Art Worth Spreading

"What could be more convincing, moreover, than the gesture of laying one's cards face up on the table?"  — Jacques Lacan  

Artist Carla Zaccagnini may work with several media such as video, installation and drawing, but the kernel of her obsessions revolves around language and displacement. The Argentinean-born artist emigrated to Brazil as a young girl and has remained in Sao Paulo for most of her life. Consequently, expatriation and her bilingual understanding of the world have marked her work as an artist. It is on a recent visit to Berlin's Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, where Zaccagnini currently holds an artist residency, that we get a glimpse at what triggers this artist's creativity: "My obsession with language definitely has to do with having moved countries as a young girl. It was at an age when I already wrote and read, aware of the fact that language was a representation, a code. To learn that every single thing can be given different names makes you reflect on where the structure of language comes from. On the other side, my mom is a Lacanian psychoanalyst. Enough said (laughs)."

A Bilingual Outlook On Life

Translation, we all know, is tricky because of the layers of meaning, connotation and emotion in each language. Those of us who have grown up listening to different rhythms and sounds know that there are things we are more keen on saying in one language than in another. Similarly, Carla Zaccagnini—who preferred to speak Spanish, her native tongue, during our interview—deals much with the limits of representation and the dynamic between desire and frustration in an artwork.

Laying her lithographies on the table: Carla Zaccagnini at Künstlerhaus Bethanien. Photo: Chris Phillips

Immediately after striking conversation, I had become fascinated by all the similarities between her work and Literature. My interest peaked when she mentioned the concept of "grammar of representation," where the connections between visuals and text are drawn permanently. "I'm fascinated with cases like Cézanne, for example. He went every day to paint the same mountain and it always came out different because, of course, something else was changing that was not the mountain. His own perception was being represented every day."

Lithography by Carla Zaccagnini at her Künstlerhaus Bethanien studio. Photo: Chris Phillips

Zaccagnini tends to use literary terminology as she talks about her work, which leads me to compare the role of a reader and that of an art viewer. Her work is mainly about creating a very solid structure of meaning so that the viewer can connect the dots or gather the message in an active way. "One of the things I am most interested about in Literature is the power it gives to the reader and the imagination. It is what I like to call a 'shared responsibility' between the creator and the viewer."

What Words Cannot Describe

She tells me about a project, Impossible But Necessary, that she started in the summer of 2010 here in Berlin. Working with the Soviet War Memorial (Treptower Park), the focus was the representation of explosions that can be seen on the walls there. The artist explains, "It was done from a point of view of someone who is close to what is happening but remains numb or untouched by the situation. In those embossed drawings, there are explosions represented. An explosion is the moment when matter loses shape, so these drawings try to figuratively represent what has been destroyed within a narrative that that cannot be expressed: war. The explosions then have both the need to represent something in abstract terms and, on the other hand, the need to insert content that has no name, no concept, that is difficult to elaborate." 

Zaccagnini when she first started the project at Treptower Park. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Similar to these explosive fragments of matter, Zaccagnini has experienced the difficulty of being in constant displacement: she was born and has family in Argentina, resides in Sao Paulo, is currently making good friends here in Berlin and her boyfriend’s family lives in Sweden. "That causes you to always be a bit incomplete, like something is missing everywhere you are because the people of your life are dispersed. There is always the feeling of not being completely in one place." This is something our entire generation can relate to. Yet this artist has found a way to make that transition – that constant displacement – into a very organic and coherent art trajectory. It is organic because it comes from within and it is coherent because it is shaped according to her spirit. 

Carla Zaccagnini is represented by Galeria Vermelho [Price range of works: up to 40,000 Euros]

Article by Sofía Martinelli