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Interview: Italian Artist & Photographer Valentina D’Accardi

A collection of works by Valentina D'Accardi

1. Why do you make art?

I can never fully explain why I make art. But there is something powerful and unknown that pushes me, perhaps a need to contribute to, to increase “the general level of beauty”. When I see that I have created a successful photo or a beautiful drawing, I feel immense joy and a sense of unlimited energy. In those moments it is as if there is no time nor space, and that in this sensation I could stay alive and young forever.

However, I don’t have a serene relationship with making art and have often fought this energy: I cannot say that art was always in my life as a constant, in the sense that I didn’t mean to be an artist. I didn’t always have a passion for drawing or painting, mostly because I thought I was totally incapable. I studied languages at high school!

But I distinctly remember that when I was a child I was always very drawn to the huge paintings and frescos that can be found in every Italian Church: I felt the immediate, evocative and irrational power of those images even then. And a few months before I graduated school I saw the Rauschenberg Solo Show, at Palazzo Dei Diamanti, in Ferrara. This experience completely changed the trajectory of my life. It shocked me to my core: it was pure energy. Soon after, I made the decision to apply to the Accademia di Belle Arti (The Bologna Academy of Fine Arts) in Bologna, arguably the most prestigious in Italy. I knew I had to try, to give myself a chance.

I rarely find a way to talk about my thoughts or my work that is completely satisfying to me. Language is a rational construction used to describe irrational matters: there is a gap and I think that visual art lives and grows in that gap. I don’t trust in words very much: I always feel that there is something in them that can be misunderstood or misconstrued. Art offers me the possibility to share my point of view, to tell a story without saying a word. When I am totally sure about a work and I don’t have any doubts, I know that “I’ve said” what I wanted in the right way, I’m centred.

The story behind my pictures is always meaningful. I often write the project before shooting or drawing: it’s important to me to understand why am I looking at something or why my attention is directed at a certain object.

I know that these stories often become central to those who get involved in my photos: because they understand my aims, or they feel they have something in common with my story or point of view, but it’s not fundamental to me that they see my art the way I do. If someone likes one of my pictures without knowing its story, but just because it’s well done, or confers to it a completely different value, I don’t see it as a problem. When a work is finished I’m detached from it: it’s not mine any more. I consider it as a completely independent being. The interpretations that come after are of course very important but are secondary to me.

It can become really frustrating thinking about how others might see my work. I must always be careful not to lose myself or my real aim: but it isn’t easy.

2. What is your method?

I am naturally attracted to the past, I’ve always been drawn towards it, not only to my personal past, but our collective past too, the history of mankind. I’m particularly in love with 19th century paintings and photography. Maybe it’s because I’m afraid of the future and I don’t entirely trust the digital era: it’s full of free images without any real raison d’être or meaning, and they seem so far removed from real experiences. Everything is so fast, inhuman and exhibited…intimacy is completely forgotten. I often feel very old and displaced. So I retreat with my work into the reality I decide to look at. I know there are still niches in this confusing and loud age.

Even though I majored in painting, I’ve always worked with analog photography and drawing. I love the ghosts that surface in the darkroom, the smell, the silence, the dark. Analogue photography forces me to enter into a completely different space dimension. It’s like a time machine and also a temple: I can feel the same atmosphere of concentration, wait, hope, and surprise. Developing photos is a complex process where time plays a key role: it is very long and several steps are needed to go from the shot to the print.

Since analog is handmade and deals with matter (different kind of films and papers, acids, chemical processes and light) there is always something I can’t totally control, something that doesn’t go the way I thought it would: but this has always been a great gift to me. Matter is a living thing: mistakes and the unexpected not only characterise my work, they define it. This makes every print slightly different from the next, each work unrepeatable.

Untitled by Valentina D'Accardi

I don’t feel the same pleasure working on my computer: I find it the scenario of always having everything under control very frustrating. Beautiful accidents can’t happen: you must already know how to obtain a certain effect, and for that there is a always a very precise procedure. The Digital and Analogue worlds are completely different universes.

My compositions and themes are ever-changing and evolving. The last project also included digital photography, but I realised that despite this shift in apparatus I still maintained the previous structure in the construction of my work: despite the “instant” potential of digital mediums, meditation and slowness were still essential to me before the soothing moment. It’s as if I need this ritual to attain another state of consciousness.

