Kevin Benham Reflecting on his Villa Lena Residency
The Tuscan countryside is defined by the sky, but more specifically by the sun. During clear skies, the sun casts a sharp shadow that defines interior and exterior spaces and during overcast days, the melancholy is enhanced by the soft shadows and atmosphere of the surrounding hills.
Villa Lena is perfectly situated at the nexus of these varying conditions and space is modulated by the earth continuously moving around the sun. As a result, the light is continuously moving throughout space and creates a dynamic experience that enhances the phenomenological and corporeal.
While in residence I began a project, Where the Light Falls, that empirically marked and recorded the movement of light through various apertures. The resulting drawings are minimal in nature, but profoundly grounded in a larger idea of gravity, temporality, and the constant relationship between the earth and sun.
In addition to those temporal installations, Kevin Benham has also proposed a permanent installation for Villa Lena. Cielo is a proposed installation that embodies the philosophical relationship of the sky and the earth in Tuscany. The proposed work will consist of a large mirror, abstractly placed within the landscape as a minimal gesture that will reflect the sky and create a phenomenological relationship between the earth and the atmosphere above.
The collection of images below represents that series and records the phenomenology of the light through the day, taken both in the villa and his studio:
It is buried in the soil deep in the dark where the truth lies, quietly observing us. A forest of Silent Witnesses that root themselves in nature; a nature defined by the rhythm of the seasons. Somewhere, we stumble upon a web of myths and secrets, an enchanted territory divided by two poles— beauty and fear. Fairy-tales grown from the ground, and beside them, traces of quotidian life in the display of natural phenomena.
All photos by Anna Skladmann during her residency at Villa Lena in 2018.
The season for 2019 has kicked off, and our artists have been here for almost a month already! We feel very lucky and excited to announce that we have a plethora of talented musicians staying and playing with us throughout the season.
Music has just as big a part to play on the Villa Lena creative schedule as the visual arts do. This year we’ve made sure that we always have musically talented individuals residing in the villa throughout the season. Catch a DJ set in the newly renovated Fattoria, an intimate candlelit acoustic gig in the Villa, or a soulful jazz performance by the pool. There’s something for everyone here.
Veronica performing in the San Michele restaurant at Villa Lena
Veronica is a London based Armenian-British vocalist, writer, composer and musician currently studying jazz at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Previously racking up over 750,000 plays with her previous duo, Haiganoush, she now embarks on her solo journey. Writing, arranging and producing all her music herself, she is in the depths of conjuring her first EP. Her music promises an intoxicating sound as she fuses her soulful and jazz vocals with potent writing through sampled vocals, live electronics and intricate harmony.
Veronica has been performing a mix of pre-written music alongside new songs written here during her residency.
Andrew Green, a third-generation Jewish New Yorker banjo + guitar player raised on Gershwin, and Susannah Hornsby, an accordion player + singer hailing from the coast of Virginia and born into a family of touring musicians and tidewater mariners, met through the Americana music scene while living in New York City. After their band, Red Rooster, played at the Newport Folk Festival, the two decided to collaborate as a pair, both creatively and romantically. While Andrew has toured extensively with his own ensemble, Roosevelt Dime, the couple now writes + performs together as “Susie & The Pistols“, a Rhythm and Blues band based in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Charlottesville, VA, where they now reside. Andrew and Susannah will be joined during their residency by their daughter, Lois Rose (b. 2017), who is currently proficient in kazoo, castanet, and tiny piano—as well as possessing an uncanny and aspirational ability to translate auditory joy immediately into a full body boogie.
Vega Victoria is an Americana-desert folk singer-songwriter. Born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden, she moved to the United States to pursue a career in writing. After graduating with an MFA in fiction from Columbia University in New York, she was the recipient of several residencies and fellowships at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Jentel Foundation, The Santa Fe Arts Institute, and other places. In 2015, Vega Victoria turned her focus to songwriting and singing. Her debut EP The Long Embrace was recorded and produced by Ben Tanner, member of the Grammy-award winning band Alabama Shakes, in Sun Drop Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Vega Victoria divides her time between the California Bay Area and the Mojave desert. She is currently on tour in California and writing songs for a full-length album to be recorded in 2019.
2019 will also see Villa Lena partner with underground radio and music platform NTS for the first year of their Work in Progress programme in partnership with Arts Council England and Carhartt. Villa Lena will host eight upcoming musicians on site at Villa Lena to assist in the development of their musical careers.
