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In Conversation with Silvia Gambrione

In our conversation with Italian artist Silvia Gambrione, we discovered the way she uses performance, installation, sculpture and sound to explore the body, everyday violence, and femininity.


Traum, 2019, performance, ceramic sheets, Courtesy of the artist and Richard Saltoun Gallery, Photo credit to Tom Dale

To hear the audio version of the interview click here.


Marjorie Martay–


I'm delighted today to be talking to Silvia Giambrone a wonderful artist represented by the Richard Saltoun Gallery in London, Stefania Miscetti Studio in Rome and The Galleria Marcolini in Forli in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Silvia's practice encompasses multiple mediums– performance, installation, photography, sculpture and sound. She explores body practices and body politics. Silvia, how you doing with this coronavirus, how is it affecting you in Rome?

Silvia Giambrone–


Well, good for now and by that I mean that luckily I don't personally know anyone being affected by the virus, but at the same time it's quite surreal because people are dying. This could happen to me too... I am very worried about my parents who are in the South where the health system is very fragile. So if something happens, there can be a disaster. But at the same time, it almost looked like a paranoia or an obsession because you don't see it outside. You can’t realize it. Outside the weather is lovely, it’s spring in Rome so it looks quite magical as usual. But you have to constantly remind yourself that there can be dead outside and I think it's a lot to take in, and it’s confusing. A lot of people are struggling to keep it real. When you go buy food and you get back home, you get quite depressed because it looks like it's a beautiful sunny day outside.

Marjorie Martay–


I know, I'm in my New York apartment feeling somewhat isolated, but I do go out and take a couple of walks. That helps. Have you been actually going out taking a walk as well?

Silvia Giambrone–


We’re not allowed to take walks. We can only go outside for the Supermarket or Pharmacy. It helps a bit, at the same time, now it feels like it never ends. It’s been more than one month in the house. We need to know when things are going to change because it gets very depressing, and we are very, very worried for the economy too.



Vertigo, 2015, Scanned objects printed on wrapping paper, 74 4/5 × 63 in, Courtesy of the artist  and Richard Saltoun Gallery

Marjorie Martay–


We are too, no question about it! It's very much affected us all. I think we might have an even longer time in quarantine than you will.

Silvia Giambrone–


Yes, but we are also all so connected! Even if it's good for us to finish early, it’s still depressing to know that people on the other side of the world still struggling. We really want this to end because we are so used to being connected, traveling and being free that we would just like to know that it's going to end everywhere.

Marjorie Martay–


I couldn't agree with you more. So the fact that you're spending so much time indoors… are you spending time in your kitchen?

Silvia Giambrone–


Well I am Italian– we have to cook. I'm very good with pastries so I bake some cupcakes, but not much more than that. I would say I managed to control myself and I managed to be stimulated somehow because when your freedom gets stolen you can find new forms of freedom that you didn’t think about before. I am learning another language. That’s good for your mind. I’m learning Spanish because it’s very similar to Italian– we always say in Italy that our language is so similar to Spanish, it will be easy. This time I said this time I will learn Spanish. I’m also doing some arts writing for the first time. I am excited about it.


Vertigo, 2015, Scanned objects printed on wrapping paper, 74 4/5 × 63 in, Courtesy of the artist  and Richard Saltoun Gallery

Marjorie Martay–


That’s so exciting! Are you writing on the theme of violence or what your practice is about? Your works deal with violence in terms of women– physically and psychologically. Is that what you will be writing about as well

Silvia Giambrone–


I write a bit about my work too, but now I am actually trying to write about something very hard to write about. It's the power of image and what images can do– even on a psychoanalytic level. I am trying to understand as much as I can about the power of images.

Marjorie Martay–


That’s great. When did you start this?

Silvia Giambrone–


One week after the lockdown I said, okay, I always write, I have a journal. I am used to writing my thoughts down. This time, I thought– I can start thinking about someone else reading this and how can I communicate my thoughts. That’s the change of perspective. It’s been really interesting for me to think about that and to find balance between my ideas, my thoughts, and what can actually be interesting to be read by other people.

Marjorie Martay–

Well, I think it's so important for all of us to try to stimulate ourselves during this. I know in my case, I decided to do this blog–to help people feel more connected and give awareness to global women artists that are exceptional, like yourself. It’s wonderful that you're starting this new path of writing for you. That's terrific. I will only encourage you even more.

