Lucia Pizzani: A Garden for Beatrix

Visual artist Lucia Pizzani (, the joint winner of the Hotshoe Photofusion Award 2014
( along with filmmaker David Jackson, currently has a solo exhibition titled A Garden for Beatrix showing at the Cecilia Brunson Project ( in London until 24 July.

In the following Q&A, Miranda Gavin, who selects the winners in this annual competition, discusses Pizzani's approach and the work she produces using ceramics, photography (including wet-plate collodion processes) and film.

Her recent body of work, A Garden for Beatrix, is inspired by Beatrix Potter and her findings on fungi at a time when few women were involved in science.

Miranda Gavin (MG)

Lucia Pizzani (LP)

MG: Your work uses sculpture, performance and photography, can you tell me more about why you work across these different art forms?

LP: I started doing photography when I was a teenager and, at the same time, I was always interested in the moving image. I grew up in Caracas, surrounded by intense cultural activity as both my parents were visual artists and I had participated in performance, video and attended contemporary dance classes.

In my photographs, I am always searching for textures and surface, which leads me to experiment with printmaking, for example, printing on PVC and aluminium, and on different papers, gradually the sculptural aspect of the work grew and I started to work on installations. Later, while doing my MA in Fine Arts at Chelsea College in London, I took up ceramics in order to express this interest. I go from one medium to another and combine them; I may do a performance, using a piece of ceramic sculpture that I have made, and then record it using with photography.

MG: The series of women in chrysalis costumes is called Impronta, why did you give the series this title and how many images are there in the series?

LP: In Spanish, Impronta means a mark, a stamp—an impression that is registered somewhere. In this sense, I was referring to the photographic process; it makes a mark, the image, on the surface of an aluminum plate. Also, there is the idea of leaving a trace, which relates to memory and the past.

MG: Where do the chrysalis costumes come from? Where is the material from? Who prints the material? Who makes the costumes? 

LP: The costumes are made from African fabrics. I started developing this project The Worshipper of the Image as a series of ceramic sculptures. The textures of the glazing were very organic, the fluid mixes and melts and I wanted to take them to a human scale. When I was thinking about making suits that women could wear the prints of the African fabrics, I've seen so many times in Brixton, came to mind. I live in the area and searched them out. The organic patterns were perfect for this, so I designed them and my mother-in-law sewed them for me. All this processes took place while I was in Barcelona doing an Artist in Residency at Hangar.

MG: Insects emerge from the chrysalis, which is a protective structure, and the chrysalis is one stage in the life cycle of butterflies. Why do you focus on this stage and the form of a chrysalis in this work? 

LP: The point of departure was the Inconnue de la Seine, a funerary mask based on an urban legend from Paris from the late 1800s about an Ophelia figure who threw herself in the Seine River. The English author Richard le Galeine wrote a book about this mask. It's a story were a man falls in love with the mask and, at the end, when he has lost everything, the mask finally comes alive and a butterfly of death comes out of her mouth. The transformation of the passive image of the Victorian woman, the Ophelia, and the motionless mask, into a fatal one was very interesting to me. Also, I was fascinated by the incredible diversity of shapes, colors and textures of chrysalises and I started to represent this struggle, this changing state, through making sculptures and then as a series of portraits and a video of the women in these costumes.

MG: Who are the women in the portraits?

LP: I did this work during the three-month residency in Barcelona as a result of which I was awarded the XII Premio Eugenio Mendoza in Venezuela. I worked with artists, actresses, and other very close friends who were in Barcelona. The process was slow: we had several meetings, we tried the suits on, looked for locations for the video, and we did group photographic sessions outdoors as well as single portraits in a studio. The latter ones, where I was focusing on the eyes of each woman was the most personal. I was trying to show each one of the women who were inside the suits. In these particular images the titles is named using the first name of each woman.

MG: How long have you been working with the wet-plate collodion process and why are you using this process?

LP: I started using this process while in Barcelona. During the residency I met the local collective, Dinounou, which in Catalan means 1919. They have been developing the uses of collodion for a few years, giving workshops, and making their own work. It was perfect for this project because my main reference was the book The Worshipper of the Imagewhich was written at the time when the collodion wet plate process was being used.

I approached the collective and showed them the project and they were interested, so we started working together. At the beginning, we didn't even knew how the colours of the fabrics would photograph using this process; the light yellow, for example, came out as a dark black! And so a period of experimentation started and it was wonderful, in fact one of the members of the collective Kathy Riquelme was so involved that she also agreed to pose as one of the chrysalises.

MG: Can you tell me more about the ethnographic approach you take with these photographs and why do you focus on women?

LP: My work revolves around gender issues. I started with an interest in the body and the self, and this evolved into a concern about the inequalities that surround us. At the same time, I like to navigate history and try to make connections with the past and the present. The stories I have been focussing on combine gender issues and the world of science and nature. I suppose the ethnographic approach that is present at a visual level in the Impronta series, is there in the rest of the work as the 'researcher' spirit guiding me through the work.

As well as the work in A Garden for Beatrix, I am also exploring the concept of the identity of women in old daguerreotypes, and linking this to present stories in the international media where the idea of 'unidentified' females still persists.

Lucia Pizzani's A Garden for Beatrix runs until 24 July at Cecilia Brunson Projects, Royal Oak Yard, Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3GD.

Opening times: Tuesday-Friday: 2-6pm, Saturday: 12-4pm and by appointment
Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7357 9274
Email: assistant (at) ceciliabrunsonprojects (dot) com

— Miranda Gavin
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