Practice Development : Final Major Project
MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 5
It was part way through my interview with the artist Stefano Canto, fig 1 on the left, that I pop the question about photography, his response was “It is a companion – many times I take a photo – it is a way of understanding and reasoning – an analysis – a study – like a sketch book – photography is a big part of that”. Is a photograph partly permanent partly ephemeral, I ask? “Yes! both. A fossil is the first form of a picture. Like an imprint”. These thoughtful and reflective words summarise his approach, he is an analyst, he searches and thinks, he is visual and he makes things.
Sometimes those things look like fossils.
I was delighted when I had ventured into the idea of meeting both Niccolò Fano and Stefano Canto and my preparation, reading, mind-mapping (see notes below, fig XXXXX) and book reading meant I was armed with the tools to maximise the opportunity before me.
Canto had fascinated me for a while, for his work which coalesces both the finely honed and the amorphous, fig 2, his references to contemporary and twentieth-century thinking and his roots as an architect. His show at Niccolò’s gallery, Materia ‘Sotto l’influenza del Fiume. Sedimento’ was the perfect opportunity to meet them both.
Figures 3, 4
Canto had built the frames, figs 3, 4 and designed the machine that takes concrete powder and pumps it through a noisy mechanism into a long black, tapering funnel, echoing a flour mill arrangement. The overhead grid allows the funnel to be moved laterally as it hovers over the large tray which set down the central area of the rear gallery. This tray receives the objects Canto has carefully retrieved from the river’s flow. I was privileged to see a demonstration as the noisy pump ground into action, a fine trail of powder was emitted from the funnel and began to fall loosely around the objects that were about to be transformed from their free flow, to be captured and coalesced into the trappings of the solidifying process ad the water reacts with the concrete and solidification commences. It is an intriguing combination of a finely engineered machine that then allows the randomness of floating objects to be made into a permanent form with nebulous and thus unique shape – a modern archaeology, but also a strong emulation of the process of photography – the machine that fixes a moment and creates a gathering of emulsion, pixel or paper into a unique piece.
The bond between artist and gallerist is palpable during our 2-hour meeting. Fano tells me he works with seven artists presently “it is a long dialogue, a continuous dialogue, once we decide a show is due we work on ideas and the space in the gallery. We are always aware of boundaries” his use of the term boundaries is interesting as he is thinking spatially about his two interlinked spaces with its small interstitial nerve centre partly open to the rainy elements during our time tougher. But the other boundary is about roles; I ask about whether Fano sees himself as a curator, his response is emphatic “No, and I am not a big fan of the word, there are very few real curators. I think of myself as a gallerist. There are distinct boundaries about our discussions, for example, I would never say what work to do (to an artist) but we have our discussions” Do these ever become tense? “No, as I have a distinct understanding and I am open to making mistakes – there is nothing perfect – sometimes making mistakes can provide surprises we didn’t expect” I ask for an example and he cites the installation process “the people that build the installation discover problems – as long as we do not compromise an idea – it is about translating into space”
And so we explore the three spaces. The racks that create a stack either side of the fore gallery approximate the archaeologist’s store. Canto “The process started on the bank of the river. The publication is a study of this. Inspiring factor – sediments – contemporary architecture is made from parts” He shows me the first picture – concrete, brick and metal tubes, as one ‘block’, fig 5. “These were immersed in the eco-system. Ancient Rome and contemporary Rome in one place. There is a speed to change as a concept with the work – the work shows a change in colour, fig 6 – past and future in one moment in one piece. Eternally present – the river is liquid, the real city within the river – always present – it merges everything”.
The concrete binds – a kind of setting for the objects – both organic and pieces of city cast into the flow. Bark and leaves deteriorate at differing paces, even within the short period of the show. The open structure to the concrete that is hardening with the passage of air and time too will respond to the environment it is found to be. Each piece is taken from the gallery’s river bed – the production tray and, once the curing process has provided enough innate strength and structure, it is taken to a working table where brushes are used to carefully run over the surfaces to remove loose pieces, then the final hand of the artist is applied with the compressed air nozzle that blows away the looseness of any dust. The heavy pieces gradually occupy more space on the scaffold racks as the show progresses. This gallery is a studio, the work is made, finalised and displayed, fig 7. This clearly makes revisits by viewers not just a pleasantry but an essential. The show’s conclusion will provide the richest diversity of things.
What enriched my fascination with Canto and Fano was Canto’s backstory. He is a trained architect. How does this impact on your work, I ask “my architecture is very important to me, when I graduated I knew about function and form, I ask what is form without function? I am interested in communication through building, through construction. I feel I can speak about the city and about society. It is about the changing contemporary city and its archaeological form” fig 8.
I ask, do you identify as an architect? “Yes I do, I work as an architect but not in the traditional sense”. I suggest some architects would not ‘get that’ – he laughs “I probably am an artist, I am a hybrid, in contemporary society, the barriers do not exist anymore, a lot of architects are making works of art”. It is a profession that hails from drawing, I interject, drawing as a thinking means and mechanism, “I keep aware of contemporary practice and watch people like Peter Eisenman and Rem Koolhaas” he responds, a little enigmatically.
