Metamorphosis - Interview with Eleonora Manca

How and when did you first approach photography?

«My artistic journey started from drawing and painting; then I turned to visual poetry, using Japanese paper. Even though I think that words and images are two icons that should not be separated, after a while I happened to be frustrated by the written text. I felt that writing was not enough to convey all my thoughts. Therefore, I went back to the archetype: image. I was already using photography for some of my paintings and visual poems, so I just “dragged” photographs out of the context and started working on them (but I also carried on my research on video art: static images and moving images). In general, my work is always based on movement. My photographs generate a micro-narration, like a bobbin that is unravelled by the repetition of an action “frozen” in the moment of its development. This is why each photograph has both a title and a serial number: for instance, if the title is followed by “XXX”, that means the picture is the shot no. 30 of a series. It is about the meaning, the subject, the image and the location of an artwork».

What does photography mean to you?

«It is one of the limitless opportunities of creating images. I do not think of me as a photographer but rather as an artist (although I feel a bit uneasy about this definition - but I use it when I have explain what I do). More specifically, I am an artist who takes photography (and video art) as the privileged medium to convey her research on metamorphosis, body memory and memory, through the study of gestures and bodies. I like photography because it is a “report”, something really intimate and utterly impersonal at the same time. Quoting Roland Barthes, I would say photography is “false on the level of perception, true on the level of time”. To me, photography is a presence, a companion that allows me to deal with the phenomenology of representation, and I consider black&white photography as a realistic representation of reality. Photography is something dead; it is the action of capturing a moment to keep it alive, to make it an undisputed - but also deceiving - repository of memory». The photograph of a body reports the apparent, the exteriority, but at the same time it also represents the phenomenology of a semantic pertaining to death - because that “stolen” body is no longer that body (and by body I mean every possible “matter”), as nothing can live twice. Although photography is usually seen as a substitute of memory, it leaves nothing but a confused visual impression that will fade into oblivion. What do we really see in the image-body of a picture? This is one of the recurrent questions in my work, but I have found no answer so far - and probably I do not want to».

Why do you focus so much on metamorphosis?

«Metamorphosis, memory and body memory are the subjects of my work. I focus on the body and on its metamorphoses, on the acceptation of pain that every change requires; on the time and space necessary to “change your skin”, to start the unavoidable mutation that must come after every wound. Mind and body communicate with each other: the mind inscribes emotions on the body, dragging them out of its memory. Thus, the body itself is a repository of memory, and memory has so many layers that everything we do stems out of it. Even though we rationally process our memories, they stick to the body and cannot be cancelled. While our mind works through processes of repression and acquisition, the body remembers everything and preserve every thought, glance and word within its cells. This is why the language of the body is actually the language of memory. “To go out with one’s own body” (as Antonin Artaud said) - as though one’s skin was a piece of fabric - and to accept that we can never fully possess our exterior shell also means to embrace the power of the body. The body, often naked, questions itself and anyone who is looking at it. Hence, it is resilient to any pre-existing interpretation. It is impossible to take the skin off of a body: a naked body is there to state that there is nothing else to get rid of. It is a possible truth, a truth just discovered and addressed to the outer world. It also contains an ontological mimesis. A nude has nothing to do with an “exhibition” or a “show”, because a body is nothing but itself, or a hint of itself. A nude, this nude, does not break any rule, can neither embarrass nor please anyone. It is self-sufficient. To make it simpler, a naked body is a “what”. It differs from a “how”. I am interested in the “what-body”. My work is about capturing the feelings that every change excites, through the constant layering of memories and through the presence of a body that thinks, acts, suffers, participates, rejoices and experiences all the human emotions».

Can you explain the photographs selected by Alidem?

«I chose the title Anamorphosis_XXVIII because “anamorphosis” means “to reshape”. It is a work on metamorphosis and on its inherent capacity of creating more elaborated shapes, which are new parts of a potential body. Ephemeral_III and Ephemeral_XX are part of a series that focuses on the awareness necessary to pursue a transformation, represented by a symbology centred on the idea that everything is ephemeral. Esercizio di muta n.8 is about body memory, and aims to show how the language of body is actually the language of memory. The title Madre_XXIX has two different meanings: on one hand, it is related to a mother who gave birth to her children; on the other, it is about the concept of “interiority”. The word “mother” in Italian is also the inside of a pillow, the sediment at the bottom of a bottle of vinegar, the inside of some fruit kernels. I wanted to highlight the perception of the physical distance between an infant and a mother. Memory of a Metamorphosis_ex voto_XXV is the memory of a personal change, something so intense that I am still carrying the scars of it; it is an ex-voto and a mementum».

What technique do you use?

«My photographs are all digital self-shots. I always use natural light, which often comes through a couple of windows that draw different shapes in different times of the day. I never use studio lighting. My photographs are the result of a sort of contradiction: I never fully show “myself-in-that-moment”. What I obtain is a fragmented body, which is fading away. I carefully study the framing, in order to capture a gesture or a portion of body that expresses the individuality of the subject, but that can also allow the viewer to identify with it. The choice of colour - black&white or greyscale - aims to stress the relation between significant and signified: my “real” image and myself never fully correspond with each other. When I use textures, I generally pick fabric patterns, walls, pieces of underwear that belonged to women in my family and that, to me, constitute a “legacy” of memory».

Are you inspired by any photographer or artist?

«I am always walking on the edge between those who came before and my contemporaries. I do not rely upon any specific model; my inspiration usually comes from what happens around me. Nonetheless, I always spend time analysing what can be the “minimum”, the starting point of every action, in order to convey it through my work on and with the body. I consider some artists as “silent teachers”: Carmelo Bene, Antonin Artaud, Mejerchol’d’s biomechanics, theatre dance, video art, Maya Deren’s experimental films, the Fluxus movement, Egon Schiele and Francis Bacon’s painting. Moreover, Eleanor Antin, Gina Pane, Carolee Schneemann, Mary Kelly, Ana Mendieta. I have also been influenced by some photographers, even though their work is quite different from mine: Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Margaret Cameron’s pictorialism, Eadweard Muybridge, Joel Peter Witkin, Robert Mapplethorpe».

What are you currently working on? Do you have any future project?

«I am carrying on my research on metamorphosis, body memory and memory. Recently, I have been focusing on a project on memory, for which I used photographs, pages from my diaries and personal documents. In general, I am interested in disengaging the final product of photography from its context. I like to use pictures in alternative ways, mixing them with different media or “influences”. Also, since I am interested in the interaction of different types of art, I am currently turning myself to art installations».