Giovanni Vetere is Italian, from Rome and he is completing his final year of BA Photography at Camberwell College of Arts. We sat down with him to discuss the BA Photography course, projects he had completed and his current body of work.
Before moving to London Giovanni attended an international Spanish school, where he was influenced by their open mind and creative process of learning. He decided to travel to London to explore his identity and further his skills in English. Inspired by an experimental photography exhibition at the Tate Modern, Giovanni became interested in the photographic process. His father gifted him an analogue camera and Giovanni immersed himself into learning the technical skills, including transforming his student accommodation into a dark room. Through online research he figured out how to develop and print his film within his living space. He found that printing at night-time was ideal as he was guaranteed better darkness to develop the photographs. The process of translating an image into paper created a great interest for Giovanni. Therefore he decided to develop his experiments further and apply to the BA Photography course at Camberwell. He says, “those experiments gave me the satisfaction that meant I had to keep exploring them.”
At Camberwell Giovanni found that he was able to jump and leap much further within his work and was able to experiment into different disciplines. The artistic environment and the strong sense of community in the college drove him towards unknown paths, such as sculpture and performance art. “I just wanted to experiment with new things, things that I never done, and with what other people were doing.” Part of the reason he feels he can experiment and push his work is because the Photography course sits within a Fine Art programme and the tutors constantly challenge and push the students to overcome their own limits.
Giovanni has completed a lot of work during his time at Camberwell so far and there seems to be no stopping him. He told us about many projects, but focused on the ones that he has started this summer and told us about how they have moved forward. Giovanni tends not to stick with one medium, but all of his processes are connected; he focuses on the journey instead of the final product and he believes the latter is always ready to change. Photography, drawing and sculpture are all brought into performance and it is not the final outcome or piece that is important but the process of making it. Giovanni’s intention is to make visible the processes and create an experience for the audience. For this reason performance art was one of the mediums that Giovanni felt was most suitable for his artistic expression. He started performing within the informal ‘crits’ with his peers and tutors at Camberwell, where he says he “was able to activate his body and take part in the work.” Therefore Giovanni’s artistic practice is an on-going process, which becomes as he describes, “an obsession.”
At the end of his second year Giovanni started an ambitious project , which needed a precise methodology to build a precise structure. He knew what he wanted to make but it was difficult to put together, so he did a lot of research and spoke with Camberwell technicians to complete this piece. The main part of the structure is made out of metal but Giovanni wanted to mix this with an organic element. The structure is for a performance piece, the top has a nylon material stretched across it and the frame is metal, which is bolted together to allow an easy construction and deconstruction. He needed the top canvas to be strong enough to support the weight of a body lying and moving on it. The idea is for the audience to walk into the metal structure and experience the performance from within the frame. The material he found to support the performer is usually used on boats, it’s strong and resistant, but elastic and flexible, making it soft and ideal for what he wanted to achieve. The challenge of the piece was to have the performance on top and allow the audience to take part in the experience. The performer needs to move very slowly but constantly, making a never ending process. In fact, the image that one see when entering into the structure and looking at the performer is like that of a sonogram. The image of the sonogram, Giovanni says, resembles one of his first experiments in the darkroom at Camberwell. This experiment consisted of creating 24 sonograms, dropping water, ink and wool on the photographic paper, making the process of the birth of a fetus. This is how his work is connected but developing along his creative path.
On completion of this piece Giovanni wanted to present it in a bigger environment than Camberwell. He proposed his piece to the Florence Biennale – International Biennal of Contemporary Art. He was accepted and went to Florence in October to partake. As Giovanni had made his structure with bolts he was able to transport it to Florence with easy and rebuild it on site. He had four performers each taking part for two hours. Giovanni won the performance category prize and was the youngest winner this year at the Biennale. Not only has he found a novel way to experience a performance he has fulfilled his desire to create this structure and piece of work that he previously didn’t know how he possibly could. Giovanni speaks about the Florence Biennale as a, “good networking experience in a community that opened doors and has offered him chances for another exhibition in the future.”
During the summer Giovanni went to The Hague in Holland to a performance workshop for two weeks upon invitation. While there he came up with ‘All I see is Blue’, a performance piece that involves a repetitive action of holding his breath while he places his head into a bowl of blue ink in water. Giovanni also drew with his hands as he transformed the action of wiping his face and moving his hands around his body on the ground. He describes it as the, “material being reflected back onto his body.” Giovanni felt he learnt from this workshop and his experience, which drove him on to create a future piece.
