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EUR_Libya, photographic series, Giclée prints on cotton paper on dibond panels, variable dimensions, 2010-12.

With his new photographic project, shown now for the very first time after two years in production, Federico Baronello analyzes the symbolic representation of power in its purest form, through architecture. The starting point for his research is the «Fascism embodied in stone» mentioned by the Italian historian Emilio Gentile: the ideology of power illustrated by the magnificent buildings of Italian rationalism spread between the two poles of new Fascist Rome, the Foro Italico and EUR.

EUR-3779, installation view at the group show 'The Materiality of a Dream' at the Brodbeck Foundation, Catania 2013.

Left: EUR-3779, installation view at the group show ‘The Materiality of a Dream’ at the Brodbeck Foundation, Catania 2013.

Already its title, EUR_Libya, points to the paradoxical sense of the work. The artist further suggests a metaphysical aspect: the architecture depicted appear as archeological monuments abandoned in the empty midday sun, reminiscent of the De Chirico’s Italian Piazza, but also of the Italian colonial landscapes in Africa.

EUR-3779, installation view.

EUR-3779, installation view.

Lost in time, a surreal landscape fixed in sunlight, monumental but empty, silent, found here in Italy, but it could be anywhere in the Mediterranean or even in Africa. Indeed, on closer observation, the architecture in the photographs of Federico Baronello is transformed through a surreal manoveur by the very transgressive nature of the artwork itself (i.e. the photo-montage).

EUR_3779 Headquarters of the Central Bank of Libya at the “Palace of Civilization and Work” designed by Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto La Padula, Mario Romano, 1938-43.

EUR_3779
Headquarters of the Central Bank of Libya at the “Palace of Civilization and Work” designed by Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto La Padula, Mario Romano, 1938-43. dim.cm.150×100.

A visual strategy inherited from the Dadaist who through the process of appropriation and de-contextualization developed the neo-avantgarde criticism during the ’60s and ’70s. However for Baronello the combination and overlapping of images and places, reminiscent of the strategy of visual artists such as Hans Haacke, without any direct bearing, does not embody the same ideological criticism. Baronello’s investigations are not a work about the real, as is the case of the German-American artist, but rather it is about the freedom of imagination, the utopia of the possible, inscribed by a minimal and discreet gesture.

As if Libya, or better North Africa, according to the definition of the ancient Greeks and then the Latins, might become Rome, and Rome in turn could really become the capital of a unified Mediterranean world. By inquiring into the meaning of Fascist architecture today, the artist questions the political and symbolic role of the institutions and of the cultural landscape in its broadest sense. In these photographs the ideological result of architecture undergoes a profound transformation, as if the original imperialist ideology had passed through the anthropophagous assimilation theorized by Brazilian modernist Oswald de Andrade, as the ultimate destiny of colonialism.

An economic post-colonialism, indeed. The names and logos of national companies that have long held trade and economic relations with Gaddafi’s Libya, appear as imprints on the surface of the «Fascism embodied in stone» photographed by Federico Baronello.

Anna Cestelli Guidi, presentation text for the solo show at the galleria collicaligreggi, Catania 2013.

Also, see the interview by Giuseppe Mendolia Calella (in Italian)

NEMO_Beta, HD movie, 39′ 36”, 2009-10.

NEMO is the Italian development project of KM3NeT, an European research infrastructure aimed to build a gigantic Cherenkov telescope, basically a giant underwater antenna, to detect high-energy astrophysical neutrinos. The movie documents the experimental installation of a twelve arms tower at 3500 meters depth. Below the sea level dozens of this module will form a grid of 1 square km about 700 meters high.

Still from HD movie.

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Publicity still

The KM3NeT will be the only submarine telescope to operate in the northern hemisphere and will be complementary to the American telescope installed under the ice of Antarctica. If implemented, it would become a centre of world-class research in the field of basic research as well as the largest station for monitoring the marine environment. The depths chosen by the Italian project for this telescope installation are part of a large area of the Ionian Sea located approximately 80 km from Portopalo, very close to the area where occurred the 1996 Christmas Eve wreck (see Portopalo).

NEMO_Beta is also the continuation of BdA, the exhibition contents made for the  Science Museum of Catania whose purpose was to illustrate the recent history of development in Sicily.

Portopalo, photographic installation, Durst Lambda prints on paper, variable dimensions, 2009.

Although it may seem paradoxical, “landscape” is a fundamental and recurrent theme of Modernism. So is it for those contemporary artists who through modernist models and structures once again put our way of seeing the landscape on the line. This practice clearly does not stop at the optical effect alone (or the “small pleasures”) but acts as a genuine investigative process. In this active exercise, the research (of documents and practices) overlaps with the taking apart and recomposition of the geographic and social space.

Portopalo. Installation view at the group show PPS - People and Landscape of Sicily at Palazzo Riso, Regional Museum of Contemporary Art, Palermo 2010.

