There are moments that make history, moments that remain forever in the imagination of those fortunate enough to see them, to participate in them, and the ability to think about them and turn them into something that has forever and indelibly marked the course of events. Without fear of contradiction, one such moment in the contemporary fashion world is undoubtedly Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer 2001 show entitled“Voss”.
Let’s start by saying that to call it simply a “show” is extremely reductive, that was something that crossed all kinds of boundaries and was able to amalgamate fashion, art, performance, social denunciation and raising awareness of a topic that is more important and contemporary today than ever before, mental health.
Sublime, enchanting, shocking, powerful, engaging and destabilizing, Alexander McQueen’s SS01 fashion show was all this and more. An almost theatrical portrayal of an extremely complex and still denigrated human condition, that of mental instability and all those mental health-related difficulties that affect a huge segment of the human population at various levels.
One of the most well-known, famous and revolutionary fashion shows of the British designer who passed away at the age of only 40 in 2010, “Voss” is a lofty moment in contemporary fashion history in all respects..
The title of the show is a reference to nature, its beauty and enchantment (Voss is a Norwegian town famous for the wild and wonderful nature in which it is located) and in fact the garments in the collection reflect this very aspect – see the clothes also constructed with natural and animal elements such as shellfish shells and stuffed birds. But there is another one that is much more important and hidden before the eyes of everyone present and beyond: the context and setting of the show.
A large glass catwalk-like box placed in front of the spectators and the many photographers invited to the show and was the nerve center of the entire show.
White tiles like those typical of a psychiatric hospital as well as walls composed of mirrors like those we find in interrogation rooms, used to control what goes on inside without being seen and, as a final element, another glass box but covered with metal to hide the contents.
McQueen’s choice was to drop the audience immediately into a surreal and eerie atmosphere: for more than an hour the audience was left to wait for the show to begin while they could only see themselves reflected on the mirrored walls of the box with only the sound of a very slow and continued heartbeat in the background.
In this way the designer also directly involved the audience, pushing them into a condition of stress and anguish, almost as if they were experiencing a kind of coercion to stay there, sitting and forced to wait. The same coercion of people forced to live trapped in a condition that is very difficult to understand, to share, and that often still leads, in many cases, to marginalization due to repression and superficiality (although things are fortunately changing thanks to normalization and awareness on the issue of mental health).
The models moved as if they were vulnerable and helpless, gripped by fear and anguish, of those who are forcibly locked up not only in physical place but in a place of the soul and mind from which it is difficult to escape.
After the last model on the runway, who walked down the runway in a bodice made of microscope slides painted blood red and a red skirt of ostrich feathers, the lights went out, the music stopped, and the only background noise returned to a slow heartbeat.
Once the lights come back on, the steel-covered box opens and shows its interior: writer Michelle Olley naked, with a respirator, a pair of horns, lying on a chaise longue and surrounded by butterflies, like a post-apocalyptic Venus.
An ending that leaves the viewer open-mouthed and speechless, but at the same time forces the viewer to reflect in an almost overpowering way on one of the most sensitive and relevant aspects of our lives: the treatment, understanding and acceptance of mental disorders at all levels.
When we talk about photography professions, if we were to take a census of the activities related to this world, we would be surprised to discover how prolific the working sector linked to the images is. Every month, we will ask professionals related to the photography world to tell us the behind the scenes of their jobs: we will discover the joys and sorrows of these contemporary professions and we will give some useful tips to those who want to get closer to this world.
For this first appointment, we asked a few questions to IoleCarollo, one of the ÉgliseArt founders, a training place dedicated to photography as well as one of the most evocative exhibition spaces not only in Palermo, but perhaps in all of Italy. As the name suggests, Église Art is in fact hosted inside a seventeenth-century church in the heart of the Kalsa of the Sicilian capital city, a space full of suggestions and specific features that influence and determine in an important way the contents hosted from time to time.
Giving birth to a space dedicated to photography means, right from the start, defining its aims: this choice, already decisive on its own, will then determine all the activities of the space itself: in the case of Église Art, what was its mission and how have the activities/purposes evolved over time?
Église is an association with social and cultural purposes, founded in 2016 by Alberto Gandolfo, Peppe Tornetta and me, while Simona Scaduto and Michele Vaccaro joined between 2019 and 2021. The initial intentions were to create a place for photography training and an exhibition space. In 2018, in conjunction with the #18Explorations project curated by Benedetta Donato, we decided that Église would become an independent space with the aim of promoting visual culture, through exhibition, training, exchange and collaboration activities with operators and professionals in the sector.
Palermo is in the Italian imagination (and I would venture to say worldwide) a crossroads of cultures, a melting pot alive of cultural instances that insist, meet and clash on a particularly complex territory. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this enterprise in such a particular city as Palermo? How important is the relationship with the territory in which you live and the other realities that deal with photography?
