Donatella Landi

Valentina Moncada

One of the few Italian artists focusing on sound as an artistic means, Donatella Landi has investigated sonic panoramas (often incorporating video and photography) since her first installation, Freihafen (Free Port), 1992, which reproduced the grave sounds of the port of Hamburg in an hour-long minisymphony. Plan de Paris (Map of Paris), 2001, her most interesting and psychologically engaging work so far, reconstructed in eighteen itineraries the sound fabric of all the subway lines in Paris. Now that Landi has explored sounds in very different urban and social contexts, her new work focuses on the noises and images of nature, in an exhibition titled “Focus Naturae.

Breathe Normally, 2008–2009, centers on a large photograph on canvas depicting a clearing in the forest of Manziana, near Rome, on a calm summer afternoon. Approaching the image, viewers are enveloped in an acoustic environment that suddenly projects them inside the forest, thanks to six speakers hidden at the back of the photo emitting environmental sounds just as Landi recorded them live. Using a barrel microphone that makes it possible to zoom in on distinct noises, Landi penetrated this natural space of profound beauty, recording a myriad of sonic details. Microsonic events are sometimes emphasized, as if a flashlight were lighting up a delimited portion of the acoustic space, separating them from the general context; one can perceive birds above, crickets and cicadas in the background, and blowflies nearby. The soundscape decomposes and recomposes from the slightest details to the whole. The image itself seems to take on life through the activity of the many invisible but noisy forest inhabitants.

Landi uses the same close-up principle in the photographic series “Focus Naturae,” 2009, where she incisively analyzes the surface of nature, utilizing photography, painting, drawing, and botanical illustration. Details of leaves, flowers, stems, and pistils form round oculi that float on the white paper like planets suspended in the void. Microcosm and macrocosm dance together in these compositions, and the optical focus can privilege the detail but also expand outward to a cosmological vision.

The sound installation 17 minuti e 45 secondi di passeggiata verso il fiume (A Walk of 17 Minutes and 45 Seconds Toward the River), 2008–2009, conceals a secret paradox beneath its flatly literal title. Wearing headphones, sitting on a chair, we can listen to a holophonic recording, a technique that claims to perfectly reproduce the physical experience of the human ear. Accompanying Landi on her walk, we listen to the rhythm of her steps and her breath—calm at first, then more agitated—her pauses and accelerations; but also the environmental sounds: the rustling of the wind, the passage of birds and airplanes. There is nothing to look at, and one can only listen, eyes closed. Over seventeen minutes, the acoustic atmosphere expands to provide a broader perceptual experience, as the mind begins to reconstruct the panorama across various sensory modes. The psychological stimulus and the identification with the artist are so strong that one almost has the sensation of moving outside the boundaries of one’s own body. In this sound space suspended between two solitudes—that of the walking artist and that of the seated listener—a short circuit occurs, an unusual intimacy of great intensity. The paradox is that even amid all these sounds, one can slip into a meditative space and enter into silence.

Ida Panicelli

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.