Home & Design | Creatives in Conversation: Luciana Bongiovanni

Often, slight pivots in our behavior or environment can yield great change and turn us toward the next version of ourselves that has been waiting to emerge. For art weaver and interior designer Luciana Bongiovanni, that transformation meant a giant leap across continents in the middle of 2020, from her hometown in Argentina to the lakes of Minneapolis, to follow her heart and weave a new tapestry for her life.

During the pandemic, most people were moving closer to their hometowns and families. You did the opposite and traveled away from your hometown. What propelled the move to Minnesota?

When I moved to the U.S., it was in the middle of COVID in 2020 to be with my partner at the time. The immigration process was long, and there was no work, so I had the opportunity to focus my attention on all my weaving. I found my voice doing something I had grown up seeing around me my whole life. My family works in the wool business, so I grew up watching my mom, my grandmother, and my aunt knitting and my dad doing needlepoint. Yarn has always been in my life, and when I moved here, I realized that wool meant home to me. As an immigrant, while I was building my new home, in a way I was wondering what it meant to be “home,” because it’s a concept so tied to family, to culture, to a territory, and that was completely changing for me. I feel like I’m answering these questions now by belonging to this community.

How did you develop your signature style of weaving? You use a lot of neutral and pastel colors, and the designs appear very abstract.

My art is mostly abstract. I like playing with contrast, using natural materials and mass-produced ones and recycled materials, then playing with shapes. Some are more organic and some are more geometric, but they’re always in dialogue with one another. One of the characteristics in my work is I make loops with felted yarn that are like sculptures, in a way. Lately, I’ve been working in new ways, and I just got a commission to create 25-foot-long woven pieces for a new building in St. Paul. It’s for a new complex called Farwell on Water on the West Side, which will be a creative community of apartments and artists’ studios.

It sounds incredible, especially amid the vibrant arts community of St. Paul. Is there an aspect of this piece you’re creating that draws from Minnesota’s landscape?

Rivers are a timeless passageway—a confluence of nature and people, an artery of commerce and culture. The Mississippi River, the most storied of passageways, has shaped this nation’s landscape, from its trickling origins at Itasca to its resting place in New Orleans, connecting cultures by trade and business and nature with people. What I’m representing in the weaving is an homage to this mighty river by mimicking its curvature through the piece, and all cultures and diversity surrounding it through textures.

I imagine it’s a feat of engineering to build something that’s 25 feet long at your home and make it cohesive.

Absolutely. I’m working in [sections] of 5 feet, which is the size of my loom, so I can attach a few pieces of yarn at a time to the loom to make sure the loom has tension. Then I continue to construct [the pieces] in stages as I go along so it looks cohesive. I’m using a roving yarn made with merino and recycled sari silk from Get Bentz Farm, which is based in Northfield.

I latched on to that word you used, tension, as it relates to the relationship between the loom and yarn, because it makes me think of the tension between art-making for self and art-making for others, not unlike your commission. I’m curious how tension, if at all, plays into your art practice for you.

For me, when I weave, it means that I completely get lost there, and in my mind, it’s like the rest of the world disappears. When it’s  a commission, I know I am doing this for someone, so that tension for me builds sometimes with tight conditions and the pressure of time. But the weaving process helps me navigate it.

With all your many talents and mediums, is weaving the practice you want to make your livelihood, or are there other areas of your art that you want to be in the forefront?

I’m a multifaceted artist in general. I would love for weaving to be my main focus, absolutely. I love doing video, and I want to find a way to make bold expressions through that. It’s been on my mind, but I haven’t really figured it out yet. But also, I’m an interior designer and have always been passionate about design. When I moved to Minneapolis, I had an opportunity at the time to start studying it, and then I started working in a high-end design showroom and with design clients where we had access to custom furniture made by well-known designers and international brands across Asia and Europe. That experience was a great opportunity, and I learned a lot.

And then you started working for IKEA last year, is that right?

I started working at IKEA as an interior designer recreating their showrooms. The main thing I really love about design is you can create something not only beautiful but also  functional and affordable for everyone. And that’s the main goal of IKEA—to make good quality design and create a better everyday life for many people. 

And IKEA is a Scandinavian brand with stores all around the world, but it fits very well in Minnesota, which has a large Scandinavian population and heritage. I’m curious, as an interior designer, how you view Minnesota’s landscape and culture influencing home interior design choices.

Something that is super interesting and nuanced that I’ve observed is the focus on and good solutions in an entryway. Entryways are not super common all over the world, but thinking of it as a place where you can contain the salt that is tracked inside because of all the snow, and the unique weather means outside elements impact room layouts inside a home. It’s also in the community. Minnesotans are very sports-oriented and are active year-round; it doesn’t matter that it’s cold or if it’s super warm. People like to be outside, and there’s a connection with nature that shows up as larger windows in homes and apartments to let more light in.

As we’re gearing up for summer and opening our windows to let that fresh air and light back into our homes, how can folks freshen up their home spaces to welcome in the warmth and clear out the cold?

I highly recommend changing the colors in your home furnishing, like adding colorful printed cushions or vases. Of course, refresh the types of flowers you have and put those throughout your space. Add in woven textures like throw blankets, pillows, or vibrant rugs.

What are some places around the Twin Cities that have become your go-to staples to eat, shop, or relax?

I love going for walks by the lakes with my dog. I love having nature all around and being able to connect with nature every day. I used to live in Uptown, for three years, and one of my favorite places to eat is Lake and Irving. They have one of the best burgers ever! And now in my new neighborhood in south Minneapolis, I love going to Standish Cafe. It’s so amazing if you love brunch. Also, I love Italian Eatery and Gai Noi. And then for going out, I love to watch soccer games at Allianz Field in St. Paul. Of course, being from Argentina, where soccer is huge, it’s so much fun with all the fans dancing and everybody singing. I love it all.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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