Federica Patera & Andrea Sbra Perego
A Double Interview

Federica Patera & Andrea Sbra Perego, Paesaggio Immaginale, 2017 / Detail

Federica Patera and Andrea Sbra Perego are two Italian artists and curators whose work and life are deeply intertwined, like the threads on their canvases. Their common practice develops from the study and use of language and crosses the limits of the written page, involving the environment around them. Their work is poetically layered and connects visual arts, linguistics, music and literature. It has no hierarchies and maintains the common goal of talking about human means of expression since the dawn of time, underlying its connection not only between countries and idioms but also between past and future. The collaborative duo was birthed in 2017 and since then Federica Patera and Andrea Sbra Perego have worked together as artists, using their knowledge to become curators as well. This month we had the chance to talk with them and go into detail about their personal and collective work.

BEATRICE SACCO: You work both as individual artists and as a duo. Can you tell us a bit about your personal practices? How did they start and how did they develop?

ANDREA SBRA PEREGO: I followed a traditional path of artistic studies, beginning with attendance at an art high school and later continuing at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in the early 2000s. Painting has always been my primary medium, but I have also experimented with other forms of expression such as photography and video. My art pieces aim to depict the present and actively engage with it. By immersing themselves in the rhythm of society, they go beyond the result of working only in a studio. I continue to consistently pursue painting, alongside our collaborative work. In November 2023, I inaugurated my latest solo exhibition at the Modern Art Gallery in Podgorica, Montenegro.

FEDERICA PATERA: I have a background in literary studies, and until six years ago, I worked in publishing with all my attention focused strictly on books and writing. Art was not something I had considered dedicating my time and devotion to. Perhaps not by chance, I entered the world of art through a literary project. Literature, books, and languages continue to remain at the center of my world. This transformation occurred as I began working with Andrea. In addition to collaborating as a duo, I embarked on solo projects, delving into languages, both living and fixed, translations, and sacred texts.

 

Federica Patera & Andrea Sbra Perego, Ker: Unity and Order, 2022 / Detail

Federica Patera & Andrea Sbra Perego, Autodisastro Concettuale, 2021

Federica Patera & Andrea Sbra Perego, Re-connaître, 2022 / Detail

B: How and when did you decide to merge them? Can you tell us about how you met and the process of becoming a duo?

F: I was working on a project of stories composed entirely of quotations, which were published by some literary magazines, and Andrea was working on a painting project related to maps, and impersonal, transient places. We started from here to find a common interpretation.

F&A: Our literary cornerstone was a piece by J.L. Borges, an essay entitled Coleridge’s Flower, which tells of the possibility of writing a History of Literature without any authorial reference, as if all the books were written by a single spirit capable of making them talk to each other. To check whether these more or less underground conversations really existed, we created an archive – hence the title of the project: RAR like the compressed file storage system, which contains something bigger than the space it occupies – and this archive is ordered by key words and collects quotations from heterogeneous texts. We use the quotations to compose original stories, and we use them as they were words: there is no author for the words. We have created a map of an imaginary city, the city of RAR, complete with its shape, streets with names, intersections, passages, and a central square. Therefore, it was possible that in the map itself a quote belonged to different paths/stories at the same time, once again supporting the theory of hidden potential and the cancellation of authorship. We carried out a kind of practical demonstration. We created a space between reading and writing, two intimately connected actions. We zoomed in and focused on this space, giving it room to understand what was happening in the middle, at the points where the lemniscate’s line intertwines: the associations born during reading propel us towards writing (or something else), exploiting, thanks to analogy, the implicit potential of an already existing text. RAR was born first and foremost as a literary project, followed by the need to give space and volume to the process that led to the composition of the stories, to show the existing connections between apparently distant texts and the mechanism that makes a literary text and a work of art perennial. That’s why we used the image of the lemniscate above, and independent from their author. It is at this point that Andrea’s experience comes into play, as in his painting research, he explores the theme of travel and movement, also through the constant use of maps. And the first visual form that the project took, when the sentences were arranged in space, was that of a map: the map of the City of RAR. With our work, we aim to shape the creative process: what is represented is not the content of the stories, the events narrated (not primarily), but the transformation process that leads reading to become writing, and vice versa, as we often said; the user to become a creator, blending roles. The exchange ensures the transmission, going beyond repetition and finding its core in transformation. The artwork gives a practical definition to what eternity means and in this case the eternity of an experience is measured in its ability to be a perennially prolific basin, a herald of understanding and intuition.

