Dated 17 July 2018

Dear Julia,

At this point I am almost certain that I will not be able to give you what you want with my journal entry. The more words I assign to my experience, the less effectively I can communicate it. In fact, it is maddening; to spend so many hours reflecting, writing in search of some grand metaphor, to repeatedly think I’ve finished only then to erase the hundreds of words I have cobbled together and begin another new attempt. Each time I think I’ve finished, I’ll feel a small relief, eagerly reread the piece, realize I’ve failed, and then delete everything in a haste to begin once more and waste another thousand inadequate words.

Perhaps it will take more time for me to fully understand my time at the villa and be able to reflect on it with more precision. I collect fragments of my experience there, I stumble upon them day to day, but when I piece them together, they seem an incomplete or incoherent reflection. They don’t suffice our purposes—the fragments—is what I mean to say.

What should I write about? The poetic surroundings I fell in love with, for example? The bright red poppies that seemed to wave hello as they bent in the April breeze—the bees that hovered by the rosemary bushes, the peaceful olive grove that I would sit beside, the lapping of the fountain just beyond my window—the sun… I’ve also been tempted to describe, in detail, each one of my fellow residents. Their quirks, their work, what they were good at cooking, what I learned from them. The incredible fact that for the first week, over twenty of us managed to share one sharp knife in the resident kitchen. I’ve wanted to simply transcribe our conversations from my memory—but it was anything but simple, it was an impossible task. It was laborious—I couldn’t capture what was said, or at least, I couldn’t economically communicate their significance. The conversations seemed quotidian in retrospect, like you could have them anywhere, with anyone. And yet I know they weren’t—so I’ve stopped trying to wring meaning out of them. They work better inside my head. I’ve been tempted to address how it was at Villa Lena that I finally accepted that I was an artist at all. That I had not truly believed this until I arrived there and spent that month with the others. This might be profound, but only to me, no? Who really cares how I feel about myself?

If the purpose of my journal entry is to create a testament to my experience—to either entice other artists or attract the guests that interact with them to come to the villa—I’d like to fulfill my purpose. I want desperately for other artists to arrive in Palaia as I did, for guests to come and meet them, participate in their work when possible, reflect among the beauty. It is important to me that others do this, that the villa is attended whenever possible. And so what I mean to tell you is, I fear my personal discoveries might mean little to someone else in a journal entry, or, at least, it would take me an entire novel to grow tethers between the reader and the characters of my journey, the lessons I learned, the things that I saw. I can’t explain Villa Lena. As I said, I fail when I try—what I’ve settled to do is communicate the bewilderment I feel in reflecting on my month there. To express the absurdity of attempting to collect my experience in a jar, or a journal—fitting everything I felt inside such a limited space.

I said this in my last letter to you: “I think I know, in essence, what I’d like to say, though admittedly it is difficult to articulate. It is more of a feeling I had while I was there, a feeling I have found myself chasing ever since I left.” Let me expand on that. Yes, it’s true Julia, I have been chasing this very feeling since I left Villa Lena. There have been moments where I’ve found it, and moments where I haven’t. It is a feeling hard to place, I cannot assign it a location in my body, nor can I assign it a duration or intensity. I simply recognize it when it arises, a kind of energy that touches me, that syncs with me, when I am not disturbed by even the fly that buzzes by my head.

A door bursts open, or a window—or is it that light is flooding out of me? Am I the center, the origin, or am I the destination? I can’t tell. But I chase the feeling. I open myself up to it whenever I can. Words like productivity and flow have come to mind, but the first feels like a word that belongs to corporations and not to the artist, so the other feels perhaps closer and yet still too elusive, elusive to the point of being impossible to discuss intelligently. When you’re in the zone, when you’re unencumbered… When the work just comes out of you. It is an easefulness I felt, a kind of relinquishing of my ordinary anxieties; an acceptance of the now, of my place in the world, of the obstacles that might usually disturb me.

