«Chiara Arturo’s photography is a way of thinking about reality from a geographical perspective. The artistic act as a means of cataloguing and investigating the relationship between oneself and places, where the geographical element is not just a background, takes on an intimate and poetic character in her work, as much as a critical one. The author roots her reflections in her own experience, in the places of origin of a very personal Mediterranean.
Hello Chiara, you are from Ischia. In your works the concept of limit is very evident: but as a starry, rarefied limit. What does it mean for a visual artist to be born on an island?
Being born and growing up on an island means dealing with a microcosm for years and then discovering that everything is different outside: the relationship with time, with space, with nature, with the horizon, with the sea, with the winds, with borders and therefore with limits, but also with events, with the other. I have always been obsessed with small, circumscribed worlds. The island, the hut, the fence. And as a consequence, with routes, paths, and distances that keeps me apart. On the island, you immediately reckon with proximity. The mainland, the continent, everything that is not an island. Being born and growing up on an island also means knowing right away that you can’t always have control over everything: you can’t have it when the sea is so rough that no hydrofoils or ferries leave for days, for example, you cannot have it completely when you are alone in the sea, you cannot have it near the fumaroles or the sources of boiling thermal water. You can’t be in control of everything, but everything is visibly connected. There is a very strong relationship with the environment, the seasons. I feel very attached to the island, I am part of it, as if I were made of green tuff or clay – or more likely both, the result of a process of volcanic stratifications. Reason why I constantly look for the island – and the water. Then there is the relationship with myth, with rituals, with a reality based on the insular dimension.
The island moulds. As an artist he gave me the way, a sort of visual abacus, a dictionary of my own through which to measure myself with the world. I am an architect by training, and even during my university years my interests were connected in a broad sense to the island, to the relationship with the territory. Thanks to photography I found a way to deepen everything. I structured a research, clearly recognized what interested me.
The island is for me a sort of compass, the tool to orient myself.
The concept of limit is fundamental. As a child the island was absolute freedom, as a teenager a mix of love and hate for all the things that precluded me, now a necessary refuge. The island is continuous dualism. It always forces you to measure yourself. But it is not a process that confines and represses, quite the contrary. It opens you up to the horizon: then the border, the clear line between sea and sky, is there – but only when the wind blows from the north.
During the rest of time the border is a threshold, a porous sponge, a point of contact with the other.
In your projects it seems that the sea opens and closes stories, secrets, sometimes even political realities as in Aritmia. Tell us about this project
Arrhythmia 33.114519, 14.074476 was born as a small rite. Between the 21st and 22nd of April 2021 in the central are of the Mediterranean Sea 130 people lost their lives despite repeated help requests in the previous days that came to the Alarm Phone. Even if some themes have always been present in my works, I had never done anything so explicit. In the last few years I have begun to think about this. About the fact that I could no longer delegate everything to a work’s various reading levels. I felt the need to expose myself. Arrhythmia came one day, in August in the middle of the sea. I was a few miles from the coast of the island, where the sea is blue and very deep. It is inevitable for me, in the recent years, to ignore everything the Mediterranean means.
I think about it when I look at it, when I swim or sail through it. So instinctively I thought of celebrating all that it tragically holds.
I was impressed with that 130 (as well as other terrible numbers, only in 2021 it is estimated that 1864 people lost their lives trying to cross it). 130 as the beats per minute when there is an alteration of the heart rhythm due to anxiety, fear, stress or danger. That same minute that is dedicated to the commemoration. So I took / commemorated 130 photographs of this midnight blue sea, out of focus and full of glare, as if I were trying – failing – to recognize the faces and stories of those who have been lost forever in the Mediterranean Sea. The format of the photographs is that of passport photos, “33.114519, 14.074476” are the coordinates of the point where the shipwreck is thought to have occurred.
I was very impressed that you started from Donna Haraway’s concept of Chthulucene, a complex and new vision of the world made up of dense, invisible, underground connections. How did you translate these ideas into pictures? What is “Radure”?