Silvia Giambrone–


I appreciate the encouragement because it's a very new thing for me. Writing is very different from creating images. So maybe that's what I’m exploring too– the difference between writing (and making images through words) and making images in another way.

Marjorie Martay–


That's terrific. Let's go back to what you work is about– so you deal with violence against women and how is that manifesting in your work? What kinds of things do you show? I know you try to incorporate a lot of images, but you also do sculpture and installations. Could you talk about that?


Battlefield, 2017, installation, Persian carpet, gunpowder, dried flowers, 140×80 cm

Silvia Giambrone–

Of course. I am very interested in the subtle ways the violence happens and actually shapes the relationship dynamics and the environment we live in. I am more interested in a whispered threat than a shouted warning, because I believe and I think it's a fact that danger and threats can be internalized. They can control you in a way that you wouldn't suspect or even imagine. What I like to do with my work is trying to make unfamiliar what is usually familiar in order to be seen again. Because usually when something is very familiar, you don't question it anymore. You don't see it anymore. So I transform domestic object or in performance or creating images in general trying to make audience aware of those threats that can be found in familiar domestic everyday practices. I think women know better than men of which kind of threats and practice I am talking about.

Marjorie Martay–


Of course, because they're dealing with them. What made you decide to focus on this theme in your work?

Silvia Giambrone–


It’s quite natural– part of it comes from my life, but I think it started from my love for poetry. Because I have always known and that is why I've always been so drawn by art, but growing as a woman and as an artist, I became more and more aware of the fact that art allows you to listen to all those things that usually get lost– in the noise of the world, in your life. There are very important things that got lost in the noise of the millennium's behind us and that is– women's voices.

So I think that art can be a privileged language for women to speak, and show a different perspective.

Under fire, 2013, video performance, col., 5'04'', Courtesy of the artist


Marjorie Martay–


When you said you loved poetry, are there a number of poets that have inspired you?

Silvia Giambrone–


Many really but it's the paradigm of poetry itself, of finding time and space to go deep inside yourself to try to listen to those things in our life that we don't give space to, because we have to produce. We have to keep up. Poetry is a kind of resistance. It’s a way of resisting everyday life and violence.

Marjorie Martay–


When you look at your approach to art, your process seems to an archaeological dig into everyday life through materials in image culture that reveal certain issues. Is that true?

Silvia Giambrone–


Some people want to go up to the sky and beyond in order to have the feeling of control over what they see. I have the opposite ambition.
I want to go deep inside the core of the mind. I believe we walk on the surface under which we rely so much on symbols belonging to the reality. We inherited by those who came before us, but also by those who live next to us. I think it's helpful for me to approach culture in an archeological way. Basically I would say for two reasons. The first is that it allows you to look at images and material culture as a geological specification you walk on in order to question the order of the discourses you live in…It’s not just a theoretical thing; you touch the surface with your feet off so that affects you. That makes you who you are and gives you a specific balance. It puts you in a set of symbols that you are not aware of. The second reason is mystery. The deeper you go the more mysterious it gets and the mystery is very important to me. It always gives you new chances of for freedom because nobody gets the one and only truth. We all keep looking for that and that keeps the human engine on.

Icon n. 13, 2019, Collage, print on paper, plastich sheet, glue, 34 3/5 × 50 1/5 in, Courtesy of the artist and Richard Saltoun Gallery


Marjorie Martay–


Well, it's no question. I think more we can go into ourselves, it helps us on our path forward.

Silvia Giambrone–


Yes, maybe in the depths we are all connected.

Marjorie Martay–


There's a very strong connection in your work between violence and emotions. Through your work you show the physical signs of that, but also the invisible evidence of them. Can you talk a little about that?

Cutlery, 2015, silver cutlery, steel chains fastened to the wall, 185x10x2 cm, Courtesy of the collector


Silvia Giambrone–


Yes, that is a very important point. Thank you for the question, because the connection between violence and emotions is really crucial. Because violence becomes part of our emotional language. We start seeing reality through the filter of violence. In the video “Under Fire” for example– the video performance that I made in 2013. I focus on the familiarization of a threat. We can usually only think of ourselves as victims, as abused. But the truth is, once we have known violence, we run the risk to become abusers ourselves, even if we don't want it. It’s very hard for us to see it. It's still a taboo somehow. In the work “Vertigo,” I chose pairs of objects and almost made an x-ray of them like looking for some kind of impossible truth to find and they look like they are apparently threatening each other. I made that because I think that can happen when your emotional life is being contaminated or colonized by violence.

