Interview with Anne-Marie van Sprang

“From the body to the skyline”

In 2019 I was challenged to apply for residency in AIR CAM in Celleno, Italy. I started
orienting myself on the town and its surroundings; I hardly knew the rich culture of the
Etruscans, and every time I discovered more about them, I was surprised this lack of
knowledge had been a blind spot for so long. I started collecting and borrowing things about
them and read what I could. Their sculptures and their fascinating changes from solid volumes
to frail essential details, such as in a bronze female figure from 550 B.C. in which she lifts her
skirt a bit. Subtle changes like this can also be seen in the black crockery, on the wall
paintings with their characteristic shapes and in the sophistication and elaborated details in the
sculptures. Awesome! I was convinced I could learn a lot from and about Etruscan art.
Especially when I could see and experience the structures and the sculptures in their context.
My stay was to be quite different. I often thought of the 2019 Venice Biennale motto: “May
You Live in Interesting Times”.
It was mid-February when my friend Victor and I set out. On our way we especially wanted to
meet a lot of Etruscans in museums and grave monuments.
First of all we visit friends in France, then go towards Italy. The corona pandemic is just
something Chinese, we think. It is a coincidence that we don’t stop in Northern Italy. We visit
the international museum of ceramics MIC Faenza in the province of Ravenna, where I was
selected for a group exhibition (now postponed until 2021). On February 23rd already we
notice the first people wearing face masks in Florence. There were a lot of infections in
Northern Italy by then. Two days later we visit Orvieto and later, in Tarquinia, the Museo
Archeologico Nazionale as well as the many graves and wall paintings in town. Our last stops
before Celleno are Civitavecchia with its archeological museum and Tuscania with the
Etruscan museum. We arrive at Celleno on February 28th and are warmly welcomed by
Dieuwke and Aad and, a big surprise, by Judith as well. The North of the country has just
closed all schools and since Judith goes to school near Trieste she has taken the train to her
The next day I started making and decorating a studio. Victor was going to help me and return
home after about a week. But would he be able to come back if necessary? Italy was
implementing more and more measures. Was it a good idea to stay in Celleno on my own in a
world that was changing so rapidly? Victor stayed.
Straight behind the entrance to CAM, at the patio doors, I make an empty space next to the
stairs. There is plenty of room here, reaching up to the ceiling – it is nice to have so much
room above your head. I cover the floor with pieces of cardboard and the wall behind the wax
bowl underneath the stairs with paper, so that I can sculpt carelessly. The study is packed but
there are empty chairs in front of the window. Here I can draw and read without being
distracted, with a view on the landscape. Now I can start working, eyes and ears wide open.
It is fascinating to realize that the Etruscans used to live, travel and make sculptures here, with
their exceptionally enriching cultures. I had intended to continue concentrating on the rich
history of the Etruscans and on the traces they have left. But when the Etruscan museum in
Viterbo closed its doors on March 8th I realized that I had to adapt my plans.
The spot we are at is just great, and of course I have brought the material to make sculptures.
So, from now on I aim at what can be achieved. And I decide to get inspired by my near
surroundings with its scenic landscape and its view on the Tiber valley. And by the rapidly
changing world.
What struck me at the beginning was that the sounds in the valley were hard to trace. The
sound behaved differently from how I know it. This must be because I live and work in an
urban setting, being surrounded by baked clay bricks.
Now I can hear bird songs and water from rippling brooks making an omnifarious concert
together. No bird predominates, as if they all agreed on doing it together: we are streaming.
One could hear but not see agricultural machinery, dogs were barking and stayed invisible.
Someone was singing or whistling, quite near, it seemed, but, again, no one was seen. Bells
were ringing. Was it in Roccalvecce or in Celleno? At about 9 am every morning I heard
Egidio and Sergio’s flock of sheep. They made the coat hangers in the wardrobes move but
when they walked in the opposite direction to graze, the side table next to the desk started
rattling. Throughout the day the sheep produced a nice sound, thin and soft with their sheep
bells in different shapes that some were carrying around their necks. They may have been
walking a hundred and fifty yards lower than our garden. Sometimes one could see them or
hear them and sometimes one could both hear and see them.
This morning at 7.15 a great number of bells were suddenly ringing. I thought there might be
an earthquake and we can’t have that right now. However, the animals reacted normally, I
heard, and were their usual selves. Yet, they notice natural phenomenons much earlier than
we do.
