The first photograph I took at Villa Lena was of the salmon pink sun settling over the villa kitchen garden. I had just invested in a new film camera, an Olympus mju-II – it’s telling that the leading subject I chose to capture was the extraordinary light you experience when at Villa Lena.
Mornings and evenings were always my favourite parts of the day during two months of Babylon at Villa Lena. I liked to watch the sun settle over the patchwork Tuscan landscape in the morning – drinking coffee from the Villa rooftop and watching as the world sleepily awakened. I attempted to savour the cool dawn as much as possible, having never been an early riser. The chance to sample that first light of the morning has altered my sleep pattern to this day. Similarly, I loved to watch the shadows and reflections dance across the terracotta villa throughout the day, sitting on the cool steps outside during my lunch break, transfixed by the movement of light.
As the days wound down, I took evening hikes up to the eerie abandoned ghost town of Toaino and waited for dusk, when the witchlike mysticism of Villa Lena and the surrounding landscape excite the imagination.
Whether it’s the sunshine breaking through you shutters in the morning, or when the heavens open and you must batten down the hatches for duvet kisses and sing of raindrops and roses like Fraulein Maria – you are very exposed to the elements at Villa Lena and wonderfully close to the natural world.
Time at Villa Lena is sound tracked by the hiss of the cicadas, and measued by the position of the sun in the sky. Other than that, you are largely isolated from the outer world. This link to nature is at the heart of what makes Villa Lena so spectacular.
The constant exposure to the sheer beauty of your surroundings makes you so nostalgic when you leave. Cold November evenings in England are when you really start to understand the powerful effects of Villa Lena.
Nature is an enormous influence on artists that are on residence at the Villa Lena Foundation and has often altered their way of working forever. During my time at the Villa, the creative contributor and artist is residence was Chiara Leto, a textile designer and illustrator from Rome.
This image is of her studio in preparation for a botanical workshop. Leto is an example of an artist whose working method and materials were influenced by the landscape at Villa Lena. She sourced materials from the surrounding land to make dyes for fabric or to use for painting. These images communicate the influence of nature at Villa Lena can have on one’s creative practice and how it bestows a magical spell upon all those who explore it.
I can safely say that there is no place I would rather be right now than in the Villa Lena garden at Aperitivo hour.
Where the days were often quiet, productive and somewhat meditative, evenings were characterised by conversation, new friendships and sharing. I used to love preparing for weekly artist Aperitivo, foraging for materials to create natural tablescapes, then gathering with artists, guests and staff alike for a drink as the tangerine sun went down. Villa Lena attracts the most eclectic and interesting crowd, so to converse with people working in different creative disciplines from all around the world in the remote Tuscan landscape establishes a unique network not to be found elsewhere!
One of the most memorable experiences during my time at Villa Lena was the non-verbal dinner performance orchestrated by British artist Eloise Lawson. Offsetting the abundance of chatter and discussion, Lawson’s unique idea was to hold a non-verbal dinner in the enchanted woodland below the Villa and to soundscape this surrealist adventure.
Lawson created bold and colourful headdresses for each of the dinner guests to don prior to the dinner. Once the headdress was on, this physically enabled us to enter the non-verbal sphere of the woodland world we were to experience for the following two hours. Animal tales, woodland folklore and children’s literature are some of the key sources of inspiration for any creative writing I do, so this evening was a real treat for me. The group assembled in the woodland for a fierce feast of lemon spaghetti and night pulled its mysterious black cloak over our heads, like the ring master closing the carnival tent doors and allowing the evening’s madness to unravel before our eyes.
When I nostalgically scroll through my camera roll back to my summer at Villa Lena, there is an entire album dedicated to food and drink…
a rainbow picture book of leafy salads, blood oranges, grapefruits, fresh pasta, pistachio gelato, Campari soda, fig and gorgonzola pizza, ice-cold Lambrusco, tender ragu, wild rabbit pasta, bruschetta, focaccia, Hugo and Kyle’s Babka, fresh pea and mint risotto, melon slices, Aperol Spritz, tiny thimbles of Vin Santo, marinated tuna, paella eaten up in the orto before dancing on the tables to Spandeau Ballet, green olives, a little afternoon beer, fagioli stew, watermelon, rucola, sundried tomato and mozzarella tart, orange and fennel salad, Olivia’s fried eggs with sage, tequila on the rocks, a zesty margarita at the hotel bar, Eloise’s puttanesca… says it all really.
– Issy Carr is a Creative Consultant, Writer and Producer based in Edinburgh. She worked with the Villa Lena Foundation July – August 2020
All Images by Issy Carr