Milan

Gabriele Basilico, Le Touquet, 1985, black-and-white photograph, 11 3/4 x 15 3/4". From the series “Bord de Mer 1984–85” (Seaside 1984–85).

Gabriele Basilico, Le Touquet, 1985, black-and-white photograph, 11 3/4 x 15 3/4". From the series “Bord de Mer 1984–85” (Seaside 1984–85).

Gabriele Basilico

Studio Guenzani

Gabriele Basilico, Le Touquet, 1985, black-and-white photograph, 11 3/4 x 15 3/4". From the series “Bord de Mer 1984–85” (Seaside 1984–85).

Two threads emerged from this sophisticated mini-retrospective devoted to Gabriele Basilico: the investigation of the nature of the photographic medium and the discovery of a new identity for the figure of the author-photographer. The exhibition, organized in two rooms, presented a selection of twenty-six vintage black-and-white prints, linked to three documentary and interpretive projects that Basilico undertook in the 1980s and early ’90s. In the first room were photographs from the “Beirut 1991” series, bearing witness to the devastation of the Lebanese city at the end of the civil war there. Apart from showcasing the artist’s desire to eliminate all formal acrobatics in favor of a style of photography that embraces every minute detail of reality, the sequence is also a powerful postmodern scenario, in which detritus and rubble are the source of reflection on the monument, habitable space, and urban entropy.

A still more contemplative stance characterizes the project “Bord de Mer 1984–85” (Seaside 1984–85), tied to a commission from the French government, which had invited twenty-eight photographers of different nationalities to interpret and recount the transformation of the country’s coastal landscape. The images that were produced are the artists’ responses not only to the country itself but to categories of geography and ways of describing and building the landscape. Traveling for six months, Basilico painstakingly photographed the territory comprising the regions of Normandy, Picardy, and Nord-Pas-de-Calais. While working with great freedom of action, the artist identified his own photographic method with the analysis and representation of a region—an approach he has never abandoned. The experience of travel becomes the means by which Basilico reflects on the medium he has chosen, and to which he gives a personal stamp. The result is undoubtedly a reflection on transformations in the region and on the distortion of its future, evidenced by the postindustrial crisis that has left the area scarred with abandoned sites, great voids, and a workforce waiting to be retooled. Seen as an ensemble, the photographs convey the cinematic dimension of Basilico’s work; seen individually, however, they function as portraits of expanded spaces, of the idea of the horizon, of landscape’s theatrical aspect, and of the gestures and rituals that take place in public space—all attesting to a vision that is lyrical yet devoid of sentimentality. And it was a brilliant touch to also exhibit, on a worktable, six albums of photographic contact prints for the project. These not only demonstrated the importance of the process of constructing the image (initial shots, reconsiderations of the image, corrections), but also conveyed the project’s full richness, where the complete sequence of the images functions like a navigational log or a storyboard for a film.

The exhibition concluded with a third photographic series, “Porti di Mare 1982–88” (Seaports 1982–88), Basilico’s personal investigation of the port cities of Europe. Here more than anywhere else he reveals not only his training as an architect and his interest in the legacy of Bernd and Hilla Becher—their taxonomic approach, objective framing without people, sculptural rendering of forms—but also his affiliation with humanist culture, which, from the Renaissance on, has looked at landscape as a mirror of the soul.

Paola Nicolin

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.