2019 Spring Madi Pfaff Temple Rome Temple Semester

Finding Humanity in Process: The Tender Work of Claudia Roma

This week Temple Rome had a reception for the show “Now and Forward: Emerging Artists in Rome, an expanding field.” While there were many wonderful artists there I had the lucky opportunity of becoming friends with Claudia Roma, a student at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma getting her master’s degree in printmaking. She was nice enough to invite me over to Accademia and let me interview her about her work “Il cassetto” which still fascinates me. Upon entering the back room of the gallery, I was struck by many works which are loud and bright and distracting. However, once I had time to adjust to the various sensory experiences, I noticed a series of four drawings of an ancient pair of hands sewing in the corner of the room, hanging over a tiny wooden night stand. Immediately I was intrigued and went to get a closer look. After studying the work for a moment, I noticed someone bend down and look into a little hole at the front of the box. As we Philadelphians know from Marcel Duchamp’s infamous “Étant donnés,” which resides in the PMA, there’s nothing quite so titillating as the secretive art of slow reveal. So I figured I’d take my chance and look through the hole myself. Much to my awe, I found that I was watching someone very old sewing. I must have watched the video loop three times over because it was such an exciting spectacle! I got up and walked around the room watching others engage with the work–how clever to create a piece in which the audience had to give a little to get a little. Dig a little deeper and all good art can reveal mysterious truths.

When I met up with Claudia at Accademia, I was only expecting to see a little of the school and interview her for this piece. Lucky for me she gave me an interactive tour of the papermaking studio and dye lab! Before I got to work on this story, I asked Claudia and her cohort Giacomo every question I could think of pertaining to natural dyeing processes, how to create pigment and make pastels and dyes from scratch. Afterwards my new friend taught me how to make paper! As I was dipping my screen into the fibers bath, pulling it out and transferring it slowly and carefully onto another wet screen, I began to ask Claudia more about her work. She told me that the work was inspired by her grandmother, who had suffered with dementia and couldn’t speak or do much of anything. She remembered that her grandmother used to sew and brought her some thread and scrap fabric. As soon as Claudia gave this to her, her muscle memory kicked in and she would sew for hours on end. I’ve heard of something similar happening with people who used to be heavily involved in music and music performance in their lifetime. Even through their illness, when they cannot remember the faces or names of their families, they remember the melodies to many different tunes. Even when the facts of life fade away, our physical knowledge of processes exist, tucked away in some corner of our minds.

It is always up to the artist to decide how much they would like to reveal about their process and meaning behind the work. As any good artist does, Claudia encourages her audience to interpret her work as they will. In my opinion, “Il cassetto” grapples with the idea of internal versus external. In sewing, a needle is pushed in and out of a body of fabric to suture together a pattern. It is constantly moving within and without, seeing both sides of a garment even before it is finished. Unlike humans, the needle acts as both the instigator and the experiencer, whereas we can only understand things from one point of view at any given moment.

Muscle memory and memory exist both internally and externally. Muscle memory occurs when an action becomes so normal and practiced that is just like breathing. When given the tools the motions simply kick in almost effortlessly. Memory is a bit different. It exists in our mind and in the minds of many others–this idea of a collective conscious. Claudia‘s grandmother may not remember the moment in which her granddaughter videotaped her sewing, but the moment still happened and remains not only in Claudia‘s mind, but digitally too. It can be copied and distributed. If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it has the tree really fallen? Of course it has. Whether or not someone was there to witness it, it was a moment in time. The only record of the action of the tree falling is that once it stood tall in the air and now lies on the ground.

For better or for worse, our minds do not always stand the test of time; we forget, therefore we are revising our own histories and the histories of those around us. Every time we go back into our minds, remembering something in a different way, we have the option to rewrite our future. But somewhere out in the ether that piccolo cassetto exists, playing on a loop for all eternity.

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