Drawing from an ancient tradition

It has been nearly ten months since I last saw Daniela Antonelli.  Recently she sent me some photographs of her new works inspired by ancient cultures and traditions.  This time she takes her practice further into exploring nature and human rituals by realizing works in free-standing sculptures rather than restricting to the rigor of the Mylar-drawings.  As always, I find her works immanent and delicate yet present and resilient.  Here with me, she describes the process of making these works and the things that inspires her.

wood, feather, animal skull, 3 x 41 x 4 cm, 2013

CH: Hi Daniela, it has been awhile since the last time we talked back in April when you were an artist-in-residency at RU.  What have been working on recently?

DA: Hello Chennie, since the last time we spoke the work was gradually evolving in space.  I had begun experimenting with natural materials, developing installations and sculptures that revolve around the notions of natural elements and primitive rituals of pre-historic times. 

Recently, I have developed a body of work exploring further on this path. It seeks to establish a connection using both the primal nature of the elements and matters such as fitting, balance and tension between the pieces placed in space. 

CH: That sounds very interesting in a way your work somehow grew wings and took flight into another dimension, metaphorically speaking.  Now, can you elaborate a little more on how you progressed from making drawings to these objects in space?  

DA: For a few years my artistic practice was fully dedicated to drawing.  They were dissolving compositions, very light and controlled.  In time, they became more alive and loose. I have a feeling these drawings slowly emerged into the physical world and the evolution towards sculpture happened in a similar natural way.

I started looking through the drawing and seeing the material itself.  Such as making cuts on the papers and experimenting with whatever I had in the studio.  It is both an intuitive and a rational ongoing process. It happens as if the language has a life of its own and within time I am able to decode it, use its tools and really engage with it. 

stone, bone, leather and thread, 18 x 50 x 12 cm, 2012

CH: For these new pieces, how do the materials play significant parts in physical construction and narrative construction?

DA: From a construction point of view it is really about the physical aspects of the materials, i.e. their materiality, density, weigh, color and shape.  There is a strong subjective layer that these elements also evoke, i.e. personal history as well as their intrinsic nature.  I like the idea that it is possible to transform a natural element into a cultural one only by making a mark or by connecting one thing to another.

CH: In a sense the subjective elements as you mentioned then added to the narrative.  Can you describe the journeys of finding the material, putting it all together physically, then finally its outcome… ?

DA: Gathering elements is a continuous process.  It is possible to find something on a trip or during a walk.  Also, there is a certain engagement with people that provide me with material that can be used in the process.  These later works were created from many elements that came from a few people and places.  One of them, and very importantly, is a dear friend and artist Robert Ebendorf.  We met about two years ago during an academic program in England and ever since, he has been sending me packages with a lot of interesting content.  Then, it is all about taking the time to allow the process to continue.  I work on different pieces at the same time, switching from one to another.  They are part of the same family.  It can happen quickly or it can take some years for a piece to be completed.  All the materials stay in the studio.  It is an intuitive process as well as a rational one.  Once the piece is ready at its core, it is a process of thinking about how to preserve it and actually making its existence possible outside the safe environment of the studio.

stone, tortoiseshell, wood, thread and thorns, 10 x 17 x 5 cm, 2013

CH: You mentioned before that in making these new works, you also became interested in Voodoo culture.  Can you tell me about why you found it inspiring and instrumental to this particular body of work?

DA: There is a strong ritualistic and instinctive aspect in these new works and they have a kind of altered logic.  The pieces have a strong latent potency and urge to make the observer pause. Voodoo Culture, in particular interests me because it is permeated with some of these aspects elevated to maximum potency.  In other words, it is as if their objects and rituals were so powerful that they have the ability to make things happen.  These subjects are relevant to the works since for me art is a way to find a connection between the real world and the other layers within reality.  Not only in Voodoo Culture but also many other tribal and more ancient societies all have a connection with the divine and the instinctive through objects and manifestations that we in our culture consider art.

CH: For these particular works, I notice that you named most of them as "Ouangas, rather than using different names.  What does "Ouangas" mean?  How did you discover it? 

DA: This is a series called Ouangas. It is a term that designates a magical man-made object made in the Voodoo Culture.  The word comes from a book called the Magic Island that talks about a man who travels to Haiti and decides to write about everything he saw and experienced in the Voodoo culture.  There is a relation between Ouangas and some Totemic concepts.  They are objects or symbols of power.  Ouangas may have many purposes, for good or bad.  Art, whether it is an object or something else, emits a strong subjective vibration. They are in a way, sacred things impregnated with a contemporary coating over them.

stone, feather, seed, thorn, 7 x 20 x 5 cm
, 2013
sapucaia seeds, wood, shells and thread, 33 x 12 x 10 cm, 33 x 10 x 12 cm, 43 x 12 x 10 cm, 2013

CH: I see a coherent linkage between this recent body of work to the previous body of work. By that I mean you have been testing with your intuition and artistic instinct while at the same time investigating an ancient culture and adapting a kind of ritualistic style of working.  What about this kind of correlation or inter-connect that attracts you?

DA: Well, the work really begun as a methodical investigation of a medium: drawing.  What happened was I plunged so deeply into an almost meditative state when doing them that it made me aware of another aspect of making art: the ritual, the discovery that this is an instinct that man has and that it is a way to connect with something stronger and deeper. This led me to search for matters that have not been fully understood in our world.  It is very appealing how these cultures had a strong practice of craft together with an intense subjective connection to something that is sacred, magical.  The interest in ancient cultures is one of many aspects of the research that feeds the language.

bone, feathers, wood and pins, 60 x 8 x 8 cm, 2013
CH: It's been wonderful hearing you speak about your work.  Do you have any exhibitions coming up? 

DA: For now I will be showing some new paintings in a collective show in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.


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