Marjorie Martay–


I hear you speak right now and I can only think about– how this virus could affect so many people who are isolated with their partner or whomever and how that can be so detrimental in terms of a toxic relationship– how that manifests in that household, and there's no escape. You use the home and domestic environment; you talk about this family's intimacy. Talk about your piece, “Untitled with thorns” if you don't mind? I think that is very relevant to what we're talking about here.

Silvia Giambrone–

"Untitled with thorns" is a very important work for me because it represents more than other works what an image means for me, what an image can do, the intrinsic power of it. The starting point of the work was trying to make visible those things that happen in a domestic environment and we experience every day, but we don’t have the words for. When we don't have the words for something, we cannot process them and they can become traps. You know when you enter a room where you feel like something is going on in there? Like maybe someone was arguing and you can still feel that in the room? I guess in English you say the elephant in the room?

Frame No. 21, 2019, Silver, wax, acacia thorns, 8 3/10 × 5 1/10 in, Courtesy of the artist and Richard Saltoun Gallery


Marjorie Martay–


Yes, you want to just escape.

Silvia Giambrone–


Yes, it’s very important to recognize that because I was looking for an image to show that kind of tension. I wanted it to be a sculpture. Because I wanted to make something of substance that was such a palpable, fleeting feeling that affects your lifetime. Because this kind of tension, this thing you want to escape from affects you and feeds you if you grow up in an environment like that.

Marjorie Martay–


No question about it, you talk about your sculptural direction, which you did in this one, but you also did it in “The Damage” and “The Mirrors”– can you talk about those two pieces as well?

Silvia Giambrone–

The Damage” is a sculpture. It looks almost like a sculpture of plastic. It’s a female body made of resin wearing a very tight body shape– the one you wear after your pregnancy. It has a hole in the intimate part and it's stretching it in order to let the flesh out. It’s showing metaphorically that what you try to contain always find a way to get out. You know as women we know how that feels right?
The Mirror” series is made of thick mirrors frames where I pulled off the thick mirror glass and filled them with wax and acacia thorns. As I said, I am interested in making domestic and familiar objects unfamiliar and what is most familiar strange. What’s more familiar and uncanny at the same time than the mirror where you're supposed to see yourself to confirm your image of yourself. I wanted the mirror to betray you somehow so I put wax and thorns because they are natural elements. The acacia thorns are beautiful and dangerous. The wax is natural and solid but the still is a sensitive surface, like almost alive. They belong to the world– they are dirty, horrifying, and beautiful at the same time.

Mirror No. 8, 2019, Wax, brass, acacia thorns, 38 1/5 × 21 3/10 in, Courtesy of the artist and Richard Saltoun Gallery

Marjorie Martay–


I saw the piece and I think everybody else will see it when we have it on the blog. It's very impactful–both of them. Then you did a performance piece, "The One-Act Play with Flies.” Could you talk a bit about that?


"One-Act Play for Flies," a performance by Silvia Giambrone, 2018


Silvia Giambrone–


That’s a bit different. Sometimes there are transitions works–usually when a new body of work starts. “The One-Act Play with Flies” was an illumination of domestic life and also the mysterious connection among people, objects, space and time. It's performed by me and a Dalila Cozzolino, she's a professional actress and friend of mine I often work with. We were in the James Wines's Pavillion near Milan– it is the Sculpture Park of Rossini Foundation in Briosco. It was one room. We originally split in two and we acted like we didn't see each other and we were both trapped in our solitude and in our own everyday life. But those two different solitudes were connected. It was quite an experimental work for me. It was the first time I acted. The first time for a site specific performance and also to use the video in that way. It was a very complex work to make for me and also the subject was very subtle because I wanted to speak about the violence that you can find in solitude– of finding yourself trapped with your own ghosts and not seeing that these people around you are going through the same things. But, those are the things that can connect you to them.

Marjorie Martay–


When you did the performance, did you work with any other actors as this was the first time you did anything like this? Did you look at other artists that did performance pieces and use that as a way to help you piece the work together? Or did it come intuitively?

