Embracing Nature and Being Embraced by It

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Julia Artico and Her Hay’s Sculptures

Embracing nature and being embraced by it. For me, this sentence perfectly represents the essence of Julia Artico, an artist from Friuli (a region in the North-East of Italy) who creates sculptures with natural elements.
Among all, hay is the one she uses the most. She doesn’t consider it just a material, rather a living presence of which she surrounds herself and of which she searches a connection with.

In her laboratory, indeed, hay is not only used for artistic purposes but also to create her thinking spot/couch. That’s the place where Julia conceives new artworks and rests during the making of the most challenging. Maybe, this sort of barn can be seen as her personal ‘delivery room’ where she gives a second life to grass blades born from Nature and, thanks to her, become art.

Being alive, her sculptures have a specific scent, they change in time, and, in the end, they return to their mother Earth. They evoke, as the artist says, “something ancestral and intimate“.
It is precisely this bond between the past and primordial energies that marks many of her artworks, especially for the revival of an old handiwork.

All started when she was doing some workshops about wood’s craftmanship: “They called me for a fair, but they forgot to give me access to an electricity plug in (necessary for the glue guns, the saw…) and they couldn’t even solve the problem. So, I said to myself: “And now?”. Maybe it was fate, maybe fate doesn’t exist, I don’t know, anyway, when they asked me to come up with a solution, I used what was there: cut grass. Luckily, I had some raffia in my van because I always listen to my inner voice who says ‘take this, take that, it can be useful’. So, I repeated the gestures I did when I was a child and I made dolls with rag, with wool… I always followed hands and heart; I listen and I let things to happen“.

That’s how the artist devoted herself to hay, defined by her as “a magic material because it smells, it reminds a cut lawn even after months“. Moreover, in Friuli’s mountains hay has always been considered by people “a precious good, the strength of the family, the food for the animals, the assurance of surviving the winter“.

The bond with the past can be seen in her artworks also for the reprise of ancient local myths like the one of Agane or the one which ascribed to geese the role of messengers between worlds.

According to the tradition, Agane are spirits or watercourses’ creatures typical of Alpes’ mythology, especially known in Carnia area (into Friuli region). They have some features in common with Roman nymphs, Germanic undines and Slavic krivapete, so they are represented in different ways but always as females because it is believed they are the souls of women died in childbirth, girls died in young age or babies born dead.

Julia Artico shows them in their purest essence, as naked bodies or covered with a simple gown and all having braided hair. Indeed, one of the legends is about an Agana married to a human and then disappeared due to him: every night she continued to visit, as a soul, the child born from their love to braid her hair.

Moreover, in many stories, it is told how the Agane gifted a symbolic never-ending thread ball to humans to teach them traditional craftsmanship activities as wool spinning or cheese-making.
That ball represents the whole of old knowledges handed down through the generations and of which Julia Artico is surely one of the keepers. She says: “I really love my land, Friuli, and I try to keep on memory and sustainability. I start from hay, but I am a biodynamic beekeeper too; sooner or later the link hay-grass-flowers-bees would have come out“.

That’s the reason why bees are shown in an installation of her in which Agana’s figure is presented as a water fairy who helps those little flies (made by metal thread) giving them flowered areas.

Animals are one of artist’s favourite subjects and, in her website, she pairs poems or tales to each one of them like the one which explains why donkeys have long ears or the one which tells the origin of wild boars.
She says about this: “We need magic, we need to live in a world able to feed us in different ways“.

She also made bunnies, dogs, cows, and geese.
As said before, the local mythology sees geese as messengers between heavenly world and human’s one for their unique ability to run through the three reigns of earth, water, and air. They are animals linked to fate and that’s why a popular boarding game, where victory is only a matter of chance, is named after them: the game of the goose.

Julia Artico reprises this game in a life size scale creating with hay two female figures and six geese, plus sixty-three metal tiles for the squares.
Going through the path, we can experience a metaphor of life made by obstacles and by a final destination.

So, in this artwork, there’s an end while in The Two Origins’ Mystery is shown a beginning, the one of life.
The place where the artist settled the sculpture was a glade that reminded a womb; therefore she made a female figure and, next to her, two developing fetuses into wire mesh placentas. The embryos are set on extinguished fire pits because they are themselves the flames, the fire of life being created; indeed, the woman is the Mother Earth and she keeps in the hands two rune-like pebbles marked in red with the symbols of the sun and the moon, of the masculine and the feminine.

That faceless mother, as all Julia Artico’s other figures, represents every woman and her potential to carry new life in her womb.

In vegetal world, birth is linked to the seeding and maybe that’s the reason why in Behind the Scenes the act of planting an oak is shown although there is no reference to motherhood.
The artwork, created along with the garden designers Barbara Negretti and Elisa Tomat for the Chatsworth Flower show in the UK, consists indeed of two big hay hands bent to plant the tree in the ground.

Hands are fundamental tools for Julia Artico who even hurts herself to model hay in ever new shapes as, for example, the one of a cello that can be played.
The hands are not only hers, but also the ones of Nature which embraces and feeds us.
The artist even made a pair of them precisely to be cuddled, they are hands that hug and, at the meantime, seed life and joy.

This is a call to humanity: let’s embrace Nature and allow it to embrace us too!

Useful links: Julia Artico’s website
Artist’s page on Facebook
Artist’s page on Instagram

Photo e video courtesy of the artist

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