Generazione Critica – A symposium about contemporary photography criticism at METRONOM gallery

Article originally written for Droste Effect magazine

The Generazione Critica symposium about contemporary photography criticism in Italy took place at METRONOM Gallery in Modena on October 25-26, 2013, with the support of Regione Emilia-Romagna.

On October 25, a workshop with curator Luca Panaro analyzed a number of concepts that should be considered in the process of constructing a critic essay. The participants to the lab were: Daniele Casciari, Jacopo De Gennaro, Guido Meschiari, Tommaso Mori, and Giovanni Sellari.
October 26′s talks were opened by Tommaso Mori, a representative for the workshop participants, who reported what discussed the day before. The lecturers were Daniele De Luigi, Carlo Sala, Pier Francesco Frillici, Sergio Giusti, Elisa Medde, and Luca Panaro.

The initiative’s aim was to deepen the analysis of contemporary art themes by taking into consideration last decade’s artistic experiences in Italy, in particular those of art photography. The participating lecturers addressed these themes, and used projections to show relevant contemporary artworks. The focus of the symposium on contemporary photography was reinforced by the fact that all the mentioned artists, as well as the lecturers, were born after 1970.

A book will be published in the next months, and will contain essays by all lecturers, re-elaborations of what they discussed at Generazione Critica.

Generazione Critica, METRONOM Gallery, Modena

Pier Francesco Frillici, Carlo Sala, Daniele De Luigi, Luca Panaro, Marcella Manni, Sergio Giusti

Daniele De Luigi – curator, art critic – focused his lecture on the relationship between photography and the real. This relationship was widely asserted and called into question. Meanwhile, our very experience of reality has changed, due to new digital technologies, that have shaped our perception and directed it towards the immaterial. Reality itself has changed, opening its status to that same immateriality, for in this era the invisible, socially-constructed world of relations has largely overcome the pre-social. Critic David Bate has stated the need for “a new type of neorealism” concerned with the effects images have on their audiences. Photography cannot be immune to contamination, not only with other forms of the visual, but also with information and everything that can produce knowledge. The image should work to converge on itself a much larger part of the real than its visual span would allow: as novelist Walter Siti states in a recent essay, “The representation of reality is effective only if it appears to be hiding another state of reality.” Three are the artists De Luigi talked about. Simone Bergantini in “Addiction” tries to register a whole world of economic and social transactions through the photographic representation of the physical trace that fingers leave on the screen of mobile devices. Giorgio Barrera, for “M.E.M. - Memorial Enrico Mattei,” collected archival images and texts, regularly visited the place and recorded its daily life, produced texts, and shot photographs, in the attempt to give life to the memory of the ENI president’s political murder in 1962. Alberto De Michele‘s video installation “The mask of evil” constructs the persona of a mysterious masked man, “an anonymous Columbian mercenary whom de Michele met on Aruba. In his video messages to de Michele, which feel like a confession, the protagonist does give us an insight into his fears and memories. He evokes mixed feelings in the viewer … by visiting museums and making drawings, he creates a confusing link between the artist and the criminal.”

Carlo Sala – critic, curator of Fondazione Fabbri’s photography festival – underlined a tendency in contemporary photography to take distance from the documentation of reality. A practice that has its references in visual arts in general, and not only within the photographic field, and where technique is not as important as it is in the historical conception of the medium. In this scenery, residuals of the Italian tradition in photography – photojournalism, fashion, and architecture photography – are absent. An exit from the genre, and from a functionalism of the medium, that reminds us of the fracture that happened over a century ago with the advent of the avant-gardes. The performative element of shooting acquires great importance, but with a strong component of control over what is happening inside the image. Among the artists mentioned by Sala, Andrea Galvani traveled to the Svalbard archipelago, on the Arctic Circle, in collaboration with a crew of researchers and scientist, where he collected energy with solar panels, and then projected the rays back through the Earth’s atmosphere to the outer space, where they will travel forever, carrying Galvani’s adventurous experience with them. The scenic photographs in “Higgs Ocean” are the trace of that experience. In “Attempts,” Silvia Mariotti stages fake actions that seem to evoke the documentation of a real event, but any trace of social reality is absent, and the scene is filled with mystery and suspension. Luca Pozzi is an artist usually engaged with concepts typical of a scientific approach, particularly that of quantum physics. In “Supersymmetric Partner” he produces a photograph of a painting by Veronese at Gallerie dell’Accademia – already shot by Thomas Struth in 1992 for his famous museum series – where the photo is the result of the pairing of the historic painting with the action, performed by the artist, of jumping in front of it, the point determined by his researches about energy and gravity.

