Souvenirs d'Italie - 2006-2011

Souvenirs d'Italie - Skira edizioni, Milano 2011

Souvenirs d’Italie, viaggio nei centri storici italiani.

Denise Maria Pagano

Souvenirs d'ltalie journey through Italy's historical city centres. The title clearity introduces the theme of the work carried out by Raffaela Mariniello, which goes back over the standard itinerary of the Grand Tour almost two hundred years later, but this time overturning both meaning and perspective. This is because Mariniello's Grand Tour has nothing in common with the journey of initiation that for two whole centuries was undertaken for educational purposes by European gentlemen, who carne here to Italy driven by the desire to rediscover the most important sites that had entered the symbolic imaginary, and bore upon the Enlightenment's categories of the Picturesque, the Sublime and the Antique.
At the time it was a question of rediscovering the cultural and spiritual instances of an historical era by taking a conventional tour that gradually acquired the characteristics of the romantic and contemplative itinerary, thereby transforming places into elements having an exceptional evocative impact. Nowadays, what remains are the cities that have been stripped of their historical identity, deserted spaces emptied out by man and filled only with tacky objects. The values of lyrical suggestion and the picturesque emotions produced by the landscape, which is considered to be the instrument for the preservation of memory, make way for a tale of urban transformation, an ironic provocation that unveils a vacuous, superficial reality
The "souvenir", which through the acquisition of artworks, books, archeological artifacts, ensured the achievement of elegant taste, but which also, thanks to the first photographic images and the production of illustrated postcards, guaranteed the preservation of rnemory, has now been reduced to the testimony of a form of reality that is separate from history, humbled from an artistic viewpoint and contaminated by ugly urban installations.
Mariniello's large-format colour photographs teli the story of cities such as Rome, Venice, Florence, Naples, all standardised by the use of monuments filled with the strongest possible symbolic references as if they were the backdrops to a scene in which colorful, glowing, moving structures capture space: for instance, a market stall selling costumes in Saint Mark's Square, a merry-go-round in Piazza Navona, a man selling balloons in Piazza del Plebiscito, a pub on wheels in front of Castelnuovo. It is the triumph of kitsch in contemporary taste and in the places consumed by mass tourism.

It is no accident that in order to teli the story of the ephemeral, superficiality and a generalized poor taste the artist starts off from a space that is in itself artificial, from that huge amusement park known as "Italia in miniatura", located in Viserbella near Rimini, a piace whose purpose, with its illusory reality, is to transmit in a surreal atmosphere the consumer drives of our day and age.
Nor is it by sheer chance that, to make the contrast where reality and fiction overlap even more strident, where the horror and the beauty of things intermingle, where the objects of contemporary consumption are superimposed upon historical monuments, Mariniello has chosen to use colour instead of the rigorous black and white that in her previous works had connoted night-time scenes and desolate outskirts. This is because only artificial lighting and flickering colours strenthen the images bere, breathing life into the contradictions, simulating reality, expressing a popular conception of art.
For Mariniello, the power of photography is not that of giving back what is thought to be an objective reality, but rather of making reality an illusion and fiction a reality, in a mirror-like game that the viewer will find disconcerting and confounding. For her vision to materialize the artist creates installations in the exhibition space, opening up her research to new modes of expression; but she then reverts, by means of the video that accompanies the exhibition, to the objective reporting of reality by putting the inhabitants back into the cities ernptied by the photographs. Almost as if man could once more be an active instrument in building his future.