Vita nova


Hellen Van Meene, Untitled, 1999, Fotografia a colori, ed 2/10 © Hellen Van Meene, Courtesy Le case d'arte, Milano (Collezione privata)

Hellen Van Meene, Untitled, 1999, Fotografia a colori, ed 2/10 © Hellen Van Meene, Courtesy Le case d’arte, Milano (Collezione privata)

Vita Nova

curated by Walter Guadagnini

times and locations

Chiostri di San Pietro
via Emilia San Pietro, 44/c
42121 Reggio Emilia

friday 3rd may open from 6.30 pm to midnight; saturday 4th and sunday 5th may from 10 am to midnight; from 6th may to 16th june open on friday from 7 pm to 11 pm; saturday from 10 am to 11 pm, sunday from 10 am to 9 pm


“Incipit vita nova,” penned the poet right at the start of the story about his love for Beatrice; a new life that can be understood either as youth, or as life renewed by love, but that to our eyes presents itself as being characteristic of a precise season in our existence, that of adolescence, the age of change par excellence which even in the more prosaic 20th century has seen its share of poets and witnesses.

An age, a phase of life, which today is easy to recognize as being central to the development of our personality, a concept now widely analyzed and studied from every point of view, but that in reality became the center of attention only from the mid-20th century onwards. (Before then, we
had Tadzio in Death in Venice, or the young Törless, not to mention Werther, but these were entirely different stories.) In the Fifties, as the mass consumer society began to take hold in the United States, adolescents – from that point on known to the whole world as teenagers – became both a target and a problem: a target for the advertisers and the producers of consumer goods, who had found a new pool of consumers, a mass of new, potential customers; a problem because, given a voice and a role, that mass turned out to be incomprehensible, the bearer of problems and values that were apparently alien. Lolita, James Dean, the first stars of rock and roll, were the various incarnations of a dream that was about to turn into a nightmare, that f the generation war. (In the mid-Sixties The Who would sing the words I’m just talkin’ ’bout my generation, with tones that weren’t exactly conversational.)

The first images are those by Paul Graham (1956), Lise Sarfati (1958), Hannah Starkey (1971) and Hellen van Meene (1972), who represent a generation that literally wanted to look adolescents straight in the face, who tried to penetrate, predominantly through the use of portrait photography, the complex affective and social world of their subjects. These photographers never separated the face or the body from their context, despite the fact that they used different working strategies. Graham almost hides himself from his subjects and takes pictures that are deliberately ungrammatical, extremely rude, whilst the other three photographers explicitly express their presence and photographic skills. In any case, what emerges is an image created in the same way that the figures portrayed create their personality.

End of an Age lends itself to a twofold interpretation. On the one hand, for each of the young people portrayed by the British artist in European and American cafés and clubs, it is truly the end of an age, the end of one of life’s seasons, in response to which those gazes lost in nothingness no doubt indicate a lack of certainty, but at the same time also apprehension regarding an elsewhere, a future, indefinite and indefinable, but always possible. Hence, the personal story and the collective story necessarily become one.

Raimond Wouda (1964), Luigi Gariglio (1968), and Tobias Zielony (1973), afford greater attention to the social context in which adolescents move, i.e. school, family relations, which in the case of Gariglio also become working relations, with the “street” interpreted as the primary place of socialization in the photographs of Zielony, who also worked in a dramatic context such as that of the “Vele” neighborhood of Scampia.

Lastly, at the extremes of poetics and storms lie the images of Julia Fullerton-Batten and Evan Baden (1985). The former artist exploits the imaginative power of digital photography to invent a parallel reality, in which the young protagonists of these images literally change state, lose weight and flee toward a reality that is different from their day-to-day life, suspended in mid-air as if they were suspended between one age and another.

The latter artist instead sticks the knife into various social practices that were born and have been spread in the Internet age, the production and exchange of homemade images of a more or less pornographic nature, naturally leaving open the door to possible interpretations of forms of behaviour that once more testify, as if more proof were needed, to the changes in behaviour induced by the increasingly invasive presence of new technologies.

Alice has stepped through the lookingglass, but now we have no way of knowing if and when she will ever come back.
Walter Guadagnini

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