Interview Marina Caneve


Photography is particularly interesting to me, as a medium characterised by a significant level of ambiguity, especially since we culturally tend to associate it with reality. In 2015, as I began working on Bridges are Beautiful (working title), while reading Susan Sontag and specifically Regarding the Pain of Others, I started wondering whether a subtle, indirect photography could have an even greater impact than direct, strong, “painful” pictures. This reflection cannot be separated from the type of photography that shaped my practice, and that continues to fascinate me to this day. In particular, I am referring to the documentary tradition that started approximately with the figure of Walker Evans and evolved, although it underwent a profound transformation. Evans’ photography was described by Lincoln Kirstein as one which appears with a behaviour of tender cruelty, where reigns a perfect balance of engagementand estrangement, disenchantment.
Stemming from an aesthetic that is close to reality, photography has the potential to become a vehicle for social and political critique – not because the pictures’ caption says so, but rather because the images strike us with their value. This way of thinking refers to a discourse that can be explored within a catalogue that I believe remains fundamental to the reflection on contemporary photography. It is Cruel and Tender, the catalogue of the first major exhibition dedicated to photography in a contemporary art museum in Europe, namely the Tate Modern (2003). The exhibition questioned the place of documentary photography in contemporary art. Rineke Dijkstra’s portraits of bullfighters are one of the many possibilities offered by Cruel and Tender. Anything but abstract they evoke, but show nothing; they allude, through a meagre and disenchanted context. At the same time, through the individuals they somehow tell us about our vulnerable existential condition as human beings.

References (art, literature, music, other)

I was trained in the Italian school of photography, in particular with Guido Guidi. Once I had absorbed his lesson on patience, on the extraordinariness of the ordinary and on the importance of always pushing the limits, I decided to open myself to different cultures and different ways of relating to the medium itself, training, working, and living in Switzerland and the Netherlands.
If I think back to the first academic path I chose, at the faculty of architecture, I could say that what I ultimately find truly compelling is urbanism. Photography and urbanism, at least as I have come to understand them, have in common the need for a behaviour that is both rigorous and curious, exploratory. I am particularly interested in artistic contaminations. What I love the most about books, for instance, are the lists of titles usually included at the end, which refer to other works, or the footnotes that make me discover other things in a sort of chain reaction. What appeals to me is the complexity, the contamination, the balance, the (perceptual) catastrophe that makes us vulnerable. Some names come to my mind, haphazardly: Aby Warburg, Superstudio, Lars Von Trier, Werner Herzog, Caravaggio, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Michael Schmidt, Allan Sekula, Alighiero Boetti, Harun Farocki, Petra Stavast, Walid Raad, Latova Ruby Frazier… One of the works that enthral me the most is the art film The way things go by Fischli and Weiss (1987), in which a chain of events causes a sort of catastrophe poised between irony and tragedy, subtle and finally dramatic, which evokes not only the four primary elements (water, air, earth and fire) but also, through everyday objects, their relationship with us humans. In this sense, this work is fundamental to me because it tackles a topic that is very dear to me, that is the catastrophe and the relationship between nature and culture, which have been kept separate for too long.
For the same reason, I find Rosa Barba’s work particularly interesting, especially one project of hers from 2010, The Empirical Effect, in which she reflects on the topic of predicted catastrophes, using the Vesuvius as an expedient. If I had to think of a literary reference, I would mention, for example, W.G. Sebald, whose works focus on a sort of manic dialogue between fragments in which “its weaving rests on on a manic hermeneutics of the fragment […] even though the labyrinth, instead of leading somewhere else, takes us straight to the centre of the tragedy, in the deepest layers of the psyche of those whohave experienced it.” At the same time, I am particularly fascinated by the strand of literature which emanates from scientific research. Oliver Sacks, David Quammen, Eduardo Kohn, Richard P. Feynman, and Carl Safina are some of the names I could quote.

Research methodology

To this day, my practice evolves through a multidisciplinary, research-based approach; my work process moves from the source to the poem, to the beat, until it reaches the audience, confronting different perspectives, from the vernacular-naïve to the technological-scientific. I am particularly interested in the indeterminacy which lays at the foundation of the relationship and the contrast between research and poetry, or in other words, between nature and culture. Poetry is the indestructible hard rock of the mountain just as well as it is the woolly cloud hovering above. [2]

On another matter, I find the Greek thought, in which the interdisciplinary approach finds its roots, to be a fascinating research method – Plutarch already mentions it in his dialogue On the face of the moon. I understand it as a contamination between culture and expert knowledge, between myth and science, to be approached not in an amateurish way but rather with openness and empathy.

Artistic crossovers and contaminations

My entire work is based on contaminations, from suggestions to research, production and finally delivery. I am especially interested in the contamination between intuitions that are linked to the act of physically moving around and of photographing, ones linked to the vernacular imaginary, as well as ones linked to the scientific one. What captivates me me is how the role of images can evolve, and how the images themselves can be redefined. Contaminations are fundamental to me, essentially because I believe that a photograph cannot exist for itself, but that the point is rather how photography can actively participate in processes of knowledge building without necessarily being descriptive. As mentioned above, my work process consists of contaminations – not only between different disciplines, but also between languages. I am currently really interested in the possibilities of interaction between the image and the text, and the installation possibilities of the work themselves. A particularly important reference in this sense is the work of Allan Sekulan, which fits into the documentary tradition in a rather radical way, constructing real essays that interact with his photographs.

[1] Roberto Gilodi, Ritratto di W.G. Sebald, Doppiozzero, 2012

[2] Taco Hidde Bakker, Are they documents or poems?, in Are they rocks or clouds?, Marina Caneve, Fw:Books and OTM, 2019