Tamara Ferioli, 63°55′59″N, 2014
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The meaning of white in Iceland: a journey through the world of Tamara Ferioli

Tamara Ferioli’s artistic production is a visual diary of her life and inner world, connected to Iceland’s culture and natural landscapes

Perceiving nature as if it was our body

The turning point of Tamara Ferioli’s artistic journey took place in 2013 when she took part in an artist residency at SIM Samband Islenskra Myndlistarmanna, the Association of Icelandic Visual Artists in Reykjavik, Iceland, whose traditions and evocative atmospheres have influenced her artistic production and aesthetics since then. Ferioli has returned to Iceland every year since 2013 building an attachment to the land, its mysterious sceneries and uncontaminated nature. Due to the health crisis caused by Covid-19 outbreak, in the last two years Ferioli was forced to forego her yearly travels to Iceland, a deep nostalgia she managed to ease and process thanks to the pictures and videos she shot during her previous trips to the Nordic country, a temple in which man and nature find perfect balance. Ferioli explains: «I am aware that I have several bodies, sometimes it shows itself in the form of a volcano, sometimes in the form of a glacier. We should all perceive nature as if it was our own  body, worthy of respect but not to be endorsed or idolized by us». 

Lampoon introduces Tamara Ferioli

Ferioli’s production articulates through a variety of artistic languages, such as sculpture, installation, photography, drawing and applications on canvas, which allow her to respond in an original manner to any creative urgency and push her to explore universal subjects connected to nature and to the whole spectrum of human emotion. Her philosophy finds expression in a series of installations and sculptures started in 2011 to which Land (2013), Le ombre di montagna (“Mountain’s shadows”, 2016) and Poesia è amarezza (“Poetry is bitterness”, 2011), among others, belong.

In these artworks out-of-print books are combined with natural elements in a game of references and contrasts between abstractness and concreteness. Most of the books employed in the series were purchased in Reykjavik by Ferioli herself, intrigued by their simple yet eloquent titles often linked to the natural world. By combining books – predominant elements in Icelandic culture whose literature has been composed by the people drawing from traditional Icelandic myths and legends – with flowers, stones, wood logs and honeycombs, Ferioli aims at merging the human element – the written word – with the natural one, like the inhabitants of the island have been doing for centuries. «Icelanders managed to find a compromise with the brute force of nature and to integrate into the environment. For instance, traveling across the island I discovered these typical houses carved into the rock» Ferioli claims.

In Idola, a site-specific installation set up in 2013 in the exhibition spaces of Officine dell’Immagine, Milan, twenty-eight logs painted in white and cut at different heights, pierce the volumes of an encyclopedia. The words printed in the impaled books represent the illusion of knowing and controlling everything typical of the human being which is constantly challenged and hindered by nature, unpredictable and often incomprehensible. In her drawings and sculptural installations, united by fairy-tale atmospheres and dreamscapes, all taxonomic hierarchies disappear creating new ecosystems and amplifying the symbolic meaning and surrealistic aesthetics of her compositions, in which the human presence is summoned as witness to the arcane and mesmerizing laws of life and nature. 

The meaning of the color white

In addition to nurturing the introspective nature of her work, Iceland and its wild environment provide Ferioli with a variety of unconventional materials, from rocks and flowers to shells (Mekànema, 2010) and cuttle-bone (Unravel, 2015) . «I do not always find them, sometimes they are the ones to find me» Ferioli says about her approach to material research. Their fortuitous encounters are the result of solitary pilgrimages on the desolated beaches of Iceland where she goes to collect the objects abandoned by the sea during low tides, all accompanied by the sound of the wind enhancing the auditory aspect of the artistic experience, essential element of several works of Ferioli, such as  Heimaey (2014) and COLONNA SONORA quattoridicigiugnoduemilasedici (SOUND TRACK, 2016).

The first artwork is a large scale installation consisting of a wooden house covered with 100kg of untreated cuttlefish bones capable of overcoming the boundaries of traditional art by carrying the viewer into a multisensory journey between sight, olfaction and hearing along the coast of Iceland thanks to the salty smell of the sea and several sound elements captured by the artist during her pilgrimages across the country, from the waves of lake Jökulsárlòn caused by the rupture of an iceberg, to the echo of the waterfalls, from the singing of seagulls the one of swans. The second installation was part of a larger exhibition held inside the rooms of Castello di Sarzano: 3300 bells tied to a 400 meters wire hanging inside the castle’s bell tower where the wind’s flow dictated the intensity and rhythm of the chimes’ melody. Each item selected and employed by Ferioli represents a micro-narrative which the artist combines and puts in relation with others in order to express their hidden potential and reveal their inner meanings.

«I’ve always been fascinated by the characteristics of simple materials, such as the austere dignity of stones, or the shyness of tree branches. As a child I used to prefer natural objects from the surrounding environment, rather than conventional toys. The possibility of making them protagonists of my iconographic narratives came as a natural consequence». For instance, The wide sea comes each morning (2016-17-18), is part of a series of sculptures made of several fish bones combined to create irregularly-shaped flowers where each interlocking was carefully studied by the artist exploiting the bones’ anatomical cavities and protrusions with the aim of respecting their original shape and letting nature dictate the anatomy of the flower.  The bones were treated by Ferioli so as to be odorless and maintain an unaltered neutral color over time.