Musicians will have the opportunity to use Villa Lena’s recording studios, space to write new material and mentorship from Villa Lena’s founder and musician Jérôme Hadey. Those participating in the programme will also give regular performances and DJ sets in Villa Lena’s newly renovated Fattoria building over the course of their stay.
THE LINE UP:
We will be lucky enough to have these artists performing for our guests during their stays here so keep an eye out for who’s playing during your visit to Villa Lena.
by Fabio Ranzolin
Translation by Margherita Moro
Revision by Miriam Zaggia
For the pictures, I would like to thank Anna Skladmann, the best studio colleague ever.
There was this wooden table, tiny and a little too quirky to exist in that space; one of those tables made with randomly nailed strips. The surface was of an ashy flesh tone, almost shocking – I had never seen wood with a similar nuance – the object was collocated outside, in the large garden of the Villa.
Four clumsy stools accompanied the table: little variable parallelepiped made with the same poor material. There were other four or five identical models of the same table.
At the beginning of the third week, late in the morning, someone would line them up, in the middle of the field, in the back side of the facility. There were no shifts, neither were established any role, anyone could have done something with the same spontaneity the human kind shows as a line of random people is formed at the train station. The Australian girl went into the woods to pick wildflowers, beautiful weeds and berries that then she would organize in some little and different small containers, absolutely essential as the floral patterned of her clothes were. Each one of us cooked something that we would share with all the others. The pantry was nothing special since the first grocery store was a small shop six kilometres away.
The kitchen was renovated with an old sink and an old hob. On the wall, there was a lovely Tiffany-colored credenza full of dishes, glasses and old cans in which nothing matched with incredible harmony. My favourite cup, that became a glass when necessary, had anthropomorphic shapes: an exquisite olive toned bust of a woman with red nipples. Everything was perfect in its own chaos: from the still life composed by vegetables, left-overs, stale Tuscan bread and aromatic herbs on the table; to the dirty dishes of the night before, with some used and abandoned tea bags. What was really out of place was the few decades old fridges.
A white cabinet full of food and left-overs of maybe twenty people. Had an ugly breath, the fridge. Around lunchtime something was cooked and seasoned and left in terrines or in a pot; then we took our own knife, fork and plate – still empty – while checking if the glass was clean and went outside. A wooden tongue divided the garden in half, there were no tablecloths or matching napkins. The clear and bright sunlight warmed the feeling of conviviality under the shade of the leaves of a secular tree. Little by little everyone arrived, returning from the studio or at the end of a long afternoon spent with beach readings.
The beautiful French girl arrived late, dirty with clay, while her partner, same as me, was in need for some bottles of wine. If the boy from New York knew that cooking was not his gift, he offered his vital energy; while the sweet girl who lives in Amsterdam, who was of French nationality but also could speak Italian, prepared salads with seeds, herbs and flavours typically from northern Europe. When everyone arrived we started to live together and it was impossible not to feel in the middle of an Ozpetek film: a lunch among actors, artists, creatives and writers; someone was famous, for real! Celebrities at the table who complimented your cabbage in the pan. While eating, passing things, being silent and so on, an impulsive sense of everyday life, a feeling of precious warmth was established and we all knew it would be painful to leave behind The Villa Lena residence lasts thirty days, it is a successful experiment that combines talented and creative personalities together. Every month there will be those who write, photograph, act, compose, draw, cook and come from any corner of the world, of all ages.
Artists coexisting who live, for a specific time, in the province of Pisa, in the middle of the majestic hills of Tuscany, protected by five hundred hectares of land and woods. We stayed in a nineteenth Century villa where every door makes noise, the pieces of furniture are thick and made with dark wood, there is no modern heating, ceilings and walls are frescoed.
I stayed in the most unlucky room: a double bed, a chest and two bedside tables with a marble top, an old wardrobe whose door did not close properly, a broken-down armchair with a seat made of Tiziano red velvet, a chandelier and stars on the ceiling. There was nothing more perfect until I played Gino Paoli at full volume. It was the first day and while I was looking at the sky in my room, crying.
It is so rare and intense when all that surrounds you is a concordance of factors, when what you feel constitutes an algorithm of sensations, thoughts and sensory inputs that make you feel so lucky that they almost upset you, with kindness. I brought, in order to not feel alone, the entire collection of poems by Emily Dickinson. It seemed to me the most suitable choice, if I had not found a nice atmosphere, in fact, I would have been able to soothe myself, but not a word of the volume was ever read during the period of residence.
