Student Tianyi Zheng Stages Captivating Solo Show at the Villa Rossa

Words by Michelle Tarnopolsky. Photos by Graham Warren.

Every once in a while a Syracuse Florence student leaves an indelible mark on staff and faculty alike. Chinese-born Tianyi Zheng is one of those students. Tianyi studied in Florence in Fall 2023 and crowned her semester with a spell-binding art exhibition, “Giligulu,” that even attracted media attention from abroad.

Poster design by Graham Warren.

While in Florence, Tianyi wanted to complement her in-class studies with real-world experience, so Internship Coordinator Olimpia Bozza secured an online placement for her with Studio Bianchi architecture firm in Rome. When Tianyi traveled to the Italian capital to meet her hosts in person, they showed her one of their projects in Termini train station. Tianyi’s curiosity about the iron door handles used there transformed into a weeklong workshop during fall break training in a small town in Southern Italy with 80-year-old blacksmith Raffaele Di Prinzio.

That adventure formed the core of Tianyi’s mixed-media show at the Villa Rossa in December, which friends and fellow architecture students Adrienn Virag and Graham Warren helped make possible by serving as curator and graphic designer, respectively. The Limonaia housed 20 sketches exploring ideas that emerged from her classes that semester: Italian with Vittoria Tettamanti, architectural history with Jane Zaloga, archaeology with Stefania Berutti, marketing with Simone Anselmi, and political philosophy with Debora Spini.

The show’s opening on December 4 began with an introduction by Adrienn and Tianyi and concluded with an engrossing public discussion with her professors.

Behind the long stone table in the corner of the garden hung a delightful illustration of the story behind the show.

Intriguing iron land-art sculptures decorated various parts of the garden.

And, finally, an engaging video of Tianyi apprenticing with master blacksmith Raffaele was projected in the ‘teatrino’ of the Villino.

For guests to the show’s opening, Tianyi prepared a pamphlet with a map and an explanation of the title “Giligulu”, the English translation of a Chinese word meaning “the humming of communication, the undertone, words that lose their individual meaning”:

In the largest tree in the Villa Rossa Garden, there is occasionally a group of Common Starlings perching. Their calls sound like “giligulu.” If you try repeating “giligulu” several times, “giligulu, giligulu, giligulu…” you sound just like birdsong. I wonder why they have so many things to say? I grew up in China and attended Syracuse University in the US. Now, here in Florence, in yet another new environment and language, what others say sounds like “giligulu.” This unknown aspect of language has opened up a sensory understanding of the environment. I may not understand the specific “giligulu” of the birds, and perhaps it doesn’t matter what they are saying, but their presence makes me curious and has inspired a series of artworks in the exhibition.

Pamphlet for Tianyi Zheng’s mixed media show Giligulu, December 4, 2023

We are all looking forward to seeing what new magic Tianyi creates from the materials of her experience. See her website for more of her work.