SARA PALMIERI & FIORENZA PINNA
Sara Palmieri, Untitled#2 from La linea d'acqua, courtesy of the artist
Sara, you first told me about La Linea d'Acqua last year, when we were preparing a more general interview on your artistic journey. We had just discussed M., your first project, linked to the themes of memory, family, transmission and female bonds. It is a very intimate work, which takes its cue from a photo and a past experience of your grandmother, to expand, intertwine and echo with your images and your present. Although the autobiographical aspect is less explicit, La Linea d'Acqua was also born in a context of family and personal experience: Polesine is the place that unites three generations of women - artist, mother and grandmother, the land of childhood games and discoveries. If it was the hair that tied you in M., here it is the water that flows, changes, returns in its organic fluidity. It is the land, the atmosphere of these landscapes of the Po. It is the stories, the memories, the words, the sounds, the images; fragments that remain, disappear, are created. For me, these two works are closely connected, as in a return of experiments, ideas and obsessions of your first photographic researches that continue and open up to new possibilities.
S: The re-reading of personal memory, of a time we did not experience but that generated us, is the basis for writing a new history today, whether it is about female identity, gender, cultural heritage, the transformations of the space we inhabit and how this reflects us and our time. Collective history is made up of individual stories. I am concerned with passing on personal and collective memory through a reinterpretation that opens it up and frees it from past dynamics, impositions and connotations, pushing it towards a broader future.
This question is about an artistic journey, where you are now and what you remember as a beginning. The main connection between these two points is always photography, first as an object and then as a process and a tool.
With M. I discovered the revelatory power of the image; an old photo contained a fascinating story, never told before, and left a gap that allowed to slip through and observe oneself in relation to the origins, to take a distance and highlight the parts that needed to be reconsidered: the role of women in that historical moment, the limitation of freedom resolved only in an imaginative space. In M., as in La linea d'acqua, I interact with a body, matter or space to get answers, and photography bears witness to this experience, this process. Then, it was my grandmother's hair, protagonist and witness of an incredible story, fetish and object to observe, isolate from the context or wear; today, it’s a landscape to be questioned, the water of the river called to participate as a witness, the collected oral memories of the flood. Voice, language, the theme of transmitting and handing down become elements of interaction to stimulate potential re-readings, evolving into new forms and meanings. Here the photographic device isn’t just a witness but physically participates in the process, turning into a perceptive surface, dictating times of waiting and development, preventing control over the result. The image is the space where these various factors come together, including the emotional process that accompanies this path of research and discovery.
Sara Palmieri, Eravamo terra from La linea d'acqua, courtesy of the artist
The symbolic and visual investigation of matter emerges as one of the fundamental issues of your creative practice. If in your previous work, La Forma del Silenzio, you focused on rocks and minerals in their cosmic relationship to the celestial sphere, here the essential element is water. Water that delimits and shapes territories, that contributes to the establishment of group identities and the evocation of imageries, water as repository of meaning and performative gesture. Can you tell us more about its use in your project??
S: In La Forma del Silenzio I question our perception of time, inspired by Einstein's theory of relativity, which highlights how time and space are closely interconnected, as well as all existing things: to deeply understand our existence we must observe the space we inhabit, understood as body, matter and place. It was therefore a work of observation of matter through the body, in order to recognize ourselves in it, and to draw a map/constellation of connections both on a symbiotic and a symbolic level. Somehow, it is always necessary to appeal to a memory, in that case ancestral and cosmic, to recognize emotional spaces in physical spaces, and to then translate them. In La linea d'acqua, I needed to open up in time and space a personal question about trauma and loss, relating it to a larger story, that of the Polesine flood, through the observation of the 'body' containing it, that is the landscape with its constitutive element. The water of the river Po took part in this process of revelation, as a living body with its own memory, as a container of traces and recollections both symbolical and physical. A component that interacting with the film, with the archive photos and with the plaster used to shape casts, has made the results unpredictable. Unpredictability is relying on someone else; here, the river, the territory, the material are Other. The photographic process is other than you, an other to whom you entrust a capacity for memory and action.
