Stefano Canto Installation – Rome

Installation : Final Major Project

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 5

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Figure 1

I am tracking the Canto exhibition in Rome at Materia Gallery (28.3.2018 – 19.5.2018).  The latest images of the installation are now available on the website.

An Analysis

I have translated the citation, (pasted in below as a footnote for the record).  Canto cites Zygmunt Bauman (on ‘liquid modernity’) and Marc Augé (on place, non-place and supermodernity) stating that contemporary society dwells in the present, chasing the shiny new and losing reference to the past, steeped in existential insecurity.  Thus, Canto identifies the era of now as characterised by continuous change and the principles of the ephemeral and impermanent as key concepts to apply.  This thinking applies to my work, the Pause Project, about loss, time held and the displacement by the new.

Canto observes an overlap between the archaeologist, as one who brings objects back to life and the artist who creates objects.  He sees this blend of interpreter and creator as relevant to now  His installation “Under the Influence of the River.  Sediment” is seen as the next chapter in the body of work known as, to translate, “Archaeology of the Ephemera” started in 2016.  In the latest work, the Tiber features as the point of observation and a kind of accidental selection of the metropolis of Rome as the history of objects gather and flow with the presence of the currents. 

I take this to mean that the city that discards and loses the objects of life that sink into a bed of thick but richly embodied time or indeed timelessness, like a magma kept viscous by the constant presence of the fluvial flow; a narrative of the city is suspended in an emission of fine, grey mud. 

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Figure 2

Canto presents these objects in a ‘store-room’ like shelving configuration, fig 2, in the gallery, ready to be referenced as dredged pieces, as a metaphor of time and place and then recreates the sedimentation process with large trays of organic and inorganic objects positioned on the gallery floor with an overhead conical machine, fig 1, that emits cement powder thus accelerating the process of sedimentation creating “emblematic fossils of our time”.  It is a form of kinetic art creation.

My analysis of the text and the images provoke numerous questions and I am planning on meeting both the gallery owner Niccolò Fano and Canto at the installation in early May 2018.  For example the tension between the ephemeral and the memorial.

Figures 3, 4

The manner of display in figure 1 caused me to reflect on a visit made in March 2018 to the Lapworth Museum of Geology to view its display modes. The Canto shelving has some similarity to these with items placed in a ‘wall’ of shelving and in this instance viewable from each side which exemplified the three-dimensional nature of the pieces, figs 3, 4, and also showed the natural light across the surfaces from each view point.



Figure 5

Practice Development

This study has caused me to reveal the fragments of concrete I obtained two weeks ago from the Conservatoire demolition site in Birmingham and begin to consider how they may be configured to exemplify the fractured, dusty metaphor for my city’s liquid state of renewal and causing off its recent past.  Notably, the trace of the reinforcing bars can be seen on a number of the pieces, particularly the bottom left in fig 5.

I am pondering creating a memoriam and incorporating the archival images I captured in 2017, as a parallel to by concrete tablet memoriam.


Images 3, 4 and 5 Philip Singleton

Images (figs 1 and 2) and citation obtained from the Materia Gallery website, accessed 16.4.2018

Nell’epoca contemporanea, caratterizzata da rapidi e continui mutamenti, l’effimero e l’impermanente possono essere identificati come concetti chiave nella comprensione della condizione attuale dell’essere umano.

Nella definizione di modernità liquida, il sociologo polacco Zygmunt Bauman associa alla realtà contemporanea alcune peculiarità distintive tra le quali transitorietà permanente, effimero durevole, ruoli sociali inadeguati, futuro incerto, posizione sociale fragile e insicurezza esistenziale.

Nella vita liquida tutto è in continuo cambiamento e rinnovamento, il concetto di passato tende a perdere senso e quello di futuro a non esistere o ad essere molto lontano, irraggiungibile. Questa condizione di precarietà è stata evidenziata anche da Marc Augé, il quale sostiene che la società contemporanea “non mira all’eternità, ma al presente: un presente, tuttavia, insuperabile”. E aggiunge: “Essa non anela all’eternità di un sogno di pietra, ma a un presente ‘sostituibile’ all’infinito”.

Le parole di Bauman e di Augé restituiscono un quadro chiaro della nostra realtà e sottolineano l’importanza dei concetti di effimero e di impermanente come strumenti indispensabili per l’osservazione del contemporaneo.

Nel contesto di una società che nega l’esistenza di un passato e di un futuro, per restare intrappolata in un eterno presente, le figure dell’archeologo (colui che riporta in vita l’oggetto artistico) e dell’artista (colui che lo crea) sembrano sovrapporsi. Ne deriva l’immagine di un artista-archeologo che assume un ruolo chiave, racchiudendo in sé due aspetti fondamentali: quello dell’interprete dei segni di una civiltà sospesa nel tempo e quella del promotore di processi progettuali e creativi, garante quindi di una continuità ciclica della creazione artistica.