Radure is an attempt. An attempt to co-become. Chthulucene came into my hands just at the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020. Reading it has somehow helped me to break new paths. With Radure I tried to go through them visually, getting closer – as often happens – to the subjects, trying to look closer to see better. They were months of obligatorily solitary walks on the edge of town and countryside and in the woods. They seemed to me the only places where anything could happen. I was far from the sea, but I was looking for water and connections. I went to the river, skirted the streams, inspected the puddles. I tried to decipher in that stillness how everything kept moving. When the Covisioni curators invited me to be part of the collective project and asked me to think about human relationships, it was obvious for me to try to broaden the field to all beings, terrestrial and aquatic, and to the microcosms we create together. In the work there are visual patterns, colonies and tangles, humans appear in all their doubts about this inhabiting the world. So far, it is as if they try to be peripheral, nature is overbearing: it shows how one proceeds, even in catastrophe, what are the spaces that can become new places to get together. I really like the title of Donna Haraway’s book: “Staying with the Trouble – Making Kin in the Chthulucene”. In this work I try, but precisely: it is an attempt, the beginning of a path that I am still exploring.
From time to time your works are also carried out outside Ischia’s borders like FRAGMENTUM. How does your relationship to reality and image change when you face the mainland? Is there a geographical determinism for you that influences your gaze?
In reality, many works are carried out off the island, even when the theme is insularity. Fragmentum is a body of work born during the Falìa artist residency, curated by Alice Vangelisti in Val Camonica. When I was selected I was happy to be able to work in the mountains. I like geology, I know that every peak, millions of years ago, was an island. That every valley was a backdrop. In general, everything is an island if you can change your reference scale, a continent is like a stone.
Even in that case, Lozio (which does not exist except in the union of pieces that make it up), the place where I lived in the residence, was an atoll. The rock of the place declared it, and the coral fossils found in the area.
It is certainly geographic determinism due to my being an islander that influences my gaze and my perception of the world. I see islands everywhere, it’s an attempt to always feel at home. It is also a survival ploy. Like a game that allows me to experience reality through my truth. I never really liked the stark reality. Through perception and the explicit desire to build or reconstruct an imaginary, I find a way of being.
And finally, I can’t help but ask you about “Progetto Vicinanze”, which you co-curate with Cristina Cusani. I leave it to you to tell us all about this beautiful platform and connected projects that you are carrying out.
Progetto Vicinanze was born in 2018. 2018 was a terrible year for migration policies and the reception system in Italy. There was a security decree, there was talk of closing all the ports. At that moment the need to start working together on those themes that divided became overwhelming – those themes were the Mediterranean Sea -.
With Cristina Cusani we felt the need to investigate the concept of border and limit space, through sharing as a modus operandi. We first developed a work in which, as individual authors, we shared the work’s frame space, placing two of our images side by side that were getting a new meaning in the comparison, as if they were creating conversations. From there, and from the experienced enrichment, the need arose to open the project to other people, and the desire to create a space for the dialogue in which to collectivize the place of thought. So we thought of a shared artist’s residence.
In 2019 we managed to create the first one, at the MACRO Museum in Rome, which was attended by 25 artists, authors, researchers and intellectuals. For us it was important to combine different practices and languages, visual and performing arts, independent, scientific and academic research, to return to the idea of the Mediterranean Sea as a place of crossing. The objective of Progetto Vicinanze was and is to create a space for dialogue, reflection and mapping of the practices and possible points of view on the subject.
The outbreak of the pandemic forced us to think about a further evolution. So, we decided to try to share a virtual space, specifically our Instagram account. Since January 2021, 68 takeovers of individuals or collectives have alternated on our account in which the participants (in total 83) did not simply share works and projects, but research, practical process, and reference materials, with the aim of opening up to the other to generate a possibility of exchange and comparison.