Glass talks to artists Luisa Rabbia and Emma Hart about their shows at Collezione Maramotti, Italy

FOR the last decade the Collezione Maramotti has showcased 20th century art to the public at the former Max Mara head office, in Reggio Emilia, in northern Italy. The original purpose-built brutalist structure has proved to be well suited as a gallery – the large modular building has clean open space, the exterior glass facade encourages light inwards, while original skylights flood the industrial space with soft daylight.

After moving out of the head office in 2003, it was immediately decided to convert it into a gallery that would house the owner of Max Mara, Achille Maramotti’s contemporary art collection. English architect Andrew Hapgood was entrusted with the project of converting the building from an office to a public art space. The sensitive preservation of the building is clear from the offset; original staircases have been restored, embellishing the experience of moving through the gallery space; while the original concrete structural beams are exposed, vaulting the ceiling and re-establishing themselves as a brutalist centrepiece of their own.

The building itself showcases more than 200 items from the collection (out of the total 1,159 and growing), which is composed primarily of paintings but sculpture and installation also. While the two upper floors hold the permanent collection, two purpose-built galleries house temporary exhibitions on the ground floor level. On the same weekend that the finalists of the 7th Max Mara prize of women were announced, exhibitions of two female shows opened at Collezione Maramotti – Love by Italian artist Luisa Rabbia and, winner of the sixth edition of the Max Mara prize for women, Emma Hart, whose show is titled Mamma Mia!.

7.Emma Hart_Mamma Mia!_Collezione MaramottiEmma Hart, Mamma Mia! in Collezione Maramotti

Moving from the Whitechapel Gallery, Hart’s show will be housed here until mid-February 2018. Ceramic heads are hung from the ceiling of a blacked-out room. Both inside and out, the heads are intricately detailed with colour and pattern but also act as light shades with bulbs. Skimming the underneath of the pots, fans rotate but the paddles are domestic utensils.

The combination of a strong light, the shape of the ceramics and and slowly rotating shadow of a singular knife, fork or spoon combine a visually intriguing yet partly savage impact, that unites the gallery floor space in an interactive show. Housed in a glass sided gallery facing the garden of the Collezione Maramotti, the content of the show is the same as its London contemporary aside from this building having a slightly lower ceiling and lighter space making the ceramics more visible.

Glass caught up with Hart the day after her show had opened.

What attracted you to ceramics?
The immediacy and the the fact you put your hands in a lump of clay and something happens.

Do you see your work as self reflexive?
Yes, there’s probably a lot of me in this, I feel a bit weird making art about other people’s lives. The only thing I really know about is me I suppose, so I start there.

17.MMAP Emma Hart MCZThe winner of the sixth edition of the Max Mara prize for women, Emma Hart

What do you hope for your work?
I want the viewer to have some kind of physical interaction as well as mental engagement. My blurb would be that I create a situation rather than just an object to look at.

16.Emma Hart - portraitPortrait of Emma Hart

Is interaction is always important in your work?
Yes. The work is addressing the viewer, there’s a very clear demand of the work to address the viewer somehow.

Do you feel an art prize for women helps address the central problem?
I teach fine art BA and 70 per cent of those students are female, but only 30 per cent of artists represented in the London art scene are female so there’s definitely a problem. I’m happy to have won a prize for women but I don’t think it will solve the problem but I do think it might provoke people to think about it. I wouldn’t understand if my art was classified as female.

Working predominantly on large-scale canvas, Luisa Rabbia’s work has gravitas. On looking at the work close up, intricate fingerprints make up the organic shapes and structures that seem to embody the canvas. Starting with sculpture in the 1990s, 10 years later Rabbia moved to New York and  shifted to drawing in which Rabbia’s practice is now firmly seated. Developed from initially using ballpoint pen for their strong blue pigment, before moving into blue acrylic paint and then developing that into the blue of her backgrounds – the colour blue dominates the majority of work shown here.

 Luisa Rabbia, LoveLuisa Rabbia, Love

Progression, whether intentional or not, is easily charted in her work, from the ballpoint pen mentioned above to her process of initially using paper, before moving onto paper mounted on canvas and now currently just canvas. Rabbia often reviews sensitive subjects such as race and gender in her art.

How are the fingerprints applied and how personal is the work that is then made with your own fingerprints?
I usually apply fingerprints wearing gloves because what really matters to me, in the end, is the thickness of the mark more than the lines of the fingerprint. It’s not about myself as much as it is about leaving traces. I’m starting from something personal but I open it to layers of marks left by humanity.

Why use the tool of a fingerprint rather than, say, a brush?
I am interested in the physical contact with the surface. Fingerprints take a different meaning in different contexts. In Another Country, for example, they open a reflection on identity, symbolizing a genderless and race-less crowd, moving from one place to another.

You describe the practice of painting as having an urgency. Do you find that urgency comes naturally?
I work regularly but I do look for inspiration, definitely. Sometimes I know what I am looking for and other times I approach the canvas not knowing what to do and waiting for something to happen. Often marks and imperfections are a source of inspiration.

Would you agree that your work is inspired directly by anthropological shifts?
Usually, I try not to reflect on our time specifically, my subjects refer to a larger history. I’m interested in the migration between one location and another, as much as I’m interested in the distance that there is between us. When I talk of territories I refer to geographical ones as much as to us as territories, with our own borders. I am interested in finding associations between the personal and the collective. I consistently shift from one to the other to reflect on relationships between human beings and nature – which in my work might look like both an interior landscape and a geographical one. I’m really interested in reflecting on empathy.

Do you think you’ll ever return to sculpture?
Possibly, yes, but painting is such a new thing for me and there’s so much to learn that at the moment I’m completely dedicating myself to painting.

By Stephanie Clair

Love and Mamma Mia! both run until February 18, 2018

Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia, Italy

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