I think that sound influences our wellbeing both in a positive and negative manner and that its
importance is underestimated. Since I had noticed that sounds influence my wellbeing I
wanted to suggest a sound and imagine its frailty and power. I had made bells before, with
and without tongues in bronze or porcelain, drum kits with imploded drums, cymbals and hihats, and also a car with horns sticking out of the roof. In Celleno I made statues containing
bells, clocks and horns, too. After I had helped a neighbour, she brought me a big chocolate
clock. This is a Roman Catholic Easter tradition. Thus we ate clocks.
On March 10th all shops except the ones for food are closed. One can only take short walks of
about 500 yards in the near distance of one’s house, even if one lives in the country. A day
later we find the form you have to fill in and carry with you: Who are you and what are you
doing? Going shopping is allowed so we go shopping twice a day, taking different routes, the
advantage being that you notice each and every change in nature. Yesterday I saw a
blossoming tree and I was almost sure it looked different on the way there and back. On the
14th of March we were stopped by the police. This was the first macho event since we are
here. I am aware of how serious the situation is but this was rather strange, for them as well
as for us. We were standing just outside the supermarket when we were stopped and were
allowed to do our shopping. After that we went home straight away. When we walk to
Roccalvecce there is less chance to bump into the police.
The situation was new to everyone and it was to our advantage that some things were meant
to be new to us, e.g. a temporary place in an unknown environment, our home and studio,
country and language, a new opportunity altogether. We had to adapt our daily routine so we
looked outside, sat in the garden and had a close look at everything. Nothing was familiar, this
was our new way of watching. Staying active involved walking in the garden, seeing the
landscape change and looking at it from different angles. I have walked miles and miles, day
after day, and experienced where I was.
It is March 15th. Today it is Sunday and a day of rest. It is lovely in the garden. I think a lot.
There is little progress in my work but at least something is happening, although I am not
sure if it is there to stay. Am reading D.H. Lawrence’s Etruscan Places with its mad lyrical
descriptions. The book is opinionated and gives the reader enough space to broaden his own
thoughts, which is exciting.
A period of work can also mean a reset, putting on reins, zooming in, a time to find ways to
work on what seems to be important to me. Revaluing my individual pace and being
independent of what other people think, thinking out of the box. How do I create something
and look at something without being prejudiced? How can I be open-minded and learn to see
Victor is feeling better all the time, is quite homely and enjoys our household chores. Every
day he finds new things to do, so I hope nobody will come and visit us this summer for a daily
cup of nettle tea. Nettles are hard to find now, and all rose bushes have been pruned.
We are enjoying our view, the garden and the house. Zooming in, which I have always found
important, has got a special meaning by now. There is more to see in the garden now, and we
can see it turning green. At a part of the rock wall where trees showed some graphic lines
when we first got here, there is now an abundance of different shapes of green. It changes
while one watches.
On March 20th measures became stricter. A total lockdown was introduced. Nobody was
allowed out on the streets, except one person in the family, only to buy food, for a medical
emergency or for vital work. Shopping had to be done in one’s own town and one had to wear
a mouth mask and gloves. Moreover, one had to drive a car to go to the shops. Luckily Victor
was there; he was the one to go shopping and he bought a mask at the pharmacy, cooked the
meals, missed his guitar and started a course in Italian.
Today is March 27th and I have just seen the first hop bird, which made me completely happy.
The crested tit is building its nest in the wall beside the window I am looking out of. It uses
the oleander as a stopover. First it carries pieces of broken feathers, then small portions of
food. There are goldfinches in the cypresses. Magpies are scratching and quarrelling in the
pine tree, or so it seems. And the hop is calling in the distance and I am lucky it has landed in
a tree in the garden a few times. In real life the bird is much prettier and more fascinating
than I had imagined. It is a bird that always looks different, with its feather comb up or down
according to its mood, and its black and white wings and tail. Still, these birds are hard to
spot in an open tree, so I am glad they make a sound, a basic go-for-it.
April 10th: Code red in Celleno from today, since there are cases of covid-19 in one of the
retirement homes, a complete standstill. Blocks of concrete and roadblocks on access roads
and nobody can enter or leave the town but in emergencies and for food and medicine
deliveries. Intensive monitoring of compliance of the lockdown rules.
Getting to the core is the most essential characteristic of one’s individual artistry and the most
confronting aspect of the job, too. I agreed on trying and letting things flow freely and would
judge and choose later. Considering what to do and suddenly getting a flow to create
something was quite tough but this is now becoming a fixed pattern. Each time is different, as
if one starts all over again.