I’ll tell you a story, briefly, something small that happened to me at Villa Lena that I attribute to great significance, for whatever reason. It was one of my last mornings in my studio down in the artist village; well, Zoe Ghertner’s studio—I had taken it over after she left. It remains a mystery to me whether or not she herself had tacked up the arrangement of red leaves on the wall, or if they had been there all along. I remember I was always happy to be there, the leaves were scattered so tastefully.

I was waiting for either Nadine or Beth to visit me… Our conversations always stimulated my writing, more specifically, large swaths of newly generated text, and so in the meantime I was editing a longer piece of prose as I waited. I had the doors and windows wide open, welcoming them—perhaps even begging them to come join me. If they saw my doors wide open, they’d receive their invitation. I could hear the birds chirping. It was a sound I listened for these days, whether I was in my room at the residence, in the studio, in the attic, outside having lunch… It was a comforting sound as I waited. My eyes darted between my screen and the doorway. I was easily distracted, fiddling with a bag of rice crackers and a mealy green apple that had been sitting on “my” desk since I inherited the space.

Two small swallows flew inside, instead of Nadine or Beth. I smiled at first. They hovered near the buttresses of the ceiling. They’d perch, then fly again, then perch, then swoop down and bump into each other clumsily. After only about a minute, though, their flapping aggravated me—I had admired their chirping when they were outside my studio, but now, they were flying anxiously around the ceiling, beating their wings loudly and frightfully, their melodic chirps sounding more like short and dissonant screams. They had no idea how to escape the room and I became almost furious with them for it. Can’t you see the outdoors? Don’t you understand light? The music that had been trickling out of my laptop, David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, vexed me—as if disturbed by the unrest of the birds—as if the notes themselves were bending and sharpening by the sound of shrill swallow squeaks and rustling feathers. They’re going to shit on me, I thought. They’re going to shit on me and my books, my writing, the apple I have not eaten.

Then I began to laugh, it was a swift transition, ah, I was so unhinged, so buoyant those days, so unencumbered, skipping from one emotion to the next like a flat rock leaping across a pond. How was I upset with the trapped little swallows? Why bother wasting my energy this way? I was my own inhibitor, and not the frightened birds. Observe the birds. See what they do.

They’ll find their way out, I finally thought, isn’t bird shit supposed to bring you luck, anyway?

I’m not sure why I am telling you this story other than to say I believe this interaction between the swallows and I could only have happened there, at the villa. I wonder if it had happened here in New York, would I have left the room? Would I have attempted to shoo the birds out with a broom? Would I have shouted at them? What would I have done, had I not spent the month before in that place, with those people, doing the things we did?

I’m sorry I cannot give you something more defined in my reflection, Julia… I hope you can at least attribute my ramblings to an intense desire of mine to leave behind something meaningful—something that accounts for my formative experience at the villa. If I could name what it awoke in me, I would. If I could list how often I think of my time there, I would. If I could only show you my heart, how fast it beats when the images of that unforgettable month flood my mind.

For now, please accept my apologies—that I cannot complete this task in a more deliberate and legible way. I can certainly supply some pictures from my time there.






Julie Iromuanya travelled from Tucson, Arizona in the USA- where she is an assistant professor at the Creative Writing MFA course at the University of Arizona, to come to stay with us at Villa Lena as an artist in residence for the month of June.

She is the author of Mr. and Mrs. Doctor (Coffee House Press), a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, the Etisalat Prize for Literature, and the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize for Debut Fiction.

During her time at the villa, Julie worked on her second novel A Season of Light. We asked her to write down her musings on her time at the villa and how its environment nourished her work.

A Season of Light synopsis:

In April of 2014, a group of girls are kidnapped from their northern Nigeria school. News reaches Fidelis Ewerike in America. A former POW of the Nigerian Civil War, orphaned and exiled from his homeland, he begins to go mad. A Season of Light follows the four members of the Ewerike family over the course of a summer as they grapple with their turbulent history and an uncertain future.

