Interview by Claudia Bigongiari
All images © Fabio Barile
Fabio Barile was born in 1980 in Barletta (Italy) and made photographic studies in Florence.
Land is the first layer of his research, which started in 2005 with the documentation of the coastal erosion in Italy. What followed is human relationship with land itself, and therefore all connections and interactions between elements (natural and artificial) around us.
This complexity in continuous state of becoming and transformation is what Fabio attempts to make visibile and more understandable through photography, which, despite its limits, helps him to consider all of these different things from the a neutral point, with no aim to create order.
Forests, clouds, rocks, skin’d moles all have the same role inside the unstoppable movement of the cosmos.
Fabio is now based in Rome, and represented by Matéria gallery, where he did his first solo show in 2015. He’s been part of the group exhibition On Earth at the 50th edition of the Rencontres d’Arles and at the FOAM museum in Amsterdam. His last show has been Di Roccia, fuochi e avventure sotterranee at MAXXI in Rome
Claudia Bigongiari (CB): Hi Fabio, first of all welcome to Pellicola magazine!
Tell us something about yourself. When did your relationship with photography start?
Fabio Barile (FB): Hi Claudia, thank you for inviting me.
The easy answer is that my relation with photography started around 2002 thanks to the fortuitous encounters with surrealism, futurism, for example with Anton Giulio Bragaglia and the booklet of the Peter Gabriel album UP, that had lot of photographs inside. Then I decided to go study photography in Florence at Fondazione Studio Marangoni.
The second answer considers the fact that my parents have a photo of a three year old me with blonde curly hair in a red and white striped t-shirt, holding my uncle’s camera, this could be the more psychological answer, but I guess every child in the 80s has a photo like that. Sure thing is that I truly remember a huge fascination for the object and all its mechanics and this could have triggered something that paved the way for my encounter with photography.
(P.S. I just went visiting my parents and searched for that print, in the picture I have a white shirt with one single red line and there is only the lanyard visible of what I remember was the camera.
My memory messed up and maybe mixed the memory of the moment with the memory of the picture, that’s interesting.)
(CB): Your researches are explorations through the landscape. Starting from the coastal erosion of your project Among, to the wider complexity and intertwining of natural and artificial elements, photography represents the tool to map and measure this complexity. Are there other units of measurements in your practice?
(FB): My research is an exploration. It started with the landscape under the influence of Viaggio in Italia and the 80s’ authors, but looking back at my whole work I realised that landscape was more an excuse to work on themes not only related to landscape. The idea of a process in the act of developing, for example, can be seen as a geological movement of the landscape but also as history of culture and evolution. My own practice can be seen as a process, as something in becoming too.
The ideas initially manifested through the study of the landscape have become then autonomous and more abstract.
I decided to not abandon landscape photography because over time I developed a practice based on the stratification of things, and everything started from the study of the land, that’s why it is important to show its origin and all the strata of my work.
Maybe now the main unit of measurement is the practice itself, sometimes through the landscape, sometimes through science or culture, it’s about the building process of ideas, how things come to be, land, brains, bodies, maps, individuals and relationships.
(CB): Photography, despite its limits, has the characteristic of making everything document, archive. Maybe it’s impossible to answer the question if photography is a certificate of reality rather than another filter on it. What are your intentions with the use of photography?
(FB): For me the use of photography has multiple meanings, one of them is the one you mentioned, the fact that it flattens everything into the same two-dimensional space and gives the same shape to different things. No matter what the nature of the source is, a landscape, the surface of a screen, of an object I built, objects I find, moving things and still ones, huge and small, inside a photograph everything has the same structure. The use of photography, with its limits and boundaries, is like declaring my own limited point of view. This aspect, I think, is not so different from one’s own perceptions of reality.
Everything that exists in the world is processed through my body (brain included), my own history and evolution, and this limited entity called “me“ can only process the world through this specific organism, with its own genotype, phenotype, ideas and experiences, therefore, my brain (inside a body) is a tool for flattening the entire universe into a specific corporeal and mental dimension.
Photography for me is a cage that represents our own limitations, Plato’s cave that we can never leave but we can try to make less uncomfortable.
If it is a certificate of reality or another filter on it, it’s impossible to answer, because it has plastic property, I think it can be one of the two options and both at the same time. The concept of photography is similar to wave function in quantum mechanics: it has all the potential until we decide what it is.
(CB): Your project Works for a cosmic feeling (2018 and still ongoing) is an attempt to stop the continuous flux of evolution and make the multilayer of micro and macro cosmos suspended. More than the relationship between them (micro and macro), time becomes the protagonist (as visible inside the exhibition at Materia’s gallery). What are your feelings thinking about time?