Water, an element that is both devastating and life-giving, becomes a symbol of the submerged part in us: the flow and the circularity are a metaphor for memory, understood as the eternal return of a past that is not a remembrance disjointed from us in time and space, but an element also present and future. Furthermore, Mother water in Jung's symbolism, that gives birth and nourishes, lunar femininity and, in the etymological meaning of the word, one thing that flows into another: the abstract concept and the thing generating it are a reality in Jung, "the abstract shows its roots in the tangible".
As in La Forma del Silenzio, I was interested in questioning matter, entrusting it with the role of witness to our passage in the world and guardian of the mystery of our existence.
Your projects (I am thinking in particular of Scenario) are often defined by high precision and neat lines, "scenarios" symbolically and iconographically elaborate, carefully conceived and developed. In this project, figuration is shifting towards more indefinite contours, approaching an abstraction based on subtractions, silences, fadings, enigmas. The choice of films and treatments leaves space for randomness, for the contingency you mentioned. The symbol becomes experience, gesture. Can you tell us about the relationship between these creative and formal choices and your reflections on memory, trauma and historical transmission?
S: In Scenario I was interested in 'staging' a fiction, in recreating an unreal physical space through fragments of images of the real (personal memory, literary references, symbols and metaphors). I wanted to question the ambiguity sustained by photography, between what is real and what is not, which image of an external space can enable us to recognize an internal space. The process remains fundamental here: the act of reassembling pieces of reality was physical, the images became three-dimensional objects that, removed from their context and reassembled in new combinations and hypotheses, took on a universal meaning, generating new questions and opening up the imagination to different scenarios. In La linea d'acqua I totally relied on the process and the material, on the water of the river and the photographic film, incorporating the traces collected, heard and observed: the film gets wet and remains waiting for us, the old images are treated with water, modified, left exposed to the action of time and light. Deciding to keep the 'errors' and turn them into archetypes of landscape, fragmenting an image into several moments with the issue of message and language transmission in mind, denying an overall vision to recall the impossibility of seeing and passing on what is no longer there. Operating a fracture in terms of gestures and decisions to embody the idea of trauma; freeing form, and therefore history, as much as possible from recognizable and reassuring visual references.
Sara Palmieri, Argine#3 from La linea d'acqua, courtesy of the artist
I would say that every photograph, in a way, is a fracture. There is always a framing, the choice of something and the exclusion of something else, the interruption of a continuum. It is implicitly a part of the medium and of the photographic gesture. Jean-Christophe Bailly, a philosopher whose thought particularly resonates with this project and whom I will often mention in this interview, writes of the "violence of fixed time". It is a caesura, a cut, which interrupts the flow of experience with the obstinacy and intensity of its immobile presence. We are talking here about fundamental issues relating to photographic images here - it seems to me that in this project you are still using photography, but rediscovering certain aspects of it, encountering it in a completely different way.
S: There is a specific intention to do this. There was a moment when I strongly wondered whether photography was the best way to say things, and actually this very question brought me back to it. I relied upon the essence of the photographic process and the elements involved: an exercise aimed at forgetting everything I knew in terms of mastering of results and planning a priori. I have learnt to make mistakes and to consider Error as an essential part of the process, so much so that I have chosen it as fundamental Matrix. I continue to be very interested in the assumption that photography reflects something real, and this allows us to address the ambiguity of this statement: through the photographic process, the medium allows us to introduce questions between these cracks, between the image of reality that we are shown and believe we recognize, and the limits of its representative powers. This space of possibility is the window we should attempt to open and beach through as we practice photography. It is therefore important that creative action, that form and matter, become a testimony to this intrinsic aspect of the photographic process. The work with Fiorenza was very important in this sense: we asked ourselves how to recount the process of making an image, when that returns to the world as an object, inside a space. We found solutions through the print format, the different proportions and combinations, the position of the image in relation to the viewer and inside the gallery space. The exhibition was a territory of experimentation, thinking about where can lead you a question that is addressing you in a two-dimensional form, when facing an art-work.
F : I am very interested in this reflection, what space of photography are we in? I believe that it may also make sense to leave some issues open in this interview, to widen up, to multiply the questions.
I was also thinking about some images from the project that resonate with this, with Sara's choice to linger on that stretch of film where the roll begins, or ends, or is interrupted.
It is not just a matter of accepting the error, but of going inside it; perhaps this is also a way of taking a stand on photography.