Silvia Giambrone–

I didn't look for any specific performer. But I studied so many performances during that year, so that's probably what influenced me. I'm interested in when theater and performance can meet, because it’s a very subtle difference. At some point, it’s about the performativity itself. Sometimes you feel like you're not yourself, and that’s an authentic part of yourself too– so the distinction between theater and performance can be something interesting to be explored. But, we rehearsed a lot. We really tried to put in the performance what belonged to us already, like my real routine, my everyday life and her everyday life. We tried to find a compromise with the choice between our actual lives and see how we could express that kind of solitude we really experienced in our lives.


Untitled with thorns, 2017, wood chairs, whistling thorns, polyvinyl chloride, bitumen, glass varnish, 150x85x85 cm


Marjorie Martay–


Well, that's great. I'm curious what got you into performance? What motivated you to take this path in your work?

Silvia Giambrone–


Well, there’s an inner urgency of trying to understand my own body, using my own emotions to try to understand why do we accept violence? I think that's the main question for women because sometimes women adopt blame for accepting violence. So I wanted to experience that, because when you explore that, you try to understand how you've been contaminated, you can actually find a way out. You can find your freedom, and I wanted to do that. I wanted to explore what's dark in order to go for the light.

Marjorie Martay–


Did you always think of it in artistic terms? Did you always see yourself becoming an artist?

Silvia Giambrone–


I was drawn by the arts when I was a child too. I spent a lot of time drawing and creating– the possibility of creating something, even if it was on a paper sheets. I always believed the arts, music, language can take your hands and guide you through what is dark in life. I don’t think that many languages can do that. I don't think in everyday life people can easily find the courage to do that. I think art can do that for you, with you…so I guess I've always been interested in that and that's why I love feminist so much, and feminist art. Because at some point, feminist artists understood that properly and gave dignity to those feelings, those small things that the history of art didn't give space to.

Traum, 2019, performance, ceramic sheets, Courtesy of the artist and Richard Saltoun Gallery, Photo credit to Tom Dale


Marjorie Martay–


So your piece “Traum” that was begun in 2019. It definitely is the investigation of the role of violence in relationships–both in a physical and psychic space. could you walk us through that performance?


Traum, 2019, performance, ceramic sheets, Courtesy of the artist and Richard Saltoun Gallery, Photo credit to Tom Dale


Silvia Giambrone–


I performed that in London at the Richard Saltoun Gallery. It was last November. I’ll tell you what happened from my point of view. I was standing in front of the audience and one of my big mirrors was behind me. I had several paper sheets next to me on the table. I took the first one in my hand and I started reading it. The audience was all around me. The text at the beginning is ambiguous. You can't quite understand. It’s about some violence that happens, but you can’t say who is committing it. Is it a woman or a man? Or is it just a fantasy? The atmosphere in the room just builds up and becomes more and more tense. The more I read the more claustrophobic that the theater became. When I finished reading the texts, I dropped the sheets in the drawer and then I broke many pieces–making a very scary noise. Then you realize that it wasn't paper sheets, but ceramic sheets. The audience is quite shocked. It works as a proper trauma. At the same time, it frees the audience from the tension built earlier so they can finally release and I start again. Then I keep reading it. The trauma is reactivated every time I drop one sheet. It was incredibly intense because even if you knew the ceramic was going to break again, you couldn’t help but jump out of fear. I wanted that reaction so very much, because that's how trauma works in the domestic environment. Even if you know it's coming, you can’t help waiting, taking it and being scared by it. It was crucial for that there were witnesses to this trauma. This kind of thing can become a ritual and a part of your identity. You somehow try to give a meaning to it, because it doesn’t make sense. When something doesn’t make sense, you give it a ritual to be able to accept it.


Traum, 2019, performance, ceramic sheets, Courtesy of the artist and Richard Saltoun Gallery, Photo credit to Tom Dale

Marjorie Martay–


Talk to me about your upcoming exhibition at the Galleria Nazionale in Rome?

Silvia Giambrone–


It was supposed to be in March. Of course, it's being postponed, because of the coronavirus. Among the other curators, it will be curated by Paola Ugolini, an Italian feminist curator. She is doing a lot for Italian feminists so I’m very happy. I was invited by her and it's about women subjectivity and the possibility of self determination. It’s very important in Italy that such a museum gives space for this subject. I will be there with the sculpture “The Damage.”



