In A Failed Entertainment, Alessandro Calabrese reflects on the language of photography. Starting from the web search of his own photographs, his works are the result of a process of accumulation that mimes today’s condition of overexposure to images. At the geometric center of the frame, where the images overlap, a dark, thick and illegible stain takes shape, while the most diverse subjects emerge all around it, chase each other and slip away, animated by a centrifugal force.
The following interview is part of a series of conversations with the artists and publishers featured in 2016 – On New Italian Photography, running through September 16 in Viasaterna, Milan.
F: What was your first approach to photography?
AC: One of my first memories dates back to my attempt to photograph my parents properly in front of a monument, it might have been the Tour Eiffel or something else, I’m not sure. Indeed, I tried to shoot in vertical format. I must have been nine years old, I remember holding my father’s heavy camera in my hands.
F: Who or what had an influence on what you do?
AC: I grew up listening to rap music, watching the worst movies I could pick at Blockbuster – I was such a good client that I earned a Gold Member Card, which I was very proud of –, learning jokes by Anglophone stand-up comedians by memory, guessing a few outstanding readings right, spending hours on TV shows and YouTube – my ongoing collection of favorite videos amounts to 2608 items, spanning from kittens/puppies to Giorgio Agamben’s conferences, which I try my best to understand with poor results – and meeting a handful of nice people. As regards my latest series A Failed Entertainment, I drew fully from David Foster Wallace, Gilles Deleuze, Carmelo Bene and Francis Bacon.
F: What stories do you like to tell?
AC: At the moment I am interested in the relationship between images and contemporary society. It’s news of these days that within five years, Facebook will be all about videos, starting now with the new Live function. First was the crisis of text, now it’s time for photographs, together with the proliferation we have heard so much of, to retire.
From a visual point of view, I am enjoying working between abstract and figurative, walking on the line between the gratuitousness of the first and the legibility of the second.
The main subject of my photographs has always been the landscape, however, after working with archive pictures and the so-called vernacular photography, I ended up interpolating all of these ingredients with the web and IT programming.
F: What is the best photobook you have seen so far?
AC: I do not have much of a culture in terms of photobooks, I find it hard to follow the fast rhythms of independent publishing. I am very affectionate to Rule Without Exception by Lewis Baltz, which is, rather than a photobook, a book of photographs/catalogue/essay. Neue Welt by Wolfgang Tillmans is not a beautiful book itself, but it was very important for the development of my work. Among recent releases, I was intrigued by Everything_1 by Kenta Cobayashi. In the end, I would like to mention the pair Coming Up for Air and B-Sides by Stephen Gill, which are simply beautiful. I enjoy holding them in my hands, leafing through their pages, looking at their photographs.
F: What is the best exhibition you have seen recently?
AC: Scenes for a New Heritage: Contemporary Art from the Collection, a group exhibition I visited at the MoMA in New York earlier this Spring, which featured two works I love very much: Lament of the Images by Alfredo Jaar and Grosse Fatigue by Camille Henrot. That day I also ran, by surprise, into one of my favorite paintings by Francis Bacon: Painting, 1946.
F: And the record you like the most?
AC: This is impossible to answer. At least I have to define one genre, and I’ll say rap, then I must pick two records, because I could never choose between them and they function as a couple to me: Sindrome di Fine Millennio by Uomini di Mare (1999), and La Grande Truffa del Rap by Gente Guasta (2000).
F: What are your future projects?
AC: I am working on a sort of second chapter of A Failed Entertainment (which should become a trilogy in the end), the work will have a different title but shares the same starting point: the novel Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. In this case, the reference won’t be only conceptual but, on the contrary, almost literal. I am experimenting with the scanner, but in the final output I would also like to return to traditional photography: still lifes, likely a few landscapes, and manipulated archive images.
Alessandro Calabrese, born in Trento in 1983, lives and works in Milan. Graduated in architecture from the IUAV University in Venice, in 2012 he completed the Master in Photography and Visual Design at NABA (New Academy of Fine Arts), Milan, then moved to Amsterdam to work with photographer Hans Van Der Meer and the documentary platform Paradox. His books Thoreau and Die Deutsche Punkinvasion were published in 2014 and 2015 by Skinnerboox, while A Drop in the Ocean, released by Editions du Lic, is the result of a collaboration with Skinnerboox’s founder Milo Montelli. Recent exhibitions include Fotografia Europea in Reggio Emilia, Triennale der Fotografie Hamburg, Plat(t)form at Winterthur Fotomuseum, Fotopub Festival in Novo Mesto (Slovenia). Selected among the 21 emergent talents in international photography by Foam Magazine in 2015 with A Failed Entertainment, he participated to the respective group shows at Atelier Néerlandais (Paris), De Markten (Bruxelles) and Beaconsfield Gallery (London). His work is represented by Viasaterna. www.alessandrocalabrese.info
Conversation with Skinnerboox, Alessandro Calabrese, Federico Ciamei and Vittorio Mortarotti Wednesday, June 22 at 7 pm Viasaterna Via Leopardi 32, Milan www.viasaterna.com
Read our features on Alessandro Calabrese’s Thoreau, A Drop in The Ocean and A Failed Entertainment