I invite a question about architecture which, at city and room scale, provides enclosure whereas Canto is making works which are objects which may seek enclosure or a sense of a place, as, if you like, sculpture would, his response draws on the work of what I tend to term object making architects “Zaha Hadid, (see fig 9, Maxxi, Rome) she makes fluid forms as you may see a building from a passing train or plane. Contemporary architecture is ephemeral” I ponder whether this is an accentuated philosophy and position from a man who is steeped in the traditions and immutable fabric of the ‘eternal city’ where the currency of contemporary expression is restricted and controlled. His is an art that exudes from a context. He has trawled and sieved the watery artery, for pieces that have been discarded as the centuries of living and city-making go on around it. He defines it as ‘the paradox of ephemeral concrete”. Hearing these words spoken by the creator, alongside the heavy objects, really assist in defying the meaning of this paradox. The form of an archeologist’s tradition is applying a contemporary commentary on the ephemerality of the discarded and refound.
I take this opportunity to introduce some words from an essay in Concrete Archive, by Carmen Stolfi, the curator and writer, in her essay ‘Archiving the Ephemeral’ in Concrete Archives (pp90-100) discusses the ‘Fear of Missing Out’ (FOMO) generation, the implication of a quick discard for the ‘before’ and the breathless eagerness for the ‘next’, so, is he commenting critically about society? “It is an observation, not a political or a social statement, but is embedded in the work, we have talked about this a lot. The work is about the bits and pieces of the present moment” figs 10-17. It strikes me again, the artist is making work about the present moment, as a photographer does, he uses a concreting method to fix. He is offering the art buyer the opportunity to adopt a new piece about the pieces of her or his city. We both cited a previous exhibition that involved forms, concrete powder and large geometric slabs of ice, the melting water reacted with the powder, leaving a race of its form, Canto “the void left, the empty, is about our society, we can feel empty in a vacuous society.”
Figures 10 – 17
I talked briefly about my own work using concrete based imagery to evoke memories of places lost and the related struggles with perfecting the techniques, Canto’s response “there is lots of experimentation in my work and many failures” he shrugs with a nonchalance I naturally envy “it is normal, an everyday problem” We talked about how Epoch 731 that I had seen in Amsterdam, was an antique paper and thus so very different from the inkjet I had tried to embed in concrete and the blue oxides in his moulds and how they added a beautiful hue to the ice moulds.
A context for my practice
There are several lessons drawn upon from this interaction, about the practicalities of refining constantly the thinking and making, but also working in the context of a city, a studio and a gallery – there is a scale, a societal positioning, a professional rooting and a presence to the work which reflects a long an personal investment into practice.
There is a powerful, kinetic presence in this installation, both literally with the machine that is making during the show or in spirit as the work ‘dries’ before your eyes, but being able to watch Canto prepare the works he plucks from his metaphoric river bed on the gallery floor to meticulously prepare it for show and sale is a tangible demonstration at the heart of his thinking, dwelling in the moment of fixing, of solidifying what would otherwise simply pass. The ephemeral is snared by the permanence; the viewer is offered the opportunity not to be deceived by the aesthetic by the form of the ancient found object.
So, to my work; I have over the course of the masters degree firstly defined a position and an approach, then refined its context and created a bandwidth in which to work. The drive and desire to form and think in three dimensions has created the concrete memoriam, a thing with thickness, with permanence. As I rehearse and clarify the purpose of capturing places and memorialising them the parallel strategy to alter the perception and presence of space and surfaces through the application of projected light remains the counterpoint to the solid; the transient flickers across the permanent. Canto perhaps melds the organic with its susceptibility to degrade over a long period of time, with his solidifying material. I divide the solid from the ephemeral, so there is a division of thinking there.
Canto’s pursuit of architecture that emits from his training is a manifestly strong link to my own ‘back-story’ that in fact, over the last year, has returned to my foreground. I am making now space and form, an unexpected outcome from a masters in photography. The image capture remains the essence of the work and has a stronger presence than Canto’s.
Like Canto, I am commenting upon a society and a place which, whilst very different from the rigour of conservation of Rome, creates a fertile visual ground on which to make work and replay it to an audience that may see its city reflected back at them. Beanland’s quote is at the headline of my show’s narrative, to which I add here the words of Will Alsop (born 1947), deceased this month, May 2018, who, as an architect and powerfully practicing artist said “We shouldn’t be knocking anything down, but always be adding, extending and adapting existing buildings, so we don’t destroy the memories people have of places”
Figure 18 – notebook for interview preparation
Figure 19 – a view of me talking to Canto, by Rosanna, Materia Gallery
Article on Artsy for the Canto show;
On Will Alsop (accessed 10 June 2018);
All other images Philip Singleton