Sara Palmieri, Matrice#4, Matrice#2, Matrice#6, Matrice#3, Matrice#5, from La linea d'acqua, courtesy of the artist
We were home. We were soil. We were wheat. Your photos and these captions in particular made me think of the words by Jean-Christophe Bailly. He uses a term borrowed from agriculture, from the earth, to describe the temporal tenor of territories and images, the redemptive potential of a latent past that returns like a spark, spreads into the future, echoes from a sensory surface. Images have a capacity to survive, Georges Didi-Huberman would say (inspired by Benjamin, Derrida and Warburg), they are spectres that erupt like a symptom, eluding, insisting, rejecting and confronting in their immobility.
S: Those captions use the 'imperfect' form: I was interested in the idea of a verb that does not completely fulfill a task, in this case that of holding a memory, or the existence of things. The same incompleteness of the images bearing those titles: suspended in a dimension of grey, they ask you to wait, not completely dissolved nor yet, or ever, unveiled. They thus compel us to look beyond, to envision a new horizon line, now obscured by time.
The question of the role of photography in relation to history is also important to me. In the narration of an event, the image-document seems to be a more accurate reference and therefore a necessary reassurance, a form of respect. But the translation of a memory is never faithful, because it is subjective; images need to be liberated from the duty of affirming something definitive, to allow them to open up pathways, to transport them towards the future, to make them survive: it is also an action that travels through territories of political and ethical possibility, choosing the language of poetry, relying on the intrinsic and emotional power of images as a space of freedom. I am interested in observing the possibilities of photography over time and how its use can be modified to say things, to challenge through images.
F: I was thinking of a phrase by Dayanita Singh about the photobook, which could be applied to art in general: "a book is a conversation with a stranger in the future." This project is connected with family and territory, but we should not consider them as dominant aspects. It embraces a very strong personal dimension, with an urgency that becomes universal and collective.
I see it as a work towards the future more than towards the past, in which the past works as a rebound and allows to stretch well beyond. It also asks photography itself questions about the future and the past. It explores the medium on the most primary and material level, that of silver salts, film, water, but returns to that space to see how, starting from it, can go much further. None of these choices is nostalgic or conservative. The opportunity to have an exhibition in Verona (in the Polesine region) has allowed us to close a circle, but we expect the work to spark consonances and dissonances also in different historical and cultural contexts. We are deeply interested in what can be recognised about this new, more abstract artistic language and what it can become, leaving open this space of revelation, which then has so much to do with the material of photography. What is photography at the moment when for the first time we see an image appear on a white sheet of paper? It is an alchemical dimension.
"Memory is a continent in motion, constantly invaded, threatened, but which cannot be made to respond at will: memory is an autonomous, rebellious power, and oblivion is not its opposite. If we lose sight of this, we also lose what comes with the word dormancy (dormance in the original French), which comes from the things of the earth, where it designates in agronomy the property of seeds to preserve for years, under an inert appearance, their power of germination. It is the same with what I call surfaces: they are all inundated with dormancies that can be awakened at any time, no matter how far away they are from sowing."
Sara, as well as being a visual artist, you are also a curator and have designed your previous books. For the first time, for the exhibition and the book of La Linea d'Acqua, you are collaborating with another person, you are relying on her vision and competence. Can you tell us about your collaboration with Fiorenza and how she contributed to the development of the project? Fiorenza, on the other hand, you are a curator and book-editor: you are accustomed to engaging with the work of others, to seeking a balance between the artists' ideas and your own feelings and experiences. I am very interested to know more about your point of view, about your role.
S : I conceive of books and exhibitions as an integral part of the work: my way of using photography includes the construction through images of three-dimensional spaces through images, as a place where they return to establish a dialogue; however it is a process that remains very solitary, only a single gaze passes through it. For this work, I put something different in place from the start without really knowing where it would take me: I asked Fiorenza to work together on the book more than a year ago, when I was not yet ready to open the work to others, and then she had to wait for me. I needed this part of the process, to be able to practice a 'letting in', entrusting myself, abandoning control: there was the necessity to challenge certainties and methods employed until then, as well as the responsibility towards the theme and the people to whom the work was inherently addressed. This required to cultivate listening and the possibilities of language, in an action of translation and transmission of memory and trauma related to a collective history. The collaboration with Fiore, based on a premise of confidence in the role entrusted to the other and always keeping the work at the core of everything, forced me to ask myself from the beginning what was the most appropriate form to bring it back into the world and this led me and my project to grow a lot.
