Valentina Sciarra was born in Rome. After finishing her master's degree in law, she started taking photography courses and got a degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. Seven years ago, she moved to Sofia with her husband and their two children, and the city offered them its best side, becoming a new home for their family and work selves. In 2018, she finished her degree in sculpture at the National Academy of Art, and her works, which are often site-specific interventions, have already been shown in a number of solo and group exhibitions. Her main interests are photography, installation, sculpture and sound, and she is particularly drawn to working with stone. Her works give you something to think about and leave it to you to interpret what you saw and experienced. We tried to peek under the Bulgarian creative stone that she has been holding down.
Make the long story short - how did you end up living and working in Bulgaria and why?
It all started 7 years ago when my French-born partner, our two girls and I were looking for a base in Europe where we could combine work and family life.
We had already spent 10 years of our life, studying and working in various European capitals and Sofia really proved to be the right city to settle in.
Probably seen from the outside Sofia has offered the best of herself, and friends often accuse us of being too positive in describing our life in Bulgaria; but I reply that we are no longer teenagers and we know very well how to compare the pros and cons of situations, so the choice of where to live was not accidental.
And Sofia helped to make me understand what the priorities are, living fully both as a mother and as an artist at the same time.
You have a master's degree in law. How did that transition to art happen and how do you think your previous education influences your current work and interests in arts?
For this question I would like to refer to the same answer given - always the same - in an interview with the curator and gallery owner Maria Vassileva.
Maybe I would add a question to ask everyone who has the pleasure of opening their knowledge to different horizons : all of you, who love knowledge, aren't you realising that everything around us has a common matrix? Then coming to the conclusion that knowledge in all its forms is the first pleasure of life, even more than sex I would say.
What makes Bulgaria different in terms of possibilities and also obstacles regarding art and being an artist?
The starting point for both answers is the - so hard - history of Bulgaria. Only 15 years ago Bulgaria started a new beginning - how many in the past! - once again distorting (let's hope for the positive!) its existence as a community. Because after all a State is not its nationalistic flag and its borders, it must be repeated, it’s a community of intentions and opinions.
When I arrived Bulgaria was therefore a tabula rasa in which everything can happen. Without established artistic institutions - now the situation is slowly changing - it offered me total freedom of expression, without judgments from above, recognising the value of the works before the "name" of the author.
In Central Europe the thing is often very different, it must be emphasised! The artistic creation is often stifled by market dynamics and pre-established style lines that stifle any kind of innovation.
Of course, then if we discuss Bulgaria's support for artistic creation, here we must be ready to understand that aid for artists is minimal. Everything is on the small shoulders of the artist. And only a few will perhaps survive without compromises.
Your works usually explore our perception of time and relationships - how we think about death, separation, divorce, men and women. Where does this interest of yours come from?
The words on our "perception of time" to describe my artistic practice is perhaps a way to briefly summarize different concepts that are present in my art works.
I try to give you an idea : first of all my interest in stone, for me, is fully representative of the concept of "absence of time". Then our relationship with past wisdom and our present that razed a millenary social culture to the ground, proposing a way of life based on consumption and destruction.
Finally, the choice to be (or at least to try to be) an active part of our society, trying to offer food for thought and criticism.
Your works are usually site specific. When is a specific place part of the artwork, is that always possible and how does that work with you?
Honestly, the greatest satisfaction for me is working with / through public space.
First of all because I believe in the importance of shifting the horizon of a work of art from a simple object to a "verb / process", only in this way can it be experienced by everyone, without any exclusion.
I came from Rome, and as you know, the beauty of Rome is being an open-air museum thanks to the millennial stratifications of works of art. So why not go back to this concept of the city? In this sense, site-specific works could contribute to this process of collective beauty, because they are capable of evolving traces - historical, cultural, territorial - in the best possible way.
Artists who love to work on "site-specific" are often the most open to reconciling different opinions, collective needs, openly criticizing without fear what is perhaps uncomfortable to say. So why not trust the artists!
What are the mediums and techniques you feel most comfortable with and what else would you like to explore?
The beauty of contemporary art is for me the opportunity given to the artist to express himself freely without pre-established categories, such as classical techniques or styles.
This is why I prefer to talk about my interest in working on / with matter, also why not, digital matter, to express ideas and concepts.
I often speak of the alchemical process behind my working method, because it is thanks to the combination of heterogeneous elements that something unique and innovative can be created. Thanks to this process, I have the opportunity to follow a precise direction of research in my work, but without ever repeating myself.
Do you think nowadays artists are forced to explain themselves more to the audience and should art be left to speak for itself or this is not possible anymore? Why?
This is one of the questions that museum directors, critics and curators ask themselves every morning with coffee, I believe. As an artist, I aim more to offer different possible interpretations of each of my work to reach the widest possible audience without necessarily the help of further explanations. So I find it interesting to listen to each one of them, whether they come from industry experts, or from my neighbour.
The art that will be remembered in people's minds, which has stimulated even just a single positive or negative thought, is for me what is worth.
So yes, I believe that the only art still possible is the one capable of expressing itself without filters and directly to everyone's soul.
What are the typical Bulgarian characteristics that keep impressing you and what do you find peculiar or amusing in people's nature here?
After so many years based in Bulgaria, I can define myself too partly born in this land and for this reason the characteristics that I will now list are also part of my way of being: the cyclical power of each season that surprises the senses and makes us feel alive; a way of living between the sacred and the profane, capable of stimulating the spirit of survival; the human dimension of the city of Sofia, which we must all preserve in order not to fall into low / banal gentrification.
Which are your favourite personal spots in Sofia or outside the capital that make you feel home?
I am a hot water’s spring enthusiast, so I would like to mention two spaces linked to this passion. The hot spring in the woods near Bistritza - I won't tell you where they are, find them! - and the Sofia City History Museum.
In this last case, however, it is a place of the past and part of the future. Because as everyone knows, the Museum was born on a spring of thermal water, and before becoming a museum it was just a public bath for the community.
Nothing to say about the contents of the Museum, only that it could be exhibited in a venue, perhaps even more attractive. While the hot water source does not.
It is here and it is absurd not to exploit its benefits for the body and of course for the mind. So my second place to discover will be Sofia's future swimming pool!
When do you find it most difficult to follow yourself and vice cersa - when is the easiest for you to do it?
We try to be personal!
Unfortunately, I am a person closely linked to the hours of sleep spent during the night. The ability to interact with myself depends precisely on the night's rest.
It is as if I were forced to turn off the light to let the mind rest, as if to make a daily room for another - incorporeal - life.
Then of course there are the periods in which it is really impossible to find an inner balance, and in the end it is the same for sleep and vice versa. A vicious circle that always ends with physical collapse and 24 hours of consecutive sleep.
I guess the sleep problem isn't all that personal!
This interview is part of the #followmyself series, which is made in partnership with Fashion Days.