TO/LET: creativity and site-specific art that transforms urban space
TO/LET: creativity and site-specific art that transforms urban space

TO/LET: creativity and site-specific art that transforms urban space

Their art invades surfaces and spaces, they express themselves through painting, drawings, installations, sculptures, and public art projects. We are talking about Sonia Piedad Marinangeli and Elisa Placucci, known as TO/LET, a duo of visual artists born in 2005. Their works often explore themes of gender, identity, and urban space.

TO/LET over the years have participated in various independent festivals, in Italy and in Europe, and in several solo and group exhibitions, among the most important La giovane Italia, Officina Italia 2, and Premio Michetti curated by Renato Barilli. They often relate to architectural space in a physical and sensory way, feeling free to expand beyond the boundaries and limits.

The art critic Renato Barilli spoke about them in this way: "Affinities can be found with all the artists who, like them, ignore limits, fences, boundaries, and feel free to expand like an oil stain, to spread. Reference can be made to the great South African William Kentridge, especially when he adorned the walls of the Tiber with his mysterious icons, suspended in a brilliant play between positive and negative. Or one can invoke Keith Haring, who, just like Sonia and Elisa, knows no boundaries to his work, expands it, lengthens it, taking care at the same time that the various elements connect with each other, come together, so to speak, in a rope team, which is also a characteristic that our two always make sure to ensure."

In 2011 they founded eLaSTiCo, a cultural association and collective of artists operating between visual art and music production, and since 2013 they have been among the founders, curators, and organizers of CHEAP Street Poster Art, a public art project.

Let's get to know them better through this interview.

TO/LET: creativity and site-specific art that transforms urban space

#1 answer

Hello Elisa, hello Sonia, you met at the academy where one, Elisa, was studying Set Design and the other, Sonia, Painting, how did you become an artistic duo?

Hello Maria Rosa, nice to hear from you again and thank you for the interview <3

We met in the hallways of the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, among mutual friends, during the heated days of occupations. We then became roommates, somewhat by chance. Attending the same year at the Academy and living in the same house, we started taking the same complementary exams to the main courses we were following, so we started working together. It was 2005, thesis period. THE BATHROOM became the protagonist of Sonia's thesis: a 360-degree research on all its cultural, social, anthropological forms.

This was the first major project we worked on together. We created a series of illustrations that brought to life the various positions one takes in the bathroom, and then printed them on t-shirts.

Later on, we built CLOSED, a sculpture: a three-dimensional bathroom in 1:1 scale made of wire mesh, enclosed in a backlit white canvas cube, the transparency of the mesh made the objects inside look like an x-ray. Accessible and usable by the viewer. From that period and that project in particular, the name TO/LET was born, which was meant to play ironically, creating confusion between the words TO/LET and TOILET, but we also wanted to interpret it as: TO BE LEFT.

TO/LET: creativity and site-specific art that transforms urban space

#2 answer

In the past, the bathroom has been a place very present in your works and in it, I quote your words, you see: a passage between intimate and non-intimate dimensions. From here TO/LET. Why has this space been at the center of your attention and some interventions carried out, to the point of inspiring your artistic name?

The bathroom has been at the center of our research because it has always sparked interest in us, representing a unique environment where the private and public spheres, intimacy, and sharing blend together. We found this passage between two opposite dimensions, a space of transition and connection between different worlds, very fascinating and wanted to explore it through our works to emphasize the complexity and richness of meanings that this environment represents for us. During the period you refer to, we experimented with various printing techniques, from engraving to screen printing, from collage to graphics, creating interventions with posters, cut and paste printed paper. We invaded public bathrooms, from north to south of Italy and abroad, bathrooms in venues, walls, streets, legally and illegally. The poster was the trace we left behind, but it was an ephemeral trace that, in turn, left you over time.

TO/LET: creativity and site-specific art that transforms urban space

#3 answer

In your work there is a lot of quality and great versatility, you use different media and techniques: from paste up (paper and glue on walls), to large wall paintings, to walkable installations. Sometimes you create scenarios composed of repeated objects, sculptures made with a variety of materials ranging from ceramics to screen-printed fabric. How do you relate to architectural space and what determines the type of artistic intervention you choose?

In our work, we always try to adapt the artworks to the surrounding environment, taking into consideration the architectural space we are in. Every artistic project we choose to undertake is determined by a series of factors, such as the shape and size of the space, the natural light present, the functionality of the area, the colors, the historical and cultural context in which we find ourselves. The relationship with which people, animals, or vegetation that live and occupy the space before us and with us is very important.
Before starting an artistic intervention, we analyze its characteristics, its lived experience that always speaks to us, to identify the Hot Spots. Based on this visual and emotional stimulus, we decide how to intervene, that is, what to say and then which technique or media to use.

