Virginia Zanetti
Hosted for residency in Porto, 2019


Emerging artist: Virginia Zanetti (Italy)
Residency place: Ideias Emergentes (Guimarães, Portugal)
Curated by: Claudia Melo


Textile industry is very important in the region of Northern Portugal, with long-time traditions and generations of people who have devoted their life for it. Therefore, it is necessary to learn more and directly from the people who have contributed to the development and sustainability of textiles in the region. To approach carefully the memory and identity intertwined in an inextricable way. The attempt for a dialectic of memory and identity, which combine, feed and mutually support each other in order to produce a trajectory of life, a history, a myth, a narrative. To share, preserve, treat, process, connect unique memories of lives dedicated to textiles. One of the artists who has approached this fascinating yet complex topic was Virginia Zanetti.

Virgínia Zanetti was born in Fiesole in 1981. She graduated in painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence and obtained different master degrees in the field of art education. When exhibiting her works and collaborating on other projects like lectures, workshops and residences, Virgínia works with several Italian and foreign institutions for contemporary art, such as Man in Nuoro, CCC Strozzina in Florence, Museo Pecci in Prato, Bern Kunsthalle, Bellinzona MACT, Mog Museum, Italian Culture Institute in Delhi, Serendipity Festival in Goa, India. She won several institutional prizes as MOVIN’UP II session 2015 promoted by the Ministry of Italian Cultural Heritage and GAI – Association for the Circuit of the Young Italian Artists and first place in the competition for artists aimed at creating permanent artworks for the Law Courts of Florence, in 2017.

The work of Virgínia investigates relationships, roles and principles that govern the phenomena, looking for a point of tangency between oriental and western culture. Her vision of the world implies a confidence in the potential of the human being, so she tries to transform conflicts and critical issues into a stimulus for a continuous rethinking of reality. The interest of Virginia is aimed at overcoming the boundaries between the individual, the environment, people and the system to which it belongs. It creates experiences of overcoming the duality or “union” between artist and public, between material and immaterial, between political ideology and spirituality.

At Guimarães, together with other artists in residence, Virginia worked directly with the community of the Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Guimarães and with some former workers of the Fábrica do Castanheiro, the oldest textile factory in Guimarães, closed since 2013. It had a great impact on the artists and allowed her to understand the weight of the 2008 crisis all over the world and the feelings of the drama for all the community, for the owner and workers in particular was very realistic and tangible. The visit to the active factory was very stimulating, allowing to see how we can cross the crisis with 2.0 technology, innovation and quality. Another important source of knowledge was information on the scientific investigation shared by the researcher Paula Nogueira whose field of interest includes memory of the textile industry in the work process.

Recalling the importance of history in Guimarães and its connection to the foundation of Portugal, Virgínia proposed a work that involved a moment of great importance and symbolic value, formally using the navigation and the importance of the Portuguese sailing. Virgínia collected some textile memories of the elderly from Santa Casa da Misericordia and other people of Guimarães community. These memories and questions about the future, were embroidered by Guimarães women and the artist, using the traditional technique. The textile memory was embroidered in the fabric in the textual form, creating a short circuit with the etymology of the word text.

The Portuguese are connected to their past as sea conquerors. The prevailing feeling here is saudade, a nostalgia for better times, related to the fact that now they are overcoming economic challenges and the crisis like other countries all over the world. So what to make of their memories? How to transform them into something that helps them move forward?

Because of this, Virgínia created two Latin sails like those of a Portuguese caravel in linen, in the past a fabric cultivated and processed by local families for multiple uses. Then all the community had held these two sails in the wind from the highest viewing point of Guimarães. This was a highly symbolic gesture, since according to the artist, “we need to look at our memory from the right distance”.

Exploration by sailing is a very symbolic image too. It is very strong in the collective memory and for the history of the birth of Portugal as a nation, and Guimarães was the village where the first king was born. Moreover, the caravel, the Portuguese invention, with its ability to turn every kind of wind (including those against) may become a strong symbol for the community to use their memories.

The artists established very rewarding relationship with the community, workers and people were very involved in my project, especially with the Santa Casa elderly who shared their memories. Virgínia also established a very deep relationship with the embroiderers from whom she learned their traditional embroidery of Guimarães with only monochrome tread to choose from six colors. She spent many hours a day embroidering the phrases written by elderly in the calligraphy. Between meditation and a ritual, it brought the artist closer to the community. According to Virgínia, this experience in Portugal provided her with a better perspective, allowing her to see herself and the humans around the world better.