Che ci faccio qui? – Bianca Pedace

What am I doing here?

Spoletini started his artistic career as a photographer in the nineteen-eighties under the guidance of Luigi Ghirri and Franco Fontana; later he turned to painting, and his production alternating the two techniques has been very fruitful. The cycle of pictures on the theme Looking at normality, site specific creations for the VIIth edition of the FotoGrafia — Rome International Festival, opens a new phase in his work, and its title, What am I doing here? is an indication of this new course. The ironic contrast between the ancient cattle weighing machine in the yard of the old slaughterhouse (that has now become the City of New Economy), a site which is in itself the symbol of a brutal, violent culture based on the utilitarian breeding and confining of livestock, and the palpable nomadic freedom portrayed in the photographs, could not be more radical.

Travel is in fact the theme connecting the eight pictures of the exhibition: urban images, mostly taken outdoors, assembled from Europe and the rest of the world in the course of the nineteen-nineties, elaborated and edited for this exhibition. People on the move, meaning the mobility both of the photographer himself and of his subjects; Spoletini seems to imply that the everlastingly mobile horizon of the Earth, as well as the rapidly changing flow of metropolitan mobility, is our normality, but on the other hand it is only in the traveller’s “temporarily elected homeland”  that the eye, freed from its mental and perceptive habits, can “see normality”. Paradoxically, it is the nomadic context of the journey (by anthropologic definition exceptional, but becoming now more frequent) that draws attention to a daily existence that would otherwise go unnoticed.

In his brief apologue to this series of pictures, the artist’s periphrasis of Mallarmé, “the whole world is made to end up in a photograph”, authorizes a total and anti-hierarchic appropriation, sanctioning the consequent, occasionally fortuitous discovery of the image. After all the French poet, writing in the dawn of the modern age, and at the beginnings of photography, was just discovering the new human dimension of life in a metropolitan society (and we almost automatically associate daily existence with everything that characterizes the city), in which the word crowd took on a novel meaning, while the Impressionists were starting a similar process in painting (and in many other fields). The presence of many different people in the same space for a brief time, each intent on his own interests and unaware of the others’, generates a myriad of possible combinations, each in itself improbable, only one verifiable. This situation gives rise to a mystique of coincidences (that is beautifully expressed in the photograph in which a top hat with the inscription Holders across it hovers above the head of a passer-by) that follows the rhythm of the theory of six degrees of separation, expanding it to a worldwide scale because of the possibilities technology now affords for travelling round the world, and the mass distribution of intercontinental tourism that, infinitely broadening the range of possibilities, makes a chance encounter much more significant. The lively but disenchanted curiosity of the explorer, though failing in its attempt to dominate the daily humdrum of life, discovers that photography can succeed in cutting out a selected fragment of reality.

This joyous surrender to the flow of events follows Spoletini’s present tendency to abandon the sophisticated simplicity of the photographic sets that characterized his recent productions in favour of unplanned exposures, sometimes taken by chance, in which the low-angle shot and the unawareness of the subjects, recalling images from the classic Subway Portraits series by Walker Evans (1938-41), plunge us into the flow of the contemporary world. But apart from the way in which we choose to interpret the images, the contradictory indications they contain create a sense of suspense. This is the case of the picture in which two youths stand with their backs to the camera in front of a building under a darkening sky. The one on the right seems to be smiling in an enigmatic profil perdu, but the general atmosphere is that of a stolen secret: the photographer takes the picture crouching behind the subjects, halfway between a demiurge-director, a freelance “paparazzo”, and a character in a spy story (many recent Italian and foreign works are derived from these). Although the artist displays a thorough awareness of the historical development of the art of photography, particularly through subtle references to the incisive elegance of the aforementioned Evans, and in the discreet references to commercial art (the balanced geometric construction of the man reading beneath a giant Coca Cola), the general intention avoids any temptation of reportage, and plays rather on the threshold between a meditation on photography as a vehicle capable of gathering the multiple fluxes of energy at the point in which they meet and multiply, and a carefully mediated recurrence of the metaphysical-surrealistic trend, the disclosure of the unexpected, that Spoletini favours – for example his pictures with toys and their nature as “simulacra” noted by Gabriele Perretta[1], while I myself proposed an explicitly neo-surrealist interpretation in Stelle![2]. Taken from its normal context, from the sequence of events it is linked to, the fragment of life contained in a photograph becomes an impenetrable question mark.