TO/LET: creativity and site-specific art that transforms urban space

#4 answer

Your work is often expansive, ignoring limits and boundaries, and it spreads across walls and various surfaces. One could speak of Street Art or Public Art as it was once called, but I know that you don't like definitions very much and refer to your works as site-specific. What are the recurring themes, if any, of your artistic research?

We are inspired to design works that interact with the surrounding space in a meaningful way and that stimulate reflection and dialogue with those who observe them. Sometimes, we also aim to challenge conventions and defy established norms, using a pinch of irony, lightness, and playfulness.

We started inside a bathroom, to then come out and invade the public sphere, expressing our visions of bodies in contact with each other and with nature, united in their coexistence and transformation together, bodies in constant evolution, hybrid between human, animal, and plant until a symbiotic fusion between the elements.

Black holes are almost always present in our drawings and mural paintings. Traversable extremities, holes of exit and at the same time of entrance that are for us, almost archetypal forms, which make us capable of continuously jumping between two and three dimensions.

Another recurring theme is intertwined threads that create continuous connections between the figures in our drawings and the spaces we inhabit and shape with installations, often light and delicate. Or the puddles of water that become drops of muddy-colored liquids "in a transference of the hardness of materials" (quote by Renato Barilli).

TO/LET: creativity and site-specific art that transforms urban space

#5 answer

I read that you love snails as a symbol, I also love them very much, because they remind us that slowness is a concept to reclaim, especially today, but also determination in moving forward. Does time and willpower spark reflection in your artistic journey?

Yes, the concept of slowness and determination are definitely very present in our artistic journey. From the early works, we spent entire days cutting paper into small modules to then glue on walls that were invaded without limits of space or boundaries.
Or hours and hours spent weaving and sewing net, to create our lightweight sculptures. Like snails, we try to proceed calmly and attentively in our artistic research, giving importance to the time needed to develop our ideas, even in the manual part of the project, going to refine in detail our works. Determination is what drives us to continue working, giving space to our artistic research, interspersing time with the other collective projects we are part of. Ultimately, time and willpower are fundamental topics that help us fuel our creativity and grow as artists.

TO/LET: creativity and site-specific art that transforms urban space

#6 answer

In 2019, you received the BELLUNO/CORTINA award as artist of the year, a prestigious award that over the years has celebrated significant artists from different generations such as Ontani, Mimmo Rotella, and the duo Botto and Bruno. What did this recognition, given to you by art critic Renato Barilli, mean to you?

Receiving this award was a great honor and a huge source of motivation for us. Being recognized by a high-caliber art critic like Renato Barilli and being included in a list of such significant artists was truly special.
The encounter with Renato Barilli and the care he showed towards us began long before, when we had just graduated, and he first recommended us for the DAMS Award at the University of Bologna.

Even before the Belluno/Cortina Award in 2018, we received the Alinovi-Daolio Award, an Italian recognition given to figures who have distinguished themselves in the field of contemporary art by basing their research on interdisciplinarity and the contamination of expressive languages. For us, it was pure emotion! We have no other words than to repeat that we are honored and immensely grateful to Renato Barilli for giving us the opportunity to showcase our work in prestigious exhibitions, but more importantly, for believing in us and our work.

TO/LET: creativity and site-specific art that transforms urban space

#7 answer

In 2008 in Bologna, eLaSTiCo was founded, a space that promotes contemporary art in all its forms, with particular attention to the contamination between languages and the self-productions of young artists. How has this project evolved over the years and what is eLaSTiCO for the city today?

eLaSTiCo is an artistic project that has evolved through different locations and forms. Initially born as an Art-shop and small art gallery, it moved to various places, promoting emerging artists and self-produced music. After a period of pause, it was reborn as ELASTICOFa/ART, an art co-housing factory and creative workshops with artistic residencies, laboratories, and its own record label, Elastico Records. Currently, it is in the process of transformation in the new location at Via De’ Carracci 69, which will be a refuge for the arts in all its forms.

TO/LET: creativity and site-specific art that transforms urban space

#8 answer

We are almost at the end of the interview, in the editorial office we are all passionate about music, and it is one of the artistic languages that we privilege, can you tell us three tracks that you are particularly attached to. Thank you.

Emerge – Fischerspooner
Poison Lips – Vitalic
Musique Automatique – Stereo Total

TO/LET: creativity and site-specific art that transforms urban space