artist / participant

press release

On board a helicopter, suspended between 300 and 500 feet in the air, he toys with the most famous cityscapes in the world. According to the New York Times he is a photographer able to look at the Big Apple with the eyes of King Kong and to photograph Las Vegas as if it were some kind of contemporary Egyptian landscape. Likewise, he is also able to bring together ancient ruins with modern urban surroundings, providing the spectator with a surprising imaginary portrait of the city of Rome. Having created photographic and film projects all around the world, from the United States to Europe, from Jordan to China, Olivo Barbieri is now dedicating a project to his own home town. In fact, in Modena, on Sunday 17th May 2009 at 11,30 am, at Palazzo Santa Margherita, the exhibition site specific_MODENA 08 will open to the public.The exhibition, curated by Angela Vettese, features 30 photographic diptychs and two videos created especially for the event. The exhibition thus presents a new homage to the city by the Galleria Civica di Modena, following the exhibitions Franco Vaccari. Opere 1955-1975 (December 2007 – March 2008) and Mimmo Paladino per Modena (September 2007 – January 2008).

Organised and produced by the Galleria Civica di Modena and the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Modena, promoted by the Councillorships for Economic Policy and Culture of Modena City Council, the exhibition constitutes a new stage in the project site specific,which the artist began in 2004: a cycle that has involved some of the greatest metropolitan areas of the world, such as Rome, Turin, Montreal, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Amman, New York, and which has been met with great approval around the world by both the general public and critics alike. The project consists of a series of large-format photographs taken from a helicopter, as well as HD video and 35mm film. The images are created with the technique of selective focusing, a typical feature of the artist’s work over the last few years, which provides us with an entirely new look at familiar places, seen here as elements of a scale model. Thus the city is presented in a new light, like a place in which the original urban fabric, its structure and architecture, are given the form of an installation with a strongly conceptual sense to it. As Olivo Barbieri writes:“I took my first aerial photographs as a child, the first time I flew in a small aircraft. Yet after that, the planes and photographs I took were few and far between. I had taken them with a bi-optic camera, and to get to the plane window I had to turn it upside-down. It was just a few black & white photos, but I still remember the amazement of the local photographer who developed them, when he saw the image of our town square. At the time it was normal to fly low over town centres even though I think it was forbidden to take photographs. But never like over the last 20 years have we been concerned with telling the stories of our cities; there is a tidal wave of ideas and considerations that from Europe, from North America and from Japan and now almost the whole Far East, is overwhelming us. Since September 11th, however, it seems that what had been expressed until then has now lost any sense of incisiveness. A veil of indecision now hangs between our thoughts and the world. With the site specific project, I’m trying to look beyond this veil. The urban world is like a temporary installation: structures and infrastructures, a fundamental part of our sense of belonging and identity, seen from afar, like an enormous scale model: the city like an alias of itself”.

site specific_MODENA 08 focuses in particular on the Tempio area of town, and in fact started out as part of the renovation project of the neighbourhood. Thinking of this part of the city as one of the most controversial areas and yet one of those with greatest potential, the artist also examined the urban transformation processes of the district over recent years, as shown in his two films. On one hand, the projections offer a colour aerial view of the city, and on the other, a version of the same film turned into a graphic illustration, made up of black & white markings. Olivo Barbieri highlights the architectural structures and urban layout of the zones in question. The photographic images are supposedly placed between these two viewpoints, identical yet different, one more emotional and narrative, the other analytical and almost destined to become a moving map: diptychs or triptychs in which a detail is enlarged more and more until we can see inside the apartment blocks, on top of the roofs, right into the houses, from the boy looking out over the balcony to the people walking down the street. Almost like a Hitchcock movie, the detail is revealed and then detached from its own context in order to become the protagonist of an entirely different story. The city that emerges is an accurately defined physical space, but also a text in which a thousand mysterious and individual stories overlap.

The exhibition, which will remain open until 12th July, will be accompanied by a bilingual catalogue featuring a rich repertoire of images from the works on show, as well as critical texts by Antonello Frongia and Angela Vettese.

Biographical Notes Olivo Barbieri, born in Carpi (Modena), 1954. He lives and works in Carpi. He attended the department of Pedagogy and the D.A.M.S. arts school in Bologna. After 1971, his interest in photography grew, and he concentrated initially on research into artificial lighting in European and Oriental cities. From 1978 onwards, he took part in numerous exhibitions both in Italy and abroad. In 1989 he started to make regular journeys to the Far East, particularly to China, a nation of which he studied the rapid changes closely. His works were displayed at the Venice Biennale in 1993, 1995 and 1997. In 1996 he featured in a retrospective at the Folkwang Museum in Essen. In the mid 90s, he adopted a new photographic technique which allowed him to maintain only certain parts of the image in focus: the landscapes depicted, often from a helicopter, thus look like scale models, offering surprising and estranging visions: Olivo Barbieri seems to be continually wondering just how much reality actually exists in our life system, or rather, to what point our perception is suited to understanding that which surrounds us. Among the most important exhibitions of the last few years, we might remember those held at the CCA in Montreal in 2005 and that at the Bloomberg Space in London in 2006, occasions in which Barbieri presented parts of the site specific_ cycle; furthermore, in the same year he also took part in the UBS Art Collection exhibition at the Tate Modern in London, as well as at the Seville Biennial. In 2008 he produced the TWIY project for the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples, and the film site specific_LAS VEGAS 05 featured as part of the exhibition Double Down Two Visions of Vegas at the SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). Among the books that have marked out his artistic career: Virtual Truth (Milan, 2001), sitespecific_ROMA 04 (Rome, 2004), site specific_LAS VEGAS 05 (Toronto, 2005), The Waterfall Project (2008).

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Olivo Barbieri
site specific_MODENA 08