Magic in Surrealism: Exploring Surrealist Legacies in the Work of Ambra Castagnetti, Chiara Fumai, Francesca Grilli, Agne Raceviciute, and Federica Bruni

  • Federica Bruni

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This practice-based research project examines Surrealism, its relation to magic, and its legacy regarding several contemporary Italian artists. Given Surrealism’s artistic exploration of themes related to the unconscious, dreams, and invisibility my aim is to determine how such themes could be refashioned and revisited to engage a contemporary audience. The fact that several Italian contemporary women artists (Ambra Castagnetti, Chiara Fumai, Francesca Grilli, Agne Raceviciute) have been inserting in their works elements of surreal and magic like alchemy, metamorphosis, the occult, and mystery has stimulated my interest in investigating the matter further and in producing my practice-based response.

    This study combines the realisation of a comprehensive body of artwork and a written thesis. In my methodology, I applied four strategies: the study of the contextual review, the production of my artworks, the analysis of case studies through the interviews with the artists selected, and the self-reflection on my creative practice by keeping a research log where I wrote down audience responses to my artworks. Based on the viewers’ questions and comments, the contemporary audience was intrigued by the sculptures, installations, and prints exploring magic and invisibility I produced during my research. Moreover, the fact that magic and Surrealism are relevant issues was confirmed by the artists’ interviews. They all agreed their practices had elements of magic and each named a historical Surrealist artist with whom they shared an affinity.

    For Ambra Castagnetti magic is linked to alchemical processes as she manipulates materials, organic with artificial, to make her sculptures. Chiara Fumai main focuses are black magic and exorcism. Francesca Grilli aims to raise an atmosphere of wonder in the viewers of her performances and Agne Raceviciute looks for sites, events, and objects with potential mystery in them. The results suggest that there are Italian artists who, similarly to the Surrealists, share an interest in magic as a tool for inhabiting the world in all its multiplicity and not as an escape from reality.

    My research contributes to new knowledge by presenting research on Surrealism from the perspective of a practitioner. Through my sculptures, installations, and prints, I offered a novel interpretation of the concepts of magic and invisibility developed within historical Surrealism. Furthermore, it is the first time that the above artists have been matched.
    Date of Award2024
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorAnna Notaro (Supervisor) & Erica Eyres (Supervisor)


    • magic
    • identity
    • superstitions

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