24 October 2019

FLOORR Magazine interview with Caterina Silva by Simek Shropshire


Interview by Simek Shropshire

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?

I was born in Rome and grew up in a politically engaged context, my mother was a communist and believed that changing the world was possible. I didn’t follow conventional art education and studied Philosophy and Scenography between London and Rome. For some years I have been working as a theatre designer while collaborating to nomadic performance projects between Sicily, Paris, Umbria and India. I was traveling with small groups of people, creating spaces devoid of power relations, often speaking a mixture of broken different languages. In 2008 I settled back in Rome where I had a studio for 3 years. There, I focused on painting only. From 2011 I started to travel again through long term residencies like the Cité des Arts in Paris, the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam or the ACC in Gwangju. In 2018 I moved to London.

In the exhibition Caterina Silva: Impressioni at Bosse&Baum in Peckham, you painted the pipes that ran along the ceiling and walls of the exhibition space. What prompted you to configure the gallery’s infrastructure in conjunction with the oil paintings?

It was an intuitive decision. The paintings on show were made using elements of my close surroundings like food, hot drinks, dust and soil. I was combining them with more conventional materials such as pigments and spray-paint. To paint the pipes was a similar strategy to merge the paintings with the gallery space in a natural way. It was meant to reduce the distance between inner and outer spaces and to highlight physical forms accidentally resembling abstract forms in the paintings.


Caterina Silva, Impressioni, 2019, Bosse & Baum, London

In addition to being a painter, you are a performance artist and have choreographed a number of performances, such as Amor Proprio. How does gesture vary, aside from the most obvious answer, and function across the two mediums in your works?

The gestures in both my in-studio process and during live events are at the same time spontaneous and hyper mediated. In both cases controlled chance plays a role and the decision making process is partly left into someone else’s hands. During live performances each participant is generally given 5 or plus actions which represent translations of my painting process into body movements. The instructions are often written in the form of a koan (paradoxical question used in Chan, the Korean Zen, to reach enlightenment) and the performers reinterpret them according to their physical and imaginative possibilities. We generally rehearse only once altogether but each performer is asked to stick to a determined set of movements. What they do on stage is clean, direct and readable by the audience. All this leads to a great openness. The potential meaning is created in the interaction between the bodies. As in my painting process, in live events there are no rules, besides attention and presence which at times become respect and care and at others misunderstanding and violence. Like in an anarchist society, the signs on the canvas and the performers on stage cohabit and overlap on an individual level that might become shared and universal or instead remain alienated.

Central to your paintings are mappings of imagery and symbols that are rooted in abstraction. You’ve further stated that you “consider [your] practice as a way to control the non-controllable.” Can you expand upon the interplay of these elements of your process and practice, and how they converge in a symbiotic relationship?

I am interested in what our mind is unable to conceive, what escapes language and its classification and control systems. These unnamable things might relate to death, chance, love, pain, joy, extreme despair as well as to an error in the system. Sometimes I am unable to express myself, as if words would fail me, even if the language I am speaking is my mother tongue. I am interested in this feeling of powerlessness and discomfort because it creates an openness towards the surrounding and shifts my attention from myself to a non-self. While I paint there is always a subject that I try to deceive or to bypass in order to let things speaking for themselves. I try to master randomness and to exercise the least power on the image that wants to emerge. This is now my natural attitude towards painting. For me it’s a way to investigate the relation between power and language and to question the violence of representation from a silent and non-discursive perspective.

How do you go about naming your work?

The naming part of the process is both a struggle and a resolution. The action of titling gives me the chance to turn upside down the whole series and to go further into fighting with language and classification through their own tools. The system that I use always changes. Titles are often connected with the works but the connection is opaque. When I was living in Amsterdam I started to give paintings the names of people, mostly men. I was referring to the idea of “whatever singularity”, a concept developed by Giorgio Agamben in the book The Coming community. In my mind they were also the names of the human bodies with no surname found dead in the Mediterranean Sea in the summer 2015. Nobody knew this.  Then I used cities, like Calcutta, which referred both to the Indian city of Kolkata and to the name of a singer that I was listening to.  I think naming is the last stage, when all the weight accumulated in the process disappears turning things playful and light or instead dark and dramatic. You can write a hidden history with titles. In some cases I use only one descriptive word for the whole series, like with Impressioni or Diary of a space.

When the mediums are combined, how do your performances juxtapose your paintings?

I don’t see being a painter and making performances as two distinct practices but so far I have  kept the outcomes of the two processes apart. If an interaction had happened was more of a clash. I think for me making performances means to get rid of the heaviness of the painting object, its materiality and implications with the market. This is why they are often set in non white cube spaces, like Amor Proprio, that took place in Centrale Montemartini, a museum filled with Ancient Roman sculptures or SSOL.AP, staged in a gym and in a clothing shop in Amsterdam. I like the autonomy of the living bodies.

Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?

I have a solo presentation at Artissima Present Future in Turin with Bosse&Baum at the beginning of November.

Read the article online here