But let’s move on to serious things: next, to the Villa, there are two recent buildings, one is mainly used as an accommodation where anyone, or better any wealthy individual, can come and stay; on the ground floor there is also a game room with billiards and a ping-pong table, a small room with a bar counter, leather sofas and a room with some ottomans that functioned as a movie theatre. On Thursday evening this room becomes a sort of club, believe me absolutely dignified, whose DJ set is often done by visiting professionals, or if you are lucky enough, Sabina Sciubba arrives wearing gold shoes! The other building is a farmhouse with a “zero-mile” restaurant, exquisitely furnished, with works of art placed all over it, left by artists who came before you. In the dining room, there is also a bar overlooking the terrace where the bartender is a dangerously attractive Tuscan boy.
I forgot there is also the pool with a view over the hills and the olive grove, in this elevated area there is another outdoor bar, equipped to serve Spritz Cynar, in which the same guy works, who may have just finished taking a swim during the break. Damn!
Villa Lena is not just an elite holiday farm, it is also an artistic residence, so not far from the villa there are a series of concrete boxes: old stables for horses, empty, with white walls and wifi. The connection is good.
Summing up you live with artists from all over the world in a nineteenth-century Italian villa, a studio at your disposal, an elegant modern restaurant, a swimming pool, a yoga teacher, a masseuse on request, woods for taking a walk like John Keats, Tuscan food, beautiful scenery and climate; besides you’ll have disco, readings, performances on Thursdays and Wednesdays – for artists only- and the “aperitivo” (just perfection!) in the noble dining room with fireplace and wine. Villa Lena produces olive oil, red and rosé wine.
Nothing is missing, not even the nostalgia of a place in which you would have always wanted to live.
During the residency you are asked to do studio visits, produce a project and prepare a weekend workshop. The atmosphere of this idyll strongly reminds atmospheres from Call me by your name (2017) by Luca Guadagnino, released a few months before I stayed in Villa Lena.
The movie is set in Crema, but here you are one hour from San Gimignano, Lucca, Florence, Pisa and Siena.
The landscape in April is the same as in Franco Fontana’s photographs and the Tuscans are of genuine humanity perfectly reflecting the bewildering beauty all around them.
I realize only now how this experience was unrepeatable, and only after some months, I can coherently reflect upon my emotional experience.
There are nights when I still dream of being there, with all the others, and when I wake up I get into physical discomfort, a sort of backward traumatic experience. As I’m writing, in the middle of the night, the talented Tel Aviv actress that I know from the residence has shared a story on Instagram.
My dearest friend, with whom I shared one-day adventures and the most intimate chats, in some ways complicit as a mother and mentoring as a Maestra.
Thanks to Villa Lena I discovered that you can have new families, deep and solid human relationships, that you can communicate with only through your slender English vocabulary. Perhaps this is one of those important experiences you’ll have in a lifetime.
The Foundation was born in 2013 and since about that year every summer, month after month, a group of individuals arrives and stays.
In five years of activity and guests, I was the only artist of Italian nationality. I was really flattered by this incredible circumstance. Throughout the residence, I could not help but think about the privilege I had: as the first artist of Italian nationality, as an Italian in Italy who could experience his best heritage, being in a historical moment when an “artist” could live, sleep and breathe in that cultural asset.
I felt privileged to be able to speak in Italian with all those who work for the Foundation, lucky to be one of the youngest in a group of exceptional people. At that time I was reading the first volume written by Yuval N. Harari, a precious gift from a precious friend. I am sure that even reading this essay has compromised my sensitivity in a definitive way or perhaps, even if I am an atheist, my morality is unfortunately conditioned by Catholicism. It is, therefore, my training that leads me to give meaning and value to the sense of guilt that accompanies the privilege.
In my work, misunderstanding and circumstances become determining factors that guide me in my creative elaboration.
Fate is important, or rather I have decided to give an interpretative sense to the vicissitudes that happen to me.
It was the second week, late in the morning, and I hurried to my room. I saw from the corridor that the door of my room was wide open – I took no notice because I rarely remembered closing it – but there it was an unknown figure inside.
She was a girl, pretty much my age, black-haired with uncombed hair. Her face was sweet and ovally shaped like a Leonardo’s portrait, she had dark circles under her eyes and was visibly tired. She is Marta and she is part of the cleaning staff, both in the Villa and in the Hotel.
She apologized, justifying herself kindly but fiercely, then we introduced ourselves and I helped her make the bed.
She has a degree in modern literature from the Normale University in Pisa and works for the Foundation in the summer, I deeply envied her for this. Somehow Marta is the guardian of a fortune that she seizes and recognizes. We talked about the book I had on the bedside table and then she moved on to the front room assigned to the Australians.
