« We have already articulated the poetic force. We see it as radiant – replacing the absorbing concept of unity ; it is the opacity of the diverse animating the imagined transparency of Relation. The imaginary does not bear with the coercive requirements of idea. It prefigures reality, without determining it a priori »
These words of Martinican writer and phisolopher Eduard Glissant well describe the creative universe of Sara Palmieri, her poetic imagery made of hypoteses, fragments, revelations. Nourished by literature and philosophy, inspired by figures such as Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Bachelard and Jung, her work gives the impression to enter in a parallel world, with its recurrent symbols and visual vocabulary. Her photographs create an interference in perception, allowing the emergence of latent images hidden and prefigured by the immediately visible. Never imposing one univocal reading, Sara stages a theatre of the possible that evokes, questions and invites to explore our complex experience of reality.
Sara Palmieri, La Forma del Silenzio, courtesy of the artist
I find emblematic the choice of the term Scenario as one of your works' title, also considering your training as an architect and your professional experiences as a set and interior designer. Scenario implies a built, set up, illusory environment, like the one you create in your photos. Can you tell us about your reflection on space through images and about our way of seeing, representing, living it?
My work starts from a premise: the impossibility of establishing an absolute truth in our experience of reality, because the real is not objective, but composed of visible and invisible parts, of matter and spirit, as we are. It is a subjective experience, delineated by what we lived, by memory, by the social and cultural context in which we find ourselves, and by the codes that unite us. It is through our relationship with space that we define our knowledge of reality. The construction of a space allows us to determine our being here and now; we leave our traces over time through the body we inhabit and its spatial relationships. What interests me about an image are the infinite possibilities of interpretation it can provide, the perceptive mechanisms, everything it can carry within it, like symbols, references, traces of infinite mappings, so that everyone can extract some codes and try to interpret them differently and freely. An image, to do this, must be like reality itself, a sum of stratifications of space, time, of what is easily perceptible and what is not.
Like a space-time window, which, thanks to an ambiguity, a mystery, disturbs and makes us feel lost, without connection with the usual references; it forces us to ask ourselves different questions. Photography intended as a simple document of what we see fixes a memory, but for me it is not enough to tell, to open doors and windows. The artist becomes a collector of these fragments of experience, bricks for the construction of a more complex world where to install oneself; creates a possible new scenario and invites the viewer to enter it, to make it his own, to continue the narration in a sensorial and intuitive way.
This is why Scenario carries these references to fiction and staging: it represents the intention to create an architecture of the invisible, a theater of the possible, of the infinite facets of reality, without imposing a univocal and easily recognizable truth. The work contains references to Breton, surrealism, metaphysical representation, Freud's theories on the unconscious and the interpretation of dreams. I stage fragments of perceived reality, of personal experience, and reconstruct new hypothetical realities. The photos become objects, spaces, walls, floors, a three-dimensional place where we can enter. They propose a new hypothesis of space. I build images that are in themselves performative actions, the results of an experience and sediments of a construction. There is never digital manipulation; the process used is always analog and must be so. This is fundamental for me: it is precisely in the very gesture of manufacturing, in the physical act of putting these fragments together, as a metaphorical manipulation of the various visible and invisible elements of reality, reassembled and reconstructed, that a sensitive experience takes place and is then transferred into the image.
Sara Palmieri, Scenario, courtesy of the artist
Sara Palmieri, M., courtesy of the artist
I still remember our conversation about M., when we first met years ago. It is a project that has always fascinated me: the bond between two women of different generations, the reflection on memory, identity, femininity. The protagonists of your first work are two women and the female universe has remained a central theme of your artistic creation: the feminine as performance, relationship, body. We would love to know something more about it.
M. is the work that started my research with photography and it began with an image, a photo of my grandmother as a girl, which contained fascination and unresolved questions, untold stories and the possibility of other narratives. It is a picture that has accompanied me throughout my life and stimulated my projections as a child and teenager, for this feminine imaginary, aesthetic above all, but also because it contained unknown stories that allowed me to fantasize, imagine myself elsewhere. I could recognize myself, this image was telling something about me, yet to be explored. I only learned the true story when my grandmother died and I found a trunk with the lock of hair she had cut at the age of fourteen, immediately after that photograph was taken, and a letter from China telling about a contest she won, for the most beautiful hair in the world. That story opened up a possibility latent in the image, revealed by the hair and letter. A journey never really made by a woman who remained in the same village all her life; a journey that became possible thanks to imagination and transported her to condition different to the one known by herself and other women of the time. Cutting hair used to represent a rite of passage between childhood and adulthood, a rite that symbolized certain conventions: the woman became an adult and married, stayed at home, took care of the family.
This project allowed me to know something about myself, to recognize an identity within a history, a family, a place, and an era. The hair represents the connection, the locks intertwining in the female line of my family; those braids are a symbol of bonds, my hair intertwined with my grandmother's. But at the same time they also symbolize an emancipation from certain constraints: of memory, of a story written by others, of the female role dictated by this memory. They have became the starting point for writing my own story, a metaphor of liberation that I brought with me to other works as well, often placed in metaphysical and surreal contexts. The reference to a symbology of hair linked to femininity (which can be found in Flaubert or Baudelaire) is combined with the desire to subvert the meaning and iconography of that same image, revisited according to constantly rewritable codes.
Sara Palmieri, La Forma del Silenzio, courtesy of the artist
La Forma del Silenzio takes inspiration from the theory of relativity elaborated by Albert Einstein, one of the most famous scientists of the 20th century. Above all, however, it makes me think of the erudite and experimental practices of the alchemists, in particular the presence of gold, which you had already used in the installation of Scenario at FotoHaus in Arles. The manipulation of matter, the reality that comes to life, the unusual combination of elements to create something new and unexpected.