Sara Palmieri, Argine#1, from La linea d'acqua, courtesy of the artist
F : In Sara's case, we found ourselves talking about books, about photography, of course, and we realised long ago that we share a very similar dimension of research and thought. We don't have to decode the other too much and it is very easy to adhere to each other's thoughts.
Yes, I am in the habit of dealing a lot with the work of others; my professional approach both in curating exhibitions and designing books is to get as close as possible to the author's intentions, through my individual research, cooperation and close dialogue with the artists.
In the best of cases, as with La Linea d'Acqua, I have the opportunity to explore both the space of the book and that of the exhibition, declining the project in these different contexts, translating the work into matter and experience through the use of the devices specific to these different spaces.
At the moment the exhibition is an active space, full of vital enthusiasm and feedback, and we are delighted with it. Later on, we will be able to dedicate ourselves to the book, there is a desire in us to see what it can become.
Sara, like most of the authors I work with, allowed me to get very much inside her creative process; she made the enormous effort to let her artistic process reveal itself, and she reached a point where this unfolding had such a presence that it could be gently shared. We worked hard together with the intention of reinforcing the sense of the individual works and of the project as a whole, through the functions of meaning in the exhibition space: working a lot on the rendering of the material, the spaces, the formats, the distances, the arrangement of the works in the space and their dialogue with each other - always leaving the work completely at the centre.
Sara Palmieri, Eravamo casa,triptych from La linea d'acqua, courtesy of the artist
In your artistic and curatorial practice you share a passion: books. Your collaboration started as a book project for La Linea d'Acqua, but it was preceded by the exhibition at Fonderia 20.9. How does your common interest in publishing, in a way of experimenting with images, materials and space specific to books, influence your curating and your way of conceiving forms of encounter between viewers and works?
F: As I said, exhibitions and books are parallel spaces, which both for me and for Sara work in close contact. Clearly, the dimensions of meaning that need to be explored are a bit different. When we do an exhibition, we work with an existing space that we first have to understand and put into relation with the project. In the case of the book, we have limitations due to the structural characteristics of the device (i.e. the cover, the pages, the reading direction, etc.), but also great margins to create a narrative space ad hoc for the work. The book needs to be "activated" in the interaction: if the user does not open the book, it is not activated. You never know how fast the viewer will move, how will behave. This also happens in the gallery space, but in a way it is easier to keep a person inside an exhibition than inside a book.
Every intervention on space is an aspect that influences the sense of the project; there are so many choices, from all points of view. Our image of the gallery is organic: we are hosted by this space composed in a certain way, where we build an experience. It is a space of movement and creation of meaning through the works, which become simultaneously language and object, especially in some cases. The same thing happens in books, through materials and opacity, but also the paper, the quality of printing, the size, the editing of the images, the rhythm or silence that I can create through pauses, through the use of texts. This is the next adventure we will work on. It will have strong points of contact with the current exhibition and work, but it will also break away from it; it will be a slightly drier, perhaps more aerial experience, whereas the exhibition is very much about water.
Images of the exhibition La linea d'acqua by Sara Palmieri, curated by Fiorenza Pinna, in the gallery Fonderia 20.9
Often, for those who are not " insiders", book design is mainly thought of in terms of editing and image choice. Making a book means much more, with special attention also paid to material and tactile details such as the type of paper, ink, bindings... The importance of these details can be seen in the installation at Fonderia 20.9, where the viewer is immersed in a universe created for and with this project - for example, the different types of frames, the background colours of the walls, various types of printing of the images, the additional wall (which makes me think of a page we are just turning): all these details become evocative and sensory signs. Can you tell me something about these choices and the process of conceiving the exhibition?