Another privilege I had was being able to move by car, unlike all the others. Trying to reach civilization outside, you have to travel about twenty minutes on a dirt road, filled with countless holes, and then again small and dangerous roads and hairpin bends. The avenue is all surrounded by nature among the hills, ravines and olive groves. On this isolated route, you come across a stone tomb, of Elvira.
In 1947 “la Bella Elvira” was found slaughtered in the woods, when she was a little younger than Marta and she also worked at the Villa for the noble Salt family of Swiss origin.
Her death still remains a mystery, it was blamed her partner, but he was acquitted for lack of evidence; in the village, the inhabitants said that it was Lord Salt who killed her because the young woman became pregnant with him. Between reality and news, during the month of residency, I also met the rest of the staff who today works for the Foundation, in particular, I spoke with Donato, the caretaker, Daniela, the cleaning manager who has a family production of snail slime, Paul, the eccentric gardener, Giuseppe, Alessandro, Anna, Fabrizio and Pietro. People rich in stories and knowledge. I realized more and more that my pleasant stay was the fruit of their work, I could not remain blind to their silent effort.
What we perceive as beautiful, good and culture in our contemporary society it comes from ages where probably we wouldn’t live. Ages when just a little niche of people (noble white women and in particular men) could live a free life, in the meanwhile, other people had to work to maintain the freedom, wealth and power of these niches.
The Villa was conceived in the XIX Century by the aristocratic family Dal Frate, at the very beginning of the Italian Risorgimento. The architectural form was thought by minds that were not planning or had any knowledge in taking care of it. It was a servitude work, who was living as well in the Villa and that had a specific place in it: the higher floor, the rough one, without nice frescos and with low ceilings.
Some centuries later I found myself in the noble floor of this Villa, eating in the dining room with a view on the hills and the faces of Dal Frate’s family watching me from the ceiling, where their crest is placed.
You are not invisible it’s a simple but sophisticated installation. The first thing I noticed about the Villa was that it was not conceived to guest fifteen different people everyone pretending its own room. The Foundation, to solve this new request, without any logic, decided to number all the bedrooms (some of them were not a bedroom, but they become so for the first time in history) as if it was a hotel.
Numbers were written with a marker on tape or old labels. Awful, everything was really clumsy. My intervention was giving a sense, a new order, and name the rooms for future guests. After this act space has found a name: my room has become Stanza Marta, the one of my German friend Stanza Tano, and so on.
My work is not intended for my fellows and colleagues, rather for all the people we often consider to be invisible (and even if in our ordinary life we could be one of them, we tent to not escape this trap). Naming things means giving them sense and form. To really examine something, we have to find the words. Formally talking the project consists of ten brass labels carved by a local artisan. Despite the very simplicity of this act, it has a political and poetical meaning: for the first time people that never had the possibilities to inhabit those beautiful rooms now have at least their sign on it. Every artist that will stay in the residency will see the names of these new people entering them lives.
Maybe this will not bring any new true knowledge, but it’s a duty to remember the privileged every time it’s possible that real people were and are working for their pleasure and experience and to give recognition and gratitude where is owned.
When I got back home, they told me that Marta was moved by my action. I’m really happy that my work touched her, moreover, this artwork was inspired by her.
The season for 2019 is fast approaching and as we prepare for the first group of artists in residence to arrive at the villa, we thought we’d introduce some of what there is to look forward to this year…
The Villa Lena Foundation is over the moon to announce an exciting jam-packed schedule for the upcoming season in 2019. We have hand-picked a selection of creative practitioners spanning across all creative disciplines to join us from April through to November to live and create at Villa Lena.
Our artists are travelling from all around the world to join us on the residency, where they will be provided with a studio space; large airy converted stables set in the midst of the tranquil Tuscan woodland and olive groves.
Over the course of the year we will see painters, ceramicists, poets, writers, florists, architects, film makers and more, all of whom are at various stages in their careers. The Foundation aims to bring together a unique mix of multi- disciplinary artists to encourage creative collaboration, dialogue and new ideas.
Artists are invited to contribute to an eclectic programme of performances, talks and workshops throughout their six week residency. Our creative contributor programme continues this year with an exciting assortment of workshops to participate in. From flower arranging to exploring spirituality with clay, exploring art as therapy and learning how to create natural dyes with plants.