The damage, 2018, resin and artificial fabric shaping body, 89x37x30 cm, Courtesy of the artist and Studio Stefania Miscetti

Marjorie Martay–


Oh, that's fantastic. Then you're planning a show in Milan at the Museo del Novecento?

Silvia Giambrone–


Unfortunately, we don't know yet when because of the coronavirus but it's going to be a show of my performances documented by video. I will make a new performance too. In Italy, arts tradition is a very important. So I think that it’s crucial that work of women and women talking about women now can find space in institutions like that.


The damage, 2018, resin and artificial fabric shaping body, 89x37x30 cm, Courtesy of the artist and Studio Stefania Miscetti

Marjorie Martay–


I'm very pleased to see this beginning to happen out there. It’s taken a long time for us as women and as artists to feel that we're getting the proper due that we deserve. These kinds of shows and exhibitions are finally out and we need to have more of that. Before we leave the discussion. I just want to know is there any other piece that you feel very strongly about that we might not have talked about that represents your art and what you're trying to do?


Collar n.1, 2019, digital print on plexi on diaphanoscope glass, 50x70x10 cm, Courtesy of the collector


Silvia Giambrone–

I love making very different things because that allows me to understand myself and what's around me better. But one work I’m very fond of is “Anatomical Theater” that I made in 2012 and it’s a performance. I made it in a museum in Rome, and one embroidered Collar was sewn on my skin– tailored to my skin. I come from Sicily. There’s a great tradition of embroidery there so I started thinking about embroidery as a women's practice. I wanted to talk about the ambiguity of the embroidery practice. On one hand, embroidery was one of the few things women could do to as a job, but also to have fun. On the other hand, it enforced somehow what a woman was supposed to do to be a better woman or a proper woman. I started thinking about the embroidered things– like the Collar that somehow connects women with the idea of what they’re supposed to be. I did it on my body because I wanted to make people aware of those kinds of symbols that we wear everyday and don’t know where they come from.

Anatomical theatre, 2012, video documentation of performance, col., 5'11'', Courtesy of the artist

Marjorie Martay–


Were you thinking about it as a choker? Like you're being bound to something?

Silvia Giambrone–


My idea was to show myself actually asking to do it– that can happen to you. You just find yourself stuck in these kind of things. You just don’t know. You are an accomplice to that. I think that's important to act out some of those things, because

it makes you aware of the power you can have to change things.

I want to add this to what you said before: now that people are more open to giving space to women in the cultural fields, I have the impression that they do that to do us a favor. I have been silent for so much time now it’s a good time to talk– and I don't think it's that.

The coronavirus has emphasized the need we have for new balances and giving space to women to create new balances. Because giving space to women, creates new opportunity and autonomy, not only for women but also for men… for everyone. It's so obvious is so clear now that it's exactly what we need.

Heritage, 2008, Single Channel Video Projection, col., 10’, Courtesy of the artist and Richard Saltoun Gallery


Marjorie Martay–


I could not agree more. We need have that freedom to be able to create and the opportunity to be seen and to be heard. This whole notion of equality between men and women– we are equal, but for some reason in this patriarchal society that we have lived in, we were never seen that way. People and specific institutions are beginning to realize that…but it's taking a long time. This is something that we're going to be dealing with for a while, but maybe a crisis like this brings it forward more. It gives us the opportunity to look within ourselves as well as look outside of ourselves. I so appreciate our thoughtful conversations today and the issues that you're dealing with in your work are so important. I really believe we need to eradicate this behavior and only through awareness and education can we hope to see a difference out there. Thank you so much, Silvia, for giving me the opportunity to speak with you and I want to thank Richard Saltoun for connecting us. I will leave you now and I only wish you the best. Stay safe.

Silvia Giambrone–


Thank you very much for giving me the space and to share this conversation with me. It’s so important to share, if we don't, then nothing makes sense anymore. Thank you very much.


To see more of Silvia Gambrione's work, please visit: http://www.silviagiambrone.com/en/


Please keep up to date with Giambrone's galleries, click to view each below–

Richard Saltoun Gallery in London

Stefania Miscetti Studio in Rome

The Galleria Marcolini in Forli


Along with her upcoming exhibit at the La Galleria Nazionale in Rome.

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