Unseen Platform: Can you briefly introduce your selected works?
Marco Maria Zanin: In the past few years, I’ve been interested in ethnographic, and small, local museums. I’ve spent some time trying to subvert the traditional museological displays in these places by presenting objects without context - I removed any associations with function, so that the abstract and symbolic value of the objects was revealed.
The works shown here were made in different places around Northern Italy and Portugal, but share a common starting point: they all contain rudimentary tools that have been subjected to an intervention. I used photography to capture these tools in new forms, which are reminiscent of totems - sacred objects that are found in many Indigenous cultures.
The diptych Maggese diverges from the other works in this series since it doesn’t depict an object, but a gesture. I placed soil on the floor of my studio to create an ephemeral sculpture in the shape of the sunlight coming through the window at the start and end of the day. I photographed the passage of this light to represent the passing of time. It also recalls the method of tracking time which was once used in South American cultures, when the sun was sacred and would rule over community life.
How do these simple sculptural forms convey the complex ideas behind your artwork?
I think it’s essential we connect with our roots in order to build a harmonious and balanced relationship between humanity and the planet. Not in a nostalgic way, but so the past can nourish the present and future. In my opinion, art’s main duty in this process is to turn the past from something dead into something alive that can still amaze.
The simplicity in the forms and composition of my work is meant to create the ‘vacuum’ which is needed to rescue memories and images settled deep down in our subconscious, where archetypal forms lie. The abstract forms also erase the labels which have been culturally attached to the object, as I like to make connections between different cultures in order to expand the concept of identity. This can be done by creating a spark between an object which has a purely practical function and a religious object, for example.
Could you tell us about your creative process? Where do you source your materials, and how do you arrange your compositions?
For me, photography is the last stage of a long creative process, and often the visual work is not the only result. I like to visit places as far from urban areas as possible, to discover communities that are lost in time.
The discovery of these worlds mostly occurs spontaneously, due to chance encounters with peripheral places. I often meet old people who tell me about their lives, and traditions that are disappearing, then they open the door to some private archive or small museum. I observe the objects contained there, and the most interesting become the subjects of my pictures. The setting for their reinterpretation depends on the conditions I’m working under; whether I can carry the objects to my studio or not, the light conditions of the spot they are in, and the owner’s’ availability.
For Ritualia (Portugal) I worked in the Museu de Etnologia, Lisbon. Obviously I couldn’t move the objects, so I settled for a black background and artificial light. However, for the series Ritualia (which was carried out in Veneto Region), I was able to install my own “exhibition of primitive art” on the empty third floor of a farming culture museum. I then documented this with photography.
Your installations combine sculpture with photographs of sculptures. Could you explain how these two mediums interact in a gallery space?
The 19th century philosopher Hegel claimed that the two-dimensional image approaches the spiritual world because it’s intangible, whereas the three-dimensional object is in the here and now. Using both photography and sculpture, I try to cross between the spiritual and the everyday. I believe this oscillation between the two mediums activates the gaze on the object in a more powerful way.
Text by Jenny Willcock, Unseen Platform