 

Federica Patera & Andrea Sbra Perego, The City of Books, 2022 / Detail

Federica Patera & Andrea Sbra Perego, Sem: Unity #2, September 2023 / Detail

Elmira Abolhasani, Past, Now, Future, April 2022 / curated by DRIM and ExoArtLab, Church of Santa Croce, San Raffele Cimena, Turin

B: Your practice is deeply rooted into the knowledge of language in general. You not only use words as a medium but you also work with semiotics and linguistics. I know that one of you, Federica, studied these fields and worked in publishing for many years. Was it always a passion for both of you? Why and how did you decide to use language in your art?

A: The literary or conceptual aspect of the project is solely handled by Federica; especially at the beginning of our collaboration, my focus was on translating her studies from the literary realm to the visual arts, preserving the concept while transforming its form and its perception. This division of labor adds depth to the collaborative process, highlighting the synergy between different skill sets and perspectives.

F: Our practice blends visual arts and auditory arts without venturing into audiovisual storytelling; we provide a representation not so much of the content of a text, as happens for example in cinema or opera, which work usually on an exemplifying, narrative, horizontal level in the staging, but on a vertical level, that is, trying to abstract what that passes between words to make them universal. For some time, from a historical perspective, there is an enormous focus on arbitrariness, on individual and, how to say, voyeuristically intimate thought. This means that the work is very linked to the person who creates it – the artist, in this case – and to the place and time in which it is created, to the context. We work because these “parameters” are reduced; the work can move freely without an incursion into the artist’s staff because the interpretation keys are naturally available.

 

Federica Patera & Andrea Sbra Perego, Tecnica, 2021 / Detail

Federica Patera & Andrea Sbra Perego, L’Attenzione più quieta e lungimirante, 2023

Federica Patera & Andrea Sbra Perego, Paesaggio Immaginale, 2017

B: As important as language, you have an elected materials, textiles. Where does the choice come from? How did you come to focus on them as your main form of expression?

F&A: The reasons are mainly two. The first is more immediate and concerns the lexicon: literature and fabric have a common language; words like weave, knot, thread are shared by both areas. In Italian (unlike English), the plot of a story and the weft of the fabric use the same word: trama; furthermore, in English weaving is supposed to be connected with the female world. Also, the Indo-European root tan is valid for both weave and compose – as well as being linked to tantra, and tantric initiation has an enormous weight on a female level. The second, on the other hand, has to do with the symbolic value of the fabric and with the type of approach that distinguishes literature – and language in general. A text requires, in order to be enjoyed, a sequential approach, which channels the words and phrases one way after another, as happens with similar arts such as music or singing; and the fabric, similarly, characterizes the life of nomadic populations, who move in succession in space and have their mobile homes in their tents. In this way, our works have in the material that characterizes them a sort of clue that reaffirms that, to the overall approach, typical of the plastic arts, such as sculpture or painting, which have their realm in the visual and in the space, is combined with another, typical of the sound arts, which instead translates into time and hearing. There is a symbolic aspect to the materials, meaning they carry significance related to space and time beyond their utility. Our intention is to ensure that the components of the work engage in a dialogue with each other and interconnect, enriching each other and, in a certain way, reflecting one another.

