Theatres of dereliction, by Fabio Amodeo
Theatres of dereliction
When it’s all said and done, photography only really does one thing: reproduce that which was before the lens at the precise moment when the photo was taken.
Quite simply, that’s all there is to it. It is not even able to tell us if what we see in the image is part of a narrative of a reality that actually exists, or if it is something that has been organised, set up by the photographer and his collaborators. In order to find this out we need to make further investigations. Precisely because of the genre of photography, some photographers openly declare that there is a set. For example, this has always been true of studio portraits, or for nature photos used for advertising or publicity. Another example can be found throughout much of the twentieth century, when governments arranged staged photographs that would be presented as a reflection of reality and a genuine narrative in order to influence the consciousness of their citizens. It was this technique that led our fathers and grandfathers to believe whatever idea was in the best interests of the dictators.
The other element that photography cannot hide is the time of the shot. It is a critical element because it brings each and every image into contact with history. This is one of the key elements of the work of Stefano Tubaro. The subjects of his works are ruins, human constructions that have deteriorated over time. When we talk about ruins, we tend to imagine buildings that have been damaged by traumatic events: earthquakes, fires, wars, or the long passage of time. However, Tubaro’s ruins are of another kind. Apart from a few exceptions, they are all recent, which suggests that in an age of functional architecture the time for things to fall into ruin has become much shorter. Tubaro shows us environments that have been left as they were, with control panels, furnishings and objects that were dropped at the moment of abandonment and have been left behind. All of this, together with the abundance of objects photographed by Tubaro, help us to understand how our society is singularly incapable of reusing buildings which have been consumed, but also unable to scrap or demolish them. The ruins of the recent industrial age simply stay there for years and years, waiting for a new purpose, which is rarely ever found.
Italian military barracks were built in a time when all young men did military service. Now, they have been left unused for over ten years, and the cases where they have found a new use are the exception rather than the rule. They are already well on the way to being classified as ruins: a recent investigation, connected to the need to house immigrants, revealed that there is only a scattering of useable buildings in the region. There is a significant inability to plan for the reuse, modification or valorisation of the architecture that already exists. When a new need arises, we immediately think of new constructions, and the idea of reusing existing structures is very much in second place. This is the consequence of a period when local authorities and the building industry worked hand in hand, and we are still suffering the effects of this ideology in large-scale building projects. As such, unused buildings are moving towards a rapid metamorphosis. From places of work and production, they are becoming remnants, a testimony left for those who wish to see it, and the first step on the road to taking on the status of ruin.
Up to this point we might consider what Stefano Tubaro is doing to be a process of documentation. However we only need to look at his work to understand that there is more to it than this. The images are coloured, and some areas have a colouration that seems to be artificial, an effect that has been created by the artist. This is a technique which uses artificial lights filtered with coloured gels to create the effect, a technique that originates in the world of theatre. This all creates an instant short-circuit: with documentary photography we are led – often mistakenly – to believe that the image is an objective transcription, whilst the realm of theatre is based on the complicity between the actors and the audience, that is, the understanding that this is an event constructed from imagination and human creativity, that it is fiction. Nobody believes that what they see in the theatre is real, but many of us (as I said, often mistakenly) instinctively take photographic documentation to be real.
The short-circuit the artist creates inevitably brings us to one of the fundamental subjects of contemporary artistic aesthetics. We have known since the time of Greek theatre (one of the cornerstones of our culture) that fiction is not an account of an event that really happened, and yet it is capable of transporting us deeper than any other means of expression into the depths of the human soul. In the same way, contemporary photographic aesthetics ask us whether the images staged by the artist are capable of taking us closer to the heart of things, compared to documentary works and reportage. There is no definitive answer, the individual power of each artwork forces us to constantly reconsider our opinion. The contamination created by Tubaro contains within it its own specific response.
(presentation text of the catalogue of the exhibit “Metamporphoses of places”, Agriturismo Colonos – Villacaccia di Lestizza e Galleria Civica Tina Modotti, Udine 2016)