Create botanical memoirs of Villa Lena through foraging, cyanotypes, flower crowns, natural print dying with the Danish duo Liv H. Lauresen and Louise Jacobsen behind plant-based magazine BLAD.
The Venice Biennale is one of the most important dates on the global art calendar, and for the first time ever Villa Lena will be hosting an exclusive Biennale after party!
We invite guests who have spent the busy pre-opening week at the biennale, to wind down over a long weekend at the beautifully wild and peacefully remote Villa Lena, where we will be offering a programme of plant-themed activities.
What to expect over the weekend:
RELAX YOUR MIND AND BODY
Stretch out with a yoga session on the deck or a guided hike through the woods
GET CREATIVE WITH THE ARTISTS IN RESIDENCE
Experience a sacred cacao circle and botanical art workshop with Naama Alex Levy, arrange wildflowers with Rachelle Rickert, and enjoy a musical performance by Veronica Haiganoush.
FOOD & DRINK
Learn to create a plant based cocktail, forage in the garden with the help of artist Rachelle Rickert and chef in residence Christine Li to create a delicious lunch and enjoy large sit down plant-based dinners.
PLANT PARTY SCHEDULE
Following checking in to the Villa Lena hotel on arrival in the morning, stretch your travel-weary bodies with a guided hike or a session on our beautiful yoga deck before lunchtime.
In the afternoon guests are invited to a plant based cocktail workshop lead by our barman Andrea. Later on, join the artists in residence for a big sit down dinner at our farm-to-table restaurant, before winding down in the evening with a soulful performance fused with jazz vocals, live electronics and intricate harmonies by our musician in residence Veronica Haiganoush.
Follow breakfast at the farm-to-table restaurant with a collaborative event led by our chef in residence Christine Li and artist in residence Rachelle Rickert, who will teach you what to forage and how to cook it. Rachelle will then lead a wildflower arrangement workshop; starting by exploring the landscape together, discovering flowers and foliage and learning how to properly cut from a plant. Rachelle will then guide everyone in using the cut stems and blooms to create a beautiful wildflower, hand tied arrangement. Whilst you play with flowers, Christine will prepare lunch using your foraged goods.
Later on enjoy a plant-based dinner, followed by a cacao circle ceremony with artist in residence Naama Alex Levy. The Cacao circle on Friday is a wonderful, healing ceremony based on traditional cacao rituals of Mesoamerica. It is a non verbal, communicative journey for the senses, accompanied by therapeutic, deep-frequency sounds.
Wind down the weekend of all things plants with a yoga stretch immersed in the natural surroundings on our yoga deck, followed by a botanical art terrarium workshop with artist in residence Naama Alex Levy and her partner, artist and gardener Yossi Franko. Participants will create their own Villa Lena ecosystem in a small terrarium from items found in the surrounding nature.
VERONICA HAIGANOUSH: London based Armenian-British vocalist, writer, composer and musician, Veronica creates intoxicating sounds as she fuses her soulful and jazz vocals with potent writing through sampled vocals, live electronics and intricate harmony.
RACHELLE RICKERT: A floral designer based in Brooklyn, New York, Rachelle fuses the natural world with the imagined in arrangements using seasonally available blooms and foliage. Her work seeks to combine unusual elements and push the boundaries of colour.
CHRISTINE LI: Born and raised in NYC, Christine has cooked at renowned restaurants around the world including Relae in Copenhagen, The NoMad and Momofuku Ko in New York and Belon in Hong Kong. Inspired by similarities in cooking methods across cultures, her effusive cooking style draws from her ethnic roots and travels. She is particularly interested in processes including slow cooking, open fire, and preservation.
Regular trains run from Venice to Florence.
Please email email@example.com for more information.
Discovering the Arbutus Unedo plant (or strawberry tree as it is affectionately known) growing abundantly at Villa Lena was a revelation!
This small tree belongs to the Ericaceae family, native to the Mediterranean region. The species name, ‘unedo’, is said to mean “I only eat one” in Latin as they are said to leave a slightly bitter aftertaste. I did not find this to be the case, though the texture for me was somewhat challenging (think flouring apple!) however, when transformed into shrubs, syrups and jams this fruit really is utterly delightful. The flavour is layered, complex and sweet and when married with thymus mint, also bountiful at the villa, the heavenly aroma and sticky sweet taste kept us going back for more. In folk medicine, the plant has been used for antiseptic, astringent, intoxicant, rheumatism, and tonic purposes. I enjoyed the shub best, the acidity of the vinegar gave a tangy twist and had that addictive quality that contrasting flavours often possess (think salty and sweet).
