Viola Leddi

I saw stars turn into dark coals

Jul 28 – Aug 22, 2023
Exhibition Details:

Viola Leddi
I saw stars turn into dark coals
Jul 28 – Aug 22, 2023

2022 recipient of the HEAD—Galerie Prize


Quai des Bergues 15-17


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Viola Leddi,Tocophobia IV, 2023

(opens in a new window) 2022 recipient of the HEAD—Galerie Prize

Pace Gallery is pleased to host a solo exhibition of Viola Leddi, the 2022 recipient of the HEAD—Galerie Prize.

Each year, a Swiss contemporary gallery awards an artist from HEAD—Genève’s Master of Visual Arts programme with a solo exhibition following their graduation. On view 28 July – 22 August, the Swiss-based Italian artist will present I saw stars turn into dark coals, an exhibition of new paintings and sculptures that explore themes of disillusionment and nostalgia through an art historical lens.

Central to Leddi’s practice is the rethinking of ideas around heritage and narrative, using her own traditional art history education in Italy as the lens through which to question and reimagine. Leddi draws on a multitude of sources – including iconographies, painting, texts, book covers, cinema, and archaeological finds – to create a subversive body of work that feels both deeply personal and universal.

In I saw stars turn into dark coals, Leddi brings together new paintings and ceramic sculptures that blur the lines between imagination and memory. Her use of diverse subject matter evokes a fragmented sense of reminiscence. Titled after a text by 12th century Benedictine nun and polymath, Hildegard von Bingen, the exhibition draws inspiration from a passage describing an otherworldly vision in which von Bingen’s field of sight was crowded by sparks that collapsed into ‘black coals’ as a migraine took hold. Self portrait with migraine (2023) and Girl with migraine (2023), depict female figures in a state of intense suffering, imbuing the scene with a sense of fractured chaos. The subjects are consumed by their pain which can be understood as a metaphor for the emotional affliction and sense of disenchantment after the end of a love affair.

Leddi’s artistic practice is rooted in inquisition. Her imaginative, figurative paintings are the product of a laborious and intricate process. The artist begins with preliminary sketches on paper before transposing them onto Photoshop to experiment with an array of colour palettes. Leddi then works with an airbrush technique to meticulously translate the intricately detailed composition onto canvas.

An inquiry into the psyche is present throughout Leddi’s painted works. Titled after the term used to describe an intense fear of pregnancy and childbirth, her Tocophobia paintings are replete with symbolism. Within this series, the spiders serve as harbingers of irrational terror. In each scene, Leddi deploys symbols associated with marriage and fertility, which are retraceable to genre and still life painting. The artist couples this symbolism with a palette derived from the aesthetics and narrative abilities of 3D horror video games.

Leddi’s visual language is a mediation between reality and fantasy, building compositions that play with the idea of collective and personal memories. A trace of architectural modernism runs through the ceramic sculpture series entitled First Times, rejecting ornament in favour of asymmetric compositions and geometric forms. Fired using a process derived from the technique of raku, the sculptures’ surfaces incorporate the burnt imprint of organic materials such as dead plants, tobacco, and women’s hair, leaving behind their ghostly touch. The sculptural cityscapes are translations of intimate moments recounted to Leddi by her friends, each inspired by the architecture of the locations where significant romantic experiences took place, for example First time I made love on a terrace (2023) or First time I kissed a girl (2023). Reminiscent of ruins, the sculptures pay homage to the power of memory and the nostalgic connections we make to a place. The ceramic sculptures sit atop plinths specially designed for the exhibition by Andrea Magnani.


Installation Views

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Photo by Théa Giglio

About the Artist

Viola Leddi's (b. 1993, Milan, Italy) paintings and sculptures engage with art history, especially Italian art history, through a critical lens. Her work seeks to reread her own art historical education, questioning iconographies, representations, and stereotypes often relating to the female body. Leddi began her artistic training at Brera Academy in Milan where she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts before continuing at Haute ecole d’art de design (HEAD). In 2022, following the completion of her Master of Visual Arts, the artist was the recipient of the HEAD—Galerie 2022 Prize for which she was awarded a solo exhibition at Geneva —Pace Gallery. Her work has been featured in the Liste Art Fair in Basel, Artissima in Italy, and Art Genève. Leddi was the recipient of the Theodore Stravinsky Foundation Prize in 2022. The artist lives and works in Geneva, she is a co-founder of research group and community, Altalena.