Palermo is a city rich in history and culture, where people of different origins have lived and have facilitated the exchange and exchange of ideas and solutions that are an added value for anyone approaching Palermo; to this is added the cost of living, still convenient, which translates into sustainable operating costs for spaces like ours. Over the years we have observed the start of wonderful realities, such as PUSH, Minimum, Baco about Photographs, Maghweb, Booq, small publishing houses, theaters and independent spaces, often managed by artists, and, despite the few readers, libraries where various activities are organized. This aspect confirms the great cultural ferment that characterizes the city. However, Palermo is a hard city, and this ferment is in fact linked to the growth of individual realities and individuals who live them and to the more or less good relationships that intertwine. Palermo is in fact a crossroads, there are many people who move there, there are many artists who come from all over the world, there are relationships and exchanges useful for everyone, but in the end it is almost mandatory to leave Palermo in order to grow again and again.
But as long as you decide to stay, the relationship with the territory is fundamental, I would say. The network of relationships that are intertwined is the basis of the community system, and this also applies to independent spaces, all of them, beyond the sector of interest. It is important to expand the social and cultural fabric of reference, networking is useful for things to work, both in the strictly programmatic part and to create new possibilities for themselves. For us networking is essential, in addition to the collaborations already started as those with Laboratorio Zen Insieme, Block Design and La Bandita, we founded an artistic district, just at the time when the pandemic broke out from Covid – 19 that has slowed and altered relationships. KAD Kalsa Art District was founded with other independent spaces, cultural operators, artists and curators. In addition, we continue collaborations with photographers/ and, as Mimi Mollica (founder of the Photo Meet London) that for years organizes in the Valle del Belìce of photographic workshops, For 3 years at Église held one dedicated to the city with important guests such as Bruce Gilden and Amber Terranova.
Managing a space dedicated to photography is certainly a complex process and I suppose it requires constant commitment from those involved. What skills do staff need to have in order to manage a space dedicated to photography in an optimal way?
When you decide to start a space dedicated to culture, before having skills you need to have specific propensities, such as curiosity, an aptitude for research, the ability to work in a team and a strong interest in the sector in which you operate. Skills can be acquired later, but they are necessary, without forgetting that you never stop learning and that it is important to treasure the mistakes you make. Our group has very diversified skills and interests which also depend on the individual paths, Michele comes from reportage, Simona uses photography as an artistic practice, I am an archaeologist and I am specialized in photographing works and installations, the other two members instead have unrelated jobs to photography, therefore with specific skills related to their sectors.
Being part of Église, we are also cultural operators, organizing and managing activities useful for the promotion and dissemination of culture also includes the management of project management, project production, communication, these activities must be accompanied by the analysis of the context in which it operates. You must always be up to date and able to deepen the issues you face and, therefore, to contextualize them to the time and space that you live in, seizing all the opportunities for exchange and collaboration with other professionals.
I visited Église Art on several occasions, and I must say that I was almost stunned by the beauty of this place: the possibility of recovering an almost abandoned space, of bringing it back to life and dressing it with culture and art is the dream of anyone working in this field. In addition I think that the extreme architectural complexity is a really interesting challenge for those who deal with photography and cultural planning. How much does the space of Église affect the curatorial choices of programming, especially considering the exhibition limits and therefore how much the fact that it is not a classic gallery determines the selection of projects?
To date, the spaces of Église are the small seventeenth-century church and the Lab, immediately adjacent to the first one, and both have strong connotations. The Lab is in fact a small apartment, with a garden in the back, here we managed to get a space where we can accommodate photographers/ and two other shared, in which are also our open shelf library and the “fanzinoteca” of Zines Palermo, the festival dedicated to the zines of which we are co-founders with Block Design and Lino Ganci. The church, instead, is the place dedicated to photographic exhibitions, is a historical place, in which it is necessary to intervene with the restoration and renovation works, the temporary roof is supported by a scaffold of scaffolded tubes, The arch, which divides the main hall from the space that was just behind the altar, has a broken keystone, so it is supported by a security scaffold. The church is a fascinating place, at first glance visually tends to win over what is exposed, but the presence of the scaffolding involves a great work of curatorial and exhibition design. A place is not enough to make a cultural project special, we need a visions and a desire to experiment and this is what we have done in these years.
Opening a photographic space is a dream for those who want to pursue their own line of research independently and develop an independent curatorial proposal. But leaving aside the variant of desire and dream and getting closer to the concreteness of reality, what are the factors to take into account when you want to open a space dedicated to photography? What are the factors that should not be underestimated and that perhaps you have underestimated?
