Elena Mazzi (1984, Reggio Emilia) is an Italian artist who focuses on the relationship between mankind and the environment, how human beings live and change their own habitat. She uses an anthropological method to conduct her research, personally visiting the places that interest her. At the end of the path, she creates works of art that have been exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, Sonje Art Center in Seoul, Palazzo Fortuny in Venice, and the 16th Quadriennale in Rome, among other venues.
by Elena Tortelli
I’MF: Visiting your website, I noticed that the first thing that appears is a map of the world. Then, scrolling through your works, I realised that you have visited so many places. How do you choose your destinations? Is there a path, a specific direction you follow, or do places “call you” towards them?
EM: There are two possibilities. The first stems from my pleasure in getting to know some regions better: there are places that just attract me and I decide to go there. The second one is related to the topic that I would like to explore and that happens in a specific place, so I feel like I must go there.
As for the map you saw on the home page, there’s some text to explain it, but I haven’t uploaded it to my web page yet. It is a map of the world’s connections by sea; if you look at the world by ship, you can see that the south of the world has no connections and everything is concentrated in the western side of the world. I wanted to show that movement is very much related to the world’s current geopolitical situation.
I’MF: Again about your travels, how much do you prepare the work to be done once you arrive at your destination? For example, regarding your experience in Iceland, which led to your Self-portrait with a whale backpack (2018), were you sure you would find cetacean bones, or did it happen by chance? Have you ever been scared by the idea of not finding anything?
EM: Let’s say that Iceland is a bit of a case on its own because it is one of those places I had always wanted to visit, so I went there without a specific plan. I was hoping to find some bones there and it turned out well. I developed the photographic part there while I made the sculptures here in Italy, taking the bones with me. To be honest, I discovered other interesting topics while I was there; that’s why I’m about to return to Iceland, and this time I will be much better prepared The first time I went to explore; now I’m going back with a specific purpose. However, in general, I’ve never been afraid of not finding inspiration, because in the end every place has its own uniqueness and something to think about.
I’MF: As for the current period, how are travel restrictions affecting your artistic research?
EM: The projects that were underway when the coronavirus arrived have been postponed and prolonged, but I’m still working on them, which is why I’m about to return to Iceland. From this point of view nothing has changed, but since I have been in the same place for so long, I have been able to create a new studio. I hadn’t had one for many years and I really like having one now, because it gives me the possibility to work uninterrupted in a permanent place. I had a studio from 2013 to 2016; then from 2016 until last year I would use other places as studios or rely on residences, even for several months, so they were partial studios because I couldn’t keep all my things there. Bringing everything into one place also helps you focus more on the work you’ve done and possibly continue it if you decide not to close it permanently.
I’MF: Is the attention to the environment you show in many of your works, such as Reflecting Venice (2012-2014) or Mediterranean Masterpiece (2012), also meant to raise awareness and inform the public about these issues? Have you ever wanted to change things through your work?
EM: Certainly, to raise awareness, yes, but then changing things is a longer process, and for this you also need the interest of the public, but it would be very nice. This idea is at the heart of some of my works, including Spicule (2020), one of the latest. It is a series of sculptures that I put in the sea last year. This project was carried out in collaboration with a marine biologist, who gave me some ideas to try and raise awareness about the marine ecosystem, about how the sea is not only a tourist receptacle, but also something we should get to know in depth. The purpose of that work was to unite different audiences, from the children who would go out to sea in canoes to see the sculptures, to adults who would go swimming on their own; it was a variety of people who usually don’t approach neither art nor landscape issues in such an immediate way.
I’MF: Your artistic research has a lot to do with the environment and sustainability. How sustainable is the way artworks are created and managed?
EM: Producing art can be very sustainable, or not sustainable at all, if we speak about production. Art can be a simple gesture, or a big waste of money. Let’s just think about Olafur Eliasson’s Ice Watch work (2014). Not sustainable at all but talking about sustainability – what a paradox. Art is a luxury good, but it is a very direct means of communication; it can reach different audiences and this is a precious value, which embeds the concept of freedom in many ways. The important thing is not to become slaves to the production industry and, as a result, to the market.