1. Stefano Canto, Dolomiti 3, 2015. Credits: Roberto Apa. 
  2. Eugenio Tibaldi, Paesaggio del mito, 2016. 
  3. Stefano Canto, Installation view at Materia, 2016. Credits: Roberto Apa. 
  4. Giuseppe di Mattia, stracciafotografia, 2009. 
  5. Batia Sutter, Parallel Encyclopedia 2, Roma Publications, 2016. 
  6. Valentina Abenavoli, Anaesthesia, Akina, 2016. 

Photography and Art: Oltreprima – Arte Fiera – Fruit Exhibition 5

From 27 to 29 January 2017, Bologna organised Art City, a cultural initiative corresponding with Arte Fiera, Bologna Art Fair. Within the wide programme of exhibitions and events, Fondazione di Monte presented Oltreprima, La fotografia dipinta nell’arte contemporanea (The Photograph Painted in Contemporary Art), an exhibition focusing on the relation between lens-based art and painting and how artists have been mixing the two mediums in their conceptual research. On until 15 April, the show displays works by major artists such as Gerhard Richter, Helena Almeida and John Baldessari, and less well known names such as Alessandra Spranzi or Giuseppe De Mattia.

The simple premise of the exhibition is that photography is just a medium among others at artists’ disposal, and therefore the display indirectly questions the relevance of the photography ‘bubble’ that still exists in or on the margin of the art world. The pieces presented highlight how the encounter between the brush and the photographic surface creates a space that is ‘other’. By contrasting the apparent indexicality of camera-based images with the more abstract quality of a paint stroke, the meaning of the image is often twisted, questioning the viewer’s perception. Alessandra Spranzi shows images of interiors from a 1970s decoration book, that she has darkened using a mineral called mica.  The imperfect coverage of the images leaves the structure of the room and furniture visible as in a dark penumbra. The domestic environment of the 1960s acts as a metaphor for the limited place granted to women in society, and questions patriarchal power and women’s contemporary status. Giuseppe De Mattia’s work stracciafotografia is both a humorous and acute take on the medium: here the image, torn apart, becomes a stencil used to draw a line that resembles a rift, a fissure, a fracture, opening up another dimension.

This exhibition sets the premise of some problematics that are still at work in photography today, and particularly present at Arte Fiera in Bologna. The fair has, this year, dedicated a specific area to photography, both making space for the medium and awkwardly setting it apart from all others. The nine booths of this section show a fairly traditional kind of photography – mostly documentary or decorative – that stands very far from the contemporary enquiries at stake in the medium. More interesting works were to be found in the rest of the fair, with galleries not specialising in photography. Highlights included works by arte povera and minimalist artists like Ugo La Pietra presented by Laura Bulian Gallery, Milan, who used photographs, collage and performance to reflect on urban and societal structures. Giulio Paolini’s photographic work also popped-up from time to time as virtuosic explorations of what an image is. In the main part of the fair, little contemporary photography was present. Galleria Umberto Di Marino from Naples presented some interesting composites by Eugenio Tibaldi where images are mixed with drawings to create a kind of island impossible for the gaze to completely grasp. Milan’s Gallery Renata Fabbri presented a work by Goldschmied & Chiari in which a photograph of a cloud is printed on the surface of a mirror, creating an odd interaction between the artwork, the viewer and their reflection.

The fair opened their doors to two curatorial proposals that brought a much fresher perspective on photography, despite being somewhat too squeezed-in together. The body as packaging curated by Stefano Graziani, Amedeo Martegani and Andrea Pertoldeo showed artists reflecting on the body. Agenda Independent curated by Benedetta Pomini, invited eight galleries to show artists working with photography in relation to other art forms. Stefano Canto, presented by Rome’s Matèria Gallery, explores notions of ephemerality through making imprints of images or ice onto cement. Lisbon’s Galeria Madragoa presented Joanna Piotrowska’s conceptual work Frantic that reflects on the notion of shelter through a series of images depicting people under a small hut inside their own house. Alberto Sinigaglia, with Metronom from Modena, uses photography to create an ambiguous exploration of the sky, playing with the ambiguity of photography and our faith in images.

On the Saturday, some of the galleries taking part in Agenda Independent discussed their approach to being a commercial gallery and still having a responsibility towards artistic research, artists’ development and audience engagement. Asked about their positioning in terms of medium, Niccolo Fano (Matèria) and Pedro Alfacinha highlighted an important distinction between photography and image, the first one being a medium, the second one an abstract concept. The popular interest into photography for the last ten to fifteen years can be explained by a number of factors, but the main one might be that images have taken over our daily environment and started to become our main way of communicating. That is when it becomes essential to question the constant representation of daily life, its effects on our understanding of the world and the way we relate to one another, in order to further develop reflections on visual culture.

In this respect, the most exciting experiments were to be found in the centre of the city, at Fruit Exhibition 5, an art book fair held in a majestic thirteenth-century building. Here, again, photography had been allocated a specific area, but thanks to the very dynamic and creative Italian ‘photobook’ publishers Rohrof, SkinerBoox, WittyKiwi and Akina, the work presented was of a high standard. Anaesthesia by Valentina Abenavoli (Akina) is a sharp and emotional enquiry into our relationship with war and terrorism through the filter of the media. Abenavoli uses screenshots from videos that she amplifies and lays out along the pages in order to restore the horrific charges of the images that we consume on a daily basis.  Another interesting work is Batia Suter’s Parallel Encyclopedia (Roma Publications) which looks at the syntax of images referring both to Aby Warburg’s Atlas and Armin Linke’s The Appearance of That Which Cannot be Seen.

Finally, Unseen Dummy Award exhibitions showed their excellent selection of self-published books, demonstrating once more the vivacity that artists are showing within the book form.