In questo preciso ambito s’inserisce la mostra “Sotto l’influenza del Fiume. Sedimento”, nuovo capitolo del corpus di lavori dal titolo “Archeologia dell’Effimero”, iniziato nel 2016 ma che trova le sue cellule germinali in un progetto di qualche anno prima, “Geografia in Contrazione” (2011), dove elementi vegetali prelevati da contesti incontaminati della città venivano inglobati in blocchi di cemento per farne degli illeggibili archivi del paesaggio.

In “Sotto l’influenza del Fiume. Sedimento” il Tevere diventa il punto di osservazione e riflessione sulla metropoli contemporanea ed il suo fondo, il luogo in cui si configura la città nella sua vera forma. Materie organiche e inorganiche di diverso genere e frammenti architettonici di ogni epoca si accumulano e confondono in una unica omogenea massa grigia fatta di infiniti strati in continuo movimento e rimodellamento.

Questo magma architettonico trova la sua solidificazione (litificazione) all’interno di grandi vasche poste in galleria dove viene ricreato il microcosmo del Tevere. Grazie alla polvere di cemento rilasciata da una macchina sopraelevata e appositamente progettata, si attiva così un processo fortemente accelerato di costruzione di sedimenti della città “liquida”, fossili emblematici del nostro tempo.

Stefano Canto


Stefano Canto

Research : Final Major Project

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 5

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I make a point of keeping up to date with Materia Gallery in Rome, as it represents Stefano Canto.  Interestingly an exhibition opens this coming week solely focused on Canto’s latest work, entitled ‘Sotto l’influenza del Fiume. Sedimento’ (translated ‘Under the Influence of the River. Sediment’).

This looks to be part of Canto’s evolving practice focused on his work with the materials of construction to express his interrogation of history and its meaning in contemporary life.

I met the owner of the gallery, Niccolò Fano at Unseen 2017, where we discussed Canto’s work which became a key point in the development of my own practice. In the knowledge of this new exhibition, I am making contact with him again, via email, hoping that he responds by allowing me access to this show’s essay by Lorenzo Madaro.

From the introductory page on the Materia website regarding this new show it states, this “furthers Canto’s long-established research the field of contemporary archeology, the subject matter of liquid modernity and the cornerstone of his practice: architecture.” This, in my view,  cites Canto’s appreciation of Zygmunt Bauman’s view of the fluid discarding of the recent to adopt the next.

Detailing the exhibition, the evolution that invites the new and discards the old to a miasma of sediment “Canto states: The Tiber is the starting point for a reflection on the metropolis, its riverbed is where the city can be found in its true form, characterised by a state of constant mutation. Architectural fragments belonging to different timeframes, alongside organic and non-organic matter of all kinds are accumulated and muddled in one single and homogenous grey mass composed of infinite layers and stratifications in constant flux”.

A further extract begins to express the need to understand sculptural form and the space in which it is placed “Canto’s sculptures reveal the result of a dual and binary process, closely tied to the accumulation of matter and its creation, to specific architectural notions alongside an uninterrupted meditation on the medium that in the past few years has spurred the artist to question the concept of form in his sculptures and their subsequent transformation within the space occupied”.

I shall be exploring this exhibition in greater depth.

Links accessed 25. 3. 2018

Archive Hunting

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 4, Sustainable Prospects.  Week 7

Central Library ext

Figure 1

I wrote in my journal on 29th October 2017I have arranged to view the Wolfson Archive Centre at the Library of Birmingham with intent to access and review these materials, see figure 5.  This endeavour will be recorded via this journal” and this was in response to my theoretical approach to “fuse imagery with concrete making and a lament to the past and John Madin in particular” which in turn was inspired by Stefano Canto’s concrete work and his homage to Theo van Doesburg.

I gained access to 7 large archive boxes at the Library of Birmingham which contained slides, documents, articles and contemporary prints. The latter proved the most useful in forming a solution to my own work where I plan to reappropriate imagery as a select part of the memoriam principle.  I recorded the findings using my camera.

Figures 1, 2 (construction process) and 3 show the Paradise area of Birmingham with the Central Library and the Conservatoire, both of which have been captured internally as part of the Pause Project.  Figures 4 and 5 are of the Birmingham Post & Mail Building which has already been lost to the city.

It is my intention to experiment with mixing these reappropriated images with my own work and other mixed media as the plan emerges for my final concrete exhibition.

DSC_5383 copycent lib buildDSC_5377 copyP and M at night

figures 2, 3, 4, 5


All imagery rephotographed by Philip Singleton from John Madin archive, Wolfson Centre, Library of Birmingham.


