MG: So, what’s nostalgia for you?
FV: Maybe it’s an antidote to speed. After all, embroidering is a technique deeply connected to memory.
HK: But embroidery is an activity traditionally considered feminine…
FV:Women are embroiderers almost by definition: they are the depositories of a world of sentiments and feelings that get diluted in embroidery. There is a lot of pain in embroidery: Penelope embroidered while waiting for Ulysses. And then there are the snobs: Valentino, Edward VIII and Wally Simpson all embroidered. In the history of art, on the other hand, you come across a whole series of noble embroiderers, often married to quite obsessive people: Josef Albers’s wife, Sonia Delaunay, Alberto Savinio’s wife…
Ok, the Praz is Right! (An Embroidered Trilogy), 1997. Courtesy Castello di Rivoli, Italy;
The End (An Embroidered Trilogy), 1999. Video still. Courtesy Castello di Rivoli, Italy.
HK: How long do you spend on embroidery?
FV: Three hours a day, more or less.
MG: Have you always embroidered?
FV: My first works were embroideries, and that’s where everything began. I was in
London studying Fine Arts and at a certain point they say: “You gotta come up with
something.” I hated being at college, and embroidery allowed me to be alone. It wasn’t
a stylistic choice at first. It was a way to be left in peace
HK: In all your work there seems to be a red thread that ties together cinema and embroidery. What is the relationship between these two worlds?
FV: My videos are a kind of encyclopedic parallel to the history of cinema: you just
have to do a little research into the private lives of actors and stars and you realize immediately that embroidery is the private counterpart to the star system. Many stars
have found a meditative space in embroidery. Silvana Mangano, the greatest Italian diva, embroidered monotone carpets; it is as though the obsessive action of embroidering was enough for her, she didn’t feel the need to draw anything.
MG: Embroidery is also a typically gay practice: are you interested in this aspect?
FV: Goodness, no. To me embroidery is above all an obsession: on the one hand there is the maniacal portrait of embroidering stars, on the other there is this attempt to compose a history of cinema through embroidery.
MG: And then there is the obsessive fan who persecutes the star.
FV: I’m a fan that asks for a cameo performance instead of an autograph.
MG: But you also parody the social climber…
FV: I never considered my videos as an excuse to make friends with some diva. It remains a discourse about art; you look around and ask what’s missing. It seemed
to me that Helmut Berger or Veruschka were missing: in all the shows I went to see
I felt that there was no trace of melodrama or feelings. I wanted to create something
that contained the visual richness of an opera, something stuffed with quotations,
loaded with references and details. It is also a way of being more sincere: more sincere with myself because I grew up in a world of grandmothers with puffed-up hair,
and more true to my environment, because in all the magazines you only hear about
luxury, but for some reason when you enter a gallery there is no trace of this opulence
that permeates our imagination.
HK: Speaking of luxury, who is your favorite designer?
FV: I am absolutely devoted to Yves Saint Laurent, and then of course there are
Capucci, Fendi and Valentino, who have made costumes for my videos. But in the
hands of Yves Saint Laurent, purple, red and orange become something so incredible
it sends you into raptures. Yves Saint Laurent is a genius, a professor whose energy
and pain are unique. If I could be reborn, I would like to be reincarnated as
Yves Saint Laurent.
HK: When you meet your divas, how do you feel? Intimidated, nervous, curious?
FV: Always curious, not intimidated, because I’m an outsider anyway. I’m not interested in living that life. I represent it, but I don’t long for it, simply because that
world is gone forever. My work remains a study, a peek from behind the door. Maybe
for a moment you seem to be living a dream. But it is a dream that must be very short if you want it to be really intense. And it is so much stronger if you manage to maintain a certain distance. Then, of course, there are these moments of social weakness that hit even the most serious and powerful people: when everyone turns
around to look at the diva, and they start smiling at her, simply because she is so
HK: What would you like people to say about your work?
FV: If you could use all the right words in all the right places, I would say that my work is a study of the weaknesses of a provincial fag, who grows up watching Visconti’s films on TV, and tries to learn something about antiques and art history, while transforming his solitude and pain into a magnificent obsession.
(Translated from Italian by Rosemary McKisack)
Helena Kontova is the editor of Flash Art International.
Massimiliano Gioni was Flash Art US editor from 1998 to 2002. He is director of special exhibitions at New York’s New Museum and artistic director at the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Milan.
Francesco Vezzoli was born in Brescia, Italy, in 1971. He lives and works in Milan.