Viviane Rombaldi Seppey – Mapping her Road

Viviane Rombaldi Seppey, “Fragile”, hand cut atlas page (The World), wire, glass dome, plastic base, diameter 6 inches, 2017. Photo credit Etienne Frossard

In her poetic and playful installations Viviane Rombaldi Seppey coalesces everyday objects and materials, altogether bringing to mind  contemporary issues of identity, culture and environment. Maps, phonebooks, and books become directly embedded in her work as drawings, collages or sculptural objects. She has recently shared in an interview with Art Spiel some of her ideas and experiences.

AS: Tell me a bit about yourself.

Viviane Rombaldi Seppey: I was born in Switzerland to an Italian mother and first generation Swiss father also of Italian origin. The creative, patriarchal and expressive Italian family atmosphere at home coexisted with the more serious and practical Swiss environment. This duality is part of my being and is feeding my work related to cultural identity, memory and place.

Growing up in the Swiss Alps surrounded by mountains also shaped my relation to nature, my roots are embedded in the land from which I come from. The physical and psychological spaces I experienced and inhabit are the stepping-stone for most of my art projects.

Viviane Rombaldi-Seppey, “Home”, hand cut atlas pages, topographic and road maps, tapestry canvas, 18×24 inches, 2012. Photo credit Etienne Frossard

AS: Tell me about your phonebook project

Viviane Rombaldi Seppey: I began to use phonebooks in my art as reference to my migratory experience. When I moved to live in foreign countries they offered me a way to interact and connect with people. The phonebook was the link to familiarize myself with the immediate community. While phonebooks are obviously specific to a given cultural setting, their format is almost similar across nations and continents. I was interested in this formal similarity within culturally different countries.

I began the “Belonging” series by creating intricate collages with imagery that parallels my numerous relocations and take the form of cultural references specific to the country from which the phonebooks are taken (such as patchworks quilts for the USA).

I’m now extending my work with phonebooks, concentrating on ideas of language and accent, as part of the “Alphabet” series.

Viviane Rombaldi Seppey, “Forest”, ink, acrylic, hand cut Manhattan phonebook, pages,  72 x 51 inches,  2016
Photo credit Etienne Frossard

AS: And your maps project?

Viviane Rombaldi Seppey: I began to explore my identity and heritage through geographical and road maps found in my childhood home after my father’s death.  In the first series with maps, “Heritage”, I was connecting my family migrant story with my own migratory experience.

From this very personal story with maps, I am now developing series with a more holistic point of view, where I dissect the representation and perception of the surrounding world and try to make sense of my place in it.

Viviane Rombaldi Seppey, “Full Circle”, hand cut world map, bamboo stick, 32 x 10 inches, 2016. Photo credit Etienne Frossard

AS: It seems to me that drawing and installations are central in your work. What’s your take on that?

Viviane Rombaldi Seppey: I don’t feel restrained by any formal way of making art. I’m attracted to various materials and it seems that, at the moment, most of my work has a connection to paper. Maps, phonebooks, books become directly embedded in my pieces as drawings, collages or sculptural objects.

I always embrace the possibility to make installations as an exciting way to stretch my thinking and creative process.

Viviane Rombaldi Seppey, “The Call of the  Sea”, wooden sticks, hand cut maps,  installation piece, size variable, as shown: 44 x 30 x 18 inches, 2018. Photo credit Etienne Frossard

AS: Tell me about your site-specific projects. How do you start a site-specific project? Let’s take one as an example.

 Viviane Rombaldi Seppey: When I envision a site-specific intervention I try to combine the specificity of the place with my conceptual interest. In 2010 I made a site-specific project at “Wave Hill as part of their Sunroom Project. The first thing I did was visiting the premises, I looked at the space, its particularities, layout and history.

The numerous windows interacting with the exterior space grab my interest, I wanted to use them in the installation as a way to create a link between two worlds, the natural and urban environment interacting in the Bronx. I covered the windows with discarded plastic bags that I cut and applied on the windowpanes as a simulacrum of stained glass. The imagery was an abstract landscape inspired by the Palisades seen from Wave Hill in autumn. The installation, by its use of light and plastic bags, became a reflection on our relation and impact on the environment.

Viviane Rombaldi Seppey, “Common Ground”, Wave Hill Site-specific installation at Wave Hill, Bronx, plastic bags and acetate, size variable , 198 panels: 11×8 inches approx. each), 2010. Photo credit of the artist

AS: Tell me about another site-specific project.

Viviane Rombaldi Seppey: I recently made an installation named “Plasticon” at “Sculpture by the Sea” , an outdoor sculpture exhibition in Sydney, Australia. Again, I was interested in the relation between man-made objects, its impact on the environment and the specificity of a seaside environment.

I used translucent plastic bags woven into a fishing net to cover seaside rocks. The final installation had the appearance of  strange sea organisms and at the same time was there to remind us of the value of these discarded objects and their impact on nature.

Viviane Rombaldi Seppey, “Plasticon”, detail, Site-specific installation at Sculpture by the Sea, Sydney, Australia, plastic bags and fishing net, variable size, 2017. Photo credit of the artist
Viviane Rombaldi Seppey, “Plasticon”, Site-specific installation at Sculpture by the Sea, Sydney, Australia, plastic bags and fishing net, variable size, 2017. Photo credit Jessica Wyld

AS: What is the difference in your process between work that is geared for a site and other work?

 I would say that a site-specific installation is a way to stretch my creative process and add another dimension to my artistic practice. The work has to marry the site and include its historical, geographical or architectural characteristics. It can be challenging but it’s always exciting to imagine and realize new working method or process.

My other work is more intimate, but because I work in series, I like to show them like an installation – It creates connections among the pieces and generates a conversation from the works to the viewers. As an example the drawings  and floor pieces in Grassland are unique pieces but put as an installation they broaden the reading.

AS: Where do you see your work in art historical / contemporary context?

I see myself in companionship with artists like Symrin Gill, Rivane Neuenshwander, Zarin Hashmi, Jaq Leirner and many more. Artists who work with diverse media and often use objects of the everyday in their artworks.

They question, through their poetic creation, the way we live and raise contemporary questions of identity, culture, environment in our age of electronic and globalization.

Viviane Rombaldi Seppey, “Grassland” series, ink, thread, rocks, coal and skull, Size: variable as an installation, 2018. Photo credit Etienne Frossard

AS: What are you working on now?

I always work on different projects at the same time, for me it generates a stimulating and creative dynamics. One project is artist’s books – a series of books using words from phonebooks. Another project takes the form of large quilts made with phonebooks from NY, exploring ideas of gender and place.

A very new exciting project at the moment is a collaborative piece where I work with Benjamin Velez, a musician, to transcribe my alphabet drawing scores into musical ones and where the viewers will be the performers.

Viviane Rombaldi Seppey, “At the Beginning”, cardboard, hand cut atlas pages, 8 inches height x 4 inches diameter, 2018. Photo credit Etienne Frossard
Portrait of the artist installing “Plasticon” at
Sculpture by the Sea, Sydney, Australia.
Photo credit Gérald Seppey