the blinding desert of tissue paper Francesca Pasini

Elisabetta Di Maggio’s cut-outs are a precipice edging
the vortex of obsessions which imprisons the
work and fate of women.With scalpels of various
sizes she cuts into tissue paper or the plaster of walls
the forms of embroidery or lace. Her sharp blades
hit home without fuss, without aggression, without
heroism, but they give us a shock. A drop of blood,
caused by a needle prick, draws our attention back
to the white canvas and encloses it within a directionless time.What cardinal points could have been attended to when, hour after hour, day after day, you embroidered for yourself or for others? If the result
was to have been a decoration destined only to be
crumpled up or to form the background image for
an embroidered lifestyle, what future could there
have been? This is the story, not only of Penelope,
but also of Sheherazade. Both of them, either with
an interweaving of threads or of words, continued
to narrate and narrate in order to disrupt a period
of expectation, not for a husband or for death but
for immobility: this is what has made women invisible.
Sheherazade and Penelope, by inventing, night
after night, the images that would allow them to live
through the day, overcame immobility: through repetition or, rather, through the foundations of immobility, they created the means for overcoming their
Di Maggio retrieves this theme and puts it down on
paper, on the material that unites art and writing,
but she chooses the weaker, the more easily
crushed, and perishable material. Hers is an absurd
undertaking, and yet she shows how an obsession
can fill the head, the hands, and the heart. In order
to create these cut-outs she hovers on the edge of
repetition with steadfastness, attracted by the pull of
vertigo, but she will not allow herself to be overcome
and she invents new shapes with her scalpel:
a rose here, a petal there, and then some abstract
decoration. From steel boxes she produces long rolls
of light, as cold as a scalpel. In this way she seals up
the emotionalism of the shapes.This is an emotionalism
linked to the slight traces of her history: her
personal papers, the underlinings in a book, faded
photographs, fabric. Forgetfulness, a wily merchant
who has no love for heavy loads, carries her and
protects her from destruction, so much so that these
traces continue to emerge.
In her luggage Elisabetta Di Maggio packs time, a
precious and fragile merchandise, just like the
embroideries that forgetfulness has consigned to her
intact. In the transparency of these, at times quite
lengthy, strips of paper, we can spy an absolutely
unprecedented nomadism. Elisabetta walks for
hours at a time in the blinding desert of tissue
paper, she makes us see dunes, mirages that cannot
be seen from without but only from inside someone
who can decide to coast along with repetition.
This is a precipice that makes us afraid because it
because it forces us to keep ourselves company,
because it imposes lengthy choices, because repeated
things become worn, because the inside and outside
become blurred.Above all because we have the
sensation of time being passed.
Time does not distinguish between the inside and
outside: this is what we can gather from the engravings
that Elisabetta Di Maggio has carved into the
walls of her bedroom where – halfway between
emptiness and embroidery – she uncovers the skin
of preceding layers of plaster.Tiny halos of colour,
almost like mould that reveals to us the life of others.
It is an image that can only be removed at the
pain of loss, perhaps like the irremovable losses that
we all undergo.
By walking through the world without crossing it,
she moves like a nomad with her eye fixed on the
light arriving from her embroideries and from
immeasurable material imagination. Stillness is
interrupted. Like Sheherazade and Penelope,
Elisabetta Di Maggio, incision after incision giving
a form to repetition, breaks through the confines of
In her insistence on remaining faithful to the light
traces of history and to those fragments that are part
of the life of us all, there is a vision of individual
memory, a private one that has often been found in
literature but that is most to be found at the heart
of oral tradition. To embroider is sedentary work,
but not a lonely one. It likes company: that of people,
of the radio, of music. It is natural to think of
Elisabetta Di Maggio’s images as stories, also
because the drawing, as it fills the space of the paper,
evokes both writing and a voice that weaves itself
around the shapes. Oral narrative is linked to repetition
and to the situation of women.To sew and to
cook are actions that are undertaken and repeated
and that underlie personal histories: they are part of
historical events through roundabout ways. One of
these is that of domestic artefacts that we all inherit.
In Di Maggio’s embroideries there are these allusions
to, for example, our grandmothers’ homes, or
to the clothes of some decades back. But the fretwork
of light urges us towards the East where we
also find it applied to architecture and where,
through Sheherazade, the tales told by women are a
symbol of the very origins of narrative. I think that
this paper lace, halfway between fairytale architecture
and personal memories of home, reminds us all
of oral narrative.
I have recently read an extraordinary novel about a
granddaughter and a grandmother: Gente in cammino
by Malika Mokeddem (Giunti, 2000). In its pages
I recognised Elisabetta’s forms. I understood that
her oriental characteristics could not only be related
to architectural perforations, but also to the
sound of the yu-yu, the bell-like cry emitted by
women to mark the joy of childbirth, the end of the
French occupation of Algeria, or for any other private
or public event.They reminded me of the precision
and the emotions of Elisabetta’s embroideries.
The family storyteller, Zohra, says to her granddaughter: ‘I dream a lot. Many of my tales are the
outcome of my dreams.And my dreams are like our
yu-yu, they speak to others.They fly ahead in a flock
in order to embark on a magical migration that,
once completed, comes back to reality’. Elisabetta
Di Maggio’s lace suggest such a flight and lead me
too towards immobility, something also suffered by
Zohra who, in order to become a wife, was obliged
to give up nomadism and the desert.‘Her tales were
her means to for surviving.With her body imprisoned
she walked with words in the attempt to find
what joined her own past to the future of her
Elisabetta Di Maggio, by searching for the traces
that link her to their past through the words and the
hands of grandmothers has undertaken a reverse
journey. Like yu-yu, her embroideries speak of a
new nomadism, they leave their bedroom, their
kitchen, their dressers, and give shape to a history
that has been imprisoned for a long time as well as
to a freedom only recently acquired. Perhaps this
would please Zohra.