fbpx Archeology of Seeing. A new exhibition curated by Chair of photography Steve Bisson — PCA

Archeology of Seeing curated by Steve Bisson, Chair of Photography

© Eugène Atget, Ancien Hotel Dieu, 1899 ca (Collezione Dionisio Gavagnin)

On Friday, 19 April 2024, the exhibition “From Atget via Basilico. Archeology in seeing” opens at Lab27, in Treviso. The works of two masters of photography, Eugène Atget and Gabriele Basilico, have been brought together for the first time to question the representation of places, the meaning of collecting space, and archiving images as internal possessions. Curated by Steve Bisson and Dionisio Gavagnin, collector and writer, we cross two journeys that have marked the history of photography, sediment its practice, enhance its role, and honor it from an “archaeological” perspective. The exhibition explores the relationship between the two authors concerning the meaning of documenting and the possibility of seeing or, better, re-seeing the world. It’s a way to shift the focus from those who take the photography to those who benefit from it. That is, it invites us to reflect further on the intended uses, on the design strength of the medium, and finally, on the urgency of educating the gaze.

Eugène Atget, the father of modern and documentary photography, grasped the potential of the reproducibility of the visible by starting to catalog views and glimpses of Paris at the end of the nineteenth century. Also driven by precariousness, his work becomes obsessive, and its intent is mechanical, anticipating the computational mappings and visual cartographies of Google Earth and Street View. His images are finds, or rather archaeological evidence, faded memories of lost places—a deferred destiny suspended in the author’s intentions. There is more. We face the clear testimony of a reversal of the gaze on the world, which turns on itself, aimed at accumulation, setting aside, and therefore classification, copying, and printing. It’s a new world that is easy to execute with simple, imitable, or replicable commands. And we are soon in the present day; click and send. Photography that sees everything and reaches everywhere begins with Atget’s undertaking, a gesture of omnipotence aimed at embracing the entire city in an urban scan.

He would write in a letter to Paul Léon, director of the Beaux-Arts in Paris, on 12 November 1920 (Jean-Marie Baldner, ‘Qui est Eugène Atget’, 1857-1927, BNF.fr): “In more than twenty years, I have collected through my work and my individual initiative, in all the ancient streets of old Paris, clichés photographs, 18/24 format, artistic documents on beautiful civil architecture from the 16th to the 19th century […] This enormous artistic and documentary collection is now finished. I can say that I own all of old Paris.” And so it is that albums conceived for selling and marketing the city’s image, as much as supporting its author’s life of hardship, will forever change the way of understanding photography or experiencing it. “Whatever its nature, the first characteristic of experience […] is iteration. There is no experience in the absence of repetition, therefore. But memory is inevitably closely linked to repetition”, Roberta Valtorta wrote in the book “Gabriele Basilico. The experience of places” (Art& Edizioni, 1995).

We arrived at Gabriele Basilico. Half a century later, the architect takes up the baton of the bizarre French serial photographer, like a few others. His production still hinges on the city, on the urban stage in which human relationships are shaped, although the vision broadens. Now, cities overflow into geography. Milan is his Paris, where he works across the board, “concerned with seeing everything” (Gabriele Basilico, ‘Porti di mare’, Art& Edizioni, 1990), he said, creating what Valtorta will define as a “collective portrait” (Art& Edizioni, 1995). Prolific, methodical, also like the pioneer, determined to pursue the face of transformation, now of a metropolitan nature, in a global, sans frontière horizon. In summary, Valtorta writes again, “From the monuments passing through the city Basilico reaches the large open landscape”. Basilico exalts the role of clients and planning mediated by seeing. And thus the “social mandate” (Art& Edizioni, 1995) and the photographer’s public role. As in the “Provincia Antiqua” series, which collects some views of archaeological sites in France, crumbs of landscape that preserve the value of the past and perhaps evoke the memory of beauty. As Aldo Rossi writes, beauty can arise “from the waste of what we thought we knew” (Art& Edizioni, 1990). Yet there is more to Basilico. An approach devoted to the understanding, slow reading, of the plot underlying the observed building novel, which expands the perception to the point of making it a body, and of its parts “personifications,” a breathing organism which today, perhaps, struggles under the pressure of staged bulimics and rapid upheavals. Photographs that preach reconciliation with the world and then, through contemplation, a sensitive look. Photographs as meeting places, “a renewed place in which internal projects and the appearance of the external world could coincide.”