F: For the exhibition at Fonderia 20.9, we significantly focused not only on the framed images, but also on all the other elements that were part of the complete work, which is actually the exhibition space in its entirety. We wanted to give the pieces an aspect of presence, subordinate to the idea of understanding the space we were going to inhabit, also focusing on the formats in connection with the experience of bodies in space. In the first room, the discourse being developed is difficult to imagine as an assemblage of single images; it functions a whole that touches precisely on what you said was this new space of openness, abstraction and gestural expressiveness. Where Sara abandons herself to photography and questions, all together, at the same time. For example, the large photo with the black circle, Matrice#0, and the small Matrice#1/2 have a relationship of meaning and essential scope, creating a strong dialogue between them. Another very important choice was to lower the central point of the exhibition, and hence create a horizon. The concept of horizon fascinates me a lot, in all its forms.
The dimensions of the works and the space are deeply related to the body; the experience of the exhibition is lived as a physical exploration. In the first room, which we were talking about, the smaller images of the Matrice series are positioned in relation to the head, the face, while the large one, Matrice#0, which you encounter as soon as you enter, reaches the central part of the viewer's body, in some way questioning the centrality of the gaze. The image of the hand, in the room behind the wall, works differently, it is perhaps a point of contact and this often happens in Sara's work: there are images that go back and forth, even simultaneously, in the history of her creative practice. It is the only work that is out of scale, a very large hand, in an almost infantine sphere. I am small, I am a child, the small house in the big hand, placed on the wall next to big windows. What were we? What are we in relation to the house? To dwelling? To the family? To belonging? These are not just visual archetypes: it is an experience made with the body, but at the same time emerge all questions about inhabiting life. The relationship between body, life, moon, earth, horizon.
We then imagined the grey room as the room of waiting, where you take refuge and outside you see only water. The black room is the one below the grey one, with the video and sound installation, reached by descending the stairs. In this room "below" we find the only references to a tangible form of memory, to recorded stories and archive images, in connection with its emergence, destruction and reformation.
In the works on the walls, in the other rooms, another dimension is established: one of re-elaboration and creation of new codes and languages, free, as we said, from the obligation and transparency of photographic documentation. These aspects are all related, a dialogue in space and time. Obviously nothing is explicit, each visitor lives the experience in his or her own way. After the opening, we received a lot of feedback and several viewers clearly felt that the photos directly posed them questions, that there could be no explanation from anyone else, but only an individual interaction with the works.
Images of the exhibition La linea d'acqua by Sara Palmieri, curated by Fiorenza Pinna, in the gallery Fonderia 20.9
« Revisited and traversed endlessly, space is what remains between things, space is the sum of all spacings. Between the nearest and the farthest stretches the possible where actions take place. It is a vertigo and a call, it is the landscape, and the body responds to it. »
Another quote by Jean-Christophe Bailly, to talk about space, the "possible where actions take place". A "vertigo and a call", a "landscape" to which "the body responds". Sara, I know that perception and spatial construction represent for you the actual possibility of experience and interpretation. The positions, of the author, of the works in the exhibition, of the spectator, are essential for the creation of relationships. Palimpsest and imprint, space is also always time, trace, memory - whether natural or artificial, seen or imagined, crossed or represented, superficial or deep. Would you tell me about the relationship between image / landscape / body in the specific context of this project?
S: I'd like to follow up with what was said about physical positioning in relation to the images and the exhibition space, the height of the photos on the walls, the encounter of the body with the proportions of the images. People's responses are always subjective and the dialogue triggered through the exhibition is interesting.
For example, in the case of the large image at the entrance, Matrice#0, someone said: "this image pulls me in, drags me inside", like the effect of a black hole taking you to another dimension, spatial or temporal. Others have commented: 'it's something that comes at me', that somehow repels, overwhelms, collides with you, and from which you have to defend yourself. It is impressive, because we are talking about a fixed image, not a three-dimensional body; this something that sweeps away and holds back can be the devastation of the water bursting in, the idea of trauma, the loss of someone or of a place of belonging: everyone finds in that empty (or full) blackness the trace of a memory, and an emotional dimension to attach it to.
Images of the exhibition La linea d'acqua by Sara Palmieri, curated by Fiorenza Pinna, in the gallery Fonderia 20.9
This image succeeds in activating an effect of three-dimensionality because it already contains it: in the sense that it carries a question posed through a physical action, which partially denies the possibility of seeing and activates a relationship between the observer, the camera, and that query aimed at the landscape, at the traces and at the time it incorporates.
