Tapestry artist Virginia Ryan spins us a yarn

Intransitu’s threads came from afar. They followed paths of individual backgrounds and collective heritage, they’ve been subject to the influence of the wider Italian society and its current burden of issues.

They’re now making their way to Edinburgh.

Intransitu is an exhibition of collective embroidery pieces which artist Virginia Ryan will personally present at Dovecot Studios on March 31st.

Ryan also came from afar: her personal threads already pierced the Scottish capital, where she lived in the 1990’s, as part of a long journey which saw her leave native Australia to reach the shores of Italy and Ivory Coast, more recently.

A few weeks ahead of the exhibition, which will go on until April 16th, we have a quick chance to exchange some words with Virginia, very keen on introducing us to her work as well as to her present and future projects.

First of all, how would you introduce us and Samizdat’s readers to Intransitu?

Intransitu is part of a series of a work I’ve been developing in the last few years in Italy.

It has to do with the traditional art of embroidery in a contemporary context, and a sound environment will accompany each collective piece.

It’s a homage to the voice of real Italian women because, as you may know, there’s recently been a very questionable approach to how women are presented in Italy, especially by the media.

I wanted to give authority and agency to women’s voices, the sort of women which normally are not listened to very much. I think of it as a quite political work.

Is there any other message you wanted to get across with Intransitu?

We’re talking about a project which deals with transitions in women’s lives.

I suppose that if there’s any message in each of these pieces is that we have to pay attention to changes that are going on in subtle and unsubtle ways .

I’ve always been interested in the poetry of the quotidian. I hope there will be some kind of experience of seeing and looking. It’s a sonoric project as much as a visual project.

I’m not trying to get across a message, I’m just trying to create a space where there is a possibility for these women to be heard.

Part of your work is also about breaking geographical and cultural boundaries. Do you think it will be hard for Scottish audiences to relate to a project based in a small town of Southern Italy, distant both culturally and geographically?

There’s two aspects which make up this work. The visual component is extremely minimal, white broidery on white, and quite aesthetically powerful, and can be seen purely in a conceptual art context.

The sound environment is made up of the voices of the women speaking. Most of the people coming will not understand those words. I don’t think it’s a problem, we might have some words translated but I would have to think about it. The rhythm and the gravitas that can be heard in most of the women’s voices are part of a universal language. These are women speaking with courage, from their hearts, and they feel authoritative because they have total license to be themselves, and I think they felt very protected within the environment that we’ve created.

Of course it would be frustrating trying understand every word of a foreign language, but on another level you’re hearing the expression even if you don’t understand the actual meaning of every word. I don’t think it’s a particularly project to understand, I think that when there’s two meanings in a work on some level people have an experience of it. I also think that people in Edinburgh are generally versant in trying to deeply understand what the artist is trying to transmit.

You spent an important part of your life in Edinburgh. What’s your relation with this city and how is it related to the decision of presenting your work here?

My connection with Edinburgh goes back a long way. I’ve lived there in the 90’s and I have a strong connection with people such as Richard Demarco […]

I also did a postgraduate course in art therapy in Edinburgh. I was also working as artist and trainee, so I have a very strong connection with the art world there. I’ve been back a few times since then, but only last year I started thinking about bringing back a piece of work that could be something very specifically Italian to a place where there’s also a history of my work in the past.

Those who will enjoy Intransitu will probably want to know more about your future projects. What comes next, what concepts are you working on?

I’m currently working with three other women embroidery groups.

I have a couple specific photographic projects I want to do in Umbria [central Italy], where the sun develops.

I’ll be going through a process of collecting, photographing and displaying organic and inorganic materials in the next few months.

I’ll also be promoting and talking about a couple projects about the mermaid culture, which is very strong within the Mediterranean, West Africa and North Of Scotland, although I haven’t got up there yet.

In general, the key words of my art are and will be identity, memory and glam.

Identity is hugely important. Our identity cannot be formed unless we have a real sense of memory.

Virginia Ryan present her exhibition at Dovecot Tapestry Studios, Edinburgh on March 31st.

Alessandro Brunelli



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