I really like when you say that this work makes you think about the experimental practices of alchemists, the manipulation of matter and reality. The Form of Silence starts from an inquiry about the perception of space and time; according to Einstein's theory of relativity, time and space are not absolute and distinct from other substances in the world but, as tissues that make up the complex reality of the physical universe, are interdependent and related to what exists. This revelation opened up for me the possibility of seeing time as something that concerns us directly more than the cosmos, as Carlo Rovelli also says in The Order of Time.
I make a continuous parallel between the micro and the macro, between the human and the celestial body, trying to suggest at the same time a physical place and a mental state. Science and poetry represent the dualism defining us, that is matter and spirit; an essential combination linked both to the physical experience of manipulating reality and to an approach relying on intuition, to solve some questions that, otherwise, would have no explanation. The possibility of understanding reality implies both a physical relationship with it and the acceptance of a mystery; it entails a questioning of conventional interpretations, a transcending of canonical meanings, a shaking of certainties. There you have the experimentation, the alchemy. That is, the attempt to manipulate matter, to reassemble it in a different way and to do it physically, as a metaphor for the effort to define a personal reading of reality. To meet this need for physical experimentation, beyond the philosophical approach, I chose Lanzarote: a place "other", similar to a planet, which carries within itself many references to the primordial and cosmic forces, where the elements, the earth and volcanoes, are very alive and present. There, I put in place experimental and performative processes of interaction with space and matter, and photography has become the instrument of documentation of these experiments.
As an invitation to the viewer to enter in a different space, a three-dimensional reality created by the images, I also designed a site specific installation for La Forma del Silenzio, at the Matèria gallery. All the senses are activated through a complex physical, visual and auditory experience. The ground is covered by a black volcanic sand that recalls the territory of Lanzarote, but also wants to be a metaphor of time, deformed by our crossing. The rock represents the primordial matter where everything is generated and where everything returns, carrier of the sediments of time. At the same time it is an immediate reference to the interconnection between body and matter, to the cycle of life: we ourselves become dust, we transform ourselves into elements, through a process of continuous change and regeneration. This intertwining between corporeal and cosmic is also evoked by a rythmic sound that reminds both a heathbeat and the Big Bang. Gold pervades the installation, from the ground up to the photos. It is a symbol of fragility, of the ephemeral; it represents the illusion of being able to possess and understand, in vain, the mystery of life and of the universe. The installation included a wall where an imaginary constellation was recreated with the photos. There is a reference to the idea of analogies, which is also the system used by Einstein to deduce the theory of relativity. Each image is connected to the others: body, matter, rock, gold ... everything is linked, in a process of interaction, mutual recognition and constant metamorphosis.
Sara Palmieri, La Forma del Silenzio, exhibition at Matèria Gallery
Sara Palmieri, La Plume plongea la tête, courtesy of the artist
Experimenting with forms of presentation and reception of images is a fundamental aspect of your artistic practice, from the book / exhibition La Plume plongea la tête, to the “constellations” of La Forma del Silenzio, up to projects such as the recent Cosi' è se vi pare. Could you give us more details about this research, particularly in relationship to publishing?
I return to the idea of constellation as a system of analogies, as the generation of connections between images in space. This system, which I used in La Forma del Silenzio, is recurrent in my work. La plume plongea la tête is an artist's book that presents a parallel with Mallarmé's poetics not only in the symbolism, but also in the writing process of the French poet, which involves the use of words as if they were elements moved in a horizontal and vertical space.
I tried to reproduce this style of representation, this possibility of reading images and symbols in different directions by making our own interpretation. It is the same approach I also apply in an installation or in the creation of a complex image, like in Scenario. The book can be opened in different ways, read in various directions and discovered freely. It is a three-dimensional object that stimulates interaction; not just a book, but an experience. This for me is a constellation: a system of meanings that allows you to build your own map.
I also adopt this method in my experience as a teacher, for an image education that goes from concept to form. I often create a path that starts from an idea in order to create a final object, translating an image into space. Cosi' è se vi pare, for example, is an online course started during lockdown, whose title is inspired by Pirandello's play. I asked the participants to propose an element of departure, in this case a theme that for them had been dominant or lacking during confinement. I then made a journey through a system of analogies and connections between the images themselves, based on intuition, inviting everybody to unravel the codes and lose the references. The result is a boxed game, in which each group of cards is the work of one of the participants: an object that can be used and allows you to redesign your constellations, through cross-references and parallels between the photographs of the various authors. It is an invitation to participate, to interact with the space created during this collective experience, to continue the dialogue.
Sara Palmieri, Scenario, courtesy of the artist
SARA PALMIERI - BIO
Sara Palmieri is a visual artist using photography to question the non-visible aspects of reality, that she tries to represent through a process of time and parts, memories and intuitions, the unconscious and revelations, fragments and recompositions. In her work images are a starting point, portion of a perceived reality then reassembled in new hypothesis through a metaphysical representation, which strives to break the boundaries of what is perceived as real letting the unseen emerge. Her creative process is a sort of meditation, where time and space are both work tools and the investigated objects. It’s about accepting the caos, the unseen, the unpredictable, time as a flow and a circle, space as a projection of self, being alive as a ‘here and now’. Her work has been exhibited worldwide in festivals and galleries, among them Matèria Gallery, Fotohaus ParisBerlin Gallery Arles, Istanbul Biennal, Fotografia Festival Internazionale di Roma, Athens Photo Festival, Focus Photography Festival, Wuho Gallery, L.A.. She has selfpublished two artist books, M. and La plume plongea la tête (among the recognitions, she received the Premio Marco Bastianelli for best italian selfpublished book), and some of her works has been published in print & online publications.