Emma Talbot
5 April 2022

Max Mara Art Prize for Women | The residency in Italy

Max Mara, Collezione Maramotti and Whitechapel Gallery are pleased to announce that Emma Talbot (b. 1969, UK), winner of the 8th Max Mara Art Prize for Women, has completed her bespoke six-month residency in Italy. The new artworks produced during this period will be shown in an exhibition slated to open at Whitechapel Gallery, London, on 30 June 2022 and at the Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia,  on 23 October 2022.

This prestigious prize supports UK-based female artists who have not previously had a major solo show. Awarded in alternate years since 2005, it is the only visual art prize of its kind in the UK. The prize provides the winner an opportunity to develop her artistic career through a fully-funded, bespoke Italian residency, culminating in a solo exhibition featuring a new body of work to be shown first at Whitechapel Gallery and then at Collezione Maramotti.

Due to the pandemic, Talbot’s residency could not be organised in 2020 as initially planned, but instead took place from June to December 2021. It allowed the artist to spend time in Reggio Emilia, Catania and Rome, researching classical mythology, textile craftsmanship, permaculture and exploring the myriad historic sites and institutions that will inform her final work.

Emma Talbot, who has subsequently been invited to participate in the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, curated by Cecilia Alemani, said: “Based in Reggio Emilia, Sicily and Rome over a six-month period, the residency was fantastic, generous and life-changing for me and my practice. I absolutely loved the expansive experience of evolving my particular project through first-hand research; at museums, archaeological sites, archives, textile companies, permaculture sites and specialist fabricators across the length and breadth of the country. The input of expert mentors and professional contacts who guided my specific research and the support of partners who hosted me during my stay, gave invaluable depth and insight, widening my understandings. I made really meaningful connections with people I met, which made the residency such a beautiful and explorative unfolding story. With a wealth of research material gathered over the six months to draw on, I am really excited to now formulate my findings into artworks and to have the space and time to do so. My project focuses on the trials of Hercules, imagined as thought experiments re-performed by an elderly woman, to interrogate contemporary issues of power, control, sustainability and possible futures.”

Textiles are central to Talbot’s work, and her stay in Reggio Emilia offered her a unique opportunity to acquire new production skills. In Reggio Emilia she explored Modateca Deanna, an extraordinary historical fashion archive focused on knitwear. She worked with local craftspeople to learn intarsia and  jacquard knitting, techniques that are used to create patterns with multiple colours, which she will be employing in her final work. During her stay at the Modateca, she also held regular training sessions with high-level professionals, visited local textile companies and enjoyed access to the Max Mara historic archives.

Sonia Veroni, CEO and co-founder of Modateca Deanna, said: “I’ve found it particularly stimulating to work with the artist Emma Talbot. Emma’s residency in Reggio Emilia gave her the chance to learn knitting techniques, get to know the area, and apply local materials and technologies with a creative approach. And her unique vision gave us the chance to discover a new side to knits, an artistic, innovative one, born out of Emma’s enormous creativity and sensitivity. My heartfelt thanks go to Collezione Maramotti for making us part of this wonderful, enthralling adventure, a real opportunity for dialogue with an extraordinary artist.” 

In Catania, Sicily, Talbot spent time with the artist Rosario Sorbello, exploring layers of history, visiting ancient archaeological sites and the volcanic terrain to inform a depiction of landscape is set to feature in her final work.

Rosario Sorbello, who oversaw Talbot’s stay in Sicily, commented: “I think that this time in Sicily offered Emma Talbot all kinds of inspiration stemming from the nature, art and history of the island. I feel confident that these experiences, along with the rest of her residency in Italy, were a unique, valuable opportunity serving the development of the overall project, which draws on a wide range of elements linked to the Italian landscape and culture.”

Talbot also learned about permaculture, a practice strongly present in Sicilian agriculture, which offers an ethical, sustainable way of living with the land. To learn more about this approach first-hand, she was hosted by Casa di Paglia Felcerossa, a local farm on the slopes of Mount Etna.

Tiziana Cicero, owner of Casa di Paglia Felcerossa (Sant’Alfio, Catania), said: “Having Emma as our guest was a lush experience, full of warmth and beauty. It was wonderful to take part in a rich, profound dialogue about womanhood, about the world, about permaculture, about processing experiences, about life, which went beyond our own starting points and geographic backgrounds.”

In the final stage of the residency, Talbot was hosted in Rome for two months by the British School, where she had access to a studio and the many other facilities of this prestigious institute. Over the course of her research, she could count on the aid of the British School tutors,  focusing particularly on Herculean myths and spending time at the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia. Its Director, Valentino Nizzo, served as her guide to the designs of Etruscan ceramics, which are powerful conveyors of classical mythology. While in Rome, Talbot visited museums and archaeological sites to gain a deeper familiarity with the landscape of classical Italy.

Valentino Nizzo, Director of Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia, described: “As one of the specialized mentors for the MMAP8 residency, I had the experience of looking at the past and at mythology through the eyes of an exceptional contemporary artist, Emma Talbot. It was a voyage through Italian cultural heritage guided by the iconography of Hercules, tracing how these images have evolved and been ideologically manipulated over the course of history in the East, in Greek culture, through the Etruscan and Roman world, and up to our time. The goal is to bring them into the present, to become a subject of and tool for reflection. This fascinating process gave me the privilege, on more than one occasion, of seeing the perspective and sensations of a contemporary artist from up close. It was a unique opportunity to get an inside view of the remarkable creative process leading to the development of a new artwork, and has significantly enriched my experience of analysing ancient art.”

Talbot’s winning proposal for the Max Mara Art Prize for Women questions deeply rooted positions of power, governance, attitudes to nature and representations of women through an acutely personal lens. It takes as a starting point Gustav Klimt’s painting Three Ages of Woman (1905), which portrays a naked elderly woman standing with her head bowed as if in shame. The painting is housed at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome and Talbot had the opportunity to see it first-hand during her residency. In her work for the prize, Talbot invests this figure with agency, presenting her with a series of challenges. These modern-day Labours of Hercules suggest that the older woman is someone with the potential to rebuild our society, countering the usual negative attitudes towards ageing.

Talbot’s final project as winner of the Max Mara Art Prize for Women will take the shape of an immersive installation: a three-dimensional figure of the elderly heroine stands alone in a volatile postapocalyptic world where technology has been wiped out. In the background, a long silk painting – made with fabric from Mantero, based in Como: the first Italian company to produce 100% recycled silk – depicts the Italian landscape that Talbot saw during her travels in Sicily and Rome. 

The project is to be entirely realised in Italy, relying on the valuable expertise of Modateca Deanna and of Imax, the manufacturing division of the legendary Italian fashion house Max Mara, which is helping to produce the new body of artworks that will be presented at both Whitechapel Gallery and Collezione Maramotti. 

The artworks that will be shown at La Biennale di Venezia are also produced in Italy, in collaboration with Imax and with the invaluable support of Max Mara.

A short documentary about Talbot's experience during her six-month Italian residency will be released in the coming months.


Exhibition date:

Whitechapel Gallery, London

30 June – 4 September 2022


Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia

23 October 2022 – 19 February 2023