Elena Mazzi swims. In a time span between her first years of life and today, swimming was a discipline, then it became physical freedom – for that feeling of floating in an infinite blue liquid – and, now, mental freedom. “When I swim I get the best inspirations, I clear my mind of all worries, ritually beating strokes and breaths”.
In 2017, diving off a cliff, the artist suffered a serious back injury and underwent a consequent spinal operation. From the moment of the impact with the water, she remembers having been terrified of not being able to live those physical and mental sensations she had always felt, a trauma that was difficult to overcome and that forced her to rest for a long time. Recently, she told me about a book that had been given to her: Swimming Studies is the story of a former competitive swimmer but also of an artist. In the book, the author alternates her writings with watercolours, portraits, paintings and photos in sequence of all the costumes used in the various competitive competitions which, as Mazzi says, are “a sort of visual mapping” capable of restoring fatigue, rigour, daily exercise and the perception you have of every single part of your body, alive, in motion, while swimming. At the same time, the book, thanks to the alternation of images and words, refers to those ethereal sensations of weightlessness, silence and estrangement from a precise context that you feel only when you are underwater. In fact, it is “the personal story of how the two worlds, art and competitive activity, constantly intertwine, in a continuous chase to achieve the patience necessary for one or the other, mixed with frustration, constancy, trust, feeling, physical effort.
This exhibition is the result of a site-specific approach by the artist who, in continuity with her method of reading and exploring places, investigated the nature of these rooms in order to grasp its distinctive traits. These glass surfaces “led me to imagine a sort of composite space defined by the element of water” says the artist and, therefore, an exhibition that, given the “curative” nature of the place, could not ignore the artist’s personal experience.
For these reasons, Mazzi has decided to present the cycle of work developed following the accident which affected her spine. The swimming pools, heated or thermal ones, have become, especially after the accident, a necessary, curative space for physical and mental rehabilitation, where she can dedicate herself to the physical exercise of swimming, to get the body used to movement again and to think. The same title Verde intenso con note di blu, a fragment of a poem, is a visual reference to the natural elements and the colours of the landscapes of the – distant but geographically similar – places where Elena has been and where she leads us through these works.
“Mobile horizon” contains the layered complexity of the artist’s research. On the one hand, there is her gaze towards distant horizons, places where she goes to develop long-term projects, in dialogue with communities and their traditions, cultures, stories; but also with the landscapes she observes.
On the other hand, her physical and intellectual mobility is translated into a dynamic action and research in space, intertwined with disparate studies and readings.
This is why Mazzi approaches the figure of the walker of which the anthropologist Tim Ingold writes, a walker whose knowledge evolves in relation to the places she passes through.
The investigation of specific territories – from L’Aquila to Sweden, passing through Venice, Sicily and Abruzzo, from Mexico, Argentina and Lapland, to the places of this exhibition, Iceland and Liguria – transforms the research of the artist in complex objects/organisms in which the cultural and natural heritage of the investigated place is intertwined with scientific data and real facts, mixed with the narratives transmitted by local communities. What moves the artist is the urgency to offer to the widest possible audience new points of view on the observed reality, to suggest new interpretations, possible resolutions to the multiple conflicts between human and nature, to – collective and personal – crisis situations, to fractures.
In this way existing paradigms are overwhelmed, in favour of new possible imaginative horizons.
The applied research methodology, close to anthropology, favours a holistic approach, in my opinion fluid, where her artistic gaze is hybridised in direct confrontation with someone or something else. In this broad mobile horizon of research, her projects, and specifically those presented in this exhibition, return the complex investigations on the relationships and bonds between human beings and animals, in specific natural aquatic environments. For this reason, starting from a personal story and an individual trauma, Mazzi managed to detach from herself, broaden the reflection, transform a specific event into a reading tool for other and general situations. What unites the works of this exhibition and inserts them in an enlarged theoretical horizon, is their reference and link to different theories of Donna Haraway. In her writings, Haraway teaches us to stay with the problem, to live with it, to try to deal with it collectively, by questioning and dialoguing with other species. In my works, as in Encounters and Spicule, I try to put her thinking into practice”.