Life almost never takes you down a straight road. It is full of winding paths, leading you down an unexpected journey. For Italian artist Francesca Dalla Benetta, this couldn't be more true. In this interview, Benetta tells us how an artistic journey that started off in Milan took her to working in special effects and eventually on the production of the film Apocalypto in Mexico. Now, the artist is on a new journey--one of artistic freedom and self discovery as she dedicates her time to creating her mythical, sculptural figures.
My work is characterized by mixed anatomies and forms. Human faces and bodies are combined with different textures, skins and elements, giving rise to hybrid beings. Through my aesthetics, in balance between the classic and the surreal, I study the themes of transformation, sense of belonging and self-perception, the ability to adapt, stereotypes and categorization. I look for the fine line that separates personal identity from social conventions, sanity from madness, studying the differences between perception and reality.
My figures are a look towards the interior and the lack of control, they are a way of containing the uncontainable. The stories of each character, isolated in an intimate and unreal dimension, are reflections on the identity of misfits and the many facets of being. As an artist, my most important task is to communicate and stimulate a different way of feeling and thinking. I mainly resort to sculpture because it is an affirmation of solidity in contrast to the volatility of thoughts and emotions: it consolidates and crystallizes them into a permanent and lasting image, it is a perfect tool to stop doubting reality and oneself.
I understand you have a background working in cinema. Can you tell us a bit about your journey getting from there to where you are now?
I had a very peculiar journey, it is more a background in cinema. My first education was scientific: I did half a degree in Physics before I realized that I was only following my mother’s dream. In 1999, I switched to the Fine Art Academy in Milan. I worked a lot with photography, video, installations and all kinds of mediums.
I fell in love with Special FX and I started experimenting with makeup and collaborating with friends in videos and short films. This is what I thought my big dream was: working in professional cinema productions. After University, I had my first experience in scenography and then I found a job as a Special Make Up Artist Assistant. It was 2004. In 2006, I was in Mexico working as Chief Department in Apocalypto, by Mel Gibson. I stayed in Mexico because making movies here is so much more possible than in the small Italian environment. Here, after several movies and series, I started to try making my own characters in sculpture, encouraged by my ex partner. I had the know-how, so I just needed to apply my personal ideas: lots of sketches awaited in my old and current books to see the light! I discovered that was so much more satisfying than working 15 hours a day in a movie, because I could really express myself and have a voice on my own about what matters to me. So this is how my real journey began…
Do you feel that the skills you gained working in cinema transferred to your art practice?
Totally—it is completely thanks to what I learned about materials and techniques in the movie industry (plus a lot of experiments) that I could reach interesting results in the aesthetics of my artwork.
Many of your figures in your work seem to be in the midst of a transition or transformation, in between two states of being. Can you talk about this aspect of your work?
I think the “Being” (and us as humans) is defined by transformation: life is changing, it is transforming something into something else. It is the magic of the circle of life and death that I try to capture through my artwork.
I’m interested in talking about the perception of self identity: it can change a lot during our life, but also during the lapse of a few hours. We can feel (and be) different in different situations or with different people. Our identity is often unclear, and depends on social engagements and roles, on our culture, education, and self esteem. It is very fragile, and such a treasure!
What inspired you to pursue sculpture as your primary mode of creation? What materials do you use and why?
All what I answered in the previous question translated into sculpture. Whenever we use materials (and sculpture is all about materials), chemical reactions are involved. This is a true alchemical transformation, and it is a real and metaphorical language.
Also, touching is one of my bigger pleasures, so sculpture was a very natural language to me. I love plastic and soft materials to model. I use different kinds of clay, at first. The long processes involved in the creation of a sculpture allows the use of different materials such as silicons, urethanes, resins, wax, and bronze. Is a never ending poetry to me.
Many of your pieces remind me of something out of a fairy tale or a fantastical myth. Are you inspired by cultural legends, myths, or stories? What is the driving force behind your artistic practice?
I was always attracted to myths and stories—my grandma used to read to me and tell a lot to me. I grew up immersed in fantastic stories and with the desire to create more. It became a natural way to speak about what is important to me, a way to connect with people. I think that an artist must always tell what matters to them. It is the only way for the message to really come through and impact others. We must find what matters to us and speak with the language that suits our hearts the most.
What would you say is the thread that ties your work together?
I think of my artwork as holistic: I'm interested in having a forceful and kind speech, an impeccable technique, an aesthetic that speaks to the ears of many. All is tied together inevitably, because nothing can survive without this delicate equilibrium that I consider my art to be.
What has been the most challenging part of being an artist?
The life of an artist is constantly full of challenges: for me, it was first to find my language and my speech. I wanted to connect and be received and seen by people (all human beings do, right?). Then, growing as an artist, having meaningful projects. And last but not least: the economical challenge…
What has been the most challenging moment in your life thus far?
I guess when I decided to defy my parents’ will about my future. It was very scary, it brought fights and tension, but it also was completely necessary for my happiness, which I always put first, because an unhappy person simply cannot do any good.
Do you feel like these two challenges overlap or connect?
Totally—the second one was just the start of a long series of challenges, and I knew it. It was inevitable… and beautiful!
How would you describe the art scene in Mexico?
It is very active. Mexico is a great scenario for artists: we have many galleries, independent projects, we are a very connected community. Economically, it is not as expensive as Europe or the United States. This allows artists to afford creative space and materials and experiment more. I love it here!
What are you looking forward to in 2023?
I’m working on a new project for San Luis Potosí Contemporary Art Museum (November 2023): it is about raising a voice against violence (small or big, physical or psychological, gaslighting, isolation, discrimination, etc.) and the loneliness that it produces.
Right now I have right open call to recruit people who want to participate. I will recollect their stories, and transform each in art. My challenge will be to create 100 sculptural portraits in 100 days, from the faces of the people who participate. All of them will be united in an installation to restore voices against the suffering. Also, I am working to build my own foundry, a large space where I can experiment more with artistic languages, open to collaborations with other artists.