“Stories” is a new series of interviews with artists. The first one is dedicated to FEDERICA SALA.
Let’s have a look around your studio. Formerly this was a jeweler’s studio. When was the project to renovate this place born, and how did it come about?
It happened by chance and very quickly. My first studio was a small room in the building next door and one morning I met the old goldsmith while he was removing the sign from the facade of his workshop. I asked him why. He replied that he was tired and that he was negotiating with an architecture firm that would probably take over. A second later I was in with him making an inventory of the tools he would leave me. He was impressed that a young girl did this job. He felt obliged to let me in and in a short time to teach me as much as possible. For a few days I went to work with him. It was an instinctive and unconscious choice from an economic point of view, whose impact has definitely influenced many things, but it was destiny. Renovation was absolutely necessary as nothing was up to standard. I started with the idea of doing what was necessary to keep costs down as much as possible, which is why demolition work was done by me with the help of my sister, her husband, my husband and my father. Continuing, the goal was to create as much light as possible by opening the spaces. I tried to salvage the furniture (counters, drawers, doors, handles) as well as an inventory of all the tools. The other elements were designed by me and made by a group of designers (Controprogetto) who produce using found pieces. The empty frames, the mirrors, the drawers, the windows, the mezzanine, are all made of recycled materials and iron. The important thing was that everything was black and white.
When did you first become interested in contemporary jewelry? How did you find your own way in this field?
At University. Choosing was complicated. I was a good student, but I liked having my hands busy. I loved philosophy, mathematics, literature, art history and design. I couldn’t find a faculty that would bring everything together. I would have liked to go to the academy, but my parents doubted it was an overly channeling choice. Design seemed to bring together the creative drive and the more rational side of things. I opted for fashion design because functional objects just did not interest me ... While attending I felt, however, that I was not sharing the same point of view expressed in serial design. I wanted and tried to get as close as possible to the art world. Then one day, doing some research, I discovered the existence of contemporary jewelry. It was a revelation. It was the second year. You could express yourself through a wearable object. It was the synthesis of everything. What I was looking for without knowing that it existed. From there it was like an obsession. More and more specialized evening goldsmiths schools followed and then I landed in Scotland, at the Duncan of Jordanstone School of Arts and Design in the faculty of jewelry design and silversmithing. I did not want to go back. I spent time between classes and the studio, day and night, week and weekends. I borrowed piles of books from the library on the techniques of contemporary jewelry and then I went to the laboratory to try... it was one of the most beautiful periods of my life. One day I saw a poster in the studio with names in Italian. When I read it I was upset. In Italy there was a place where they taught what I was doing in Scotland. It was the first time I had read the name Alchimia. Back in Italy I did everything to be able to go there. Part time jobs, full time jobs. My first toolbox and my first desk not to lose my hand . When I finally managed to get to Florence I could not have known that Alchimia was actually an opening.
What have been the most remarkable steps in your career so far? What are the moments you’re more attached to?
Working as an assistant to Giorgio Vigna was a fundamental experience which enabled me to understand glass applied to jewelry and study inclusions. However, attending Alchimia was the crucial step, as was the decision to continue with the Master. I would not be the person I am if through Alchimia I had not met artists whose brilliance and lucidity continues to influence me. I am thinking of the reactions that I still feel today, reflecting on the revisions with Ruudt Peters. I think of the motherly but direct words of Doris Maninger. I think of the genial tightness of Peter Bauhuis. I think of the cynical wisdom that is so true of Lucia Massei. I think of the kind revolution of Jorge Manilla. I think of my colleagues, friends, all the teachers who have revolved around a real hub. I will always remember the first show in Munich, and I will always be proud and grateful for the Marzee award. A very important moment was to agree to participate in LOOT in New York. I am also grateful to have had the opportunity once I returned to Milan to teach at IED. I really like teaching and it helps me to reflect. Exchanging with students often makes me feel more curious, more enriched, more motivated.
Your son is almost 2 years old. How did becoming a mother change your life as an artist?
Becoming a mother was an overwhelming and unexpected experience. It is a daily revolution that requires dedication, courage, adaptation, sacrifice, strength. In the beginning I naively believed that I could govern what in reality is totally out of control and prediction. It is the beauty of life. My son taught me how to order, to give priority, to look at me, to accept myself, to defend myself and to save myself. My son restored dignity to me and removed a veil that hid me from the world. He has laid bare who I am for better or for worse. He made me become a more honest and direct person. All this has been overwhelmingly poured into my work. Times have shrunk, but creativity and the need to express themselves have increased incredibly and now I have no more time for hesitation. The work has become much more instinctive and intense because it is my moment, and I am taking it all.
Your pieces, like all good pieces of art, convey emotions, thoughts, doubts. Do they match your own emotions? If so, is that on purpose?
All my work contains me. In every piece there is me, for better or for worse. It is not something desired, but it is a completely natural process. My works are many pieces of a life – mine – in relation to the world around me. They are my reflection on the body in relation to one's emotions and those around us.