When I first arrived in Tuscany, the days were cold and rainy. I drowned in tissues and meds as I fought off a cold and insufferable allergies. But then the sun came out. Vegetation, hills, cliffs (and allergy meds!) put me into a state of renewal. Living in the southern Arizona desert the last few years, I had forgotten about what it is to look out at such a verdant landscape; I had forgotten what it means to be suffused by its spirit. My novel takes place over the course of one summer in a central Florida setting bordered by a nature preserve where the annual prescribed fires fill the air with an incendiary energy. During my walks into Toiano, and along the nearby trails and roads, I would talk into my phone’s recorder, stream-of-conscious, using the landscape to help me enter my characters’ world of trees and forests. I thought a lot about the relationship between the landscape, its people, its history, and wisdom.

Since the 2015 publication of my first novel, Mr. and Mrs. Doctor, I’ve been traveling all over giving readings and answering questions about my work and process, but I haven’t had many opportunities to actually talk through my process. During my evening event at Villa Lena, I wanted to share that side of my work as an artist. Imagining myself charting my journey through the different ideas of the narrative in a visual map, I walked the audience through each site. For me, it was a beneficial exercise, mainly because I was still trying to figure out the relationship between all the parts—the wars of Nigeria and the Soviet Union, the kidnapping of the Chibok girls, the Igbo folkloric tradition and its heroes and villains; what it means to love and heal, to imprison and seek out freedom, and also to create and destroy life. Many of the questions prompted me to better articulate my vision.

I arrived at Villa Lena roughly three-quarters of the way through a revision of my novel manuscript, A Season of Light. Because this was a revision, rather than a first draft, I already had many ideas about character and direction, but everything to do with resolution was still half-formed. How to draw together all the incoherent threads? How to make sense of the ways my characters succeeded and failed at reaching the goal posts the opening had promised. By the end of my residency, I finished a rough, but promising conclusion, and I am grateful for the time and focus.

Photo credit: Lottie Hampson

The Stinkhorn of Pisa by David Fenster and Laura Copelin

Former residents Laura Copelin and David Fenster, from Marfa, Texas,  spent their residency studying local mushrooms species. They explored the botanical gardens of Pisa and Florence and spoke to scientists there. This fuelled some interesting collaborative work, and helped them realising The Latticed Stinkhorn of Pisa documentary.

Reflecting on her Residency | Flora Wellesley Wesley

In my first few days at Villa Lena I was surprised to find myself feeling waves of emotion  come over me, which I put down to both the beauty of the place and the exceptional circumstances in which I was there.

My responses were romantic and tragic, silly and dark.
I developed a multifarious practice over the course of the month that was both playful and meditative. It involved tree climbing, mucking around in the pool, drawing without looking, taking photographs, walking, running and dancing.

Photo by Holland Drury

I relaxed into the luxury of having my own studio. I cleaned it first. Clean a room thoroughly and you get to know it rather well. I took up space, I spread out.

I calmed down enough to read.

I enjoyed carrying my camera with me and shooting at whim.

I planned some images, references to Gillian Wearing and Francesca Woodman and A Room With A View in mind.

I was whimsical. “I am my own continuity”, I assured myself. Do first, ask questions later. I brought far too many art materials. I drew. I made paper sculptures. I wrapped myself like a chrysalis

Sometimes I asked questions first. (Who’s heard of Deborah Hay ?)

I was well fed, we all were! So good, going about my thing on an incredible diet.

The most remarkable weather was the stormy weather. There were several electric storms with fork and sheet lightning that rumbled all through the night. I found myself describing the villa and the grounds as feeling like a film set. Different times of day and weather seemed to issue different invitations. Suggestible as I am, the whole place was working on me as much as I was working on it. It was bountifully evocative physically, narratively and atmospherically.


I paid attention to the natural light and noticed and admired the sun going down. It’s an event when you have a big horizon.

