Zanetti, Virginia

by Melissa Kreider and Mia Badham

This interview was conducted in July 2014.

Virginia Zanetti is an artist working in Florence, Italy and exhibiting in the surrounding areas. Virginia focuses on the relationship between the spectator and the artwork through installations, performances, and site-specific art. She applies a world view to current projects and makes an immense effort to highlight the importance of community that resides in the area in which she is working. Virginia Zanetti also teaches art to higher education students, and benefits from the interactions she has with her students.

Virginia, how do you relate your works in Prato with the all idea of the project Prato-Sarajevo?

When the curators invited me to participate at this project, I was already working at Vissi D’Arte, a work with various and different medium ad steps. A soprano unexpectedly begins to sing the aria Vissi d’Arte from Puccini’s Tosca, in the common places of everyday life where beauty seems to have disappeared. Out of context, her singing becomes a (re) affirmation of the power of transformation and the opening of perspectives onto art. This comes at a critical time for the city whose past has seen greater economic prosperity.

Two tracks come from this open performance. These highly significant tracks that mirror each other include a photographic installation, and an audio-video installation inside and outside of the Cinema Borsi, a historic cultural meeting place (but recently closed). The exceptional reopening of the cinema is an action thought for Prato and Sarajevo- both without their art center- accompanied by the desire to spread the beauty of the performance that preceded it. This creates an oxymoron with the scene of daily life, through a circular motion in time and space: a mise en abyme, in which the difficult times of the present exhort the creation of new value.

I know that you live in Florence, but your father is from Prato. How important was the previous knowledge of the city when working in Prato-Sarajevo?

I have an affective link with this town. It allowed me to work naturally with care and depth, different from other situations that need a greater effort to open myself to the place.

In Vissi d’Arte, where the singer is a medium for artwork, what kind of role does the artist have? Is your role comparable to that of a director?

Yes, it’s almost like this. Singer, installation and performance, time, space, and sound are different media used for a single drawing.

In the same piece, do you draw inspiration from another artist in particular?

I subconsciously draw codes and images from collective unconscious and from artists I prefer. In this case, I draw my inspiration directly from Puccini, from my daily life with the town, and from my past political activism often made by actions on abandoned buildings chosen for their cultural history or speculation operation.

A 1,000 dollar question: what kind of role does the artist have in society today?

It depends on where you want to place. There are many ways to be an artist. For me. being an artist is a condition and an attitude that brings towards a daily human revolution. The artist has a role of great responsibility, because transforming emergencies in poetic visions or process, speaks to the profound of the other.

How do you define social practice, site-specific art, and performance? How do you apply this to your art? To which of these do you feel most drawn to?

I don’t define, I usually practice. I think that all my work contains and goes through all of these practices, sometimes that which emerges goes mainly to one direction rather than to another, often if it predominates social, poetic or performative direction, it just depends on the person who comes in contact with my works and what they are searching and want to see.

My work tries to identify and break down the boundary from artwork begins and where the role of its spectator begins, using simple and mostly acquired devices. The conceptual shift is obtained at the most basic and archetypal level of knowledge, in the relational dynamics or within the shared codes of a community. This makes my works an integral part of the environment in which they are conceived: collectors of human dynamics, rather than mere objects of contemplation. For example, with the project The eyes of the world (an installative intervention focused on the image of the circle, also at the center of works like The choice of the time or Infinite), the work of art opens itself to the history of a territory (the Lucan village of Latronico): the twelve circular mirrors set in streets, squares or between the fallow vegetation, become the basis for an “energetical cartography” of the area, fueled by the dreams and memories of those who live there.

This world view implies a deep faith in the possibilities of the human being, which, far from any theology, I adopt the critical potential of religious sensitivity, as a stimulus for a continuous rethinking of reality. That’s why, in the performative experiences, the participants are invited to make “impossible” exercises (like listening to an inanimate object): they confront with their limitations, and find in them an impetus towards otherness. The cycle Walking on the water: Miracle & Utopia culminates in a collective performance on the shore of the Adriatic Sea, but is also fed by a dialogue in the making, an archive of polyphonic “miracles” and “utopias”, living and contrasting testimonies collected in open call. These modes of production can be found in the widest project of mine, Curating the curator, developed in four steps over the past three years. The starting point are the watercolors for the book A brief history of curating by Hans Ulrich Obrist. These become the starting point for performative and installative interventions, at the center of which is always the artistic interpretation of the figure of the curator. A reversal of roles, culminating in the drafting of a “shared text” (via cloud technology) and in a series of roundtables – such as the one at Bern Kunsthalle or the one at Risse in Varese – with artists, critics and curators. My research aims, in short, to give back to the artistic work his value of investigation and communication, outside the logic of the market, but inside the dynamics by which it is determined.

We know that you are a professor as well. How do you balance your work as an artist and a professor? Do they affect one another or do you think that the professorship has brought any insight to your work?

I work with and on relationships; teacher-student is a special one. First of all, teaching is a participated performance, it is important because you learn to be in contact with your desire of communication, with what you mean, to feel the others and their needs, to be sure of your goals, to plan your work in a temporal space, to speak clearly and simply and always be ready to improvise according to the situation. Teaching has definitely influenced my work as an artist.

I have been here before, and Mia has been here for three weeks. Many artists enjoy food as well art, so we have been trying lots of new things. We have decided that we most like eating pear ravioli and pesto (not together). What food do you most enjoy, and do you have a favorite gelato place in Florence?

I always love changing food but at the moment my favourite could be “Melanzane alla Parmigiana”. For ice cream in Florence, maybe the one near Academy of Fine Arts.

 What are your plans for the future?

I’m working for a new work for first edition of a Land art festival called Apulia Land Art Festival (

That will take place this summer in Puglia and at other future projects that will take place in Italy and abroad, but the most important is to do my daily human revolution.