(FB): Time is all about things changing, from particles to landmass and celestial bodies. My attempt is actually not to stop the flux of things that change over time, but to embody that evolution, showing the process of transformation of my practice and myself, inspired by the concept of evolution in nature. That’s why I don’t call Works for a cosmic feeling a project, quoting from wikipedia <The word project comes from the Latin word projectum from the Latin verb proicere, “before an action”>, in my recent work there is no decision before the action, I don’t know what it will be like over time in terms of form and themes (considering the whole body of works) it’s like a form of meditation in which you watch yourself acting and only then you can understand your actions or at least some of them.
Paraphrasing Joan Didion, I do things entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.
This attempt of course results in a series of counter-intuitive crystallization of time, but that’s the nature of photography, that’s the cage. It’s similar to language, the word “nest” has no features or resemblance of a real nest, words are much more simpler objects, and yet, we use them to say something about reality even if it’s way more complex than written language.
(CB): Regarding now your commissioned project Oslo Follo line (2019) by Ghella SPA, you spent some time on the construction site of Oslo’s new railway tunnel. Again you concentrate on the transformation of the landscape but maybe introducing a new layer: the under, where the landscape is excavated to grow itself?
(FB): As far as the themes of my personal research have become more and more abstract over time, when working on commissions I try to rely on the conceptual ideas that underlie my work.
The origin of these ideas is, as you mentioned, rooted in the landscape and its transformation, so it comes natural to me to use the landscape as the main source for the commissioned works.
In the project I have done in Oslo for Ghella, I used the themes on which my work is based as an underground river that carves and shapes the land even if you don’t see it.
The ideas of complexity / hyper object / extended phenotype and the continuity between natural and cultural things are that underground river that shaped the pictures I took at the construction site in Oslo. They emerge as an unconscious knowledge, a framework in which images of woods, tunnels or pieces of rock are small fragments of a complex system that is difficult to grasp.
The underground part of the land (in this case the tunnels) could be a good metaphor for this unconscious part of our behaviour but, I could say that my work has always been shaped by the search of what we cannot perceive. When I show a picture of a rock formation, there are visible remnants of something that happened long ago, but my interest is not only in showing the visible part of reality, but also the hidden part, in this case, our inability to truly understand deep time. The Underneath is always present in my work.
(CB): Together with forests, clouds are also elements that appear often in your works. In a way, looking at them it seems that we are inside a big cloud server that contains and archives all our datas. Do you agree?
(FB): Clouds for me are systems with a complex behaviour on our heads, a metaphor for probability and uncertainty, processes in the act of becoming or organisms and ideas that are continuously changing shape.
Together with forests, they are perhaps my most synecdonic images. They represent all my work in slightly different ways. The forests are like an aerial view of the whole work, with all the interactions of the elements in the system. The clouds, instead, are more of a time map, the different shapes that the cloud has had over time, are merged into a single image, therefore they represent the idea of becoming, in contrast with that of being.
As they have a long history in art and human fascination, I guess together with stars they are one of the most powerful things that make us wonder, so they can be whatever we want them to be.
(CB): Finally, Fabio would you tell us which are your sources of influences, in photography or art in general?
(FB): I would love to be influenced by everything, but I have my biases. At the moment my main source of influence are books.
I am now reading this essay published on Science in 1977, Evolution and Tinkering by Francois Jacobs, who writes about evolution and complexity in natural systems, I will quote some excerpts that I find really important for the influence these ideas have had on my work.
”Novelties come from previously unseen association of old material. To create is to recombine” / ”Natural selection works like a tinkerer — who uses everything at his disposal to produce some kind of workable object… / “This mode of operation has several aspects in common with the process of evolution. Often, without any well-defined long-term project, the tinkerer gives his materials unexpected functions to produce new objects.” / “The human brain was formed by superposition of new structures on old ones. To the rhinencephalon of lower mammals a neocortex was added that rapidly, perhaps too rapidly, took a most important role in the evolutionary sequence leading to man.”
Here a few books that had great influence on my work:
The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism, Fritjof Capra Origins: The Scientific Story of Creation, Jim Baggott
Imperfezione. Una storia naturale, Telmo Pievani
The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures, Antonio Damasio
Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology, Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden
Chaos: Making a New Science, James Gleick
La Complexité, vertiges et promesses. Dix-huit histoires de sciences, Réda Benkirane
Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World, Timothy Morton
The Extended Phenotype, Richard Dawkins
Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, Douglas Hofstadter
L’ordine del tempo, Carlo Rovelli
Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, Peter Godfrey-Smith
Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently, Beau Lotto
The Systems View of Life, A Unifying Vision, Fritjof Capra & Pier Luigi Luisi
Bilderatlas MNEMOSYNE, Aby Warburg
Making – Tim ingold