Caterina Silva sometimes paints on high heels while dancing in her studio. It’s a strategy she employs to heighten her presence during the creation process. 'I consider my practice as a way to control the non-controllable', the Italian artist explains on the eve of ‘TBC (August)’, her first solo exhibition in London, held at the contemporary art platform Bosse & Baum in Peckham.
While on a two-year residence at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum (still ongoing), Silva caught the eye of Alexandra Warder and Lana Bountakidou, who founded Bosse & Baum in 2013. Bountakidou was 'initially intrigued by the gestures and the mood of the paintings', as well as by the fact that Silva interspersed her canvases with elements of sculpture and her performance-based work.
'TBC (August)’ consists of 14 oil paintings arranged simply on the walls of the gallery space, with room in the middle for a choreographed dance piece. The canvases are the essential facet of Silva’s current practice. She views her work as absent performances and has deepened that aspect of the muteness of paintings in the past two years. 'I have started to stretch the canvases and to reduce everything to the surface of the painting', she states. 'I like the silent feeling that a painting on the wall instills in the viewer.'
By unstretching paintings, rolling them up, reworking them by painting both sides or repurposing elements of old work, Silva 'captures the moment when the impersonal becomes personal and performance becomes life', Bountakidou says. In the process, Silva’s works are imbued with a private visual language she deliberately leaves open to interpretation.
Yet, paradoxically, the works in this exhibition are categorised in an alphabet, each picture speaking a code. It reflects a need for a sense of logic, as do the canvases’ sometimes narrative titles and vaguely anthropomorphic forms. They are at once familiar and obscure.
Silva allows for this ambiguity. 'I am attracted by ways of expression that escape language without abandoning it', she says. 'I have developed a series of signs, techniques and gestures that allow me to paint without entering the space of representation, while at the same time these different processes become a language themselves.'