My drawings have always had a strong relationship with photography. I only ever used pencil: I need black and white. Drawing is a way of coming to know and understand the structure of reality. It is form at its purest, the essence, the skeleton of things. Another kind of meditation, it comes with its own slowness and attention to the moment.

Drawing by Valentina D'Accardi

I have to admit that I’m not very continuous in my practice. I live moments of great and incessant production, and others in which I don’t want to draw or take any pictures. These period can last months. But then suddenly I have a wave of new energy and motivation. I feel my way of creating art is more like a wave with high and low peaks than a continuum. But I often struggle with it. I’ve always been thoughtful. I’ll have an idea, a dream, a vision, but I need time to understand how to develop it in the best possible way.

In the last two years I’ve started writing down projects to clarify my intentions and intended meanings. When I write I feel like my ideas become more real, tangible and more developable.

3. Where do you feel your ideas, inspirations or visions for a work come from?

When a piece is finished I feel full and euphoric but I feel empty when it’s not yet finished: like I’m wandering in the dark. I love the moment of the exhibition but I hate the installation of one… Yes, I have to say that I’ve never been without some anxiety just before the opening of a show!

My work very much affirms my identity, maybe too much sometimes. I think that can be very dangerous. I know I must always remember my value as a person before my value as an artist: I don’t want to depend on others’ approval.

Dealing with art asks me to continually re-invent myself, but I don’t think that cohesive identity and renewal are mutually exclusive. This relationship is the stuff of every growing process. Sometimes I feel that when I was eighteen I was a completely different person and I can’t understand how that could be possible - yet it was me. Just yesterday a friend of mine mentioned a Mohamed Ali quote,“The man who views the world at fifty, the same as he did at twenty, has wasted thirty years of his life”.

Our perceptions and identities change throughout our life, it’s inevitable: affirming them and identifying with them it’s a constant battle, especially in art. Maybe this the reason why I don’t need to keep the fire of creativity alive: it’s not a rational entity to me, it can’t be cultivated. - it grows up with me. I’ve always had visions: the real issue is always how to develop them. I don’t only have good ideas: but I know it’s a good one when it lasts more than three years in my mind. At that moment I know I can really start thinking how to build a project.

Photograph taken of Valentina D’Accardi’s 2017 Perpetuus Atto I exhibition curated by Irene Biolchini

Photograph taken at Valentina D’Accardi’s 2016 FIUME exhibition curated by Maura Pozzati

4. What is the core philosophy or the message in your work?

I don’t rationally think about the message I want to communicate. I know I’m communicating on many levels, and I want to convey beauty, silence and contemplation. During my exhibitions, when I’m present, the viewers often try to communicate with me. It’s a beautiful moment. In it I feel that what I am doing is important and meaningful and not just for me, and also that I’m not alone. I’m curious about their opinions: they can often inspire me. When a viewer gives a completely different interpretation of one of my pieces it’s interesting to me: I feel my work has the capacity to be even more open and broad.

It’s important to leave space for people to interpret their own story: in my opinion inflexibility is useless in any field.

5. What are the responsibilities of an artist?

Being an artist to me, means being honest and true.

I need to recognise myself in my production, it’s matter of life. I don’t want to lie and change my poetry to sell more works or follow current trends. Though sometimes the pressure to do so becomes heavy. The market has rules. As an artist I can’t ignore it: I need to deal with it, I have to know it and I must find a way to find my space inside the system. I have to be realistic. It’s not simple to be successful today: balance changes quickly and what is on offer has increased. Today public relations are as important as the work itself: they’ve became a large part of the work. Unfortunately only experience can teach you the best way navigate this.

I prefer not to focus on these aspects too much, because I know I can get stuck: I’m at the beginning of my career and I prefer to build and enhance my identity as an artist rather than to think about the market. I believe it’s consequential.

Italian Contemporary Art.

I. How do the current politics in the Italian national art world effect the prognosis for emerging Italian artists to be recognised artistically and to become visible both in their home country and abroad? And if you could make a change what would it be?

I live in Bologna and here I am seeing a clear and positive change in politics surrounding art, but I’m talking about a University city. There are several new and exciting spaces where young artists and young curators can gain experience and been seen and heard in a free and open way. These are young spaces managed by young people.

