© Henriikka Kontimo 2020

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Lavatoio

2017

performative installation
paper, water, ink wash, pencil, discussions, water, the act of splashing

Mazzano Romano, Italy

The work consists of 32 portraits of the hands of the people in Mazzano Romano. The drawings are placed in the communal washing place (lavatoio).

Every day you shape your life with your hands, and life shapes them. Same is true in regard to the whole body: your whole life is recorded on your body in its shape and in its tendencies and abilities to react, endure and engage.

Many people in Mazzano have done manual labor for most of their lives. Their hands are full of character: the fingers of many of them are like roots or branches, or like claws of vultures. In this day and age, we often seem to find bodies that are shaped by manual labour less desirable than bodies that have avoided it, because doing manual labour is ofter considered undesirable and even degrading: its often thought to be reserved to the people who are not able to engage in other kind of work. On the other hand, the bodies of manual laborers are, and have been for a long time, often romanticised as beautiful objects of otherness, echoing the conceptions of the noble savage. Both ways of looking at and interpreting the manual labourer's body are problematic attempts to manifest power.

I deeply appreciate manual labour and it has been my way of supporting myself financially for most of my life. It has shaped my body and given me understanding and knowledge that non-manual work could not have. It has also given me temporary and chronic pains that non-manual labor probably wouldn't have.

When drawing the hands of the people in Mazzano I wanted to portray the variety of hands: young and old, different genders. Probably many of the young people in Mazzano won't engage as much in manual labor as their parents and grandparents have, and thus their hands won't develop to look similar than theirs. I find it interesting too think how much of our family resemblance has been shaped not genes but by the form of labour.

Washing laundry outdoors by hand is a heavy manual task that leaves its marks on your body, especially hands. Many of the hands that I have drawn have been washing laundry at the old lavatoio, decades ago, when it was still in use. Many people told me how they had had come there with their parents and how it had been the place especially for women to gather together. The place, that looked to me just a beautiful architectural structure, came to life through people's stories.

When washing the laundry people had been rubbing their laundry clean on the edges of the pool. I arranged my drawings of the hands into the edges, in the same places where many of the hands had been labouring decades ago. Throughout the time the work was displayed I continuously splashed water on to the ink drawings to keep them wet in the excruciating summer heat. To my surprise the ink stayed on the paper. Even though the splashing was lighter work than the actual washing of the laundry, it was still an act that referred to the act of washing.

Thank you:
Leonina, Leonardo, Simone, Tito, Gigi, Rigi, Daniele, Werner, Riikka, Cai, Christel, Carla, Paolo, Gaia, Francesca, Franco, Valeria, Anna, Lina, Fabrizio, Alberta, Roberta, Giovanni, Elisa, Odietta, David, Domenico, Dorin, Rocco, Pino, Eliseo; Milla Eklund

Supported by Arts Promotion Centre Finland