The factors to evaluate and take into account are different, all dependent on the road you want to take, always putting yourself in a listening position and ready to change direction if necessary. As mentioned before, study and keeping up to date are essential factors, then you need to have patience and willpower to take a slow but functional path to growth. It is necessary to face a series of goals, some easier to achieve, so as to be able to face inevitable frustrations, others more fraught with obstacles, also knowing that many of the results you will achieve will be intangible. You have to focus on what you think is useful and stimulating, without necessarily looking at the name trend. Independent spaces are stimulating places, faithful to themselves but never equal, however they are among the most vulnerable from the economic point of view, because they do not have the economic strength useful for the continuity of planning activities. It is necessary to take into account the economic aspect, we live in a historical period in which money is useful to grow, improve, to be truly independent and, therefore, not to compromise, maintaining a strong identity: it is necessary to invest and reinvest, really, on themselves, on the group and on space.
I believe that one of the factors that is often underestimated is the impact of bureaucracy, but obviously it is applied to every sector of our country, not only in the cultural field. Another factor not to be underestimated is the passing of time: everything changes, macroeconomic factors, society, the people around you, personal and common goals, the tastes of the public and its needs. You have to have a very clear vision and a good dose of intuition to stem the changes.
Lately, we are witnessing the closure of numerous realities dedicated to art and photography. Often the cause is purely financial. I therefore ask you: how can a space that is not aimed at selling be economically supported?
In the first years we self-financed, the situation in the long run became unsustainable, so we began to collaborate with other local realities, offering them services and collaborating on funded projects. Unity really makes strength, collaboration and sharing are very important aspects. We need to be responsive and find different solutions for individual projects. For some months now, we have also been working with a couple of professionals for the design and implementation of projects, as well as for participation in national and international calls. Of course, it would be more useful the recognition by the institutions: the pandemic generated widespread discomfort, some spaces have either closed or are going to, we found ourselves discussing what to do, too: financial support would be really important, as is the case of other European countries.
What is pinhole photography? It is an image taken through the photographic process of pinhole photography, a technique that, like most modern cameras, exploits the principle of the camera obscura, but using a small hole as a lens, which creates images through diffraction. JustinQuinnell is considered one of the leading experts in this technique, both for his almost thirty years as a lecturer worldwide and for his artistic production of experimental photographs. From Bristol, where he lives, he produces photography using pinhole cameras, creating unusual situations and points of view, thanks to the possibilities of the medium and the deformations of the image.
Among Justin Quinnell’s most bizarre photographic series is the one taken using a smileycam, a camera that the artist places completely inside his own mouth, thus exploiting the power of an unusual and very bizarre point of observation – POV to use a fashionable definition. all of Quinnell’s teeth appear in the frame, which the viewer ends up knowing better than the artist’s own dentist. In addition to the teeth, different subjects are presented from time to time, describing Justin’s daily routine, starting with his toothbrush in the morning, moving on to meals and the cocktail to share in the evening. From the photographer’s mouth we also keep track of his travels, so between an incisor and a canine, St. Mark’s Square in Venice and the Sydney Opera House pop up.
Stenoscopy does not involve any special focusing, which is why the photos look very amateurish. In the past it represented a high point for technology, now, surpassed by much better lenses and lenses, it is used for more experimental and artistic projects, thanks to the possibility of being able to create strange points of view and unpredictable results. Quinnell’s work is a very clear example of this, and if you would like to find out what your mouth sees, you can also find the smileycam here.
For two months, from 1 February to 30 March 2023, in Bologna, the concept studio THE ROOOM will host a new exhibition, curated byMulierisMagazine. The title of the project is DREAMTIGERS, a quotation from the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges and his extraordinary imagery in which animals play a fundamental role in stimulating memories and imagination.
DREAMTIGERS is an exhibition that uses the imagination through the works of Lula Broglio, Alejandra Hernández, Joanne Leah, Sara Lorusso, Sara Scanderebech, Ayomide Tejuoso (Plantation), together with the installations of The Mosshelter by Marco Cesari. This dimension thus opens up a world of possibilities not only for the mind but also for the representation of what is real. A fusion, that between the real and the imaginary, which Sigmud Freud defined as the navel of the dream, an undefined place in which it is possible to freely address the themes that have made THE ROOOM and Mulieris Magazine known to the public in recent years. These themes certainly include the condemnation of any form of discrimination and gender equality, addressed over the years through popularisation, wonderful books and very interesting artistic projects that will continue with the Bolognese exhibition.
The BlackDust series by Parisian photographer OlivierValsecchicontinues his previous works that have as their central element the action of bodies and dust. Valsecchi’s choice is to standardise the composition through a black monochrome that undefined any gender identity of the subjects, unifying bodies and background without losing emphasis on the plasticity of the subjects and the shapes of the muscles in tension. BlackDust is a three-year research on the human body, the use of ash and charcoal is linked to the theme of life cycles, very dear to Olivier Valsecchi. The poses chosen by the artist, who in this case acts as choreographer and conductor, are all about tension and explosiveness. Arms twist and tendons pull at the fibres, transforming a mass of flesh into a mountain on which volcanic debris is hurled into the sky and ready to settle. Valsecchi has chosen to focus on the moment of action, in a narrative that enjoys the spectacle of the explosion before wanting to see the sediment.