While art and photography only began to converge in the 1920s, contemporary photography now lies in a similar vein to the avant-garde movements, which were concerned with combining techniques, mixing different genres, creating the first collages and installations. Art is not a double life but an accumulation of levels, a layering of different identities, overlapping equality and inequality. Giannobi’s works are independently developing alterations and interactions that entail a forward shift determined by their assembly and their revealing, subtle, sensitive poetic idiom.
Her narrative sequence reviews the concept of what is repressed and hidden, using a “way” of taking photographs that denotes a well thought-out, captivating and patient intellectual approach that follows a trail of relationships, bringing us to her poetic room, her extraordinary diary. The fundamental component of her work lies in the concept of “otherness” as a critique of the concept of identity. ”It is undeniable that man’s deepest association with his kind is dissociation.” 1
Light, space and nuances create a fundamental combination, a transparent, imperceptible, irreversible, unceasing mutation that returns to degree zero, the point of departure of the dream, a symbolic place where reality and imagination bring presences and absences to life. Zero is the focal point of her work, an intermediate field where universal intuition is attracted and repelled, opposed and balanced. Thanks to the epiphany of the work the elements captured by her camera escape a solitary destiny and enter into an introspective but choral dimension, in which a short circuit is sparked off by connections and references, losing and rediscovering original meanings, and interchanges of relationships and feelings.
The exhibition Ciò che vediamo, ciò che ci guarda (What we see, what looks at us) takes its title from the famous essay by the great art philosopher Georges Didi-Huberman.2 In this new body of work the Milanese photographer’s exploration of public places such as the underground, stations, railway platform shelters and libraries in different parts of the world focuses on the theme of reading and books as a signifier, an active and passive protagonist of an anthropological classification of things. In this series of black and white shots the books of readers spied on and captured by Giannobi’s lens are objects that dissolve, creating a painterly effect that tends towards abstraction and the rarefaction of the image. In her images the book, or musical score, or printed matter in the hands of a person taking a brief journey on public transport becomes a Hegelian sensitive shadow, in other words almost a work of art in itself, in so far as it is an object that goes beyond the visible plane, that enables us to perceive what lies beyond what is captured on film, beyond a pure retinal perception, offering sensations and emotions that are invisible but undoubtedly real.
In the “bookshops” series © colour screens that look like textured, architectural compositions, walls of colour books become a collective subject thanks to the accumulation of volumes that compose a precise game reinforced by shifts, evanescence and decisive hues. It is like going from silence to noise, from a room to a city street, from a monologue to a dialogue. The background noise, however, remains constant, calibrated and marked out by the photographer, who without fear or excessive emphasis erases the contradictions and enables us to enter into an elementary, resolved relationship with the photographed image.
Positions of balance and stability represent Giannobi’s existential oscillation. Hers is a powerful artistic language combined with the personality of a “traitor” in the sense that her works contain a coercion to betrayal in its most ancient and positive sense. The verb betray comes from the Latin tradere, a combination of trans and dare (give). The prefix trans indicates a transition, the act of handing something over, entrusting something to someone, teaching, passing down, telling. It is in this sense that Giannobi’s works revolve around transitions, lines of perspective with temporal, symbolic, physical and surreal guises; subjective guises that are imbued with their own personal existential hypothesis. It is a guise of metaphysical distance that absorbs the spaces of reality and rejects existing arrangements, set notes and known paths. The resulting work is characterised by a fragility which is only apparent, because every photographic trace actually casts off the presence of the artist who produced it, in order to know and recognise itself as confidently, spontaneously independent, in an exploration that seems to verge on painting, that brand of painting in which the pigment breaks open and colour becomes something else. Giannobi’s photographs are the result of a patient process, never doctored with digital retouches, but obtained by means of atmospheres, speeded up or slowed down exposure times, sensations of wonder juxtaposed with knowing, entirely deliberate skill. This is what strikes me about this photographer: the awareness, the mastery of the medium which informs her entire oeuvre, and a participation that fosters side effects and mild conflicts.
Giannobi’s artistic position is an incisive one, using a poetic code that verges on lyricism, and that is one of minimal transitions, calibrated positions, and measured gestures. Her photographs “last”, not allowing themselves to be forgotten, but incessantly sedimenting like only the frozen images of reality can. Her obsessive photographing of books is an artistic contribution to an archaeology of modernity, focused on the ancient gesture of reading carried out during an enforced break, in the limited space of an obliged journey, like those usually undertaken by urban commuters. The utterly contemporary nature of the artist’s approach lies in this fleeting gaze: her silent snapshots that reveal bursts of worlds like effective testimonies of a collective process into which the individual retreats for a curious adventure among pages, lines, words and letters that can open up other worlds and a different consciousness. The act of reading, so rare in a society obsessed with speed and technology, awash with ipods and mobile phones, is rendered evanescent by the use of black and white, with the subject only just putting in an appearance, dissipating in a light, refined dematerialisation, a form of wisdom that explores feelings, becoming an intimate, unexpected, modest confession, guarded in its shyness. A symbolic narrator of instants, memories, fantasies, intimate corners, fleeting glances, Giannobi always undertakes a delicate flight over the lives of others, grafting on the necessary transition from individual to universal that belongs to artists and creators, in other words those who shape worlds in order to offer them up revisited and removed from a simple private apparition.
Within each image there is a “tension”, a form of “entropy”. What this artist is drawn to is telling stories inextricably linked to a common history with subjects that are always similar but never the same, that appear to uncoil from one work to the next, creating a sensation of disorientation, a squinting, lateral vision that rejects the protection of stability, the legitimisation of a set common theme and the need for a predetermined destiny.
In the way they appear, Giannobi’s books have a physical dimension that becomes meditative, experiencing a form of abandonment, acknowledging the profoundly modified consciousness in the approach of those who look at them. It is a disconnected reflection, an exchange of roles between the object being looked at and the subject doing the looking, between pages that lose their form and their traces under the surgical but personal medium of photography, between hints of verse and alphabetical signs that appear to become foreground noise in a precise, dominant analysis: that of what we see, what looks at us.
1 Robert Musil, The Man without Qualities,
Einaudi, Torino 1972.
2 Georges Didi-Huberman, Ce que nous voyons, ce qui nous regarde, Minuit, Paris 1992.