From form to abstraction: “Disembody”, the latest photographic research by Manuel Scrima

The Cremonese artist talks about himself, presenting his latest exhibition “Disembody”

Written by Federica Ciotola – teacher, architect and interior designer –

The first appointment of the New Post Human review scheduled for the 2020/21 season, Disembody is an exhibition in which Manuel Scrima collects a series of unpublished large-format works printed on glass and plexiglass plates and mounted together. Starting from the great passion for classical culture, the images are transfigured into new compositions.

The interview is an exciting journey through his research and his career as an artist.

  • What creative process is the basis of your latest “Disembody” project?

The creative process comes from studying the human body: the most interesting subject I can imagine. Not to represent it as it has already been done by others, but in search of my language. I started with photographing framed and veiled bodies: as if they were classical statues enclosed in cubes.

In addition, these images are printed on transparent or semi-transparent plates of different materials. The overlap of several plates generates new images: ideograms, masks, figures randomly similar to Rorschach’s images.

The design of the final work is very rigorous. What matters most is that everything is geometrically aligned and symmetrical in each photo: that the optical axis passes exactly in the center of the cube and that the subject is parallel to the focal plane of the camera. The poses of the subjects are studied respecting the proper balance of classical art.

  • The study you conducted starts from the human body to arrive at disembodied and abstract figures. Your “Disassembly” seems to recall that “Looking beyond things as they present themselves” typical of Derrida’s Deconstructionism. What is the intent of this poetic?

Oh my God, it would be insincere to say that my work is inspired by the reading of Derrida’s essays, but I am pleased that my research is in agreement with contemporary thought. My brother Stefano, who deals precisely with philosophy, also pointed this out to me. The intent is to use the body as a matrix to build a new geometry of nature.The intent is to use the body as a matrix to build a new geometry of nature. For Derrida “Deconstruction is the denaturalization of the natural”, and more or less I do the same thing: the bodies are denatured and artificially composed, only to be recomposed in something else. I think that this historical moment (like every historical moment) needs to question itself, to review and reflect on its ethical and aesthetic values: the body, embodied and idealized at the same time, is at the center of our imagination and for this reason it is become invisible, a necessary context of communication. My attempt to denaturalize it goes in this direction: decontextualized from the flesh and from the logic of self-sale, the body becomes visible again, an epiphany of the gaze. Reassembling it with new shapes and geometries requires on the part of the viewer a cognitive and emotional effort that allows the emergence of new meanings, an opening towards self-understanding as a worn mirror of everyday life.

  • For a photographer who has dealt with and is involved in fashion and detail photography, this project that dematerializes the bodies and takes away the attention to the subject appears to be new. Could you explain to us what needs arise?

I started my career doing art exhibitions. Fashion photography came later. The need is always the same: to create something that I first imagined. I take away the attention from the subjects because it’ s a very personal project and the main subject on which I reflect is myself.

  • How did you come to this research?

For years I have exhibited images of African tribes that are disappearing. It wasn’t about re-portage, but about images constructed using my imagination. It was a research on myself in contact with what was the culture furthest from my educational horizons. I lived among the tribal peoples of the Rift Valley (Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and South Sudan), the cradle of humanity, and in these places I tasted their wisdom and spirituality.

The encounter with these cultures made me reflect. The greater awareness that has resulted has resulted in this search closer to what really I am.

  • Starting from your training, could you tell us your sources of inspiration?

First of all my mother, who when I was little did not miss an opportunity to paint or to be creative in all ways. It still is now. Then many artists that I learned to know during my studies. I spend most of my time traveling and when I can I quickly and casually visit galleries, museums, cities of art. To see and assimilate as much as possible. When I was a a child, I inherited from my Belgian mother the love for Fernand Khnopff’s mysterious and disturbing symbolist painting. When I was in high school I was a fan of Andy Warhol’s pop art: I didn’t have a football diary, but Keith Haring’s. At the moment, classical statuary is what fascinates me the most and that I would never stop looking at. I can’t wait to visit the Torlonia marble exhibition recently opened in Rome (which I hope will reopen shortly).

  • How much is the classical matrix present in “Disembody” and how much in other   projects?

I grew up with the Warhol myth, which made no distinction between commercial art and gallery art. The classic matrix is ​​an ever present feature in all my projects, without distinction. When it’s not present, it is consciously transgressed. In the case of Disembo-dy this inspiration is clearly spelled out, also because the client of the images is myself.

  • How would you define your photographic style?

I never thought about it. Maybe because I’m passionate about art and not photography. It is a style more related to the mind than to the eyes. I’m not interested in photographing what I see or what exists, but only what comes from my imagination.

  • In 2006 your African period began and with “Africa Awakes” you shot international exhibitions and galleries. What brought you back to Milan later, towards fashion photography and communication?

In 2009 the Nairobi Museum of Modern Art asked me to present a personal one. At that moment I realized that my “Africa Awakes” project had been received not only in Europe, but also accepted by the culture from which it had taken inspiration. It seemed to me that this project could be defined as completed. In order to progress as an artist and photographer, I felt the need to confront myself with new realities.

  • With the use of social media and especially the instagram channel, everyone  started taking pictures. How do you see this spread? Do you think it could be detrimental to the profession of the photographer?

Social media are very useful for photographers, if only because thanks to them there is an increasing demand for new images. At the same time, the use of social media has helped to change the collective imagination. Photographers need to take this into account. It is very interesting to see which images are the most loved by the public and which ones are least loved. It seems that physical perfection – typical of the 80s, 90s and 2000s – is no longer liked so much, but that the public is attracted to more real, less artificial photos. At the same time, the artist is not an instagrammer and must give the right weight to likes. The search for consensus can only produce mediocrity.

  • The pandemic destabilizes our lives and our paths, but where would you imagine yourself in a few years and what future projects would you like to carry out?

Right now, if there was no health emergency, I should have been in Los Angeles. I hope to continue the Disembody path and complete other art projects that I have been planning for some time. That said, being at the Malibu Getty Villa soon wouldn’t hurt.

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