Carrying on from his workshop in Holland, Giovanni was invited to Rome to do a performance piece in a unique venue, an underground wine cellar which is usually rented out to private wine collectors. The owner of the venue who had seen Giovanni’s work on his Instagram account, invited him to use the space for a performance piece. The performance happened during Rome Art Week, a contemporary art festival in Rome. Giovanni wanted to work with the space offered and create something out of it, without adding any external elements. After visiting and exploring the space Giovanni decided to create a guided tour for an audience through the cellar. In the cellar there are six rooms which Giovanni choose and choreographed with different performances to happen in those spaces. Each room had its own lock and only the performer had the keys to it, meaning they were in control. The audience were guided through the cellar, eight at a time, by an actor who was part of the experience. He was instructed to act a certain way with them, adding to the control and choreographing the experience they would have. The brief for the guide was to act as Virgilio in the Divine Comedy, who guided Dante into Hell. He was the medium between the audience and the performance, he connected the whole space and made the experience part of a dance or a theatre piece. “I wanted to create an experience that would resemble one of a dream or a nightmare, where you keep receiving images that sometimes you are not able to connect or understand.” Giovanni’s performance was called ‘Ipogeo’, which means underground construction.
‘Ipogeo’ consisted of Giovanni in a room performing the same action over four hours with a constant repetition of movement. He dipped his head into a bowl of water while his hands circled and drew over piles of paper. Through the repetition of that action the room started to change, the paper spread all over the room and water started to drip on the floor while reflecting back on his body. According to Giovanni, “it was an absurd task that transformed the space through the repetition of the same movement.” He also said that the performance he did in Holland, ‘All I see is Blue’, has helped him to achieve ‘Ipogeo’. As always with him, it’s about the experience, not about videoing it or photographing it. The record is not important, what people see and experience is the aim of his work. Performance can always take place and continue with or without the audience, as he says, “it’s not the same as theatre, where you have a repetition of enactments, it’s about living in the moment and the memories created from that experience, which is unique.” Giovanni hopes to take this piece to London at some stage, but he recognises that the art scene is different here and he has to beware of the context he will be exhibiting in.
During his second year Giovanni also started to work on another metal structure in which he wanted to create an experience of a performance within a sculpture. In other words he wanted to create a performance without a body. He was inspired by the famous American artist Richard Serra, who combines performance and sculpture, two seemingly opposite things that nonetheless join together as complementary elements. One of the pieces that best explains this is Serra’s ‘The Matter of Time’, which is a sculpture that invites the audience to interact and experience it with their own bodies. As Giovanni says, “Serra’s sculpture becomes a performance”. Unfortunately, Giovanni was unable to finish his piece during the last term of his second year. However, he found the opportunity to send his piece to Rome to be able to finish it. In Rome Giovanni didn’t have the technical resources of Camberwell so he had to work with what he had. Once he assembled the metal pieces together the structure resembled what he thought is a structure of a shell. He exhibited the sculpture in a gallery in Rome where he decided to hide his body inside of the shell and played it with an Allen key. He found that it made sounds reminiscent of the sea, like a proper conch shell.
Giovanni wanted to experiment more with this structure and see what different possibilities he could play out. After visiting a shipwreck off an Italian island with his father he was inspired to change the sculpture. He brought the piece to the island of the shipwreck and assembled it on the shore, then with the help of his friends he was able to throw the sculpture inside the water and let it rest at the bottom of the sea, at approximately 16 metres. The day after, his father and he went to the site where the structure landed and filmed it with a GoPro camera. Giovanni explains that, “the wreck tells a story, embraces history and encompasses an evidence of it.” However he wanted to question the notion of reality, “what happens if you create a wreck? Are you then creating history?” He wanted to create a documentary about the wreck he had just created, but a documentary about something that doesn’t exist, so he made a short movie about his ‘wreck’ piece. Giovanni asked the help of his friends, one a music composer and the other a moviemaker. After working together they created a 12 minutes documentary that tells a story about creation and destruction, which is similar to the process of dance. The movie showed the footage of Giovanni’s sculpture under the water combined with found clips of the real wreck off the island that inspired him, and he used his own and found images, mixing them together. The documentary is the creation of a story from all of the images, a new story, but ultimately you do not know what is true and what is false. The documentary is called ‘I took your picture from the water’ and Giovanni has uploaded it to Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/239727688.
There are many more things to come from Giovanni and we cannot wait to see his final project at Camberwell in the Summer Show! You can follow his work on his Instagram account via the link below.
Title image is ‘Ipogeo’, Performance, Rome, 2017