text by Giorgio Verzotti
Mariella Poli works on the concept of individual and collective memory, and she makes use of the means of photography. Only photography manages to record phenomenal reality as it is seen by our eyes, only this mechanical means can show us the overt ‘objectivity’ of documentation. The artist investigates space, environments and particularly significant places whose aspects act as emblems of the setting the artist wishes to reconstruct, by way of signals, and then return to memory. The objectivity of photography, however, once it becomes a material in the hands of the artist, is never accepted passively. On the contrary it is always put into doubt, the linguistic rules that legitimate it are investigated, questioned, tried out.
Mariella Poli shares this general approach, which is simply the principle of creativity, and proposes a use and evaluation of the photo graphic image based on a conceptual subtlety that gives it its value and also its fascination. This subtlety is related to time, past time, the future, a dimension that the viewer anyway, placed as he/she is in the present, cannot fully perceive even though the photograph refers to it, not without a certain sentimenta l pathos, even though expressed through an extremely sober language.
In Savoy Hotel, 1993, Poli began her photo graphic investigation of a hotel where she had lived a short time before it was demolished, and therefore she proposes image s which have an almost mournful value, at least in the sense that the photograph in this case preserves the effigies of what was shortly to disappear. Projected into the past, the image has a ghostly air if it is associated with the artist who herself haunted these places. The series of photos about Montecatini has a different function. This was once an important factory which then fell into disuse. Poli’s exploration here, linked to a collective memory also including sad and painful aspects, has a documentary and socio logical value and refers to unresolved social economic problems which the photographic language highlights to perfection. It is signifi cant that the third work by Poli, The Convent, about a religious institute from the beginning of the twentieth century but still functioning and, therefore, still inhabited, was thought of as a work in progress, something unfinished, as though the fact of being placed in the present made the institute an organism, that the artist has not stopped questioning it or, rather, ‘putting it into focus’.
The images of the book now being presented constitute a further phase in the work of Mariella Poli, this time one wholly dedicated to the future, in the sense that the artist has been involved during the construction of a building, from the first steps to the last. The building is MART, the museum of modern and contemporary art of Trento and Rovereto, and is to be found in Rovereto, Poli’s home town.
The museum is a recent work by the architect Mario Botta who has given the city a grandiose building though one without any hint of rhetoric, simple in structure though imposing and conceived as a space at the service of art, so much so that the internal organisation is highly flexible and can be changed according to the needs of particular exhibitions. All this, though, is of no interest to Poli who experienced the building as a body under construction into which (there are no outside photographs in this series) she literally had to be let down each time she visited the building site. For three years the artist followed the various phases of the spatial construction and organisation not wanting to be told of the exact nature and future destination of the rooms she was visiting and photographing, rooms which she photographed panoramically, almost without stop ping for close-ups.
The result is a kind of visual diary where the viewer can reconstruct the time taken for the work, from the first pouring of cement to the detailing of the walls, from the first laying of cables to the more advanced stages of the fittings and windows, right up to the various phases of installing the works of art and, finally, the arrival of the public to the inauguration on 15 December 2002.
The photographs offer this kind of chronological orientation and, we can say, there is also a sense of topographical disorientation because no room or space is explained by the images, so much so that we who work here in MART every day find it very difficult to recognise these places and their precise position, as though we were impeded from giving an identity to the spaces. So the photos make up a visual labyrinth that interferes with the chronology of their appearance on the printed page, and the real protagonist of the work become the architectural spaces.
This, though, is not a completed work, Poli’s book is not a homage to Mario Botta and his colleagues (other volumeshave quite correctly been concerned with that) despite the fact that their portraits are seen in the images of the spaces.
The real sense of Mariella Poli’s undertaking lies, once again, in her desire to preserve a memory that otherwise would be lost, despite the fact that here there are no negative aspects and, on the contrary, MART is a positive investment for the financial plans of the region that hosts and finances it.
Poli’s attention is turned ‘poetically’ to what is destined to disappear, or rather to what has already disappeared, that is the building site and the state of the rooms as they will never again be seen because by now they have been completed and are ‘compliant ‘, as we say, and no one can experience them in this way again: this is a topography that has been ‘superseded’ forever.
This taste for the visual conservation of what no longer exists has nothing to do with extravagant forms of nostalgia, rather it owes so me thing to the thoughtful aims that animate Poli’s approach to the photographic means, her intention to question its language continuously. Furthermore, the nature of this inquiry into space, something that is quite her own, while it excludes in advance the human presence, on the other hand recognises (the words ‘pay homage’ seems a little too rhetorical ) the work of all those who wanted, created, inhabited, and made operative these spaces in favour of the community.