The Concrete Journey : Step One : Archeologia dell’Effime : The Research


MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 4, Sustainable Prospects; Week Three : Practice Development

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figure 1

I was seeking out inspiration and opportunities to develop my practice at Unseen Amsterdam 2017.  The appearance of concrete made my heart sing.  The Materia Gallery in Rome had concrete panels by Stefano Canto on the walls, figure 1.  That led to a discussion and the purchase of the book Concrete Archive (2016).  I have now read this through and apply parts of the learning here. There were notable links which have lead me to working on a lateral, material expression of practice.

Canto had a fascination with the scale and materiality of the monument to Mussolini at the Foro Italico sports complex in Rome, the 300-tonne monument to the power of fascism when it was erected in 1932, figure 2.  Canto subverted this with his own concrete monument to Theo van Doesburg (1883 to 1931), the founder of De Stijl movement in the Netherlands in 1917, figure 4.

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figure 2

Canto, as architect turned artist, has his work analysed by Emanuela Nobile Mino (pp 82-88) in Concrete Archive. Notably the German rationalist movement (Bauhaus), when adopted in Italy, in the early part of the twentieth century, carried with it the burden and representation of Fascism. Mino writes “Italian Rationalism was more committed to political celebration, therefore to the construction and modernisation of public building, of representation. The monument…erected in 1932..was no exception (figure 2)  As with the complete urban plan of the city in general, the monument – a monolith in Carraran marble standing 17 meters in height – slavishly follows the formal and symbolic iconography of Imperial Rome; …a phallic metaphor; a monument of the indomitable undisputed universal power of the emperor.” pp 84.

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figure 3

Canto identifies the Dutch/German influence in van Doesburg competition entry for a monument in Leeuwarden in 1916 (figure 3) and, in making the comparison between the fascist and the rationalist, Canto hypothesises a deconstruction into parts on the ground, thus the potency of the political power is diminished and laid to the earth. Mino concludes her essay about Canto’s laying down piece “[he] elaborates an even more drastic slippage, constituting an even greater distancing from its original title (Mussolini) and bestowing a new one (‘to Theo van Doesburg’), proposing an alternative reading of the canons of formal and aesthetic work: aligned with the central issues of contemporary European art, rather than with the linguistic servility of political propaganda” pp 88.  It is this response, using a concrete form, to subvert power, that is a appealing; the liberation and expression of art against the abuse and force of regimes.  Canto, in 2013 made this image of his monument to grounded repose, figure 4.

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figure 4

Carmen Stolfi, the curator and writer, in her essay ‘Archiving the Ephemeral’ in Concrete Archives (pp90-100) discusses the FOMO generation (the ‘Fear Of Missing Out’), citing Facebook’s constant plea ‘what’s on your mind?’ as if it matters on a minute by minute, ‘rolling news’ of consciousness. The pleasure is derived in the moment and anticipated by the next. The ephemera of common existence, shared but rapidly discarded in the digital wake; an afterlife of fractured pixels and alphabet soupness; a memory of vagueness in the overload that has no power to hold coherence, but to refract, deform, diminish and decay.  Stolfi states a counterpoint to this generation’s tendency in that “Canto resists to the ephemeral character of the present and reinforces the idea of stability and durability of our past.  The image of the archive made out of cement [concrete] if, on one hand, proposes a reflection on the notion of archiving, documenting and recording of humans’ actions, on the other hand, it suggest the artist’s interest in architecture. The cement [concrete] offers here not just a collateral interpretation of the time that transforms, subdues, and reinforces but also a literal one.  In fact, Canto’s training as an architect his underlines his interest in the concept of mutation and the relationship between artifice and nature, by especially focusing on the way man has altered the landscape over time”.

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figure 5

In his exhibition pieces, at Archeologia dell’Effimero (2016) Canto ‘fixes’ time, space and shape by casting concrete into loose moulds and inserting ice into the fluid body of material which melts during the curing process which creates a void; the natural material melts but leaves its trace figure 5.  Canto derives his thinking about the mode of life from Zygmunt Bauman’s essay Liquid Modernity (2000), I extract here from the 2012 version “To ‘be modern’ means to modernize – compulsively, obsessively; not so much just ‘to be’, let alone to keep its identity intact, but forever ‘becoming’, avoiding completion, staying under-defined. Each new structure which replaces the previous one as soon as it is declared old-fashioned and past its use-by date is only another momentary settlement – acknowledged as temporary and ‘until further notice’” viii Foreword.

Stolfi notes that the Canto response is to create work that conceptually addresses the state in that “everything happens in a continuous, swift and elusive transformation, in which past and future disappear, thus becoming an eternal present.  The work becomes the starting point for a reflection on the roles of archaeologist and artist.

