Interview: Giulia Longo
Luca Curci talks with Giulia Longo during ANIMA MUNDI FESTIVAL 2019 – CONSCIOUSNESS at THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space.
I was born on March 21, 1992, the day of the beginning of spring. Since I was a child I have been a careful and curious observer. Photography is the tool that allows me to explore the reality that surrounds me and sometimes even to see what is hidden behind the surface of things or within the intimacy of people. I started shooting in analog when I was studying in Paris. In my training have been essential Diamantino Quintas, Flore, Fabien Hamm and Jean Noël de Soye. My first series “Jamais je me regarde là d’où tu me vois” is a study of my body but also a way to overcome the eating disorders I have suffered for many years; it consists of self-portraits and poems, inseparable from each other. Among my latest projects is the exploration of the daily life of African immigrants in Puglia with a Nikon FM2 along with a collaborative documentary, KANO. I am currently completing a master’s degree in Anthropology at the University of Venice and preparing for a four-month stay in Gambia, where I will conduct ethnographic research for my final thesis.
Luca Curci – What’s your background? What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
Giulia Longo – My passion for audiovisual media began with the French cinema of Truffaut, Godard, Marguerite Duras, Marcel Hanoun, Philippe Garrel and the nouvelle vague in general. After a first period of experimentation with video, in Paris I approached analog photography and its materiality. For several years I preferred working with film, I learned to develop and print in the darkroom. My landmarks at the time were Francesca Woodman and Alix-Cléo Roubaud, like them what interested me most was exploring the body, introspection, flesh and its permeability in time and space through self-portrait. My research paradigm changed after my experience in a reception centre for migrants: documenting the real, the lives of others, denouncing injustices, trying to express the strength and resilience of the human being in the face of difficulties. A political and social objective that I try to pursue stimulated by anthropology and its ambition to understand and connect the many worlds we live in, trying to overcome with dialogue, empathy and participatory observation the gap we-them, the West and the rest. And if photography is language and action, then it can contribute to transforming our perception of reality, offering new meanings to the consciences that inhabit it, putting into practice one of Frantz Fanon’s appeals: “Raise the world with language empowered by the act”.
LC – Which subject are you working on?
GL – The human being and his environment. The details of everyday life, the material and immaterial culture that makes us people, subjects with their own imagination, a particular way of feeling, watching and listening. The sensoriality of places, how they contrast and reflect the individuals who live in them. The daily struggle for the right to a better life, as well as the passion, perseverance and determination to assert to the world one’ s own dignity, claiming the abuses of yesterday and today with the head held high without playing the role of victim. The humility, dedication and stubbornness of all the tireless visionaries who, without compromise, fight to build a better world.
LC – Which is the role the artist plays in the society? And the contemporary art?
GL – Contemporary art, as a component of society, cannot ignore the latter, isolate itself and become self-referential. The risk is to create an elitist microcosm, permeable only to certain privileged classes. (A clear example of this dangerous splitting is the voyeurist and obscene collecting of the art primitif then art premier, a western and meaningless category outside the Eurocentric context.) Every artist is first and foremost a member of the society to which he belongs, his role exists only in the recognition he obtains from the others. The artist can only communicate and be understood if he humbly approaches a specific context and tries to tell it from a personal point of view, one that should always be local, trans-local and global, and of course, simultaneously rooted in the community of which it is part. His voice must never be singular, rather it is his singularity that must be invaded by the voices, bodies, lives, dreams and fears of others. A definition that recalls in a splendid way the social, political and revolutionary commitment of the artist already exists for a long time: it is the figure of the organic intellectual traced by Gramsci. For Gramsci one cannot separate the homo faber from the homo sapiens – this distinction is one of the many distortions brought about by capitalism. He therefore proposes the idea of a widespread intellectuality, an intellectual of a new type, not separated by profession and class from the rest of society, but coming from it and linked to the working class by the task of actively building its emancipation.
LC – What is your creative process like?