 

Federica Patera & Andrea Sbra Perego, Sem: Unity #2, 2023 / Detail

Chiara Tubia, Gianmaria Dellarossa, April 2022 / installation view of the exhibition Emersioni, curated by DRIM and ExoArtLab, Church of Santa Croce, San Raffele Cimena, Turin

Federica Patera & Andrea Sbra Perego, Re-connaître, 2022 / Detail

B: It seems to me that your common practice has started to change. It developed from using words in more contained frames (canvases, or shapes reminding of books and maps) to your recent work which is now focusing on using words free of constraints, acting and having an impact on the environment itself. Am I right? And if so, can you describe the reasons?

A: The form has changed in relation to the project. Previously, we worked by extracting quotes from books, and often the classic book form was the reference point. Now, the work has shifted conceptually to individual words, no longer sentences, always closely linked but free from the formal constraint of the book. The project on verbal roots moves through space and time with fluidity, and the artworks reflect this concept. The discovery of new materials (always within the textile field) has also brought about a change for us.

F: Using quotes we create original stories, which free them from their starting context, or rather: they reveal the potential contained in that group of words which is used as a nucleus. The sentences in this way, freed from authorship, are treated like words, which by nature do not have an author. As we said before, by saying, for example, lamppost, pot, sun, no one is mentioned. In the case of working on verbal roots, the opposite process occurs: the word X contains a narrative and the verbal root behind it contains as many as there are words connected to it. One to many and many to one. The words spread, they go, the order is less evident than in a sentence, but if the visual impact is replaced by reading, the order is found, it can be reconstructed and the fantastic thing is that there is no single starting point and pre-established. Any word can be the starting point and, without the author/artist/whoever assembled them, anyone can build their own map, their own order without eliminating anyone else’s or still hidden one, because there is an underlying bond independent of circumstances and which moves. There is an all is held that holds all the orders in a multi-dimensional simultaneous order. This type of dynamic is possible because there is no arbitrariness governing the game, allowing submerged levels, once illuminated, to be coherent with the already clear parts. It’s like a sort of puzzle: the design is already there, and piece by piece, they are gradually illuminated in any desired order; this will not alter the overall image.

 

Federica Patera & Andrea Sbra Perego, Artist Books, 2022 / Detail

Michele Liuzzi, Nei momenti migliori non c’è altro che elettricità, April 2021 / Installation view of the exhibition A Confession: The Shadow Line, Corso Regina Margherita 94, Turin

Left: Federica Patera & Andrea Sbra Perego, Ker: Unity and Order, 2022 / Right: Portrait of the artists

B: You are not only artists but curators as well, with your project Drim Contemporary Art Ground. How and when did you start? How do you use your knowledge as artists in your role as curators?

F&A: In 2021, we founded an artist-run space called DRIM | Contemporary Art Ground, aiming to create an environment that allows other artists’ artworks to breathe; the setups were actual installations and worked as resonance boxes. Simultaneously, we chose to locate DRIM in the basement of a fine art store. Visitors to the exhibitions would traverse it, and at the top of a staircase, they would encounter a pink neon sign bearing the name of the space. They could witness the tools that make art something to be created. For us, it was essential to show the public that art is a complex world, encompassing various personalities and skills. In the three years of DRIM’s activity, we collaborated with dozens of national and international artists, curators, galleries, and other exhibition spaces, always remaining true to the concepts with which we began. As is in its nature, the structure of DRIM has evolved over time to adapt to various needs. We began with the idea of being a “hybrid art gallery,” and now we have transformed into a curatorial collective.

B: What are you planning next? Do you have any current or upcoming projects or exhibitions?

F&A: We are working on some different projects, the next one is a group show titled “Stay Curious” that opens in Brooklyn with the Ivy Brown Gallery in the spring.

 

Federica Patera & Andrea Sbra Perego
A Double Interview / By Beatrice Sacco
Visit the artists page >

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From devastating conflicts and political upheaval to the climate crisis and the safe passage of migrants, the award-winning works...
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