I was able to see Canto’s ‘Epoca No 731’ at Unseen, Amsterdam in September – figure 1.  Here he fuses photography and printing with a slab of concrete.  There is an absorption of information and colour from one body to another in that the wet, curing concrete sucks in not only the information on the layer of print offered up during the process, but bonds the paper into the surface.  It becomes a concrete print; the photographic print is made, then the print is transformed by a chemical hydration interaction of cement, water and fine aggregate.  In this instance it is newspaper print from Epoca magazine.  Stolfi notes that this is “a nostalgic attempt to eternalise a present that veers towards the blurred digitisation, while proposing a different interpretation of our time that fights against the virtual elusiveness, by using semantic shifts of meaning of the word ‘concrete’ standing both for cement and for an archive that is tangible, real, material”.


In summary the is a highly appropriate confluence of ideas for my practice development here;

Firstly, I have photographed a number of concrete framed buildings as part of my Pause Project.  I await a response to requests I have made for pieces of the demolished concrete structures to be given to me as part of my ultimate goal of a spatial exhibition which would go beyond simply the photographic print, as a concrete ‘momento mori’.

Secondly, Canto’s reference of Bauman’s continuous and unsettling mode of change is relevant to my thinking and methodology for the Pause Project as buildings become discarded and I capture them in just that period of waiting for the next, apparently better place.  My methodology;

“The practice resolves to question and explore the concept of pause.  Pause is the interruption of the natural or imposed flow of time and life.  An adjournment. A metaphor of the slowing of the heart beat, a hesitation, a drawing of breath. A discontinuance.

The interregnum preceded by the specifics of history and holding time before the future existence or execution”.

Thirdly, I am seeking opportunities to retrieve archive source material in the form of models, drawings, photographs and media articles about the design and construction of key buildings in the twentieth century of Birmingham.  These may become part of the memory and infusion into something else….

Fourthly, I have been pondering projecting or pasting onto concrete surfaces for sometime and the potential to do this has led to my next experiment, doing just that; see my next entry.

Thus this reading provides me with a researched basis for a new exploration.



1 Figure 1 photo: Philip Singleton, taken at Unseen

2 Canto, S. (2016) Concrete Archive Rome; Drago

3 Figure 2 sourced from (visited 15.10.17)

4 Figure 3 sourced (visited 15.10.17)

5 A news article about the Mussolini monument

6 Link to Theo van Doesburg

7 Article on van Doesburg

8 Figure 4 sourced from  (visited 15.10.17)

9 Figure 5 photo: Philip Singleton, taken at Unseen

10 Bauman, Z. (2000). Liquid modernity. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

11 Bauman, Z. (2013). Liquid Modernity. (Later edition with foreword)Oxford: Wiley.

12 Footnote: Interestingly, from the perspective of preservation, as a monument to living, Reitveld’s (a key member of the De Stijl movement) house for Shröder (which in part is concrete (balconies)) is now listed thus;

The World Heritage Committee inscribed the Rietveld Schröder House on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites on 2 December 2000, during the 24th session in CairnsAustralia. The committee decided to apply criterion i and ii, and said about the house;

The Rietveld Schröderhuis in Utrecht is an icon of the Modern Movement in architecture and an outstanding expression of human creative genius in its purity of ideas and concepts as developed by the De Stijl movement. (…) With its radical approach to design and the use of space, the Rietveld Schröderhuis occupies a seminal position in the development of architecture in the modern age. World Heritage Centre. UNESCO. Retrieved 2008-05-06.


How Many Books is Too Many Books?

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 4, Sustainable Prospects

I experienced two very different photobook browsing moments at Unseen Amsterdam on 30th September.

The first was at a booth within the main space at a gallery in the main space- Matèria Rome  where I was engaged by the gallery owner who explained the work of Stefano Canto, who works with concrete and allied processes and imagery.  I purchased the book Concrete Archive (figure 1) as this will be useful as I expand my thinking about practice ( and reminding myself that I had made a request for concrete to be extracted from an imminently  demolished building in Birmingham).

figures 1, 2

The second experience was a walk around the book tent at Unseen.  The space was very busy and even though one of my favourite book sellers seemed not to be in attendance (Mack Books) there was a huge diversity of sellers and organisations in the tent.  The sheer scale of this event (acknowledging that it is far from being the largest) was overwhelming, despite my determination to purchase something as a momento of Unseen 2017.  Titles that seemed to belie the content, cover images that often tantalised with content to match and sometimes not.  Elbows and wallets to do battle with.  One full perambulation took me back to a stall where I bought a book about Stephen Keppel, called Flat Finish (figure2), which matched my wish to fish out a book that reflected my developing practice.


Canto, S. (2016) Concrete Archive (Rome; Drago)

Keppel, S. (2017) Flat Finish (New York; Fw:Books)