Pier Francesco Frillici, Generazione Critica 2013

Pier Francesco Frillici, Generazione Critica

Pier Francesco Frillici – art historian, critic, and professor at Libera Università delle Arti in Bologna and at LABA in Rimini – defined the original nature of images as free and versatile, a status they lately regained thanks to the artistic research of these last years, that also revolutionized their limits in terms of exhibition formats. Giuseppe Gabellone‘s photographs of monumental sculptures are created for the sake of the production of a final image. The object is realized by the medium, with the idea of creating something new and personal instead of using the existent. Ra Di Martino‘s videos embody a liberating kind of art, where images survive, recur, thus new solutions need to be investigated. Images need to be re-enacted and fixed, in order for us to be able to take possession of them. Linda Fregni Nagler also built a re-enactment, by composing black and white prints that revisit the typical subjects of Japanese photography in the Meiji period (1868-1912), giving new depth to a tradition that has already been revisited and bent to different times.

Franco Vaccari, Generazione Critica 2013

Generazione Critica symposium, METRONOM Gallery, Modena

Sergio Giusti – critic, professor at CFP Bauer in Milan – started by talking about Guy Debord’s vision of the individual taking part into an image-mediated relationship to society, where the spectator assumes an inactive role. Among the artists he talked about, Matteo Balduzzi and Stefano Laffi stand against dominant narratives, detached from reality and social change as well as from the very people who enact it. For “Foresta Bianca” the two artists collected stories and family photographs over the course of two years in the town of Rosignano. Giorgio Di Noto took polaroids of videos and photographs taken by the people who took part into the Arab Spring revolts in North Africa – thus mediating these images, but at the same time giving voice to their main actors. He then went to Tunisi with a specially built camera obscura, and he invited people in the street to place their cell phones on the projector and print their pictures onto a roll of photographic paper. Alberto Dedé‘s has paired Google Maps streetviews of the city of L’Aquila, shot prior to the devastating 2009 earthquake, with photographs he took in those same spots two years later. In Jacques Lacan’s vision, shock can pull us out of symbolic construction and make us feel the nonsense. This trauma has a scopic nature, since when I look at reality, I get stared back at by a void eye. L’Aquila had then access to the Lacanian real, the encounter with death. Very much so the artist duo Richard Simpson, who construct big-sized photomontages of crime scenes of hyper-mediatized murders, mapping and the same time composing a territory. In this view, the return to the real in its brutal form is a chance to tear the veil of illusion apart, at least for a brief moment.

Sergio Giusti, Generazione Critica 2013

Sergio Giusti, Generazione Critica

Elisa Medde – managing editor at FOAM Magazine – gave her lecture through a Skype call. When selecting portfolios for the annual FOAM Talent Issue, she noticed that portfolios by Italian photographers are perceived as more difficult to understand, for they are more conceptual or academic, or too localistic. She then focused her attention on self-published photo books, among which she mentioned: “Gomorrah Girls” by Valerio Spada; “Saluti da Pineta Mare” by Salvatore Santoro; “Found Photos in Detroit” by Arianna Arcara and Luca Santese; “Dalston Anatomy” by Francesco Vitturi, published by Self Publish, Be Happy; and Terra Project‘s soon-to-be-published book “4,” a new journey throughout Italy that puts together landscape photographs with texts written by Wu Ming 2.