GL – I start from an idea, an encounter, an exchange of words, a special mutual curiosity that makes possible the opening of a relationship. I look for intimacy as a guarantee of plausibility, because truth is always personal and unattainable while authenticity is a fiction. I can say that each project is born and developed in collaboration with the priorities and concerns of those who are next to me and in front of my lens. I am interested in getting as close as possible to the lives of others, telling the story of everyday life and through this approaching what I would call widespread and mutual understanding. To change society, we have to start from the small, from our world, from a concrete and deep contact with the other, to do what the anthropologist does: field work. Literally understanding as a concrete gesture of “taking the other with you”, as an exchange of glances and words, but also as an exploration of the places that define us, a manipulation of the objects that tell us stories about us. In short, widespread understanding is a policy and practice of intimacy that stands as an alternative to the illusion of knowledge, often too much weakened by the prejudice and the arrogance of the single thought or pensée unique.
LC – Did your style change over the years? In which way?
GL – Both formally and expressively, I can say that my stylistic approach follows the trajectory of my personal evolution. I started shooting when I was 21, at that time what fed me the most were the verses of Lautréamont, Alejandra Pizarnik and André Breton. On the visual level, instead, I was inspired by the long sequence shots of Jean Eustache, Bresson and Chantal Akerman that I tried to express through photography with long shutter speeds. From the body, the ego, Lacan’s “je est un autre” I went from self-portrait to portrait, beginning to be interested in the body of my mother and the people closest to me since childhood. Then it was the turn of the body of the Murgia, the Apulian plateau, the rediscovery of my roots and my land after three years living in Paris. I tried to discover my identity, my history in crumbling farmsteads and manor houses, in deserted olive grounds, in the smell of the vineyards and of the rain on the soil, in the slow movements of the Slavic shepherds who take the sheep to pasture. For this type of exploration the most suitable form was the film, both in small (35mm) and medium (120mm) format. Its long times and the sensitivity of the material perfectly reflected an inner search declined in time, bodies and space. Visual anthropology, in particular the films of Jean Rouch, pioneer of the handheld camera and of the live recording sound, pushed me to try my hand at more practical and immediate means, in conjunction with my encounter with the world of immigration, the Italian reception system and the injustices of European laws aimed at preventing freedom of movement for a series of human beings implicitly classified as b series. So I decided to switch to digital and make a documentary about everyday life in a reception center for migrants in Apulia through the words and the standpoint (parts of the documentary are shot by them in first person) of a group of young people from Senegal, Gambia and Nigeria. For the photographic project with Bright and Reindolf in Youssoufia, “From Kumasi to Rabat”, the decision to continue with digital was natural: since it was no longer a question of expressing the inner self or the perception of reality by it, but of documenting and denouncing reality, I chose a simple and direct form, abandoning black and white and exploring the potential of color and digital photography. On a formative level I owe a lot to the writings and speeches of Frantz Fanon, Thomas Sankara and Amilcar Cabral: their words and experiences have taught me that oppression is a long and difficult virus to defeat, but not impossible. Everything starts from the awareness of the position that each of us occupies in the world. On the one hand there is the challenge to question one’s own privileges, on the other hand there is the need to fight for the conquest of one’s own dignity as a human being and with it the right to self-determination. In other words, we need to unite, organize, collaborate, working daily to overcome weaknesses and to meet on a common ground of solidarity, understanding and respect with the firm conviction that we can build new ways of living, revitalising the meaning of justice which we have deprived of value. Visually I have learned a lot from the works of Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Mary Ellen Mark and Christine Spengler because they were able to practice photojournalism while maintaining a human and empathetic approach – and therefore even more effective in denouncing – with their subjects.
LC – Do you agree with our vision of art and what do you think about the theme of the festival?