I’ve been exploring the subject of light and mood and seasonal volatility: how environment affects us, literal ways of integrating oneself into a place and, conversely, acting out spectacular contrast. A lot of my enquires have been about presence (and volume) – experiments in making noise visually, aurally, physically, or ‘holding my breath’ and blending in.

Shooting – hiding – hanging out – basking – waiting – daydreaming – dozing – writing– scribbling – assembling – uncovering – framing – warbling – chatting – napping – reading – swimming – stretching.

Dancing privately
Dancing in plain sight
Dancing with my eyes closed
Dancing effortlessly
Dancing effort-fully
Dancing into the night
Dancing with the others
Dancing in the rain
Dancing in the pool
Dancing as land art
Dancing as a sculptural practice
Dancing as a spiritual practice
Dancing as a moody practice

Photo by Evy Jokhova

Sweet dreams are made of cheese | Butternutten AG

17 August 2017

Villa Lena, Tuscany

Stimulated by a common passion for food and cooking, Butternutten’s Luki + Oli hosted a four-course cheese dinner at Villa Lena.

Every course featured ceramics made in Butternutten workshop by hotel guests, staff people and artists in residence at Villa Lena; the ceramics are inspired by human body parts.

The individual and unusual tableware invited the guests to interact as well as to enter in dialogue with each other. The “cheese dreams” dinner is a way of questioning what eating can be more than food intake and how our being can be shaped.

At a time when food in general is becoming a minor matter due to busy days, Butternutten is concerned with the necessity and requirements of dishes, glasses and cutlery, equally with edible content, and further with the subject of hospitality.

The cheese menu included baked ricotta and blue cheese with fresh herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, rucola and nuts as starter, fresh hand-cut pappardelle, burnt radicchio e gorgonzola as primo and torta di formaggio with cacio e pepe crisp for dessert. The last course was a piece of Roquefort served in an envelope together with a sheet of paper. According to a new study by the British Cheese Board, different cheeses can give you different types of dreams. That’s why the guests were invited to write down their cheese dreams to their sheets, which were collected by Luki + Oli the next day.

The dinner was prepared in close collaboration with Villa Lena’s kitchen chefs; a publication including some of the dreams will be released soon.

On a body (6/6)

garden tuscany villa lena agriturismo tuscany

Lauren Ellis Matthews – 2016 diary by an ex-resident – 6 of 6

29 Maggio

Something I’ve finally learned is, when you can choose, be sure to LIKE ALL PARTS. Everything is ultimately seen – all layers – so choose very carefully, should you disrobe from warmth or they shine through from light. And also if you like each little thing it’s endless hidden presents for yourself. A joyous reveal, claque! claque!, chaque bitty petit pois fois.

We had this mad search hunting for this lonely wolf, visiting artist tells us, through truffle and terrain.
I love visiting artist. Nikki? Are all invitées so pale? I adore such ghosts.

Giugno 4

Jump in my grave, why don’t you! says Laura when Soph confesses she tried on her shoes.
Hugo and Reza waltz up and Reza has truly the most lovely and poetic body I have ever seen.

In terms of nature and inheritance: my grandmother gave me my tempting catching contagious laugh which I call a cackle but others seem to like. My mother gave me my flailing dance moves, incoherent and levitated. People don’t seem to mind them either.

Should we do an angel wing, Cecilia asks before toothbrushing my hair blue on my last night.

Oh yes forever.
Here’s whom I’ll miss: everyone. Everything.

Is the cake dry. Laura
It looks dry. Me
Why’s the cake always gotta be dry? Laura
It’s breakfast cake. Me
Why’s breakfast cake gotta be dry? Her

Last night I dream of 2 nurses telling me the only way to cure my inky yeast infection is by invasive and painful excavation, a long strange tube traveling through my left shoulder, or was it right, no left I can see that curse – burst – nurse, snaking down to my itchy vagina to fix it. I feel dirty and ashamed and upset and confused. Shouldn’t it be easier than this? Did I do something wrong? Am I not just allowed to be with boys and wear wet swimsuits?

