Landscape Stories: How is your relationship with architecture? Olivo Barbieri: Architecture and city planning are interesting disciplines. Observing an architecture you can deduce the thought behind the mind who realized it.
Landscape Stories: William Gibson, in his novel “Neuromancer” published in 1984 uses for the first time the word “Sprawl” meaning an urban space devoid of any apparent logic, where the speed of physical and virtual connections grows through the stereotype of a city without rules and boundaries. What does “sprawl” mean for you? Olivo Barbieri: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel”. During those years, I often quoted the beginning of Neuromancer. I believe that with the arrival of Internet for everyone, the entire world “Sprawl”. Televisions tuned to a dead channel are going to die soon.
Landscape Stories: **Can you tell us about the series site specific_ focusing especially on what pushed you to change point of view and distance from the subject, starting to photograph from an helicopter?**
Olivo Barbieri: In 1999 I started a series of projects: Stadi 2009, India 2009, Virtual Truths 1996-2000, Notsofareast 2002 etc, photographing with selective focus. I was looking for a new system of vision to identify easily the starting “point of reading” inside a picture. Soon I found out that everything was turning into a scale model, a plastic model of the portion of the pictured world. The pecking order and the dimensional relations among objects, buildings and people where changing. I asked myself what could happen if I detached from earth and I used a flying object such as an helicopter. After September 11th I wanted to understand what you feel when you turn upside down your point of view: from a threatened terrestrial being to a flying and threating object. In 2003 I took my first pictures from an helicopter, in 2004 I made the movie site specific_ROMA 04 and site specific_SHANGHAI 04, in 2005 site specific_LAS VEGAS 05, in 2006 SEVILLA 06, in 2008 site specific_MODENA 08, in 2010 site specific_BANGKOK 10. In 2006 I realized Seascape#2, the only movie of this series filmed with a prototype of a drone above Naples. As we know, in contemporary art “site-specific” means a temporary installation in a specific place, usually a museum or an art gallery. In order to see it again and better undersand it, I wanted to distance myself from the world, from noises, sounds and words. I wanted to represent the world as a temporary art installation continuously changing, I wanted to consider it unreal and unfinished, judge and transform it, a possibility that only art gives us.
Landscape Stories: **Can you tell us about Seascape#2?**
Olivo Barbieri: Seascape#2 Castel dell’Ovo, Napoli, 06 is the only movie I filmed with a drone. I reckon that drones – a object who flies and sees – are truly important because they double our perception of the world, turning upside down our point of view, completely and endlessly. They help us understand things in a wider and clearer context, because thanks them we see ourselves not only as observers but like observed as well. On the other hand they are also lethal means of control, but that’s a matter for a separate talk.
Landscape Stories: **In 1984 one of the most important Italian photographic project, in which you took place, was born: “Viaggio in Italia”. How do you recall that experience?**
Olivo Barbieri:Those were intense years, it was frequent to discuss among “colleagues” about our intentions, about what could be our role. I often met Guido Guidi, Vincenzo Castella, Luigi Ghirri and Mario Cresci, Gabriele Basilico, Franco Vaccari. “Viaggio in Italia” was a remarkable experience, sometimes a bit cruel: we often forget that it was not a brand-new project, but something that was growing from what we had done until then, a sort of inventory of the situation.
Landscape Stories: **Observing some pictures of the series Houston and Los Angeles, I couldn’t help myself thinking of some digital intervention over pictures, a sort of digital architecture, close to the videogames one (we can take SimCity as an example, issued at the end of the ‘90s). The American town planner Kevin Lynch states that postmodern city is the place alienation where the human being tries to produce “conceptual maps” in order to simplify the complexity of urban sceneries crossed. How does your work relate to this theory?**
Olivo Barbieri:site specific_ can be compared with the idea of simulated city. I’m a passionate reader of William Borroughs books, who defined himself as a “tracker of unknown places”. When I think of SimCity I remember the Flash Gordon books I used to read when I was a child. I’ve completely forgotten the stories, but I remember the images of winged men flying above future cities, not so different from the modern Asiatic towns. Maybe Flash Gordon has been the SimCity of my generation.
Landscape Stories: **Many editors are moving toward the “author or artistic book”, often choosing independent and low budget publications, using the online publishing where the photographic book becomes more than a “container” and turns into creative work. Which is in your opinion the importance of a published book compared to an exhibition?*
Olivo Barbieri:To create author books is a logic reaction to the wide possibilities of divulgation offered by the digital. Recently we observed a proliferation of these objects. I believe there are too many mediocre products containing original images. That said book and exhibition are usually complementary. Sometimes book helps to give a definitive meaning to a project.
Landscape Stories: **Italy is a country with deep cultural roots divided into visual arts, architecture, painting and contemporary arts, such as Futurism, Metaphysics painting and Arte Povera. Nevertheless, photography seems to stay at the edge of this panorama, differently from other countries. Why?**
Olivo Barbieri: Allowing for the obvious differences I think this is an international problem and not only Italian. We should care about finding the true “appeal” inside contemporary art, always distracted from celebrities, prices, indulgent mood in galleries, museums, international auctions, biennials, emerged and emerging countries, new higher rich, hedge funds, no profit, future poor.
[Book Site Specific by Aperture](Book Site Specific by Aperture)
site specific_ 03 13, essay by Christopher Phillips, Aperture
Interview curated by Daniele Lisi
Translation curated by Laura Conti