GL – The concept of Anima Mundi, which is also the name of the festival, although it is Latin in origin and therefore rooted in Western culture, can be found in many other parts of the world. In African animism and witchcraft, in the Kula of Melanesia, the material and spiritual exchange between human and non-human beings, and in what recently some anthropologists and philosophers looking at non-western conceptions and habitus define as relational ontologies. Anima Mundi is the intersection and confluence on a single ground of stories, cultures, societies, their relationship with the environment, the niche they have modified and to which they have adapted. It is an opening to the plurality and coexistence of material and spiritual microcosms, concepts of living and habitus that can clash, merge, hybridize but never annihilate and disappear: the soul of the world preserves every trace of the smallest organism that has crossed the planet earth. We humans together with all the atmospheric forces and other living species, minerals, vetegals and animals make up the soul of the world. It is up to us, as the only one of all species to be endowed with culture, to preserve the heritage that we carry in our bodies and in our artifacts by maintaining a human dialogue and constructive collaboration with all other human and non-human species that reside there.
LC – What is the message linked to the artwork you have shown in this exhibition? How is it connected to the theme of the entire festival?
GL – Last year I choose Rabat as the place for an academic exchange promoted by the University of Venice where I am currently completing a master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology. I spent four months in the yellow city, from January to May 2019, wandering through the alleys of the working class neighbourhoods, with no specific purpose other than to get used to my new home, camera by hand, eyes open and receptive, my mouth always smiling, ready to exchange a few words with people. The day I ventured into one of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods, El Youssoufia, a former slum, I met Bright and Reindolf, two young Ghanaians who aspire to join Tangier to face the sea and set foot on the shores of Spain, thus concretizing what they perceive as an accomplishment, perhaps partially unaware of the difficulties they will have to endure in Europe.The photos presented are part of an ethnographic investigation carried out in the form of a fieldwork journal: by rubbing shoulders with their daily lives, questioning them about their dreams, sharing meals, assisting them during their work at Youssoufia’s Suq, I learned what it means to survive in an often unfriendly context, by accepting discrimination with clenched fists, without ever letting the adverse circumstances annihilate them. I believe that my project shares with Anima Mundi the idea of giving visibility to ways of life and cultures that we often judge with fear or contempt simply because we are accustomed and stunned by the script that is offered to us by politicians without ethical and social values. From Kumasi to Rabat, present in the Consciousness section of the festival, has been a formative journey for me because coming into contact with the lives of Bright and Reindolf, I was able to become aware, that it is too simplistic to indulge in predictable comparisons and then proved inadequate to their experience. For example, my naivety at the beginning of our relationship in not understanding why they preferred to live with 50 dirhams a day in Morocco, equivalent to about five euros, instead of returning to Ghana, where they could count on the support of their families. I hope to be able to convey to anyone who approaches the photographs, the ethnographic text and the interviews, part of my emotions and theirs, offering a stimulus to begin to question, continue to fight and act for a society that really needs to find a pragmatic humanism.
LC – What do you think about the organization of our event?
GL – The organization is impeccable, the staff really open available and flexible. I had a great time with Giulia and Luca, and I thank them very much for their patience because they allowed me to change the installation at the last minute. Beyond communication, I find the idea of proposing a festival parallel to the Biennale in the context of Venice really courageous. I appreciate the global openness in the choice of artists, the predilection for emerging figures and the dialogue between different worlds and themes that are nevertheless subtly linked to each other. Diversity and heterogeneity in the artistic medium make Anima Mundi a space rich in stimuli and new encounters.
LC – Would you suggest a collaboration with us? What do you think about our services?
GL – I would like to pursue a collaboration with Itsliquid if there were an interest on both sides, especially now that you are opening a new base in London. I’m particularly attached to the London music scene and in the future I’d like to work on this theme, maybe I’ll think about it after my next trip to Gambia for my thesis, where I’ll explore the world of music and youth activism.
LC – What are your suggestions about our services? Is there something more we can provide to artists?
GL – Because I’m a visionary, I’ll give you some suggestions that could enrich the festival: it would be nice to organize talks between artists, dj sets, happy hours and evenings to sponsor the festival, use the radio or podcast to spread interviews and conversations with artists and curators, and maybe in the future invite artists to hold workshops or promote residencies for artists. And finally, invest in Africa and think about the possibility of opening a gallery\event there (it’s the ideal historical moment to do it!)