Last August I landed in Italy, about to start an Artist in Residence program in Empoli, Tuscany. It had been a while since I last was there as a child and I had been dreaming about returning back as an emerging visual artist.

In 2015 my work was involved within my love of Brutalist architecture, set design, German Expressionist films and most importantly, an Italian’s adoration for concrete render. These ‘loves’ manifested into my immersive installation work exhibited at Adelaide Central School of Art

After the completion of my studies I started to be inquisitive about my cultural identity. My background as an Australian/Italian was the reasoning behind my creative curiosities with built architectural space. I had a fascination with Italy and how it hosted such magnificent historic buildings as well as modern day ruins. My focus was on the birthplace of the Renaissance; Florence. It has such majestic beauty, and surrounding parts of Tuscany contained unfinished and abandoned concrete buildings from the 60s’ to today. These modern buildings were abandoned during their construction due to lack of funding, they were subsequently uninhibited for tens of years. I found these abandoned building sites wherever I went in Italy, it left me with an unsatisfied feeling… I then made it my mission to ‘finish the unfinished’, as a point of consolidation in my art practice. I was fortunate enough to make this idea a reality by the backing of funding from the June S. Tanner Memorial Scholarship from Carclew, the Independent Arts Association and the Italian Australia Association. I had organised to complete a one month residency at the Sincresis Spazio D’Arte in Empoli, Tuscany run by local art historian Alessandra Scappini. The residency was to conclude with a solo exhibition at the end of my time there in Tuscany.

I was so excited to get back into the studio after a few months of travelling around Naples, Rome and Florence. I had a large studio and gallery space to work in, with an apartment next door all to myself – I felt right at home and it was wonderful!

The residency was all self-driven, so this meant no classes or workshops to attend, it was all self-directed studio time. I spent a lot of time during my residency drawing and consolidating how I wanted to execute my ideas. Alessandra was such a brilliant residency coordinator, she took me out to many local openings at galleries like Palazzo Strozzi, The Gori Collection, Centro Pecci Museum and the Novecento Museum. She also had me meet some very interesting local artists, all of which helped me challenge my little knowledge of the Italian language. From the first week I started collecting cardboard and photographing the unfinished buildings I saw. I then started to create my large scale cardboard installation which was inspired by an abandoned staircase with no building surrounding it, which I had seen in Pompeii a few weeks earlier. I liked the idea of this ‘stairway to nowhere’ so, I stacked the boxes and used them as building blocks, all to ‘render’ them with my unorthodox render concoction which was made of house paint, flour, water and salt. I used the somewhat ephemeral material of cardboard in this installation because it related to the fragility and incompleteness of the buildings I’d encountered.

 Gabrielle Cirocco,  Unfinished Building Installation,  2016, Empoli - Italy, photography by Marco Mazzi.

Gabrielle Cirocco, Unfinished Building Installation, 2016, Empoli - Italy, photography by Marco Mazzi.

While I wasn’t in the studio, I had many visits walking around in most towns of Tuscany, like Prato, Sienna, Pistoia, Lucca and Pisa to name a few. I frequented textile and embroidery stores where tourists would pay (mostly women) to embroider names of loved ones, or themselves, onto aprons, hankies and clothing as personalised keepsakes to take home. I decided to translate this method of making into my drawn works.  My architectural embroideries allowed each stitch to become a tiny act of repair and renovation at a small scale for unfinished buildings which required a little more than some cotton thread to be fixed.

The black stitching in the embroideries became a record of the original unfinished buildings I had seen on my travels around Italy. I developed a mapping of memory and imagination in these works, the black thread was a drawn analogue of what remained of the unfinished buildings and the blue thread was a drawn map of the potential of what I imagined the building to be like if it was completed.

After my textile and installation works were completed, Alessandra organised an opening exhibition where many local art appreciators, artists and art historians had an opportunity to see my works, in my very first solo exhibition. I had some lovely exchanges with locals of the art scene, all who said to me ‘you have a place here, continue to make your art work’… which was beyond any response I could imagine.

This April I am travelling back to Tuscany to stay for a little while in Prato, where I plan to start a new body of work and also have an exhibition with a local composer I met called Tommaso Nobilio in San Miniato. I am so excited to see what I make this year and what could potentially inspire me! 

Gabrielle Cirocco