That question is: what am I looking at, in what time, in what space? This gesture obscures a portion of the gaze, generating a fracture in the perceptive sphere of the image, between the place and time of reference, that turns the visual horizon into an emotional one. In addition, there is the aggression of a space of colour, black, which invades and interrupts an image that was vibrating with another tonal dimension; there also is the position on the horizon - therefore apparently distant - of this presence, but whose blurred contours make us perceive its proximity. Here lies the possibility and ambiguity of photography, between depth of field and proximity, the need to transcribe the questions posed by the work into the very process of creating an image, whose generated perceptual space and aesthetic power are always the result of a decision, the effect of a relationship. The body is the first space through which we relate, through which we perceive the time we live in. The exhibition in this respect is also a body, a body we generate, a body "other" where encounters can take place, translations between the outside and the inside, between time and ourselves.
At the beginning of the video we hear the Morse code, also evoked in the text accompanying the project as a metaphor for a possible transmission of signs. When I observe the images and their installation, however, I also think of a musical partition, a rhythmic gesture, marked by syncopations and intervals, different at each interpretation, different for each viewer.
S : Water line is also a technical term to indicate the height of the water threshold in case of flood, a line that has to be monitored. I was thinking about how this definition can relate to the movement and modulations of the language in regard to a reference line, a bit like the notes on the line of the stave. This line in the images, as in the space of the exhibition, is always indefinable and elusive; everything revolves around it: what is above and what is below, what has emerged and is visible and what is submerged and no longer there, abstract and concrete, fluid and solid, past and present. That line represents the thread of memory, the incompleteness of language that fragments as it passes on and mutates into other forms, the interrupted horizon of the landscape, the river as a metaphor for the passing of time and the things that vanish in it.
With Fiorenza we have chosen to exhibit many pieces of film that are the beginning or the end of a roll of film (Matrice#2 - #6), when the image begins to form but the film is not yet completely photosensitive: there we find that line of horizon, the interrupted memory and landscape. The landscape of Polesine is metaphysical, an ideal environment where to carry out these experiments and practice linguistic discourses, as well as being a place where my story begins and returns. The horizon line is really the starting point for the movement of so many things, and somehow you have to have nothing left to find yourself there: the beginning of a picture, where you know nothing, to then be ready to start asking yourself new questions.
The relationship created between the above and below in the exhibition layout, which also symbolizes the above and below of that line, has been tuned with the repetition and modulation of these images of 'photographic errors'. They become matrices of landscapes that generate, change, evolve, seeking a position in the space of the gallery and in the interior space of those who pass through it. As in a musical score, there is the modulation and the search for a new language, in an attempt to translate what has lost its boundaries and defined lines, what is no longer there; the Morse, the sound that from the video downstairs echoes upstairs, is for me an attempt to communicate between the above and the below of that horizon line, between the past and the future.
Sara Palmieri, Untitled#1 from La linea d'acqua, courtesy of the artist
SARA PALMIERI - BIO
Sara Palmieri is a visual artist who lives and works in Rome. After graduating in architecture in 2005, she worked for years as a set and interior designer. She uses photography as her main tool to investigate the perception of time and space, and as a starting point to question the forms of reality, to show the fragility of its certainties. Her works have been exhibited internationally in festivals and galleries, and featured in various print and online magazines. She has published two artist's books, M. and La plume plongea la tête (2016 Marco Bastianelli Award as best self-produced Italian photographic book) and edited different publishing projects. La linea d'acqua is a finalist of the Prix Mentor, among the winners of the Urbanautica Insitute Awards and a finalist of the Francesco Fabbri Prize for Contemporary Arts.
FIORENZA PINNA - BIO
Fiorenza Pinna is an independent curator and book designer, focusing on contemporary photography and photo books. She collaborates with galleries, institutions, publishing houses, festivals and universities - both Italian and international - for consultations, lectures, workshops, conferences and portfolio readings. She is a member of juries for national and international photography awards. She teaches and holds workshops in various public and private institutions. She edits and designs photographic books and exhibitions, obtaining awards and distinctions.
LA LINEA D’ACQUA - Sara Palmieri, an exhibition curated by Fiorenza Pinna
Fonderia 20.9, Verona, 27.11.2021 - 08.01.2022