Silvia Levenson

Do you see how strange it is?
Silvia Levenson with Elisabetta Bucciarelli

Elisabetta Bucciarelli: Your cannibalism of feelings has violently shaken me. I was walking through an art fair and on the floor there was “Sono una signora, Io”, (Me, I am a woman). Your glass purse with the knife entrapped. I wanted it but it was sold out. So i decided to make it mine and included it in Happy Hour, my first novel. It is the crime weapon. At this moment i realized we had something in common. Ferocity hidden behing fragility. What do you think?

Silvia Levenson: Reading Happy Hour was a strong experience for me. First i was surprised to find my purse in the book and then i felt, as you said, that we did have something in common. Maybe an attention to the ambiguity of human relationships. Actually, my work on cannibalism refers more to the tensions hidden and concealed than to open violence; the knives in women handbags can evoke true crimes but also crimes only thought about or planned a hundred times in the minds of these stylish women... and also in the minds of non stylish women like us.

E: Since my first book, you have always been part of my writing. I think it’s also because your artistic world seems harmless, which is an illusion. I’m thinking for rexample of your hand bombs, almost forbidden fruits. Or babies’ scapular that can break at any moment. Telling the pain in a sweet way is not easy. The material i chose is words, yours is glass. Smooth and polish but also sharp. And the iron too, that stings. Are we becoming fakirs? Or will we manage to somehow go beyond our fears?

S: In truth, i don’t know if we’ll manage, but i know that telling in a sweet way helps to see and, in a way, to keep one’s distance, which is necessary if we want to examine ourselves and try to go beyond our fears. I use glass in order to face the archeology of every day life, as if i was using the objects’ memory to express or suggest feelings. I love this ambuguity: beautiful, transparent, translucent, but also dangerous. And, as Tina Olkdown noted: “Cookery and craft industry are often described in a sarcastic mode as happy housewife activities and in this men’s world, they are considered the opposite of true art.” Let’s say i use crafty materials to describe not what we put on our furniture, but what we burry under the rug. It’s funny because usually, people ask me if i’m unhappy or if i suffered a lot as a child, i don’t know if you get that too. It looks as if this instinct that reveals a part of us usually hidden gives us a responsability for reality itself.

E: I understand. It happens to me too and i have to answer: i’m just not a stupid optimistic but a reasonable realistic. But that doesn’t prevent you from looking for beauty. Your works of art are truly beautiful. A harmony of forms, colours and proportions. And then you add the dissonant element. Barbiturics that produce marvelous effects such as forgiveness. In your exhibition “Io ti perdono” (I forgive you), you suggested a few strategies. In my book, also intitled Io ti perdono, i take this idea further, with bombs. What is the importance of contradiction in your work?

S: It’s great. I think paradox is another of my strategies to face life. My recent works precisely deal with emotional strategies, sometimes ingenuous, sometimes thought about and perverse; they must be useful to win over life and give us victory. When i finished reading Io ti perdono, i thought about my ability to forgive. First thought i was an easy forgiver. But then i realized that i’m actually very good at forgetting, which is different (and here is a new strategy). What are we able to forgive? It’s not that easy to do. I come from a country where memory is very important. Our motto was: “Never forget, never forgive”, for torturers and i think it is also linked to our need for justice. Like in your book, the question is: can one forgive the unforgivable? Even when justice is done? I don’t have answers to that but i think forgiveness sometimes scares us because it’s like jumping into the void. Actually, in my piece “Io ti perdono”, a tiny chair is on a barbed wire rug, as if the jump into the void and the emptiness were the only permanent things, in pain.

E: And now? In my next book i talk about justice. Earthly or not. About truth and lies. It’s useless to quote one of your work in particular, because this topic seems to be present in everything you do. I realized you used video; i try to get away from a certain type of writing as well. I think that the shape of things is also a substance and suometimes even the only substance. All is white and perfect. Or black and negative. The surface of things often matches their depth. Or not. I’m always obessed by the alternative between what is and what seems. Which is true? Who is the lyer: the one who tells lies or the ones who pretends to belive you?

S: You use words the same way i use images, to inquire and say aloud what is usually felt or whispered... we share the same obsession: this unspeakable space sometimes so small and so big, located between what we can see and what we guess. That’s where we both go to find a shelter. I don’t know if the answers always match the questions. Sometimes i feel they’re like koan where what matters eventually is the mind’s journey or the story rather than the answer itself. In the videos i made with my daughter, Natalia Saurin, we were going round these happy houses turned into crimes scenes, or “new age” kitchens where unhappiness can be seen through the apparent normality. When i made these videos i realized that i loved to work with other people, maybe because it forces me to determine my own limits and accept other points of view, to go out from the solitude of my own studio. It’s been a while since me and Natalia started talking about a project where we could adress the relationships between mothers and daughters and what happens when we face our stories through art. Once again, there are more questions than answers... I still have to shape this idea of working wih others, but perhaps this shape will come from encounters like this one, won’t it?

E: I spend a lot of time alone myself and i feel the same need to face other people, but i rarely find it. I must tell you that the book i’m thinking about now, after Ti voglio credere, deals with the relationships between mothers and daughters, how strange is that? We must talk about it!

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