Portopalo.
Installation view at the group show PPS – People and Landscape of Sicily at Palazzo Riso, Regional Museum of Contemporary Art, Palermo 2010.

Jean François Lyotard discerned how in the dominant capitalist society, signs are immediately and totally transformed (and neutralized) in information. Breaking the traditional alliance or uniformity of purpose that bound art to Capital, some artists have taken the trouble to dismantle the information and restore the value and fullness of the signs.

For some years now, Federico Baronello’s work has efficaciously pursued this line. The works presented at the gianluca collica gallery of Catania show us a landscape; a very precise landscape, that of Portopalo and the southwestern Ionian Sea. In this landscape (presented through photographic prints and full-HD video) the information is profuse and different: the realization and the installation of sculpture groups along the Portopalo promenade, by the local parish priest Don Palacino, in memory of the 283 migrants drowned off Capo Passero in 1996 (with a religious-pop aesthetic, with obvious though surely unconscious references to Picasso as well as Ed and Nancy Kienholz); the probable installation again in the same waters off Portopalo, by the Institute of Nuclear physics, of an immensely powerful underwater telescope, a kind of antenna devised to reveal astrophysical neutrinos of the highest energy; the remains and markings of Islamic culture “etched” onto the seized fishing boats in the port of Portopalo.

In Baronello’s works, all these pieces of information reacquire the meanings of a story but above all are presented as signs of modernity: useful signs enabling us to understand also what we see.

Giovanni Iovane, presentation text for the solo show Portopalo at the gianluca collica gallery, Catania 2009.

Also, see Francesco Lucifora interview (in Italian)!

Footnote

Footnote

Silver Bars (in Brimstone), documentary movie, 16:9 SD 64’, 2007-08.

BdA, photographic series, Durst Lambda prints on metal paper on Dibond panels with aluminium frames and museum glass, each dimension cm. 115×76,5, 2008.

Building a Science Museum in a disused sulphur refinery in the old industrial area of Catania may be an opportunity for a journey into the modern history of eastern Sicily. Indeed, the sulphur mines exploitation, which started in the early nineteenth century, immediately linked Sicily to the industrialization process that was spreading from England in Europe and America.

BdA7793779888678340076479260861876386068786882784608474 Installation view from the exhibition DA QUI # 01.09, gianluca collica gallery, Catania 2009.

BdA7793779888678340076479260861876386068786882784608474
Installation view from the exhibition DA QUI # 01.09, gianluca collica gallery, Catania 2009.

BdA (Barre d’Argento – Silver Bars) is an acronym chosen to indicate two different works, which were intended to complete the exhibition contents of the  Science Museum of Catania, and which purpose was to illustrate the recent history of the development in Sicily. The title was inspired by a work of the American artist Lawrence Weiner, which was realized in Catania at the gianluca collica gallery, the statement Silver Bars Bathed in Brimstone.

The documentary movie Silver Bars (in Brimstone) and the photographic installation BdA7793… are far-reaching journeys telling a story that goes from the sulphur years to those of oil and developers, up until the technological district and the numerous scientific research programmes that have developed around the Department of Physics of Catania. A journey from the bowels of the world to the top of volcano. It’s a laborious ascension to the vastness of the sea and the sky, from Inferno to Paradise. Furthermore, the two BdA works both represent an attempt to reconcile the experimental fury of the art in 1900 with a – often unevenly – communicator function of the work of art.

The narration of Silver Bars (in Brimstone) links the protagonists’ testimonies (from miners, owners of the deposits, scientists) and the historians’ interviews, with extracts of Sicilian literature (Luigi Pirandello, Giovanni Verga, Enzo Di Bernardo, Melissa Panarello). Locations views from the Floristella mine to the Priolo petrochemical centre, from the commercial centre (designed by the Italian archistar Massimiliano Fucksas) to the nuclear accelerator at the university campus, alternate with film excerpts of Italian documentary masterpieces such as Surfarara by Vittorio De Seta, Col cuore fermo Sicilia by Gianfranco Mingozzi, Gela antica e nuova by Giuseppe Ferrara, or with archival footage of scientific experiments.

Eight (plus two) panels make the photographic installation; each one is the combination of two photographs. This combination of two creates a reciprocal relationship. On one hand, we have a dialectic regarding the subject contents of the photos. On the other, there are two portions of space that confront each other for the purely formal aspect of the composition. In each panel each photo, or portion of space, communicates with the other but also with those making the remaining seven panels. Each area represents also a place or a matter: cave, sea, sky or earth, air, water, fire, or sea, mountain/volcano, sun.

Landscape, thus, works as a narrative of a (hi)story. The structure of the photo installation, then, aims to replace specific formal, thus ideological, references of modernism.

[Federico Baronello, a written report to Helmut Friedel after the work’s acquisition by the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, München, Oct. 2009]