Interview with Maria Cristina Ballestracci

The work of Maria Cristina Ballestracci is oriented towards a search for communication, devoid of redundancy, in which the purity and essentiality of the sign captures the deepest meaning of things in an area where beauty and poetry merge into a single entity.

Francesca Della Ventura (FDV): Dear Maria Cristina, I would like to begin this brief interview by asking you how the series of works you have called “Wrecks” and that are also present on inWomen.Gallery came about? It is a project to which you have been dedicating yourself for many years, how come?

Maria Cristina Ballestracci (MCB): The “Wrecks” arise from a process of philosophical research, are islands that tell stories, each wreck that I collect has in itself the memory of a place, people of the time of the sea that has forged caressed, is an attempt to give life to revive through visions that catalog, framed, enclosed under the shrine, microcosms you have which return formal balance and even the word is not only meaning but part of the work itself. Objects, wrecks that take on other forms, infinite meanings, salvific anchors, “Wrecks” that become iconographic. An operation that the great Renaissance artists had already intuited, that of connecting Microcosm and Macrocosm in what Campanella called “natural magic” and which was born from the very matter of things.

Wreck No.65, mixed media, white painted wooden frame, 28cmx28cmx10cm, 2010-in-progress, ©Maria Cristina Ballestracci

“Wrecks” is a project I have been working on for many years because the soul of the project itself is “in progress”, an observation of the world through the attention given to what is considered waste, an observation that could paradoxically become infinite… because the quantity “of what remains” and of what can be observed is immense.

My work starts from the collection of wrecks on the beach, a recombination and a transformation of these objects of nature. I choose those that evoke images in me, then I catalog them by form and by project. The first project referred to the existential shipwreck from which I imagined we could save ourselves through the five elements and the five senses, the relationship with these “residues” is always salvific of re-birth. And then the fascination of the sea, of the element of water that smoothes, transforms over time the wrecks, the objects, imprints the memory of the waves of time.

And so another project I dedicated to the alchemical meaning of water, combining object-subject and word, equally iconographic and significant. Every wreck is therefore a possible, infinite story.

Wreck No. 60, mixed media, wood frame and glass case, 23cmx23cm x10cm, 2010-in-progress, ©Maria Cristina Ballestracci

FDV: How do you live your being an artist in society? What do you think is the role of the artist (and art) today?

MCB: I live my being an artist through a relationship of ethical-aesthetic responsibility towards society. Searching for formal balance through the use of waste materials, “sacrare” recalled the philosopher Giorgio Agamben, means separating from common use, so making sacred what I collect is an invitation to reflect on respecting even “the object” and its history. Not only the waste, the rejects, but also the “lives of waste” that they represent. Yes, because by collecting objects one can trace the life of those who belonged to them, imagine it and fix it in a changing form. As Zygmunt Bauman writes, “garbage collectors are the unsung heroes of modernity”. The role of the artist and of art today is perhaps that of posing questions and raising them to the gaze and to an inner vision, developing a critical conscience and nourishing a constant dialogue. Art is what expands the very definition of art, sinking the paradigms of all times and gathering in the present the definition that each artist elaborates by “naming” his work.

FDV: From 2006 to 2011 you were the curator of the project “Manifesta il lavoro delle donne” (Manifest women’s work), which focused on women’s work. Would you tell us more about it in detail?

MCB: Manifesta il lavoro delle donne (Manifesting Women’s Work), was a cultural container that I curated for five years, manifesting a desire to draw attention to the theme of women’s work and equal opportunities. History has handed down to us, from generation to generation, different models of life and coexistence between men and women; in our time we see them side by side in the same tasks, often studying each other in silence in search of mutual understanding at times even with a certain diffidence. I did not want to simply emphasize the difficulties, albeit present, that women have to face in order to disentangle themselves between the private and public spheres; instead, I wanted to share the thought of the difference between man and woman. It is now clear that women do not need to assert themselves by gaining an equality, understood as equality, with the other sex that does not belong to them. It is not a matter of weighing, as if we had a scale in our hands, and defining more or less, but different. The equality I wished to embrace is that of dignity and opportunity for expression.

Manifesta offered various spaces to create conversations on the theme of work and on the encounter between men and women: “La stanza segreta” (in what is now PART in Rimini) was an exhibition of women’s artistic “dwellings”, a game to discover some of the secrets of women and to explore their complexity, a game that I wanted to play together with men, our fellow travelers. I gave them a “map so they wouldn’t get lost”, one might even dare to say “so we wouldn’t get lost”, trusting that they would know how to accept with irony the challenge that we launched to facilitate the encounter. On the other hand, in order for women to obtain equal opportunities today, a considerable number of men must be ready to join them in this endeavor.

This is a very topical reflection, one that comes up again in these very days, at the birth of the Draghi government, where women ministers are once again in the minority. While waiting for this to happen, and plotting for this advent, it is necessary for everyone, men and women, to encourage a change, a new reflection that comes to terms with the other from oneself, an intimate conversation and mutual care.

Maria Cristina Ballestracci, ©Maria Cristina Ballestracci

FDV: One last question since we’ve been talking about women: which are the women who have marked your life and from whom you’ve drawn inspiration?

MCB: The woman who marked my life was my mother, the women in my family, they passed on to me passion, autonomy, ethics. Then the poetry of Antonia Pozzi, the art of Maria Lai, the images of Meryl McMaster, women who share “extreme” paths in recovering their roots, their intimate nature in the truth of themselves.

Francesca Della Ventura
Francesca Della Ventura

Francesca Della Ventura is a journalist, curator and contemporary art critic, as well as founder and director of inWomen.Gallery.