For the last six years Reggio Emilia has hosted Fotografia Europea, an international photography festival. This year, “Verde, bianco, rosso. Una fotografia dell’Italia” (Green, white, red. A photography of Italy), was featured in Italian Vogue. Last year the focus was female photographers. The exhibitions themselves blend the architectural grace of the city with the postmodern conceptions inherent in photography. Across the city dozens of cafes, shops and a multitude of pubic spaces host exhibitions. Most are free though a few are juried requiring an admission fee.
The exhibition spaces physically express the texture of the community across time, using historical monuments and everyday spaces to display postmodern artist expressions. A small café may exhibit a series of rural portraiture, while the newly restored historical monument, such as Chiostri di San Peatro, may host an exhibition of historical images of papal life. Both spaces offer communal gathering reflecting one of the hallmarks of Italian life, historical and contemporary life co-existing. The festivals iconic pink frame is infused into the fabric of Reggio’s physical spaces. Regardless of the season, the icon an be found stamped on the ground, pasted to a window or hanging from a ancient wall. It has become a symbol for “Reggio Emilia Città Creativa,” a city with an extremely vibrant creative life, which per capita has far more creative enterprises than many larger cities in Italy.
Just outside the cloisters of Chiostri di San Peatro were a series of photos commissioned to document everyday life, all on the same day, across all of Italy. The images were hung in succession in an open public space. They wrapped around an old pealing wall, tucking under lush vegetation, living next to a street vender and a huge rack of bicycles. The manner of the presentation, framed within a communal setting, literally engaged the viewer in a walk through a day in the life of Italy. In the process it exposed and expressed both interior and exterior Italian life, symbolically articulating the interweaving of public and private, of old and new.
The sense of interweaving, of wholeness is also implicit the fact that the exhibition spaces are open late into the night when people flow onto the streets. Thus, the exhibition spaces become embedded extensions of community. The juxtaposition of postmodern imagery juxtaposed to ancient and modern architectural spaces visually articulate a universality of Italian life. Further, citizens across a wide socio-economic strata engage with work, exemplifying the perennial marriage of art and culture with everyday Italian life.
From a methodological perspective, the use of historic spaces often lent themselves to artistic expressions that engages all the senses in a contrast of time and space. In one such exhibition the scent of dried roses wafted upwards as the sound of flowing water from a video of the photographic process filled the space. It was a stark juxtaposition of postmodern against ancient. There was, of course, the obvious visual dimension of the photographs, which were displayed against ancient wall around a circle of dried roses that rustled against my hand as I bend to examine them. Yet another juxtaposition of postmodern against ancient, of death against life.
Yet amidst this immerse of artists expression were brands – alive and well. As I left the final last exhibition, which featured photographers from five different countries exploring aspects of labor on three continues, I found the branded embodiment of labor and the issues that surround it – Nike. There sat two greeters, she an architect and he a soccer player. His Nike hat tossed to the side and atop a stack of exhibition brochures. His cell phone resting beside it as they sat playing Carte Piacentine a traditional Italian card game. The intimate meshing of local and global, artistic and commercial, traditional and postmodern perfectly expressed by the blazing green Nike tagline – “Just do it.”
All photographs copyright: Jean Grow