A different approach has been used by Ferioli for the production of Heimaey and Unravel where the cuttlefish bones, due to their regular oval shape, are applied on the surface like repetitive mosaic tiles. Among the unusual materials she likes to feature in her work is her red hair, thin but predominant within Ferioli’s black and white drawings on Japanese paper, a peculiar type of paper processed by hand in a traditional Japanese manner. Made using fibers from the inner bark of the gampi tree, the mitsumata shrub, or the paper mulberry bush, at first glance it seems fragile and thin, but it is actually durable and strong, like many of the materials employed by Ferioli. Until 2015 female bodies whose faces were covered by tangles of hair were the most recurrent subjects in her drawings, the application of hair strands was aimed at cancelling and emphasizing their identities at the same time; Ferioli explains: «They were fake masks as we all know that our whole identity, our DNA, is contained in the hair». Though the subjects of her drawings changed throughout her career and the female bodies were replaced by volcanos and Icelandic landscapes and vegetation, the hair has maintained its symbolic value. The application process requires precision and patience: each hair is carefully selected, cut- if needed – and applied on the paper with a micro brush and a special type of glue usually used in art and architectural restoration. If the hair needs to be moved across the canvas, Ferioli resorts to the use of long and thin needles.

Tamara Ferioli, Idola, 2011,28 trees destined to the fire, 28 books destined for pulping, photography Alessandro Frangi
Tamara Ferioli, Idola, 2011,28 trees destined to the fire, 28 books destined for pulping, photography Alessandro Frangi

The iconography of Ferioli’s art

Drawing from the Icelandic culture, Ferioli’s iconography is enhanced by the use of white, «a ‘color-non-color’» capable of accepting anything, from the vermillion additions of her hair to the precise black strokes of the pencil which, like a scalpel, allows Ferioli to intervene surgically on her drawings and to go into detail. «I started from the chaos, but by sectioning and clearing up my emotions I finally got to use white, which makes me feel free and at peace. I do not want to contaminate my work with decorations, I like it simple, essential, with nothing superfluous» Ferioli claims. When assigning titles to her pencil drawings Ferioli manages to put into words her fascination with nature and Iceland. Some of her most recent illustrations where the natural element meets the artist’s imagery are On forgetting and remembering the air (2020), Litost (2019) and Krosslaug (2019), whose name refers to two geothermal pools close to the Birkimelur Settlement in the southern part of the Westfjords of Iceland.

Her drawings on Japanese paper and canvas occupy a prominent position within her artistic production; Ferioli shows a predisposition towards multidisciplinarity, though. Her photographs for instance, all taken with a digital camera, portray typical sceneries of Iceland’s natural environment where the vibrant colors of the land are enhanced by the typical Icelandic winter white skies and the delicate applications of Ferioli’s hair. «I decided to caption them with the name of the geographical coordinates of the place where they were taken because in this series of works the predominant element is the place and its colors. As if it were a dialogue between me and that place, where both our voices are distinctly audible» Ferioli claims. 

The correlation between life and art

Finding the perfect balance between different artistic languages, materials and subjects demands dedication to research and investigation: «The time I devote to research is my favorite, like the moments which precede the storm when you can almost smell it in the air. My work matures following my life and process of growth, which go through emotional ups and downs». On the other hand, the complexity and stratification of her drawing compositions and sculptural installations require meditation and attention to detail. Technology could be a helpful tool in simplifying the realization process, but Ferioli prefers to devote herself entirely to the execution of her artworks as she considers it an integral part of the artist’s work, rather than a set of repetitive physical actions.

One day Ferioli would like to introduce ceramic into her work, a material which has always fascinated her but never crossed her life. Despite its moldable properties and frailty would merry well with Ferioli’s philosophy and approach to art, she acknowledges that the cooking stage requires specific skills, other than a special oven, which would force her to rely on the expertise of someone else and leave the control over the production process to others, a step she is not ready to take yet. From 11 July until 12 September Castello Ginori di Querceto, located in Val di Cecina, hosted an exhibition in collaboration with Kalpa Art Living art gallery, in Volterra, titled Rebirth, a dialogue between Ferioli’s sculptural installations and the vertical canvases of Polish artist Olga Niescier, inspired by the historical tradition of Asian landscape painting. Tackling the themes of rebirth and regeneration, the exhibition explored the multiple forms of nature as a repository of arcane laws of conservation and transmission, which Ferioli translated into white flowers of variable dimensions made of wild fish bones caught in the North Atlantic (The wide sea comes each morning, 2016-17-18). All accompanied by the song of the cicadas coming from the surrounding countryside.

Drawing once again from her personal experience and inner world, Ferioli turned the recent experience of pregnancy into a series of drawings titled En-bryein/Fiorire dentro, Ferioli explains: «During pregnancy, as the weeks went by, the feeling of being and at the same time containing a landscape became stronger and stronger, hence the idea of a visual diary». The visual narration testifies the physical and emotional perceptions of the artist deriving from the gentle and yet violent changes taking place inside of her body, like the transformations of nature which inspire her work and mark the passage of time and the cycle of the seasons. 

Tamara Ferioli

Ferioli lives and works in Milan. After studying at the School of Fine Arts in Lyon, she graduated from the Department of Painting at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan. Her work draws from several artistic languages, such as photography, sculpture, and pencil drawing. She exhibited her works at Padiglione Italia (Milan EXPO 2015), Venice (56th Venice Biennale), MAMbo, Bologna and Triennale di Milano, among others. In 2013 she was an artist in residence at SIM – Samband Islenskra Myndlistarmanna, in Reykjavik, where she developed a passion for Iceland, a major influence of her work.

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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