Luca Panaro – curator, critic, and professor at Politecnico and at Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, both in Milan – delineated a common ground for contemporary Italian art photographers in their being part of a “global peripheral.” These artists’ works do not necessarily explore Italy’s landscape, but they are affiliated by a number of details that track them back to a certain cultural belonging. He mentioned a series of key books to comprehend Italy’s cultural identity: “Pensiero vivente: Origine e attualità della filosofia italiana” by Roberto Esposito, who points out how Italians don’t recognize themselves in a nation, but rather in the absence of it; “Romanzo mondo: La letteratura nel villaggio globale,” in which Vittorio Coletti states that in Italy the concept of nation is fragmented into many local identities, and in contrast people try to distort themselves in order to be more easily ‘sold’ abroad; Luca Cerizza in “L’uccello e la piuma: La questione della leggerezza nell’arte italiana” talks about Italian art in the 1990s, that abandoned every claim to be part of a univocal landscape, only to embrace a child-like discovery of the world without any rhetorics or prejudice; “Italia in opera. La nostra identità attraverso le arti visive” by Bartolomeo Pietromarchi states that Italy is already a laboratory rich of fragmented contributions, rather than a solid nation. This localism and anarchy could turn out to be Italy’s strength, and Panaro mentioned a few artists accordingly. Luigi Presicce enacts performative actions that have a photographic print as their final (by-)product. The settings and props in his performances are highly symbolic, taking inspiration from Italy’s local religious and popular traditions, expressing the need to value Italy’s peculiar traditions, in contrast with a widespread ‘esterofilia’ (i.e. love for foreign things). In “Bisiàc,” Valerio Rocco Orlando decided to realize a video and a series of photographs that, instead of being mere film stills, were shot separately and in some ways were independent from the video, like you would do in cinema. The artwork tells about a specific Italian community. This is relevant since in Italy habits and even the language (dialect) spoken change within a 20-km distance. Fabrizio Bellomo‘s “32 Dicembre” joins together video and photography by taking video portraits of people selling food on the streets of Bari – though all subjects thought Bellomo was taking their photographic portrait.

Luca Panaro, Generazione Critica 2013

Luca Panaro, Generazione Critica

Elisa Medde, , Generazione Critica 2013

Pier Francesco Frillici, Carlo Sala, Daniele De Luigi, Luca Panaro, Sergio Giusti, Elisa Medde on Skype

The talks were followed by a round table involving all participating lecturers, who addressed several themes in dialog with the public. They talked about the specifics of fruition in contemporary art, where fruition is a stratified act; many artworks need captions to explain themselves. Another topic was the role of criticism in building art history: the lecturers all agreed in their counterposition to a univocal criticism, that of textbooks and other manuals, which take the authority on themselves to narrate art history the ‘right’ way – whereas a plurality of personal contributions would be preferred. About landscape photography, some lecturers noticed a sort of shyness in the representation of the Italian landscape in its beauty, fearing the cliché of Italy as ‘Belpaese’ (i.e. the beautiful country). Luca Panaro, instead, pointed out the exaggerated power of landscape representation in Italian art photography as well as conferences and publications. At last, the public argued that many successful photography artworks are too didactic, since they present their contents in a predefined and simplistic logic.

–Matilde Soligno

Photographs by Valentina Casalini. All photography artworks shown on the gallery walls in the pictures in this article are by Taisuke Koyama, Rainbow Variations and Other Works, curated by Selva Barni and Francesco Zanot at METRONOM, Modena through November 30, 2013

Generazione Critica, METRONOM Gallery, Modena

Public at Generazione Critica, METRONOM Gallery, Modena

Taisuke Koyama, METRONOM Gallery, Modena

Taisuke Koyama, METRONOM Gallery, Modena



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