ZOÈ GRUNI, La Torre di Babele
Text by Francesca Biagini
La Torre di Babele curated by Pietro Gaglianò

"The work of Zoè Gruni captures the essence of the function of collective cultural memory. Her works offer an original artistic observation point for the social processes of functions such as myths and traditions. The artist thus builds up an archive of choral mythologies which are in contrast to the secularization of contemporary society. The sculpture Boto Rosa (Pink Boto), which offers a new contemporary exegesis of a Brazilian native legend which still survives in oral folk culture, was created by a process which the artist has used for all her projects: recovery of hybrid, ambiguous forms obtained with the use of everyday materials and linked to the territorial context. Analyzing the psychological function and the system of existence which favor the conservation of these mythologies and their universality, links with the power systems can be identified, and we realise to what extent these stories serve to exorcise and confine our fears. Today Boto Rosa connects also the two continents, and while his head emerges in Prato,Italy, the tail surfaces from the waters of a fountain in the garden of the Museu da Republica in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.






By Franziska Nori
Zoè Gruni. 2004-2014 Mitopoiesi ed. Il Ponte Firenze
Permalink - Catalog

"Zoè Gruni calls herself a nomad. She journeys between continents and cultures, past and present: a traveller seeking to understand the nature of the human being’s existential restlessness. Zoè enunciates her visual language by drawing from the roots of the people’s imagination. She concentrates her research on the possibility of finding visual forms that highlight the feelings, memories and intimate individual fears crystallised in the stereotypes of legends and popular myths. This is how Zoè Gruni tackles art, by disproving that it is impossible to fathom the different forms of interior restlessness.
Zoè Gruni’s most recent works were made in Brazil, where the artist moved after a period spent in California. Like in the past, these works also fit into a dimension between sculpture and applied art, between performance and video art. The subject of Zoè Gruni’s artistic research has always been to rediscover mythologies and popular tales in order to verify their possible symbolic meaning and timeless significance. The artist’s research is situated in the space between the individual and collective imagination, finding a physical form of expression for bodiless myths relegated to spoken tales. The female body, often her own, is for Zoè Gruni at once the subject and object of her works. By becoming the surface of projection and tool of representation, the body loses its intimate and private dimension, to become a public body of political dimension (Scalp, 2008; Metropolitan Legends Cryptid, 2012; La Merica, 2013)
Zoè Gruni creates wearable sculptures that look like alienating beings. She often physically slips into them herself, using them to make performances in public places. Like a second skin, these wearable forms cover the artist’s body which, transformed into a new entity, moves slowly through urban landscapes in a state of isolation from the outside. The mask becomes a safe encasement for the defenceless body and, at the same time, monstrous armour to scare people off, almost a dual strategy to find protection and ward off danger."






ZOÈ GRUNI, Mythopoetics/the contemporary embodiment of myth
By Xico Chaves
Zoè Gruni. 2004-2014 Mitopoiesi ed. Il Ponte Firenze
Permalink - Catalog

" What we imagine, exists. In creating a myth, the imagination becomes real; and that which already lives in the universal and multiple creations of the collectivity adds to it. We invent the impossible, the meanings multiply. We reconstruct other facets of language and interpretation. Zoè Gruni’s mythopoetics is a process that builds up critical inventions and her own synthesis of this collectively individual imagination. She heads in all directions, as her work Cannibal suggests. Set on a soft, round carpet, with its circle of legs, it does not seem to go anywhere. Or is it going everywhere at the same time? Maybe it is heading inside itself. Or is it moving in a spiral in search of the same sense that the onlooker is also trying to decipher? .
A myth is made like that. It originates in a tradition and can be interpreted in different ways; it can be told in line with the standard reading, but it is open to transmutations imagined by the interlocutor and its creator, as it moves and is observed going by. A myth leaves its story and meaning open, its cycle knows no end and it enables the free association of ideas. That which could be surreal and absurd becomes reality; as the myth is built, it becomes real, it joins together the inaccessible unconscious and recent memory, and thus embodies countless forms of life. Myths are founded on free poetics and are unbound from formal logic; they go beyond themselves, to concisely embody the contents of many analyses.
Zoè does not claim to revolutionise art by creating and revealing the universal myth. Spontaneously, she adds her own universe of interpretation. In this way she reworked Boitatà, a native Brazilian legend which originates from the “fire serpent”, the floating smoke of the “will o’ the wisp”, and other similar versions. In Tupi, boi means snake, while in Guarani tatá means fire, hence the expression fire serpent. Nevertheless, in Portuguese boi also means bull, an animal frequently found in universal mythology. The artist makes these mythological characters flow into one and creates another being, a sort of reptile with a bull’s head and a long tail like the body of a crocodile. The animal is made of bicycle inner tubes, and the result is a rubber body-costume worn by the artist. Thus it comes to life and starts to wander through streets and squares, by waterfalls and fountains, viaducts and public places, in a strange performance mimicking its new guise through slow bodily movements."






