A look back at Valérie Simoncelli‘s exhibition,
“Portraits de Famille“
- The title of your exhibition is “Family Portraits”: why this choice and how can the viewers participate?
The title of my exhibition refers to portraits that already exist. Visitors are invited to continue an existing story by inventing a new “family story” that is based on real elements, but that expands to encompass the social domain, notably by questioning the ties that make up society. How can the audience concretely participate in the creation of the work? It’s simple: they can have their photo taken in the dedicated space in the gallery, i.e. on the old armchair that comes directly from the house painted on the walls, and choose where to hang their printed photo. In this way, their image becomes part of the extended and shared family album, which tells not only the story of the artist’s family ties, but also of the social relationships at the heart of society.
- How would you describe your art practice? What is your aim behind making immersive artworks?
I would define my art practice as “exploratory”: since 2017 I have been looking to test different media to make installations. I think that installation is the most suitable choice to make the public immerse in my universe.
Concerning my previous exhibitions, in 2020 I made “Pause”, a mixture of drawings of details of materials that highlights the play of light on the surface. In the same line, the buildings of the city – the anamorphosis of streets, buildings, districts – are the source of inspiration for the second exhibition “Optique”. In this city, both imagined and real, the spectators are invited to build their own little wooden house and place it on the drawn roofs, participating in the formation of an enlarged and shared social space.
Where did you get the idea to make a house in the gallery? Is it a real or imaginary space and what emotions do you want to convey through this space?
The house built in the gallery is an imaginary space that is inspired by a real and existing place. However, my intention was not to stop the reflection inside the physical walls of the house, but to rethink the way we understand community and society. For this reason, the idea of making this installation was born: home means living under the same roof, bonding and sharing – indeed, “Under the same roof” was the second choice for the title of the exhibition. My hope is that the sense of closeness and sharing that is conveyed by the intimacy and openness of the house can be communicated on a global scale. The viewers, first amused by the possibility of entering the space, then share the sense of wellbeing generated by the installation. The “poetics of the old” that is generated allows individual visitors to recall memories of their own personal history.
- What was the preparation necessary for this project and how did the hanging go?
It was indeed a long hanging! It was necessary to improvise part of the installation to adapt the project to the exhibition space made available by the Alcove Gallery. Before the hanging I prepared the project by taking photos of the country house, which I then reworked with drawings to create the rooms and parts of the house to be printed on the fabric that makes up the walls. To visualise how to make the space look good, I also made a small model to imagine the space in 3 dimensions – also necessary to explain to friends and colleagues my idea of installation !
- Your personal story is exposed through your work, sometimes provoking unexpected reactions from the viewers: how does the public interpret and act upon the installation?
At the beginning the subject was not to expose and show my personal history, the chosen family house was a pretext and a support to reflect on social relations. Visitors like to know the history of the real house, but then the conversation turns to individual stories; this is the power of the intimate space of the house, to touch the depths of people to bring out childhood memories. Welcomed into the hut-like atmosphere offered by the artist, visitors are at ease and entrusted, eager to converse about their stories. Incredibly, the paradox is that this projection outside of oneself takes place inside the hut, which stimulates conversation. It was unexpected to answer the many questions about the real house, I didn’t expect so much curiosity about the existence of this space. Eventually I realised that people want someone to tell them a story, and the theme of the house immediately speaks to everyone.