But then I’m in the kidnappish van with Paul who stops short to not kill a “big green snake”, to which Laura replies, oh I hate snakes I would banish them OLL from the earth if I could. I don’t want to kill them I just want to banish them.

Ciao Palaia

Cycling and wife roads
Scars on our bellies and hearts
And the clouds the clouds oh what clouds

Good night, we said in italian. Good day, thanks a million, please do, tomorrow tomorrow tomorrow.

It’s not lost on me that it’s all well and good to tout the values of love & happenstance at a Tuscan villa enclave, you know with farm-to-table slow food and yoga and organic natural wine, but it’s a very different exercise in the Pisa Galileo airport waiting for an Easyjet flight to a sunken city.

SUNSET Tuscany


On a Body (4 / 6)

Richard Lockett Villa Lena artist residency

Lauren Ellis Matthews – 2016 diary by an ex-resident – 4 of 6

7 Maggio
Claire, clairvoyant, is the moon. Wild, translucent feminine. And Carlos the fool. It is not lost on me that when I see him today he has a walking stick just like the man on the card, that he goes everywhere, forgetting his tongue, talking, taking, moving. And his luminous moon, silvery tall like a crescent bent over him and all-knowing through all-feeling. They have a flesh-pet, their dog, and a spirit-pet – a baby soon.

It is not lost on me that as soon as I was at last ready to plonger, the rain had begun in earnest, smattering the terra cotta leopard. Personne à la piscine, except me, Pauline à la Plage. It is the card La Lune, the tarot come true again. All water and a lone female. Water below, a strange lonely pool-dwelling creature, here a floating inflatable horse & on the card a lobster – who mates for life, soft inside their carapace. Water above, from her eyes, exploding. Sipping, sopping, freedom.

It is not lost on me that as I do laps I find in my body the wish cast in West Hollywood: get me out of here, take me further. I think of the War of Art: you get out what you put in. I put in. Even exchange. And I got so much out.

26 Maggio

Richard spent Christmas in the hospital when he was 14. He only could go home for 4 hours. Because of a blood disease, maybe meningitis. I had a rash everywhere. It can weaken you, he says, i’m still getting stronger. I can’t remember it. I remember having to be in this room on my own. My sister coming with her friend. A sickly child. And then my friend visited too. Put on a Michael Jackson cd – Earth Song I think – I had my own tv, though, that was quite good.

Laura had a bike accident, had her spleen out. It also makes you a bit stay-inside as well, never go out & play with horrible children, she explained.

It’s not lost on me that I lost my keys. Now I must engage with the world in a different way than planned. Locked from internal room. You’re enfermé dehors, dit Paul. He understands “lost things” – go back the exact path you walked, he tells me. Jupiter is the biggest closest planet, he tells me also. These are in his repertoire. We will make posters, he mimes. Ok: WANTED, Lauren’s keys.

I hear the wind in my room as I walk past, barred and banned. It’s furious.

I hear Mati and Soph murmuring. Together, I think, but don’t know, twin hearts, he goes into her room every morning still. I look for toilet paper. Jerome leads a meeting in the office and Paul sits at the dining room table dusting his fossils.


Villa Lena pool tuscany

Is it possible for painting to be outside of its epoch?

“Untitled” by Alan Reid, NY based artist, 2015 Villa Lena resident

Villa Lena limited edition prints


There’s an expectation that painting, or visual culture in general, occupy it’s fixed moment at the now of it’s creation. Static, non-sequential art like painting exists as a relic of it’s making, tethered to the calendar position of its inception. How it exists within its time is one way we determine its authenticity. But I worry over the drive for authentic art. As some measure of pushback against this demand, I’ve gotten interested in a notion that painting can time travel. Is it possible for painting to be outside of its epoch?

When I first visited Il Bisonte printshop, which is just off the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, I was very aware of a kind of sideshow happening on the premises. The studio is packed with lithograph stones and prints reflecting the printers’ illustrious engagement with modern European masters: Moore, Matisse, Picasso, are represented. It seemed to me “the moment” being staged was one that has elapsed, a moment of the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s.

