Italia O Italia: where time stood still
The talented Italian photographer Federico Clavarino is coming to Recyclart this week. During a new episode of the Extra Fort photo projection series, he is presenting Italia O Italia, a photo book brimming with symbolism that reflects a deeply pessimistic perspective on his homeland.
Photo book | Italia O Italia •••
Federico Clavarino Akina, 136 p., €42
Italy O Italy. Where tourists can gaze in a culturally justifiable way at the relics of bygone days in Pisa, Florence, Venice, or Rome. Where the food makes your mouth water and the wine flows in abundance. Where old cypresses hem in Tuscan lanes. Tourists utter cries of rapture when they behold so much Italian beauty. But those expressions have wry echoes in Federico Clavarino’s work. Italia O Italia is a prolonged lament for a country that is burdened by its rich history. The image that Clavarino sketches of Italy makes you anything but happy. He manages to take down the tourist ideal with pictures that are full of ancient archetypes. He photographs columns, arches, marble, picturesque alleys, and trompe l’oeils. But the chalk flakes off the walls. Triumphal arches lead nowhere. Graffiti defaces the beautiful marble, and the columns are just shadows of themselves on brick walls. He portrays Italy as a country in decline.
Humans scarcely appear in the book. Clavarino mostly photographs their backs, as passers-by who are rushing to leave the scene. Whenever he does catch someone looking into the lens, they have profound sadness in their eyes. He also takes expressive hands, such as a pointing finger that reminds us of Michelangelo’s creation in the Sistine Chapel where God gave Adam life. Clavarino turns this symbolic gesture into a deadening act. There is a priest – preceded by his bulging belly – waving a pontificating finger in the air. And hands held in greeting that might refer to Mussolini’s fascism.
Clavarino is a clever story-teller. The photos serve his message, and that has little to do with making beautiful pictures. The speed of the narrative is astonishing. The photos are thematically and formally linked. The visual language is graphic, and the framing is oppressive. The Italian sun casts long, black shadows. Details and depth are consciously lost during the printing process. The photographer developed the photos himself in soft retro shades that are reminiscent of old, yellowing photographs. Is there still hope for Italy, where time has stood still? The broken watch in the open hand on the cover makes us suspect not, but at the end of the book, Clavarino allows us a glimpse of a wide landscape. An open view to the future.
Extra Fort: Isabelle Detournay & Federico Clavarino: 17/11, 19.30, €3, recyclart/studio marcel