experience and the conclusive action: “raised towards the sky, the blue of the abyss becomes sky itself, supported by the same people who have imagined it. A sky full of new meanings in a delicate balance between space and time.” the artist stated in her portfolio.

During the lockdown due to the corona-crisis, Virginia rediscovered poems as a good possibility to transcend time and embroidery as a kind of meditation. First, she stitched her own thoughts in golden threads on her personal clothes, later she invited others to do the same. In summer 2020, she made the workshop “Be a Poem”, within the summer school of the Villa Romana in Florence. Here the participants embroidered their garments with thoughts about the isolation because of the pandemic. In a final performance, the worn poems were presented. The action was part of the ARKAD project in occasion of the Manifesta 13 in Marseille 2020. “Be a Poem” also became the title of her latest solo exhibition, which will take place in the Palazzo D’Accursio, Bologna, opening on 7th of May 2021.

Virginia lives and works in Prato, Italy.