Don’t Trust What You See. Elisa Sighicelli and the Space of Photography

If art is a magical universe, artist Elisa Sighicelli is an illusionist who plays with scenes from reality to create non-existent dimensions, thanks to her use of light and print manipulations. Born in Turin, Elisa Sighicelli has travelled around the world to study textile design, art, and sculpture. Her works and solo shows have been exhibited internationally, including at Castello di Rivoli, Turin; Palazzo Madama, Turin; Palazzo Fortuny, Venice; MCA Museum of Contemporary Arts Australia, Sydney; Gagosian Gallery; 55 Walker (Bortolami Gallery, Kaufmann Repetto, Andrew Kreps Gallery), New York, and Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong. 


by Giacomo Donati, Elena Tortelli & Viktoriia Stanieva. Cover Image: Elisa Sighicelli, detail of Untitled (8990), 2019, direct UV print on travertine, 100 x 74 x 4 cm. Courtesy Rossi&Rossi, Hong Kong

I’MF: As an artist, you work with different media and materials, with photography and installations. What was your background and your education in art?

ES: I studied first textile design and then sculpture. When I was a student, I did my BA [at Kingston University, London] in sculpture and I worked with plaster a lot, but I then started to do installations. So, I would take photos to document these objects in the exhibition space. That’s when I realised that I liked working with light, so I thought that maybe photography was one of the most effective media for me. 

I’MF: How has your approach to photography evolved in your practice? 

ES: I’m interested in working with the space of photography, so that the image can create different spatial planes inside the photograph. Yet, I’m also interested in the relationship of photography with the real space that the viewer inhabits. For instance, for my last exhibition at Castello di Rivoli1, the doors I used to install the works were already there. I added the photographs of the apartments of Villa Cerruti to create a trompe-l’oeil effect. So, the room represented in the photograph could extend into the real space and, consequently, the viewer inside the room, with imagination, can enter the photograph. 

Elisa Sighicelli, Lumenicta, 2019, pigment prints inserted into doors. Site-specific installation, Castello di Rivoli. Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rivoli-Torino. Courtesy Castello di Rivoli; Photo Credit: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano

I’MF: Since you have worked with so many different media, are you also inspired by artworks and techniques from the past? 

ES: I recently worked with Ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. I was really impressed by the Toro Farnese; it was originally a Hellenistic sculpture, and now we only have a Roman copy at the archaeological museum of Naples. I try to photograph these sculptures as fragments, so you don’t see the whole scene. Therefore, I can offer a glimpse into the narrative without telling the whole story. As the result, it was interesting to see how these different bodies come together in one space, so there’s a leg of a bull, a leg of a person, an arm… The composition is extraordinary.

I’MF: Considering you work with different supports, which was the most difficult to work with?

ES: I work with them depending on the subject of my photograph. I used marble to print the statues on the same material that they were made of. And I print on polyester satin because it is luminous and fluid, so I use it to create the impression of the reflection of glass or to make plastic coincide with the fabric. In the end, the photograph becomes the object.

Elisa Sighicelli, Untitled (8990), 2019, direct UV print on travertine, 100 x 74 x 4 cm. Courtesy Rossi&Rossi, Hong Kong

I’MF: Where does the making process take place? In your studio?

ES: In my studio, I just use my computer to work on files with Photoshop to make them exactly the way I want before printing. The printing process happens in the workshops where they have the right machines, where I also work with textiles.

Elisa Sighicelli, detail of Untitled (1429), 2014, pigment print mounted on aluminium, 2 nails, 68,5 x 103 x 3 cm. Courtesy Fondazione CRC, Cassa Di Risparmio Di Cuneo

I’MF: How do you choose the right support for your art piece?

ES: Well, we live in a very exciting time to be able to experiment with new technologies. It is very exciting to see how we can now work with any material. For example, when you work with inject UV printing you have no limitation except for the thickness of the material, that should not be thicker than 4 cm for the machine I used. One of the first materials I used with this technique was plaster board, to print a photograph of the reflection of the sun onto a wall. The surface in the photograph is a piece of wall, so it is plaster again, like the support that I chose for it. Then I painted the light areas and highlights with fluorescent paint, so in the final image it looks like the brighter areas are glowing, as if the light was coming directly from inside the work. 

Elisa Sighicelli, Gyproc Habito Forte (6070), 2017, direct UV print and opalescent paint on plasterboard 143 x 95 x 3 cm. Courtesy Rossi&Rossi, Hong Kong. Photo Credit: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano

I’MF: Do you have any advice for young curators, creators, and textile designers?

ES: In my opinion the most important thing is to go see as many exhibitions as possible, read as much as possible, know exactly what is going on. For me, it was knowing everything about the art world and then doing my own thing. In addition, try to create your work starting from something that you like and enjoy. When I was a student, I admired Richard Long’s process. He loved to walk, and he made the subject of his work the walking itself. I think it is amazing when you can combine your passion with your work. That’s why I change all the time: with every project, I try to start from the beginning, as if I had never done anything before. To keep every project fresh and open minded. Also – this was a piece of advice that one of my teachers gave me from my BA – you should try not to make your work after those that you see in art galleries in the present moment, because by the time you finish your work it will be not relevant anymore. You should make your own thing even if it’s totally different from all others. It should be something that excites you, otherwise everyone will be bored.

Elisa Sighicelli is an Italian artist. She lives and works in Turin.
Giacomo Donati and Elena Tortelli are undergraduate students in Arts Curating at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.
Viktoriia Stanieva is an undergraduate student in Fashion Styling and Creative Direction at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.

1. Elisa Sighicelli, Lumenombra Lumenicta, curated by Marcella Beccaria at Castello di Rivoli, 31 October 2019-19 January 2020.

Fields of Study

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