I’ve a completely different opinion towards the current politics in the wider national art world. The main attitude is xenophilia and an enduring provincial mindset. In Italy we love inviting foreign artists to feel international, instead of promoting ourselves and focusing on our own wealth of resources.

As a matter of fact, many of the contemporary Italian artists who are known at international level didn’t study here or don’t even live here, such as those who are now exhibiting at the prestigious internationally orientated art exhibition The Venice Biennale. This confirms what I’m saying: our national art system doesn’t seem to be able to extend beyond our boundaries whilst being effective. I don’t think a real project to create, build and promote emerging Italian art exists. I’m not sure that any really will.

II. What are your thoughts about the position and visibility of Italian contemporary art in the international context? and if you could make a change what would it be?

Except for some great names - and I can count them on my fingers - I don’t think that Italian contemporary art features prominently abroad.

Having a national promotional project to propel artists beyond national confines has not been recognised as necessary by relevant political bodies and current power players. Artists and galleries are seemingly acting in a void, left completely alone. Forced to remain isolated, an artist’s success is often dependant on the economic possibilities of the individual or left to sheer chance.

III. What does Italian Contemporary Art have to offer that is unique in today’s market?

In this age, especially thanks to the internet and innumerable international study programmes, we now have so much “intangible-visual-material” that the discussion of national artistic identity has been completely compromised.

However in Italy, the market is weaker than neighbouring markets and so doesn’t yet have a full control over artistic production. Development of an artist’s personal research and individual path apart from the mainstream is still seen as being of the highest value here. Elsewhere however, I believe that quality is fast becoming extinct.

It is true that making art here is very hard due to the adverse economic situation. But those who do go on and keep trying don’t do it for the sales, but because it’s their true motivation and part of their identity. Paradoxically these negative current trends serve to preserve our integrity.

It is my strong belief, that at the time in which the technical wisdom for which we are famous throughout the world, meets a strong, artistic identity, which is wide reaching, powerful and effective, the right conditions will be created for Italian art to thrive internationally once more.

IV. What are your thoughts on large scale international online sales platforms such as For example: can an emerging artist be visible in such a colossal portfolio? Is the model more likely to inspire a potential collector or overwhelm them? How would you change the model?

As an artist, I look at online art sales platforms with suspicion. There is a need to define what is meant by art, and what kind of collector(s) they address and often this doesn’t happen. Online sales platforms can be the right choice when the reasons for collectors’ investments predominantly concern business. But when the motivations is about culture and passion I find it hard to turn to a platform, especially when it concerns the first contact between an artist and a collector.

The online aspect can completely erase the dimension of direct experience and human exchange. By these I mean experiencing a work of art in a gallery or studio, coming to know an artist, and the relationship of trust that is built over time with an art dealer. More than the object, the collector invests in values, for deep reasons, and an aesthetic dimension that these platforms exclude.

The digital vision of a works is often distorted: sites don’t make it possible to have an idea of the space dimensions and tactile perceptions of a work, or to feel the real power of a piece and why it’s valuable. The opposite is also true, that online presentation can help “weaker” works seems more attractive.

Another problem is that there’s an excessive supply without a real selection. It’s very hard for a young artist to be visible and to emerge: What is valuable is blended in with the rest.

All too often these platforms don’t have a personal, strong and recognisable cultural identity, being just sales websites. I also notice a widespread lack of curatorial work and a real cultural project among them.

Respond to the quotation:

An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before?

Francis Ford Coppola

Choosing to show your work means already taking the biggest risk, which is exposing yourself to criticism and judgement. I’m always aware about this potential problem, but I find it very painful sometimes. The most difficult step is knowing that it could all be destroyed in any moment and you have to be ready. But, from my point of view, deciding to propose any aesthetic experience to others is an act of great generosity: you’re giving them a free chance, an opportunity to acquire new knowledge. Maybe, you’re doing some good. When I’m able to think that I’m taking this kind of risk not only for myself but because is the right thing to do for the community, it becomes easier.

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We acknowledge that the majority of image copyrights in this article belong to Valentina D'Accardi and that THREE GRACES GALLERIES has obtained permission to publish them.

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