Visual interview to Viola Di Grado
by Silvia Bottani
70% acrylic 30% wool (original title Settanta acrilico trenta lana) and her second novel Cuore cavo (not yet available in English, these two words meaning Hollow heart) have immediately been a major critical and commercial success. Sicilian author Viola Di Grado, born in 1988, a degree in Oriental languages, doesn’t seem to be the typical Italian, despite being the daughter of an Italianist and a writer. She travelled to Japan and China, and these cultural horizons are strongly present in her writing style which is sometimes experimental and often provocative.
Thanks to the themes, the obsessions and the unique use of the language she won the prestigious Premio Campiello Opera Prima prize in 2011: 70% acrylic 30% wool tells the story of a young Italian woman, Camelia, who lives in a wordless house with her depressed mother, communicating solely in looks and gestures. Camelia translates operating instructions of washing machines. Her mother is devoted to the obsessive practice of photographing holes. This wordless and dysfunctional relationship is interrupted when Camelia develops a love affair with a Chinese boy, who teaches her the language — and the beauty — of the ideograms. Her first novel is strictly connected to the second one, Cuore cavo, which is about a girl’s life after she kills herself. The most striking aspect of this novel is the scientific detachment used to describe the decomposition stages of the corpse along with reflections on life that goes on, while she remains an invisible observer.
A deceptive communication and a lack of communication which scars relationships are recurrent themes throughout the author’s books as well as throughout her photographic work of which you can have a sneak preview here. Those who know Viola Di Grado’s novels will find her photographs familiar. The images taken and chosen by the author belong to a private expressive space and have not been exhibited or published. Since these pictures are the result of a personal externalisation and not a planned work for the audience, they allow us to peek into the author’s inner world.
These bare pictures with no captions are similar to fragments of an expressive universe that is best expressed through her first two novels until now but it is reasonable to think that it is constantly moving and expanding in space and time without being definitively exhausted in the finished work. Today the preparatory work seems to be one of the most stimulating areas of cultural exploration for researchers and fans. Sketches, drafts, even mistakes. The work, be it a short story or a movie, a concept album or a poetic composition, gratifies those who enjoy it by providing a coherent system, even if this work is chaotic and somehow concluded. Notes, cuts and experimentations disclose unpredictable scenarios which cast a new light on both the creative process and the poetic reasons driving the artist’s “hand”.
Without trying an easy interpretation which restricts them to the author’s literary production, a melancholy charm expanded towards the existence emanates from the pictures of Viola Di Grado, through a look that seems to search for the essential meaning of things by means of a detailed analysis. A doll lying on a stand, waiting to be admired; the hieratic whiteness of an oriental mask; the retro elegance of a little girl’s dress; the minute attention to the rust corroding the gratings of a gate. Images – words that make themselves available for the reader as an interview with no need of questions.
Ph. Viola Di Grado