Alessandra Calò, an Italian artist and photographer, explores themes of memory, identity, and the language of photography. Her works have been exhibited worldwide, and she has received prestigious awards and recognitions for her innovative projects.
Alessandra, tell us how your artistic practice was born and when you realized you wanted to become an artist.
My artistic practice was born out of passion, it was not linked to studies. As a girl, when I was in high school, I had friends who had a darkroom and I fell in love with it, by chance. For a while I worked as an assistant in a photographic studio in Taranto, setting up albums, so I also started chewing on photography. When I moved to Reggio Emilia around 2006 I started shooting again and I met a guy who was also passionate about photography and I started taking pictures with him: we had a passion in common, cemeteries! In 2008 I exhibited for the first time in the off circuit of European Photography with some gothic style photos of which I was passionate. In 2013 the Municipality of Reggio called me to be a stage photographer for a show, they had seen my photos on social media and entrusted me with the job. In 2014 I won the off circuit of European Photography and exhibited in 2015. In the end I resigned from the company where I worked because I understood that photography would be my job.
Nature often returns to your projects. What does nature mean to you?
At the moment I am much more attracted by nature, but before I was already attracted by the fantastic and dreamlike world linked to it. Transformation fascinates me in a visceral way. ‘Secret garden’ was perhaps the first project in which nature is the dominant element. I believe that each of us has an inner garden. I use nature as a metaphor to talk about people. When I made this work (which is still ongoing) I wanted to collaborate with female artists to bring out an intimate and personal diary. With some of them we came to discuss what was the domestic activity of women at the end of the 19th century, namely taking care of plants and the garden or making collages with them. Also, in the 19th century, the women who were closed in convents made ‘papelores’ or created 3D flowers that were used to embellish.
Among my favorite series there is certainly ‘Herbarium the flowers are still pink’: can you tell us how it was born?
“Herbarium” was born from a commission entrusted to me by Reggio Emilia, every year an artist is put to work with groups of fragile, disabled people: in my case they were 7 people aged between 30 and 70 with mental pathologies or motor problems. The artist is asked to work with these people to create a work of art together with them. The city of Reggio Emilia made all the Museum collections available to us and we could choose what inspired us. Among this collection we decided to work in the Herbarium section of the city’s Civic Museums which also preserves the herbaria of Filippo Re. In the collection we found a notebook of a 13-year-old boy named Antonio, on the first page there was a letter left by him to posterity in which he wrote: ‘in this notebook there are herbs gathered in my country, because I am in love with nature’. Thus, the whole concept linked to scientific botany fell away and we concentrated on the poetics and romanticism linked to this notebook. The work took place in two phases: we collected the herbs around the museum and in our headquarters (a room in the museum) I created a darkroom. With the calotype technique we worked with light by simulating sunlight with tanning lamps. So, we printed a photographic herbarium with the technique experimented by Man Ray (rayograms). During the second phase we went to the second floor of the museum (contemporary photography) to understand what conceptual photography consists of. We thus created some ‘performance’ photos. On a white backdrop I photographed the hands of subjects who imagined they were picking flowers.
“Herbarium” is also a book: How did it come about?
Books are a passion of mine, because they are a pocket work of art. It’s within everyone’s reach, there are more people who can afford a book. He is the adult son of an opera. Together with ‘Studio Faganel’ we have chosen to create a folder with 16 tables inside with a varying layout. The stylistic choice was made by Studio Faganel but it reconciled with my idea. –
In this work artistic and social practice intertwine, can you tell us about this experience?
It was the first time I combined artistic practice with social practice, now they have asked me to participate in another similar project. I’m happy about it because they are experiences that enrich you on a human level.
Even archives, memory and the body often emerge in your works, can you tell us about ‘Kochan’?
It’s a work born in a catastrophic period, it came out by chance, with this work I looked for answers within myself. It was the first time I took self-portraits. I wanted to talk about myself and I did so by integrating old-fashioned geographical maps in which many borders did not yet exist as if I were society, space and the places themselves. I was inspired by ‘Confessions of a mask’, in the book he will end up committing suicide because he is tired of wearing a mask to integrate into a society that is small and uncomfortable for him. In the world and for yourself every day we embark on a new journey, a new story and a new road.
Even archives, memory and the body often emerge in your works, can you tell us about ‘Kocha’?
I would like us to leave letters to those who will come later, not to give instructions but to channel inspiration. Even just for knowledge. All the things I’ve done both create a chain that I wouldn’t want to break, perhaps for this reason too I work with archival materials. Working with them is a bit of a responsibility, it’s fragile and valuable material, so you have to add a plus ultra to then put it back into circulation. Like it’s something buried in the ash, you take it out and it’s back on fire.