Two great poets, Eliot and Auden, offer a perfect introduction to the lyrical universe of Marina Giannobi. The first brings us his theory of the objective correlative, according to which the things, the objects that appear in a poem (or a painting or photograph) identify my perception of the world, without requiring any futile, pathetic confessions. The second offers the epos of the unknown citizen ascending (or descending) the social scale of values and turning into an object, a thing: the anonymous man who eats averagely, pays his taxes averagely and dreams averagely.
This could, however, be seen as a sort of nihilism, haphazardly underpinned by the religious and political dimension that the two poets sought out as a strategy of resistance against attrition, while on the contrary, Marina Giannobi’s vision is entirely luminous and sunny, full of faith in life and the world. Life itself, and love as a driving force.
So let’s look at how things unfold, what the artist shows us. Nothing, apparently. But a nothing that is charged with emotions and history. That nothing is Gutenberg’s book, which all of a sudden, after being a vehicle of solitude for four or five centuries, is once more a battle weapon, the hallmark that brings us closer to the world of men silenced by too many acts of violence.
It has to be said that the first few photographs do not yield much, all in black and white and blurred or out of focus, called to hide something in order to reveal it. Images of travelling on the underground, in New York or Milan, London or Paris, in which we no longer see tired or sweaty faces, as the artist cuts out the faces, but bundles of fluttering pages bathed in a sombre, spectral light. The pages are so illegible that when we suddenly glimpse a musical score it is almost natural to wonder whether it might be the gift of angels. A promise of music.
Basically it is up to us to seek things out, to understand, to read the hand that turns the pages, seeing as the page is hardly present, just as the eyes of the unknown reader do not appear. Unknown but not a stranger to Marina Giannobi, as it is her silence that arouses our curiosity, the love of the photographer.
While for communication scholars it is true that the thousand year transition from oral culture to writing, and from there to the printed book, represents a dramatic journey towards solitude, in so far as a person absorbed in a book is apparently alone, it is also true that the solitude of the faceless travellers in these photographs acquires the density of freedom, something unthinkable for the anonymous man who needs the multitude to exist with all his prejudices.
A person reading on the train or in the tube is, all things considered, a person socialising with the words written by other people in recent or distant times. The essence of this is not bitter or solitary, because the reader is not forced to be alone, but is alone by an irrevocably human choice, which is the need to be alone once more, to discuss things, to say no.
The artist recounts all of this in a language which is as effective as it is pared down and austere, and through this we understand that it is Giannobi herself who wants to investigate and debate, with her images that are at once open and closed, both warm and dark, in line with that spirit of contradiction that only belongs to true poets.
Basically the discourse cannot help upending itself with an oscillating motion that rekindles it in bursts, going from the black and white of the anonymous saints captured in the tube with their books in their hands — like the saints of the Catholic church — to the lights of the lay, multicoloured libraries, where all of us, at least from Descartes onwards, have the right to doubt, to spark discussion and dissent. In this way, when consensus is finally reached, it is motivated by real desires, not by the outbursts of verbal diarrhoea induced by a certain brand of television. Because this is the paradox: that television, after fostering the literacy of millions and millions of people, from Italy to Africa, Asia to Oceania, has now become the most powerful vehicle for illiteracy and social underdevelopment.
This is why we have to come back to books, because the discourse extends to us, to the viewer, overwhelming us in a silent explosion of shared dreams. Which are undoubtedly shared not only by Marina Giannobi, but also by those, like us, who see in her wonderful creative impulse the sign of a social anxiety that I don’t want to give a specific name to, but which could be hope, brotherhood, love.