COSTANZA GASTALDI

LOTO NERO COLLECTION

Loto Nero

The set of photographs presented here, called Loto Nero (Black Lotus), consists of thirty (30) large-format black-and-white landscapes. The series was shot during an unaccompanied voyage by their author in September 2018 to the Huangshan mountains (the "Yellow Mountains") in the eastern provinces of China.

 

Loto Nero follows on from a previous set of photographs by the author Géographie Sentimentale (Sentimental Geography) 2013, delving deeper into the perspectives outlined in the earlier work. Together, the two series form part of a broader personal and artistic project (Errances) that comprises an existential and introspective examination of the enigma of death and the feelings of melancholy it evokes. These two strands run through the entire work to form, through their universal nature, a nexus between artist and spectator. The path that leads to this encounter is nevertheless a long one: image by image, the viewer is led along a trail of exploration of the author’s imaginary world, and ultimately, at the end of the path, into a meditation on his or her own perception of time and reality.

From the outset, the photographs in Loto Nero are clearly not smooth. Indeed, the actual pictures have been overlaid with multiple plastic effects which at times bring them close to engravings, while at others putting them nearer the domain of paintings. By multiplying these effects of perception, the dreamlike dimension of the work is emphasised to evoke in the viewer an impression of a “surreal” photograph a world away from simple documentary images. This approach is not limited to Loto Nero but is in fact characteristic of the author’s entire opus. It tends to reveal to the viewer an authentic creative pulse that transcends the "thanatic" enigma depicted in the background and invites reflection on the potential of the photographic medium itself.

I) From Errances to Loto Nero

The term “Errance” (“Wandering”) embodies a number of meanings. First, it suggests the act of walking, of ceaselessly travelling. But wandering also expresses the notion of hesitation, of moving back and forth. Finally, in a more poetic sense, the term conjures up an introspective journey with overtones of melancholy. This multiplicity of meanings of the word “Errance” dictates its use in the plural: Errances (Wanderings).

The author’s "melancholic wandering" began during her many journeys between France and Italy, two countries which, because of her own personal circumstances, formed a rich source of essential inspiration, giving rise in particular to her Géographie Sentimentale.

Her wanderings continued most notably in China, in the Yellow Mountains. In this stunningly beautiful landscape, twisted conifers grow and insinuate themselves into granite blocks, and the sun struggles to pry its way into the scenery. The site is also highly symbolic: 2600 years before the Christian era, the Yellow Emperor, Huangdi, is reputed to have come here in search of an elixir of immortality. The Lotus peak, which directly inspired the title of Loto Nero, is the highest point in the range, standing at almost two thousand metres. Ever since Ancient Egyptian times, the lotus has been associated with rebirth, shedding its petals at night before timidly opening in the early morning light to reveal a "new crown". This dual nature of the lotus flower is plainly a characteristic feature of Loto Nero. However, black also has its own significance, with its density suggesting the coexistence of melancholy. Carbon black (an absorbent material and a repository of energy) illustrates this transient state of anguish that ebbs and flows: its shades gradually dissolve the décor, seeping into the image and producing a fracture in the unity of nature: trees and rocks alike are smothered by this dark lichen. At times, however, the voracious power of black is transformed into a creative force: it is in the penumbra that details coalesce and the dynamics of shapes in Loto Nero gather force.

II) Techniques

The aesthetic essence of the series has much in common with the engraver’s art. More specifically, the landscapes appear to have been created using the "mezzotint" engraving process. The smoky effects, the rich intermediate tones, the intensity of the blacks, and the precise whites are all informed by this older technique and together constitute the graphic language of Loto Nero, and more broadly, of Errances. For this reason, photogravure is essential to adequately express the complete range of greys and the full force of the blacks.

The visual blend of Loto Nero tends towards "lightness and sheen". The use of digital noise belongs to this method of creation since the pixels, like the brushstrokes of Eugène Delacroix, are not materially joined together: they appear to merge in deliberate and natural fashion only at a given distance, thereby imbuing the print with greater energy. In the image, the grain subsides, giving way to light and harmony. The viewer’s eye is drawn beyond the pictorial fiction and into the engraving, resulting in almost surrealistic closeness. The noise brings out both the intensity and the intimacy of a real presence that nevertheless retains a dreamlike quality. The resemblance of the images to paintings somehow reinforces their photographic qualities. The goal is to create a haziness that melts the "purity" of the different genres to better convey the interpretive and fictional power of photography while at the same time preserving its own unique qualities.

Given the depth of detail they contain, the photographs in Loto Nero demand that the viewer take the time needed to observe them closely and "uncover" them in their most minute details. They are in a certain sense "slow images" that, through the creation of a particular atmosphere, come to settle only gradually in the viewer’s mind.

SELECTED WORK

EXHIBITION PHOTO

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