For the children at the Villa, the Arbutus unedo plants were magic (imagine a whole strawberry tree!!!!).
For one of the workshops we made edible ‘magic potions’ using the plant and other herbs as our base; they certainly enjoyed the holistic, sensory experience of experimenting with edible delights.
The below syrup recipe adds complexity to cocktails and salads.
Or if you are like me, devour it on a teaspoon as it is, or add it to porridge.
Quantity wise you will need a 1:1:1 ratio of fruit, sugar, and vinegar.
Clean fruit well
Add equal parts of sugar and water to a saucepan, and heat and stir until the sugar dissolves.
Add Arbutus Unedo fruit and simmer until the fruit’s juice blends well into the syrup.
Add the thymos mint or any other herb you wish- this will infuse fairly quickly and the perfume aroma is wonderfully intense
Let the mixture cool. Strain out the solids using a cheesecloth.
Add vinegar to the syrup and let it cool.
Bottle it all up in sterilized bottles or jars, and store in the fridge for 2-4 days before using.
The sugar and vinegar work to preserve the shrub and just like jam, they keep for ages!
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.
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.
Dancing in plain sight
Dancing with my eyes closed
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
Curator Laura Copelin and filmmaker David Fenster presented their individual and collaborative land based art practices followed by a cocktail hour featuring West Texas and Tuscan flavours.
We looked at some of David’s film work, and also learnt about Laura’s current and recent projects at Ballroom gallery in Marfa, Texas. Laura and David are working on a collaborative film project, in which they focus on members of their community and elements of their lives in Marfa, Texas. We were also fortunate to get to see some of this on Friday.
Located in the heart of the Trans-Pecos desert of West Texas, roughly 200 miles southeast of El Paso, getting to Marfa is not easy. You have to fly to El Paso and from there it’s roughly a three-hour drive. But if you do happen to make it, David and Laura have convinced us that the city is definitely worth the effort, for culture, art, geology and the small community of intriguing people that dwell there.
Following the screening and discussion, we moved to San Michele bar, where Laura and David served us a delicious twist of Texan and Tuscan flavours. A platter of Pecorino cheese with fresh herbs and edible flowers from our garden was served with a mesquite-honey reduction made from local honey mixed with mesquite powder that Laura brought from Marfa.
Mesquite powder is made from the seedpods of the mesquite tree. It tastes like an aromatic blend of cinnamon, chocolate, and coffee. For thousands of years, mesquite flour was a staple food of Native Americans from Texas to California, because mesquite trees thrive in arid climates where other crops wither. Mesquite pods were one of the most significant foods of the desert Apache, Pima, Cahuilla, Maricopa, Yuma, Mohave, and Hopi tribes. Like many other desert plants, the mesquite tree super concentrates nutrients in its seeds to compensate for the harsh environment.
To drink, two delicious cocktails were on offer.
Tequila-Damiana dream elixir
1 part damiana infusion with acacia honey and orange
1 part white vermouth
1 part tequila blanco
Shake infusion and liquor with ice and serve.
Dressed with tangerine wedge, dandelion petals and garden peppers.
Damiana is a small shrub with aromatic leaves found on dry, sunny, rocky hillsides in south Texas. The leaves have been used as an aphrodisiac and to boost sexual potency by the native peoples of Mexico, including the Mayan Indians and is used for both male and female sexual stimulation, increased energy, asthma, depression, impotence and menstrual problems.
Leaving the wonderful benefits aside, this was a deliciously smooth cocktail, the perfect cocktail for unwinding at the end of the week.
Simple syrup of jamaica powder (dried hibiscus), honey, tangerine rind, water
Pour into the bottom of a flute
Top with prosecco
Finish with pomegranate seeds.
Hibiscus, which has a tart cranberry-like flavour, served with fresh pomegranate seeds from our garden which worked wonderfully with our prosecco for a fruity aperitif.
Thank you Laura and David, for a wonderful evening!
‘The most enigmatic aspect of the time of ruination is the manner in which it points towards the future rather that the past, or rather uses the ruined resources of the past to imagine, or reimagine, the future.’
Brian Dillon, A short history of Decay, 2011.
Just 10 minutes walk from Villa Lena there is Toiano Nuovo ,‘New Toiano’, an apparent abandoned village on the top of a sand hill, accessed by a medieval bridge. Toiano started its decay back in the 1960s when the majority of its inhabitants moved to nearby towns in search of work and a better life. Since then, its population has gradually decreased up to today with just two people currently living in Toiano, Rosita and her husband.