Maria Luigia Gioffre, MA Contemporary Photography: Practices and Philosophies, CSM
reflects on her recent AER Residency at Tenuta dello Scompiglio, Italy
Silence, solitude and the sight facing just right on a concave mountain. Farmers were working on the grape harvest. Among them, somebody still knows that autumn is a ritual of gods: he talks about esoteric theatre and hazelnut trees, sacred in Celtic tradition. I was standing, listening like a child to his grandfather. Where are our grandparents? Do you really know how to make a cake or do you google it? And again silent. After all, the finitude needs silence to be acknowledged and taken in responsibility as awareness of living and this was a residency on dying. For three days I got surprised by the sunset. If nature can be a landscape that could be read linguistically, there was the voice at its pure state.
On arrival at Tenuta dello Scompiglio, I was kindly introduced to the exhibition spaces and theatre. Both huge. Night and days alternated in a undefined sequence for the first half of the first week. Although my residency was part of a rich programme of activities on ‘Death and Dying’, I was the only artist in residence for that period. With nobody there, I decided to spend my nights in the theatre, suddenly losing the sense of what was outside the theatre: the time, the date, the day, the night. There, I mainly had been dancing and filming, wondering, structuring drafts of staged scenarios for performances I want to explore, processing visions through concrete approaches and transforming the photographic camera from being my eye into being my only witness. The camera was offering back the uncanny pedagogical experience to look at your own self in action and be your own internal director. Like in writing, the camera allowed me to trace and be traced, to be there in the act of tracing and to be absent and dead in the experience of the self-representation.
From the second half of the first week, I collected materials in order to set the stage for the performance that was supposed to open to the public on 30th September, the last day of the residency.
Starting from the imaginary of a ‘purgatory of spring’, the work intended to have a room filled with soil and then to perform the process of flourishing in its opposite way. The action would have consisted of burying dried flowers, one by one, under the soil, then put the flowers and the soil in small glasses, as much as there were needed to keep out all the soil from the gallery floor. This whole image I had in my eyes, began to change once I started to explore the space and the material. I valued this change of view as the main goal and challenge of this residency which concretely put me in the condition to carry on the flow of this artwork rather than just on reaching a shape previously planned.
First of all, I have been using pots instead of glasses. Considering the local area of Scompiglio in Tuscany, pots were much more easy to find in a countryside while glasses could have suited as found material in a city. Hence, I collected some pots from the Tenuta dello Scompiglio itself and I looked for some others provided by a nursery. Then, I needed several dried flowers, which also were difficult to be collected: searching for them in the grass, I found out that most of the flowers had insects in their stems, so that I collected just some of them, alternating dried flowers with dried branches.
This step had fascinating implications due to the fact the gardener from Lo Scompiglio used to tell me the history of the plants of Scompiglio’s area. He talked and suggested to look for a dried hazelnut tree which has a long tradition of magic and healing power within celting tradition and he brought me some branches of it that I used in the work.
Once I had collected pots, flowers and branches, I begun to work on installing and laying the soil for the performance. The Purgatory of Spring I had thought is indeed a space of imagination between a performance and an installation. At this point, there was a kind of childhood’s pleasure in the act of filling a room with soil, to play with the soil with my hands and to put my feet into it. Nevertheless, after around three hours I was missing a bit of oxygen: the soil is a living element. Humans often forget it.
It was at that time that the image of using a pollution mask came to me: like a post-apocalypse future, when nobody could breathe properly and fertility of the earth will be gone.
There was clear I was starting to get a different vision of the work, the process was flowing not anymore as previously planned and I valued all these swings of materials as well as the reaction of the soil as a marvellous challenge for an unexpected adaptation and new explorations of the work itself.
In accordance with Angel Garcia, curator at Scompiglio, I decided to treat this work as completely in process instead of aiming a public representation.
The performative action radically changed and I put myself in front of a new draft: from filling the pots with soil while burying a flower, I rather explored how to collect dried plants in each pot and keep them on my belly. The work was not working on duration but rather now it was focusing on the still image I was desiring to set up. I took some pictures and made some videos. Again, what is a performance and its witness? Which is the role of the camera as witness? Is the work created theatrical? I have now decided to expand this work in different ways from how it started. The residency allowed me to check a vision in its concrete form and make steps for an opera which now is still open and fertile and I wish to fully realise within January.
Follow Maria’s UAL Post-Grad Instagram Takeover during her residency.