Botto & Bruno

The urban landscapes of Gianfranco Botto and Roberta Bruno start from the on-site inspection of realities common to the peripheries of many Italian cities. Abandoned factories, crumbling schools, and empty, desolate places are invariable characteristics of the “diffuse” city, the contemporary metropolis that develops without rules, leaving behind anonymous spaces, often sites of violence. It’s hard to make a decent life for oneself in these marginal areas, far from the historic city-centers with their wealth of monuments and the high quality and character of their urban fabric. The non-places of the periphery are spaces without identity, terrains vagues between isolated building episodes.

Such are the premises of these two artists from Turin, who use photography to compose, with real images of the city, new artificial landscapes. What at first glance seemed to be photomurals of the periphery of Pozzuoli (a town on the outskirts of Naples) were, instead, imaginary landscapes, unreal places produced through photomontage. The scenes wallpapered to the gallery walls described a periphery that is far more suggestive than the grim reality on which it was based. More or less distinct elements interacted in terms of chromatic values, external references, differences in scale, and spatial values. The final effect tended to produce the sense of a unified whole, but with careful scrutiny, the eye began to discern subtle variations produced by the play among embedded elements of contrasting character. A single building, for instance, might be made up of walls with different degrees of luminosity; puddles on the pavement reflected the images of nonexistent trees or structures, purplish clouds loomed over the city without producing a drop of water. In I remember my song and I remember my school (all works 2000), two works on PVC, there was also an encounter of opposites: The elimination of a parapet opened up the private realm of a dwelling to the exterior public space. This process of customization transformed an environment otherwise devoid of character. Even the show’s title, “My song goes down into the water,” a variation on a line from Nick Cave’s “The Weeping Song,” is a collage that allows the addition of an extraneous element to the original text.

Botto & Bruno prefer to utilize manual techniques to unite the various fragments captured in the interstices of the urban periphery. Better than a PhotoShop program, their scissors-and-paste approach to photomontage allows them to capture the unexpected elements that give the images their emotional force. The works they create by juxtaposing laser copies of their own photographs of schools produce a feeling of disorientation: Interior space coincides with exterior sites and buildings photographed in places distant from one another are recomposed to create an unbroken screen. Filling the wall, these photographed urban landscapes expanded the space of the gallery, which was broken open to give the feeling of an exterior space strangely covered by a ceiling. The only human presences within the image have their faces covered, so one does not associate the figure with any psychological trait. Instead, it is the power of the surrounding architecture, an artificial copy of a new periphery with its own character and architectural identity, that has the upper hand. These schools on the outskirts of Pozzuoli have the appearance of prisons. Though they might look abandoned, they are still in use, housing a population of adolescent victims of urban decay.

Filippo Romeo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.