Simona Rotaʼs Instant Village… all the rest is fiction.

“To keep photographing the same ice in the same river flowing beneath the same bridge trying to link the shadow of a word to another word staring into the same signs for nothing.”
—David Shapiro, The Sphinx, Again. [Fragment]

Gaston Bachelard wrote in The Poetics of Space that “one must be receptive, receptive to the image at the moment it appears: if there be a philosophy of poetry, it must appear and re-appear through a significant verse, in total adherence to an isolated image; to be exact, in the very ecstasy of the newness of the image.” Taking this as a start point, we can feel the philosophy of poetry on Simona Rota’s work, and understand that each single image is a powerful statement in itself.

There are several ways of sensing and understanding a city. By walking, smelling, listening or looking at it; and also there are different ways of communicating this feeling, from literature and drawings, to photography. In this case, Simona’s photos act like a personal manifesto against urban growth in a natural territory that has been destroyed by the unconsciousness of the real state market. Each one of the photos is talking about isolation, solitude and the immenseness of the inner world that exists behind every human intervention. Perceived as an art work, we may think it would be superficial to affirm that such photos are real; but in fact they are as real as the viewer is, because they can’t exist without creating a dialogue about the absoluteness of the image, flowing toward the silence of poetry to express what one once dreamt. But how the photography of dreams can talk about other kind of space, landscape, or cities? Maybe it is possible to relate this images with the phenomena of reverberation, as means of transmitting an echo-like force or effect. It is almost impossible to stay impassive when we see the series “Instant Village”, because they not refer only to a spatial relation between buildings and territories. Actually they are changing our conception of space and time with the immanent presence of the dichotomy between the mind and the senses. This project is making us aware of the danger that lies behind our comfort zone, where man-made urbanism suddenly becomes urban sprawl, where illegal houses mirrors the abandoned towns, and were nature is more powerful than any human intervention, leaving the empirical idea of architecture annihilated by the territory itself.

Abandonded town “La Leprosería”. Tenerife

Illegal auto-constructed housing. El Médano. Tenerife

As if wondering about the future to come, albeit without understanding the present, the series “Instant Village” is a metaphor of derelict infrastructures which inhabit Canary Islands, as ghosts of the future that never was. Diego Barajas talks about “territories in dispersion” when referring to social habitats that are no longer contained in geographically continuous areas but which have been re-articulated by artificial means or mental constructions. Following this argument, the series “Instant Village” becomes a fictional territory, created by micro-environments that varies from illegal towns to spaces inhabited by buses and automobiles. The island is formed by several small towns, with different characteristics, sizes, dates and inhabitants in them. According to this, the photographic work shows an abstract concept of society, bringing out the question about the possibility of having a political interpretation of territory, and if so, how it should be? A big value behind this stories, is that they are shown through the lens of a photographer that is neither architect nor urbanist, but with a background on politics, which gives her a different kind of glance that cannot be dismissed, because it transform landscape and buildings into a powerful communication medium. Transversality in art is nothing new, Goethe combined art and science to produce some fantastic issues like The Metamorphosis of Plants in 1790 and this is only one example that linearity never was a way of thinking. Our mind is complex and so do Simona Rota’s œuvre. Somehow this photo-essay is talking much more about life than about architecture and landscape. Human behaviors are photographed beyond each wall, each house, and each building; and the unanalyzable nature of humankind shows the dimension of its experience as seen by the optical lenses of art.

“The Sckyscraper”, illegal construction in Añaza. Tenerife

Tenerife is a landscape of contradictions. Located in Canary Islands, is the largest and most populous of the seven islands. It can be defined as a beautiful natural island, which emerged by volcanic activity, now surrounded by urban sprawl, with identical houses and illegal constructions at the same time. In this context, photography is used as means to develop an argument, dealing with the crossovers between social, geographic and political interests. When interviewed by WAI Think Tank, Simona points about this issue, “I choose to photograph architecture in the way that, for me, architecture constitutes an adequate visual tool to reflect about the use of territory, the configuration of the built landscape, the artificial context, the construction of images and the expression of power.” This quote is also useful to review notions of appropriation. They can be traced since the early works of Karl Marx, “… appropriation appears as estrangement, and alienation; and alienation appears as appropriation.” Reading this statement, it’s possible to start understanding with a new approach the images presented at the exhibition. Both in the sprawl in Poris and in the abandoned town “La Leprosería”, it can be perceived at the same time the desire of appropriation but unfortunately resulting on alienated places, poorly integrated into the landscape, in which its inhabitants ends [physically or metaphorically] locked in gated communities, far from any kind of integration neither with the territory nor between them. The contradiction amidst the photos of Mesa del Mar also show the contrast between this two concepts; while the swimming pool tries to integrate itself by reproducing the local architecture; the building of illegal flats is a clear representation of alienation, representing a counterhistory of the architectural evolution in the island. Following with these ideas, “The Sckyscraper”, an illegal construction in Añaza is an example of building with a lack of sensibility —the question of perception becomes a completely subjective issue; affecting our understanding of architecture and the world in general, while it brings ontological questions at different scales, on how we interact with the environment, with the landscape and with each others.

Bus station in Taco. Tenerife

Sprawl near to Santa Cruz de Tenerife

The way that urban interventions have been done implies a series of actors, from poor houses to real state dealers able to build several constructions in a small time, allowing the place to become a touristic scenario. Thus demonstrating that, “technology contains the active relation of human beings to nature; it contains the immediate process of production in their lives, and along with their social relations and their intellectual notions which spring from all these relationships.” in Marx words again [quoted by Ernst Bloch]. With this undergoing series it’s possible to speculate about the urban future of the island inasmuch as it poses the basis to reflect on what has happened in the past and which kind of future is possible there.

If we agree with Juhani Pallasmaa when he wrote that the essential mental task of architecture is accommodation and integration, the polemical work of Simona Rota gets another sense. Her feeling of disappointment with the wasted opportunity behind the urban interventions in the island is constantly confronted with the fact that she is documenting an endless story. Cities and natural territories, as human beings, are in constant evolution, so what our eyes can see today in these photographies is just a freeze moment in time. At this point, and reading Baudelaire’s passionate critique of photography, we can’t avoid thinking on the deep relationship between the three actors he mentions: art, poetry and photography. When asked about the “artistic element” on her photographies, Simona pointed that photography implies documental attributes, in other words, it is the proof that someone or something has been there, looking or registering something, and photographing it in a certain space and in a certain time. In this context, images are more than an art work, they become a time machine. They are like a big box full of memories. Memories of the past but also memories of the future… all the rest is fiction.

Essay written to accompany Simona Rotas’s pictures for the book Eyes on the City. Urban Spaces in Contemporary Photography. The book has been published for the exhibition at the Stadtmuseum Graz.

More info about Simona Rota’s work at her web-site.


About this entry