It’s easy to believe that chance, that most slippery and unpredictable of occurrences, happens entirely of its own accord. Mostly this is indeed the case, where no amount of planning and toiling would have made the slightest bit of difference to the outcome. But what if chance occurs not exclusively as a result of a mysterious and unfathomable aligning of the stars, but because of hard work, thorough research, and fastidious preparation? For Italian artist Giulia Marchi, the latter is true; a great deal of time, thought and effort goes into the creation of her images, long before the physical ‘making’ stage occurs. Yet, during this intensive preparation process, unexpected but fortuitous moments occur. Her latest body of work is a case in point. Poetically titled Prima di Essere Schiuma Saremo Indomabili Onde (Before Becoming Foam We Shall Be Indomitable Waves), the images in this series look effortless, as though they have been plucked from the elements – earth, air, water. But Marchi has spent months planning how each image will look, and nothing, in this sense, is left to chance. Hours if not days of research have gone into the creation of these images.
For Prima di Essere Schiuma Saremo Indomabili Onde, as is the case with much of Marchi’s work, the artist draws on literature, specifically writings by Julian Barnes, Gustave Flaubert, Herman Melville and Italian poet and translator Cesare Pavese. Marchi scoured texts such as Flaubert’s Parrot by Barnes, and Melville’s literary classic Moby Dick for choicest quotes, which she then combined to create new associations. Her aim was not to respond literally to the texts, but to use combinations of quotes as a springboard to create new imaginary worlds, which she then realised through photography. This is where chance paid a visit. Sometimes a pairing of quotes would leap out at Marchi, sparking an idea for an image, she says. And coincidentally, Marchi discovered that Pavese translated Moby Dick into Italian in 1932, unbeknownst to her when she turned to these writers for inspiration. Without the tireless reading and re-reading, the endless culling of quotes and re-aligning of them with others, these beautiful moments may not have come to pass. Chance here, is a result of consistent hard work – and a little serendipity too of course.
In this sense, it could be said that for Marchi creativity does not exist in a vacuum; her inspirations are the products of an affiliation to the literary creations of others. But to mention this is not to do down Marchi’s creativity; rather it is a nod to the skill with which she dexterously manoeuvres her chosen quotes to create new meanings, and from these, formulate her own unique and otherworldly visual creations. A voracious reader, and a former literature student, Marchi has long found inspiration in words. For her previous project, Multiforms, also published by Danilo Montanari Editore, the artist drew on autobiographical writings by Mark Rothko, and short stories by Jorge Luis Borges, among other writers, while for 17:17, in which Marchi collaborated with Italo-Palestinian artist Mustafa Sabbagh, she was inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Disciple and numerous interrelated titles.
Born in Rimini in 1976, Marchi worked on her most recent series over a period of a year. The title is a quote by Pavese, but it is Flaubert’s Parrot, a novel that offers glimpses into the famous French writer’s life and being through a separate narrative, and Moby Dick, Herman’s seafaring tale, which provided the main inspiration. Flaubert’s writings such as his diaries also formed part of her research as she endeavoured to get to know each author in the widest possible way. In some of the quotes selected by Marchi we can clearly trace a link to her ethereal images. For example: “amongst those who go to sea there are the navigators who discover new worlds, adding continents to the earth and stars to the heavens,” writes Barnes; a similar sense of wonder, the thrill of the journey, of discovery, is implicit in Marchi’s blue-washed images of skies and landscapes that resemble alien lands. And when we read the above quote in relation to one from Moby Dick, we begin to understand where Marchi is coming from: “It was a clear steel-blue day,” writes Melville. “The firmaments of air and sea were hardly separable in that all-pervading azure.” These words are pure poetry, from which Marchi creates a visual poetry that is uniquely her own. In her images we can almost see, smell and touch these new worlds the authors describe, with their roots in the earth and links to the heavens, stitched together to create a seamless exquisite vista between sea and sky. The quotes may be invisible in the images, but their presence is palpable – we cannot help but feel the weight of words in Marchi’s images, where text serves as an essential backdrop to the visual. Put another way, the work could be described as a meeting point for these unrelated texts, which come together to form beautiful but inexplicable associations.
If Marchi excavates texts to create her images, on another level she works as a sculptor might, drawing on a mix of natural and manmade raw materials – sand, wood, concrete and branches, to name just a few – to craft the scenes depicted in her photographs. Many of the images seem to explore the nature of surface, as though the artist were examining specimens with the aid of a magnifying glass. What she reflects back to us are the depths of unknowable truths, which tantalise and entice, but ultimately give nothing away.
It is difficult to pinpoint what the images in Prima di Essere Schiuma Saremo Indomabili Onde are about, but this ambiguity is entirely intentional. Devoid of context, the images, which play with abstraction, depict in-between, lunar-esque places – non-descript, tranquil yet unsettling – rootless and timeless, but always intriguing. The geographical locations are not important, neither, really, is the subject matter (although Marchi treats both with the utmost respect). More important is the essence of each image, its intangibility; not what it represents but the mood it evokes. Unconcerned with conveying specific meaning, Marchi is happiest leaving her images open to interpretation.
In keeping with her meticulous and hands-on approach to the work, Marchi created a handcrafted book that features her chosen quotes and serves as a vital link between the images in Prima di Essere Schiuma Saremo Indomabili Onde and the texts where it all began, which are at the heart of the series. She used old paper and submerged the book in water to make it look as though it had come from the sea – a joining of reality and fiction in a fitting embrace. Presenting the quotes in this way also highlights their importance to Marchi for whom words and images are equal in status – both an invaluable, inseparable part of her artistic creation.