Glass, stones, metals. These are some of the essential elements of your research. How do you plan/draw your pieces? How long does it take to realise your ideas?
The process with which I carry out my work is extremely chaotic. Everything is brought forward together, in parallel: experiments in materials, forms, concept development, drawings, trials, texts... research. I never start from a fixed idea. I let my hands, eyes, mind and heart find a meeting point while I work. It is as if every day I do some exercises and at the end I analyze the results finding little by little a path. The only real departure is the choice of material to work with. It is never a short time. Sometimes time passes due to technical problems, other times because I am not satisfied with the result and I start again from scratch, destroying the work I have done. Other times I arrive at a point near the end and I stop. I often see my pieces as theorems to be demonstrated. They are over when you can write to us on q.d.e. with satisfaction and you are keen to tell others. Then it's time to be worn.
You grew up in a small town in northern Italy. How are your designs connected to your Italian heritage? Which culture do you feel part of? Also, what does it mean to live in Milan, a place where luxury and pop culture intersect?
I like to think that the essentiality, the lack of colors and the use of natural materials (wood, iron, glass, stones) are the result of eyes that are used to seeing beauty in simple, poor, pure, difficult things. I do not have strong feelings of belonging, on the contrary. They are the result of every place and every person I have met and experienced. Milan is a very difficult city for me. It need breaks. I love silences, I seek solitude. Sometimes I feel like I have to get away to be able to reflect. It is a contradictory city that sometimes takes one’s breath away and sometimes gives it unexpectedly.
What do you like about the contemporary jewelry world and what you don’t you like? Do you find this world difficult to engage with? Do you think that young jewelers have more of a voice in it now than before?
I like its variety. I find its expressivity fascinating. I am struck by its incredible synthesis of technical expertise, audacity, conceptual innovation, all this... reachable, within anyone's reach. I believe that one of the strengths of this world is precisely the accessibility of many pieces and many artists. It is not a world that rejects the public, on the contrary, it desperately seeks it. I do not like the difficulty of definition that goes with it. When they ask me what work I do, I myself must and I have to explain, as if a few words were not enough. I do not think it is a difficult world, I think it is very niche. The niche sectors are also those that allow you to make few mistakes. Precisely because they are small, with little real available space. The space is created by going to the public, but if the public is not there or is restricted, it goes without saying that it is difficult to go much further. Yes, I believe that young people now have more opportunities to express their opinion on this. Open calls are increasing and schools are becoming more and more extended networks even after.
Do you have some colleagues whose work you feel connected to?
I greatly admire the work of many colleagues, for different reasons. In general I am attracted to the work of people who pay particular attention to the material, treating it in an extremely personal way and incorporating it into the concept. I am deeply impressed by the work of Jasmin Matzakow, Patricia Dominguez, Flora Vagi, and Edu Tarin. I also very much admire those who move in a totally different way from mine, because I esteem the ability to make people smile and reflect at the same time through their work. I think of Benedikt Fischer. I do not want to name more “elderly” and experienced people. I do not think they are colleagues, but true masters.
Over the years you planned shows with your fellow colleagues. How were they born? To what extent are collaborations between artists important to you? And in general, do you think collaboration is an attitude to pursue in the contemporary jewelry world?
The exhibitions always emerge from a combination of randomness, occasions, affinities and ideas. I am a person who likes to work with others. It stimulates me, enriches me, encourages me to improve. I like to observe and study the work of others, understand their motivations and look for connections. There are various kinds of links, and finding them means having a good idea for an exhibition. Collaborations are essential for me. You can be a soloist, but you can also be excellent an team player. I believe that things must be combined and balanced. Collaborating is certainly crucial for many reasons, but in my opinion the most important is the analysis made up of multiple points of view that recreates an image of a moment of a process in progress. Exchanges of notions, of contents, of other ideas come out of collaborations. In a job where one is often alone in the studio, it is good to have moments in which you engage with others.
You were telling me about your new project for Munich Jewelry Week 2019. What will this project be like?
We have worked on the concept of work space intended both as a physical place and as a mental place, expounding upon Virginia Woolf's essay, A Room of One's Own, from which the title of the exhibition is taken. The history we are living leads us to observe social, political and economic situations capable of impoverishing the individual who is crushed by a climax of emotions and by increasingly more extreme actions. The aim was to bring attention to the individual, to reflection, to time itself. A time that does not reject what is around us, but elaborates it again, reestablishing it, with the filter of its own creativity. We only wanted women, because the starting point was Woolf's essay. Doris Maninger was invited to act as a fil rouge with her sculptural work and with her exploration of themes that frame the exhibition.
What do you hope the public will take away from seeing the show?
I hope that opening private spaces will make our work human, in the strict sense. I hope that this exhibition can help to clarify what goes on in the mind of those who create, how satisfying it can be, but at the same time difficult and frustrating. I hope that through the show the public will feel empathy and familiarity, that the works will be enriched and read also by the experiences of the observer. I hope people think it is a generous show because it tries to shed light on points and topics that are often left in the dark.