By Alessandra Tempesti
(EDU C.C.C.S. Strozzina, Florence)

In Zoè Gruni's artistic career, hemp is the fabric that marked the entire course of her initial work, in the course of which she gradually pursued a sculptural exploration of corporeity. This material, so poor and so redolent of hard work and toil, spawned her initial two-dimensional assemblages, which were followed by the headgear and bodygear series (2004 - 2008) -- sculptures for wearing and for living in -- that create hybrid figures mixing the human and animal bodies, almost as though they were primordial presences capable of acquiring a history of their own and of becoming personalities over time.
This type of sculpture encounters its necessary completion the moment the hempen wrapping-cum-clothing is worn and "incorporated"; the cycle comes to an end, on the other hand, with a series of studied photographic sets where the works stand out in the foreground against low horizons, immersed in a cold and timeless light.
Drawing, particularly on a large scale, is another media that the artist uses to work on the metamorphosis of the body: a gesture, drawing marks on a sheet of paper using charcoal, that is once again a kind of performance in a hand-to-hand encounter with a figuration which emerges from the stratifications of personal and collective memory. The forms' anatomical ambiguity (also present in a recent video work) melds with an animal physiognomy, alluding to a return to primordial nature and sparking a reflection on identity. The analysis of the instinctive sentiment of fear as a gut-level feeling that man and beast share alike, paves the way for a broader interpretation of our contemporary society in which the individual comes up against a sense of existential solitude and has difficulty relating to the community.





by Pietro Gaglianò


In African sub-Saharan culture, sanctuaries, ancestral tombs and all religious buildings were built exclusively with materials that belonged to the same land they were built on. This was made to maintain reliable, therefore effective what was built. These buildings have been constructed by the majority with vegetation that necessitates of reconstruction by substitution of many structural and decorative parts. The new parts also need to be gathered inside this cultural enclosure and the same is for statues and jujus. The endogenous sanctity, on one hand, requires a virgin origin, meaning that materials involved to create the statues must not have been touched by anyone because it's specific power is born and belongs to the place itself. This is just like the concept behind amulets that protect infants, new-weds, hunters, warriors and whomever in a new territory- maybe a hostile one.
Zoé Gruni's Jackalope is made of palm fiber because it is a substance that is widely diffused in the area where the Jackalope belongs. To be more specific, he is native of Arizona and Zoé uses palm fiber in California to construct him, but both Jackalope and the palm tree are part of a unique mythological panorama of boundless Northern American spaces, who apparently seem remotely different. They are part of the same immense and cyclopic scene on the basis of which the men of the west find roots for a heroic vision of themselves; all this, vaguely detailed by cowboy hats and vibrant but abstract brush strokes. The natural environment expressed by the Jackalope is a hostile and savage place to be in,  therefore reclaimable by an optimistic intelligence of the Caucasian man. This is why the Jackalope is dressed with palm fibre. He needs that strength type to cross the city. Zoé has dragged this medieval beast (though I have never seen one, he is said to be part hare and part antelope. A sort of rabbit with horns, close to the legendary manticores and unicorns), in the sophisticatedly shrewd streets of Los Angeles, to revive a myth that belongs to a totally unkempt suburban dimension and to tear the Jackalope out from the extinction list.
Two important concepts are being exposed. The first is the possible emphasis of a swap, where the Jackalope invented by Yankees (the cowboys who were trying to give shape to sounds in the night, because giving shape to the unknown made it become less hostile), has now returned to them to reclaim its existence by overlapping those urban myths create to fibrillate an otherwise predictable reality. A second matter that needs underlining is that Zoé herself dons the skin of the beast, following a routine procedure adopted in the past. The artist totally immerses herself in her creation, there's also a shamanic spirit in this declared desire to be the bridge between an urban world (technocratic and skeptical) and another world (a world of prompt vision, trust and faith in nature). This is the same meditation that seems to occur with the necessary corrections of landscapes and panoramas when an artist exits from the abstraction of his/her designs and assumes, in a certain sense, a form of responsibility towards the rest of the world.





"SCALP" by Franziska Nori
(C.C.C.S. Strozzina, Florence)


Zoè Gruni’s work explores the phenomenon of terror, the discombobulating feeling of an individual in today’s society who runs up against existential loneliness and the difficulty of relating with a reality that is more and more deprived of rites and of a collective dimension tied to memory.
Tuscan folklore provides a departure point for the artist’s aesthetic imagination.
Poor materials, especially raw jute cloth, signify a large portion of the artist’s research, during which she has developed a sculptural emphasis of corporality. With this simple material, inextricably linked to work and toil, are born the “Assemblages,” two-dimensional at the beginning, which then are followed by the series of “Head-coverings” and “Body-coverings” (2004-2008), sculptures to be worn and to be lived in, which create hybrid figures in a mix of man and animal. “Scalp” represent a crucial moment in Gruni’s artistic path in which she introduces her own body as a formal element. The installation is made up three photographic self-portraits, in which the artist presents herself with a shorn scalp, acting out moments of fear and shame, and by twelve “scalps,” twelve different feminine hairstyles lined up on the wall and created using blonde “tow,” a material derived from jute. A filmic fragment in a second moment, played on loop, shows the violent act of scalping accompanied by a shriek, repeated incessantly. Here the artist calls to mind the stereotyped dimension of the American Indians, painted with negative connotations by countless Westerns in which the terrible scalp of the “white” enemy symbolised possession of his spirit. By “repossessing” a part of the body, and then exhibiting it as a fetish of one’s own dominion and power meant precluding the other from accessing the afterlife. The analysis of the instinctive feeling of fear, as a visceral emotion that connects man and animal, lays the foundation for a broader reading of our contemporary society, in which the individual runs up against an existential loneliness and can only haltingly create a relationship to the community.