I do see a connection with the idea of humanity I was talking about in the other post and the artwork of David Goldblatt, a photographer from South Africa who has exhibited at the Biennale this year. His works are located at the Illumination Pavillon, a sort of para-pavillon, the only one at the Giardini where the artists are not selected by their nationalities. Goldblatt was born in 1930 in Johannesburg and since the beginning of his activity he has been focused on how the man kind is connected with its territory. He is interested in how people are related to the environment they live in. Especially he worked on the themes of apartheid and AIDS which affects people in their everyday life.
For this Biennale’s edition he has exposed a series of photos located in two rooms in front of each other, both parts of a successful star-shape architecture. They are portraits of people who committed a crime, from a kind of “harmless” rubbery to an extremely violent murder. Each photo is linked to a text where the artist explains who is the man or woman in the picture and what he or she did in the past. For example, one of them is a woman who strangled her son after years of being robbed by him, probably due to his drug’s addiction. (The presence of both, the photo and the text, brings up once again the question of the status of photography: why do we need words to better explain what a photo is trying to say?)
The majority of the images talks about man who killed somebody or, at its “best”case, robbed a place to find the money necessary to buy some drugs.
What I find very interesting is the fact that David Goldblatt was a victim of crime himself. Through this artwork he exposes himself as well as his viewer not only to the risk of remembering something unpleasant, but also to a situation of shared connection where the murder and the victim stand next to each other. It’s like he gives people who were “wrong” in the past a new chance and through this he doesn’t seem scared of being at their same level but actually pleased to cohabit the same piece of world.
His artwork stimulates a new prospective, while the one that sees the distinction between “the good” and “the bad” represents an obsolete idea.
The photos show a documentary’s style but at the same time they express a peculiar lyric character: all in black and white, as Goldblatt says because they represent a reality too difficult to be shown by colours, a reality where details are so countless that it’s better to decide for a two colours choice, instead of helplessly looking for the perfect mimesis.
In the photos these ex-convicted people stand where they committed the crime: they are all back where they acted “against somebody”, in different times and after a particular existential path.
I have heard a work of art can be called in this way if it works for the viewer, I guess this means that it works when it does make sense to you and help your mind in focusing on something, although it could be unclear and uncertain.
David Goldblatt photos work very well: his people’s eyes look at you so deeply that a strong link is immediately formed between you and the object of the image. The latter become the subject of your thoughts and create a bond made by similarities and differences.
His work makes me think more in general to the terrible situation in Italian prisons and how superficially the majority of people doesn’t believe in the power of a real rehabilitation. But this is something else.