April 16th: We are using gloves now and I wear a mouth cap, which Victor could buy at the
pharmacy. In a situation like this you don’t want to be too pushy. Victor sees police all the
time but they leave him alone. He waves to them and they nod when they spot him. He doesn’t
mind going shopping, lucky me! The supermarket has excellent vegetables and fruit and we
enjoy our meals. Victor also buys veggies at Rita’s shop and meat at the butcher’s, not
always, though, since people are often queuing. Also, our rubbish is collected, like always.
I walk around the swimming pool in circles, and practise pilates, which is really very nice.
Every day I have to commit myself to it, but then I feel better and more in balance. My mind is
reeling and by doing these daily exercises my body gets involved as well.
I keep asking questions through 3D images, with new questions to follow again and again.
This keeps me busy like it always does. Questions about vulnerable details that colour a
second, a minute, an hour or a month and which I can’t put into words. Questions that are a
fascinating source to create images, images such as how much space one wants to occupy.
Found a copy of To Clothe the Naked by Luigi Pirandello in the bookcase, what a splendid
book it is. Saw another title by the same author, too.
For some time I was messing around with my work. I was dissatisfied with it, there were not
enough results. I grew grumpier and grumpier, which was too bad for Victor, now that he
couldn’t take his bike and go for a ride. I cleared the work tables and forced myself to write
down what I had done so far. It wasn’t little at all. Yet it remained difficult to realize this.
A day for drawing, tomorrow. My messing around has eventually been reversed. This is
always such a hassle, as if I am starting over and over again. It is horrible but somehow it
belongs to me.
This is a period of total reset and I work every day but on Sundays. I have just finished
reading Luigi Pirandello’s To Clothe the Naked in a Dutch translation edited by HEMA, a
Dutch department store. What a fantastic book it is. Temperatures are lovely here and I am
lying on a lounger in my cardigan, which is nice. Antonio has hung out his laundry to dry and
is working around the house, whistling air through his mouth energetically.
Am now reading Philipp Blom’s An Italian Journey, which is interesting material. Meanwhile
a lot of things are happening. I sometimes think that I would not have been able to cope with
all the treasures in the neighbourhood and the landscapes further away, nor with those
climbing walks I had intended to have.
On April 25th code red is cancelled. Short walks in the direct environment are allowed again,
but only in the country. However, we are not allowed to travel home on April 30th, as we had
originally planned.
The sculptures are packed and will remain packed during the fortnight quarantine. Only after
these two weeks will I go to my own studio and unpack them. The sculptures are still made of
modeling wax since I wanted to see direct results from my work. This implies something still
has to be done. The question is whether I will have the sculptures cast in bronze or if I make
molds to make porcelain sculptures, or the two of them. I am still undecided. There are parts
of sculptures I couldn’t make in Celleno. They have already been designed and back home I
could use plaster. In that case a sculpture can have several different characters and molding
lines. I am taking my time and will see what to do to get a valuable reflection of an
exceptional period of time.
Yesterday we saw a kite flying in Monica’s direction; it was light yellow and light blue, a
festive image.
April 27th: Victor is going to the police station concerning our return journey. Saverio is on
standby, which is great. Yesterday I beat myself walking around the pool. I covered almost
four miles!
On Monday morning Saverio Senni is going to contact customs in the North of the country.
Up to now it is not clear if we can travel through Switzerland.
May 4th: Hi Dieuwke, just to say hello from Mulhouse in France, where we are spending the
night. The journey went very well and the border officials were nice to us. Traffic was low
and crossing Switzerland was beautiful. More tomorrow.
I will be able to use my quarantine at home by having a good look at what has happened
exactly. It may sound silly, but at the start of my period of being an artist in residence I was
really scared I wouldn’t be able to work properly.
Things went well after all, for I could work with all my attention and got into my own work.
Man in a small piece of the world, surrounded by rocks 150 yards high. Rocks that once had
different shapes and were partly liquid. It makes man humble and the ant powerful because
the ant walks across lava stones carrying a petal sunshade bigger than itself, going through
one crater hole and avoiding the next with no effort. One day I am going to read about ants in
Edward O. Thomas’ book Naturalist – obsessed by ants. I brought some tuff from Celleno and
I want to find out how ants in Holland will deal with craters.

Translation Hans Kal

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