The work of artist Matteo Valerio on display in the Soft Life exhibition at Casa Zegna
“Soft Life – Wrapped in natural fibers”, the exhibition on at Casa Zegna, shows various elements in the creative development of Matteo Valerio, the Master’s in FINE ARTS student at Central Saint Martins, London, selected for the 2016 edition of the Art for the Environment International Artist Residency Programme (AER).
This program, launched in 2015 by artist Lucy Orta, Chair of Art in the Environment and member of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, University of the Arts London, saw the involvement of Fondazione Zegna in a 2-week residency spell in July 2016, during which Matteo was able to study and put into practice insights gleaned from the Heberlein archive and Oasi Zegna.
Matteo Valerio’s work treads the thin line between artist and artisan and opens up a dialogue on contemporary issues such as globalization and the crisis of traditional values. To get a closer look at his work, we interviewed the artist himself.
What are the defining elements of the work on display at Casa Zegna?
This series is characterized by colors applied to alpaca wool, cotton or silk, made with raw materials picked or collected in the place where the works were produced, such as onion, stinging nettles, ivy, turmeric, beetroot and woad and common madder dyes. My research seeks to understand the evocative qualities of a material that becomes a container of a story, an element in a wider narrative made up of fabrics, plants, processes, prints. The shapes of the frames refer to the windows and doors of the place where the chosen fabrics were produced, to build on traditional components in relation to sustainability and the search for identity within the consumerist model.
Can this approach be applied in the industrial field?
Some corporations, like Zegna for example, are a big inspiration for my work in that they answer the needs of evolution, especially in manufacturing, which requires innovation guided by greater sensibility for art, passion, quality and sustainability in production. Or Bonotto, a producer of fabrics which, after the crisis in 2008, converted their factory and created the concept of the "slow factory" using old looms (restored) and dyes made with stereotypical Italian products like Amarone, the wine. Printing plays a fundamental role in your work and takes on a very deep meaning.
What’s your approach?
Printing is essential in my work because of the idea that in consumerism "everything is printed for the masses", copy upon copy, reproduction and repetition of objects and ideas. I see it as a unifying element linking all the disciplines: serial production using matrixes. My approach to printing is therefore as instinctive as possible, to augment the level of subjectivity in reproducibility. “Manual error becomes qualitative value added.”
Where does the inspiration for your prints come from?
They spring from a reinterpretation of the samples in the Heberlein collection in the Fondazione Zegna archives. I tried to use a creative process in line with the designers: continual reference to past solutions for renewal based on traditional, historical foundations. A project that builds on previous ones. As required under the residency agreement, I concentrated my research on prints that would evoke the Andes in South America. I printed my revisitings using wooden matrixes inked and stamped with pigments and walnut oil. After long reflection on the journey I did in South America a few years ago, I extended my variety of subjects to include pre-Inca Paracas embroideries, and subjects from the Gothenburg collection in particular.
How did South American crafts influence you?
One of the things that struck me most was the transcendental/mystical element typical of Andean peoples, who still live to natural rhythms reflected in almost animistic rites. This is represented by pseudo architectural compositions, intersecting perspectives of various sizes or radii, aspirations to something that’s not visible. The hand of the fabrics establishes tangible contact with an ideal reality. The purpose of the natural dyes is not so much beautiful color for its own sake but the related cultural symbolism, which I want to highlight, and the ideas around them.
How does your work as an artist fit in with social responsibility?
I try to connect my work to a day to day conscience through tangible materials rather than exasperating some abstract perception of the world through virtual realities. Craft practices are used as subjects to remind us of the baggage we risk losing. This is why I try to have a primitive approach to techniques, so I can test my intuition in making things. I plait everyday objects I actually use myself, and this becomes a political act, a consumer choice.
Matteo Valerio’s work can be seen at Casa Zegna every Sunday till 10 July, from 14.30 to 18.00
Via Marconi, 23 Trivero
Tel. 015 7591463