Love and Water is a two-part video where I use a pair of my grandmother’s hands cast in Felce Azzurra soap as part of an invented washing ritual. These cast hands are relics of my grandmother’s body, facsimiles of the hands that cared and labored for my family.
In Part 1, I caress, rub, and bathe one soap hand in a tub of water. As the hand shrinks and breaks apart, I intermittently repeat portions of a funeral mass: "This is your body. This is your spirit. I will always be with you, and with your spirit."
In Part 2, I use the other soap hand to wash my hands and arms, intermittently saying “thank you”. Part 1 and 2 play simultaneously alongside each other.
This work uses my body and the reproduced body of my grandmother to signify the reciprocal nature of care; who is cleaning and who is being cleaned become indistinguishable.
How is the body used as a tool to perform the work of cleaning, mourning and care?
Felce Azzurra is an Italian brand of body care products popular amongst older Italian women. The perfumed scent of this soap and talcum powder was how my grandmother smelled.
Image Description: A screenshot from Felce Azzurra’s website, describing the history of the soap.
Towards the end of her life, my grandmother could no longer wash herself or care for her fading body. My family members would bathe her, always sure to wash her skin with Felce Azzurra. When my grandmother was dying, no longer able to speak or see, one of the last sensations she felt was this soap against her skin and its scent in the air.
Whenever I smell this soap I think of my grandmother, how she is gone and still present. I use it to wash myself and think about how this was one of the last gestures of care my grandmother experienced.
Image description: A perfume for each gesture of care (unused), Alessandra Pozzuoli. Glycerin and Felce Azzurra soap. 2021.
A pair of my grandmother’s hands cast into Felce Azzurra soap. These casts are featured in the video Love and Water.
Image Description: A perfume for each gesture of care (used and unused), Alessandra Pozzuoli, 2021. Glycerin and Felce Azzurra soap. Two pairs of my grandmother's hands cast into soap, resting on a plinth covered in a fragrant pattern made of Felce Azzurra Talco Powder. The "used" pair was used in the washing ritual featured in Love and Water. It has been transformed through washing, with parts of the fingers broken off.
My work investigates how rituals use somatic and sensory engagement to activate memories, navigate grief, and remain connected to those who are gone. For me, cleaning is one such ritual, inextricable from our sense of touch and intuition.
Image Description: Video stills from Love and Water (Parts 1 and 2)
Every time my mother and I visit the cemetery, she remarks how much dust has gathered on my grandmother’s tombstone. As she greets my grandmother’s tomb in dialect, she will gently run her hands across the stone, wiping the dust away. It is not unlike how she used to stroke my grandmother’s cheek.
Image description: Sketchbook pages and writing.
As time goes on, each time memories of a loved one are recalled, parts of them diminish: the touch of their hand, the smell of their hair, the sound of their voice. As strange as it may seem, through the soothing repetitive actions of washing, the familiar scent of Felce Azzurra and the weight of the soap in my hands, I can safely visit the spirit and memories of my grandmother’s life and death.
Image description: Nonni as a young woman. Cyanotype on paper, 9 x 12 inches, 2019.