On Wednesday I went to the Musee photographie européenne. Antonio Biasiucci’s photography is placed with sculpture by Mimmo Paladino in an exhibition called ‘Casa Madre’ which is shown in different spaces in the gallery. I have to admit that I was focused on the photography, rather than the sculpture – or, at least, it’s the photography I remember best. There was a mysterious group titled ‘Pains’ – which I’m assuming for want of more information are actually photographs of bread but taken so that the idea of bread is obliterated in favour of a suggestion of image and texture. The photographs resemble rock paintings or carvings in their slanted glance towards representation – a shape and a hollow reminds the viewer of a horse’s head, another of a human face and it is all in the suggestion of light and shade.
Downstairs was ‘La Chambre de Guerre’ with images mounted on the floor so you walk through and among them. When you first approach the room, the images you see silently accuse and rebuke. There are faces with their mouths open as though caught mid-exclamation or mid-scream. There’s the face and torso of a newborn, its eyes still closed. Buildings which could be ruins. Each image is, by virtue of the mounting, both isolated and part of the larger group – inevitably the placement is reminiscent of a cemetery or a monument of grouped tablets, documenting an earlier civilization.
The photographs are mounted on both sides, so when you’ve walked through them one way, you have to face their silent confrontation again. Like the other photographs in 'Casa Madre', these are black and white – although that description hardly does justice to the depth of subtle shadows Buasiucci uses in this installation. When I went to this, I was the only person in the room apart from the silent guard at the far end who could have almost been part of the exhibition. I felt as though I walked through the images in mourning, as though I’d be required to witness unspeakable suffering and its aftermath, despite the fact that not one photo was either specific or descriptive.
It was a shock, then, to move from that somber room, to the exuberant, saturated colour of Ferrante Farranti’s ‘Empreintes du Sacré’, images that depict humanity in one of their most intimate acts - that of worship. Farranti deliberately set out to document different forms of worship around the world and the result is an exuberant room of dramatic poster-sized prints.
In the centre – in a photograph twice the size of the ones flanking it - is an androgynous, very contemporary figure, wearing a demin jacket featuring an advertising slogan, and jeans. He or she is pressed against the stone, both arms raised, but the symmetry is disturbed because the right hand is slightly cupped, reminding the viewer that this is a photograph – we are witnessing ordinary people in their relationship to god. The detail of the cupped hand, the thin bracelets that adorn the wrist and the tattoo are touching – perhaps because they point to the youth of the worshipper. Although the youth rests on a raised Star of David, the photo is taken at the Chamunda Devi Temple.
On the right a woman presses against the stone as though whispering secrets, her right hand resting near her face. Her green scarf is vivid against the soft stone of the Shrine of Sheikh Hussein.
These photographs were not all taken at the same time – three years separate the photograph of the woman from the other two. All display Ferranti’s attention to composition and, indeed, in some the figures are secondary – the orange-robed monks who walk up stone stairs are framed by snow-laden tree branches on one side and bare trunks on the other, the indian dancer holding the coloured mandala-shaped fans which form a mask-like face with the umbrella in the near distance and dominate the image.
Unbelievably tragic to have to understand that these celebrations, worship and conversations of and with whatever we have marked and believed to be divine are so often the cause of destruction. How can we turn from those moments when surely we surrender to some kind of all-embracing love and transform that to murdering hatred?
Yesterday I was in the middle of more colour - and more religious symbolism at the magnificent Marc Chagall exhibition at the Musee du Luxembourg and I did think this morning that perhaps the world is saved a little by our endless need to create, to search for meaning, to capture our humanity and all it's inconsistencies, triumphs and griefs.
I came home and cut my first wood block after seeing the Chagall exhibition. It was impossible to leave the exhibition and not want to make something - a little exuberance of one's own.