Architecture of Resignation
In 550 B.C., construction began on one of the most gigantic temples in the Greek world. Today, visitors to Selinunte in southwestern Sicily can roam the scattered mass of fragments, which is simply known as Temple G. Imagining its once towering majesty would be a predictable behavior, however, in reality, the temple was still unfinished when the Carthaginians destroyed Selinunte in 409 B.C., and portions of the structure remain in the exact state as they were then. For me, this is truly a primary example of the type of projects that the history of southern Italy has had to endure.
In 2000, I began photographing in this region, and extended my exploration northward, all the way to Rome. During the course of the next seven years, I received glimpses into the complexity that is the Mezzogiorno and, through the making of photographs, my interrogations evolved into a set of images I now call Architecture of Resignation. What I found in this landscape is an elaborate set of physical, social and political structures, manifesting in an extraordinary folding together of visual information. On one level my photographs are referential and documentary—but on another level they are about what cannot be explicitly seen, what is hidden and implied. My large-format, color images are meant to convey purposeful neutrality; constructions of selected non-fictions resonating between historical and contemporary meaning. The larger narratives of the marks made, marks abandoned, and marks erased, represent numerous conquerors and occupiers; from the Greeks to the Romans to the Goths to the Saracens to the Spanish to the French to the Italian government of unification to the Allies in WWII, and even to the Mafia and the Camorra. The subsequent adaptations and resignations of those subject to this dominance are evident, and represent a major portion of my photographic attention. Even when it was called the Kingdom of Naples or the Two Kingdoms of Sicily, the administrators here were authorized by other, foreign powers and were hugely influenced by local autocrats. Often, architecture and technology have only been used as political smoke screens, hiding the much greater exchanges of power. With great promises of progress, the land has been exploited and parceled out for the convenience of a few and accepted with resignation and submission by the many.
My attention was initially piqued by the glut of unfinished and unoccupied building projects, but even as my path digressed toward other dramas and mysteries of Italy’s South, I was still drawn to the numerous, peculiar concretions. I mean this both as literal object and as metaphor. The Italian consumption of concrete in all its forms, stretching back to Roman times, is representative of so many dreams per square foot poured; the ambitious leftovers dotting the landscape with shapes of every sort, the incremental compression of the various dreams both past and present. As Tobius Jones wrote, “(Italy) has aged like someone who has lived life in the fast lane, someone who has … the lines and scars to prove it.” The very face of its social and political history is worn in the landscape of the South; the country is now forced to stare reflexively into its molested self.
These pictures tell stories that expose the rise and fall of various colonial, political and commercial powers, as well as the inspired, but often faltering, inventions of ambitious individuals. My photographs are not meant to edify or memorialize, though. Some of the
subjects aspire to greatness, while others convey an uncanny indifference to their own fate. Some of the artifacts I’ve examined are more sculptural than architectural, in that they were never utilitarian, and at present, communicate a sense of pervasive anachronism. The images represent the (lack of) integrity of the systems being photographed, yet we view them through lenses enhanced by the timeless belief in the bel paese- the beautiful country- even as this place is foiled by layers of dysfunction and greed.