As in Krauss’s classic example (that I follow not without misgivings) on Stieglitz’s Equivalents the photographic image of clouds became giddy in the author’s vision, here the frame freezes and immobilizes the daily panta rei, broaching on the one hand the issues of ethics and content – the need for an ethic and a mapping of the nomadic territory in Braidotti’s recent considerations – while on the other hand it foreshadows a Brysonian anti-individualistic and nihilistic outcome, the dissolution of the self in the world, born from the dilemma of “vision”. There is also the suggestion of a narrative background: what sequence of events brings a middle-aged man to the crossing in front of the Bank of Yorkshire? And more existentialist considerations: why do the complex composition and the wonderful analog colours have no effect in abating the sense of unease and the compelling desire to force the weak link when faced with the woman in red with flailing arms on a green lawn across which we see three long dark shadows? But when the Perturbation/Subversion factor does not overrule the Place/Presence factor that is modal to the cycle (following the interpretation of photography perfected a few years ago by Augusto Pieroni, fittingly another artist from the Roman area), the direct shot and the freedom of taking pictures outside a studio increase the chances of the intrusion of unforeseen and multiform factors, although they inevitably remind us of the aesthetics of a distant but unforgotten Italian image.

This new outdoors metaphorically abandons that fascinating practice of exchanging subjects and iconologies between painting and photography that had characterized the author’s work in recent years, while the dense atmospheric colours of the child among beach umbrellas or the sidelong gaze on the man smoking convey a combined sense of mobility, composition and imponderability that I think is not often found in Italian art, though we can trace similarities to international suggestions, a fitting analogy being the work of Beat Streuli, and those studies of human beings in context ranging (very approximately) from Andreas Gursky to Olivo Barbieri, collected in an interesting exhibition at the Tate Modern in 2006. One is reminded particularly of Streuli because of his tendency to photograph people moving round the cities of the world that is apparent in the Los Angeles series, or in the recent Bruxelles exhibited last year at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; but Spoletini differs in his non-tautological approach to urban microsociology, revealing the complexity of its stratifications from a totally oblique, low angled, elliptical viewpoint that is often due to the photographs being taken without preparing the exposure, a random use of the camera held nonchalantly as if attempting to absolve the act of photography from any sense of aggression or domination, a sense often implicit in the act of flourishing and adjusting the camera to obtain the direct centrality of the Swiss photographer. This operation is also substantially different from the pictorial suggestions of Italian photography, but it still reveals a fascination with American painting, especially the last generation of New York artists, plainly apparent in the photograph of a group of blond youths in the full light of the sun against a background steeped in shadow. At one side, cut off by the framing of the image, an advertising dummy involuntarily points to them, creating a slightly shadowy detail in the very close foreground in contrast with the luministic-pictorialist study of the background.

My overall impression is that, acknowledging the hovering menace of a nihilist dissolution of individual identity, Spoletini opposes, in a blinding natural light, the power of images, the possibility of photographing the hot spot in the continual flow, the instant in which liberated energies explode.

[1] Gabriele Perretta “Quando le illusioni diventano set di effigi globali”, introduction to the exhibition  Il tempo delle illusioni, 12-25 May 2007, Archivio Menna –Binga, Rome, during the VI Edition of FotoGrafia- Festival Internazionale di Roma , Rome 2007.

[2] Bianca Pedace Claudio Spoletini in Stelle!, catalogue of the itinerant exhibition edited by Edoardo Di Mauro and Bianca Pedace, 9-23 June 2007, Archivio Menna-Binga, Rome; 29 March-29 April 2008, Area Museale di Cà La Ghironda, Zola Predosa, Bologna; June-September 2008, Fusion Art Gallery,  Turin.

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