I guess I thought, as an artist who is both outside the Modernist tradition and non-European, it would be interesting to take Il Bisonte’s stage at face value: to work within the logic of the Romanticized multiple. The question I asked myself, “what aesthetic language would be available to an American arriving at the print shop in the first half of our century?” I created a print playing within this game. Putting myself back in time, I thought an American print would be situated somewhere between the mass-produced pochoir covers of Vogue and maybe a hard to place artist like Ben Shawn. For the print I made, I drew a zebra, reminiscent of A.E. Marty’s famous Vogue cover. The zebra is rearing up in front of a fire, the flames drawn from a Shawn image. Somehow to my mind these are emblematic of a moment just before the authority of Modernism began to collapse.



On a Body (3 / 6)

Artist in residence Villa Lena art foundation

Lauren Ellis Matthews – 2016 diary by an ex-resident – 3 of 6

2 Maggio
I am starting slowly to process the massive quantities of information from Louise, in French, on tantra:

You have to go places you don’t want to. This is the clé to open all the doors. You have to be entirely self-serving, it is only about you. We lose our root chakra which is what roots us, because of society, after age 2. And then after 2 years of being with someone we lose sexual desire for them.

All of my suspicions have been confirmed! The dancing as release and connection and authenticity and a clue. Bossy body body! That when you have no inhibitions about your body and its intention and connection, it changes the people around you.

I touch Sophia’s lovely flesh and want to touch deeper, skin to skin, but my saboteur retains me. Here is what it is:
At once,
You are just a body (not totemic)

At the most perfect dinner in Florence, squash blossoms and rabbits and the real deal cozy italian corner, Sophia explains that what she most doesn’t want is to feel Confined and defined.

Because we all create rules and taboo and society, even at a villa. Freedom seldom comes.

Violet everywhere, says Martin at sunset, snow and mountains both. This place is so charged. Now I feel the nonsense. I’m turning mystical here. Your face looks different, he tells me. Florence has changed you. I think it was the tantra, I reply.

Villa Lena drawing chair

On a body (2/6)

villa-lena, tuscany, design, flower, flowers, wisteria, glicine,

Lauren Ellis Matthews – 2016 diary by an ex-resident – 2 of 6

11 Aprile
On body and brain: what can you trust and what will lead you astray? No rubric here I fear – it’s gray like embryonic sludge, like all matter. It is not lost on me that Morgane gave me a 6cm x 6cm x 6cm block of chocolate at the bar last night, wrapped in a napkin, for 4:30am when i’d sit stained and alone and free and sad and happy. It is not lost on me that yourself and your work are inescapable. Artful dodgers, shadow hidden, always a step ahead or behind.

18 Aprile
Niklas – I got into a really good workflow and then suddenly I realized oh! My body exists.
Sugar literally IS like air  – Sophia on her period.

25 Aprile
The wisteria is dying. Oh Miss Judgement Skirt, wild violet crown chakra, is it lost on you that today you made crowns and everywhere is purple? Tuscany is one endless lavender vegetable garden: San Giovese vineyards, organic olive groves.

It’s not lost on me that I’m sitting on the floor and Martin just read my tarot to say stop confusing flesh, la chaïr, I prefer the floor to sitting in a chair, with Le Vrai Amour. Learn to compartmentalize. Stop imagining a magic corpse savior – stop building towers of flesh to reach the heavens, stop trying to glean spirituality through a naked teammate scenario. Le but for you right now is the masculine and feminine in their purest forms. Accept that what you want is this mélange, is this man-energy who never stops walking and doesn’t look where he heads, to penetrate your moonliness, your gorgeous inevitable femme fatality, with honest outcome.

Saturday night after the rain, cozy in trainers indoors against each other and our wooden tables. Red wine, lips, meat.

2 Michairkka, Flesh Series