For its third annual ‘Greater Torino’ exhibition, the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo again organized two solo shows, drawing on Turin’s rich pool of creative talent. This year the curators – Irene Calderoni and Maria Teresa Roberto – selected the artists Rä di Martino and Laura Pugno, presenting a coherent examination of the landscape as a cultural icon embedded in the collective consciousness.
Photographs taken by Di Martino of abandoned film sets in the deserts of Tunisia (Every World’s a Stage, 2011) and a series of works entitled ‘Esistando’ (Existing, 2011) – digital photographs of mountainous landscapes with sections erased from them – were displayed alongside one another in the main space at the far end of the foundation’s five galleries. In adjacent rooms, two of Di Martino’s major recent works were on display. Copies rècentes de paysages anciens (Recent Copies of Ancient Landscapes, 2012), a six-minute video of various abandoned film sets in Morocco that signal the intrusion of Western filmmaking – and, by extension, commerce – onto what would otherwise be an unspoilt landscape. In a sense, there is something comic and absurd about the leftovers of film sets designed to appear like different countries or even different planets (cue Star Wars) occupying sparsely populated areas of the Moroccan desert. In one scene filmed by Di Martino, the camera pans around a film set built in the image of Mecca and the Kaaba, the famous pilgrimage site that Muslims turn to face during daily prayer. This decaying wooden and plaster structure, which only partially reconstructs the central mosque of the Muslim faith, highlights the fact that, although we may be subject to the illusory capacity of film and other media, some locations maintain a sanctity that the Hollywood treatment cannot match or surpass. The decaying copy of Mecca in Di Martino’s video merely serves to reinforce the importance to Islam of the original.
In an adjacent room, Di Martino’s The Stand-in (2011) developed this line of inquiry: ten slide projectors displayed the same overlapping image of Ait Ben Haddou, a Moroccan fortified hilltop town and UNESCO world heritage site that has been the backdrop for films as diverse as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Jewel of the Nile (1985), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Prince of Persia (2010), amongst many others. Due to light exposure, the images faded over the duration of the exhibition, conveying the ephemerality of this once thriving 17th-century town as people manipulate its identity year after year – Ait Ben Haddou has become so many things to so many people.
In two nearby rooms, Pugno’s series of mountainscapes ‘Paesaggio alle spalle’ (The Landscape Behind, 2010–11) – incised onto clear plastic or drawn with marker pen onto glass, and based on the Alps close to Turin – communicate a similar point. The drawing or etching of mountains indelibly onto transparent backgrounds, or the rubbing out of landscape, serves to question the basic tenets of perception. As Paul Cézanne found when repainting Mont Saint-Victoire, it is never a case of seeing the mountain, or a mountain. Rather, we see many different mountains, cities or buildings when contemplating a specific site. In only a very few cases, the cultural, political or religious associations allied to a specific site mean that there can be no substitution or reinterpretation of it. This complex and shifting relationship between people and place was well addressed at this year’s ‘Greater Torino’.