Small and beautifully formed

——a brief review of Cortona On The Move Photography Festival

The theme for this year’s COTM festival is on nature, landscape and visual story-telling. Solo exhibitions of at least twenty-eight Italian and international artists are presented in six historical buildings in Cortona, a spectacular mountain town two hours north of Rome. My overall reading is that the curation of the festival is perfect in its diversity, and particularly, accessibility. With a focus on documentary work, the projects reflect the current state of photography as a tool of story-telling, self-expression as well as political/personal investigation. All such projects are presented in a manner that are readable and easily acceptable not only by professional photographers, but also amateurs and positively, the general public who are keen enough to come in and have a look around.

Some personal favourites include Andrea Botto’s ‘The Explosion of Landscape: Blasting Practices’. This ten-year obsessive research and documentation of non-military explosions is presented in a beautiful room of historical decoration, with two giant, double-sided light boxes. The performative and research side of the project is displayed on a long table with printed banners and small, framed black-and-white photographs. I would say that the work, the display and the room marry each other perfectly (oh, can a three-sided marriage work?)

Nadia Bseiso’s ‘Infertile Crescent’ also caught my eye. The project (still in progress) will consist of 4 chapters and aims to explore the route of the salvation pipeline by tracing the places it will cross. As Bseiso states, the next war will be a water war. What I like about this project is simply its photographs, which are documentary in nature, shot with a great sense of composition, timing and gentle love towards the landscape. I look forward to seeing the project in its complete state.

Beatriz Polo Ianez’ project ‘L’illa’ (the island) is enigma. I have read the statement a couple of times but I still can’t quite work out what the project is actually about. However I’m very much drawn to the photographs, which have a strong sense of mystery, serenity and intimacy. An old lady with a bunch of lemons (or another type of fruits) at her chest, bathed in brilliant side light, in perfect harmony with a flesh-coloured backdrop. A small child swimming on top of a man, shot from under the water. I was thinking about the mother and baby whales when looking at this photograph. The whole series is made up with these diverse images of people, still life, and fragments of landscape, with rich, saturated colours of blue, red and yellow. I wish I could do this.

Another project keeps popping up in front of my eyes recently, and I found it here in COTM as a perfect solo exhibition. Marina Cavene’s ‘Are They Rocks or Clouds’ is a territorial investigation project that was conceived in the Dolomites, where Caneve aims at building knowledge of hydrogeological risk, a theme traditionally dealt with by science and technology. The project combines historical photographs of earthquakes and landslides as well as her own images of the aftermath of these events, shot with very interesting ambiguity. The exhibition is curated very successfully with innovative usage of the space——one giant photograph is brutally split in two halves, with the building’s column rudely inserted into it. There is also text presented on banners, and still life images of various instruments used in the research of such geological events. Finally the project is presented as a book with an intense, multi-layered design. I really should have got a copy. But on the day I spent the last bit of my euros on Italian pasta instead….Sorry!

I was very much taken by the exhibition called ‘Arena - Video and Beyond’, curated by Liza Faktor. In another abandoned historical building with eerie green and red ambient light, eight multi-media installations were presented and almost intertwined with the charming features of the building: fireplace, chimneys and stone floors. Some of my favourites include Dominic Bracco II’s ‘My Republic’. The work is about the US-Mexican border but it refuses to categorise the line as a division. Instead, it reframes it as a unique and unifying experience far into the American Southwest and deep into northern Mexico. The mixed media installation combines photography, video, sculpture, and artefacts. It took me a while to realise that a super-realistic film of a woman giving birth was actually a performance instead of a real event. I also kept looking at the red tight tube installed almost as low as the floor level——what does it mean? Not sure but it certainly created a lot of atmosphere and could work on its own right as a piece of installation/sculptural art. By this time I was feeling a sense of crisis ——are we already old dinosaurs? These young kids are so brilliant already, with the ability to swing smoothly between so many different mediums! Emm….

One site of the festival, the Fortezza de Girifalco, sits on top of the town and offers an unbeatable view at 600 meters elevation. This is already a mountain by England’s standard. Oh, and the ‘kind of the castle’ this time is our very own Simon Norfolk, who presents four chapters of his powerful work on this site, alongside four other artists.

The festival is visibly a favourite of Italian photo lovers with lot of loyal fans——who wouldn’t mind waiting for a talk even if it’s an hour late. Well with beer and ice cream, the wait can well be longer. The opening days are also packed with artists tours, talks, demos, masterclasses and portfolio reviews (this years, the winner of the review is a dear friend of mine, Monica Alcazar-Duarte. Well done Monica!)

I would say that you will probably need a day or two to fully enjoy the festival and the town. From England, perhaps we won’t make a specific trip. But it’ll make a perfect stop if you’re planning a trip in the area. It’s not just the festival, it is the food, wine, coffee, and the town that make up the wholesome experience.

Finally, I would say that well done, Arianna Rinaldo, the artistic director of the festival, for presenting such a wonderful event. It’s a pleasure and an honour to be part of it.

(Oh, I have also come to the conclusion that Italian pasta is as good as Chinese noodles!)