Giovanna Petrocchi

How often do you challenge yourself within your practice? Are you comfortable with what you do? Are you too comfortable?

Featured today is Giovanna Petrocchi, who was recently was a juror’s pick in the 2017 LensCulture Emerging Talent Awards. A photographer and an artist, Petrocchi playfully utilises collage along with her photography — combining handcraft and eyecraft, and digital and analogue.

Read the full interview below:

I’m originally from Rome but I moved to London five years ago to study photography. I graduated from London College of Communication in 2015 and I’ve been working on personal photographic projects ever since.

What kind of art are you interested in?

I am particularly fascinated by photographers who blur the line between photography and other mediums. This is possibly due to my enduring passion for modernist and surrealism art. Even though nature and collage are a recurrent feature in my work, I often am inspired by artists whose genres and photographic approaches are very distant from mine. I find it stimulating to look at diverse works and aesthetics; it pushes me to experiment more and develop my own visual communication.

I like to be surprised when I look at a picture, so I tend to prefer photographs in which process and technique are not immediately clear. For example, in Manon Wertenbroek’s work you have to concentrate and look at the details to understand that her work isn’t a painting or a digital illustration. Or Daniel Gordon and Rachel de Jode who mix the sculptural with the photographic along with the abstract and the representational.

The juxtaposition of found imagery and personal photographs is another component that draws my attention. It adds a sense of ambiguity within the work and challenges the viewer both visually and conceptually — Ruth van Beek’s work is an example.

What’s your story?

I started taking pictures when I was young, but I would say that my passion for photography has been a gradual discovery. When I was in high school, I took up photography as a hobby and I would take picture of urban landscapes and architecture.

I enrolled on a few short courses where I learned how to create visual narratives, but what piqued my interest in photography was realising that I could use it as a mirror of my perception rather than a tool to depict reality as it is.

During my time at university when I started to develop a personal visual language, I rejected the idea of looking at photography as the most literal form of visual expression. Instead, I was keen on finding unexpected ways to challenge the medium.

Most of your work in in this physical collage and strange colours style — how did this style develop?

I would say that the construction of each image was quite intuitive. Both the collage and the choice of colours were dictated by my necessity to express a feeling of alienation. In the creation of the photograph, it was key for me to balance materiality and flatness.

Apart from the figurine’s portraits, which I downloaded from online museums collection, the rest of the cut outs belong to scanned illustrations or details of photographs

I think of the whole process as a painting-like composition in which photography is the first step — the canvas from which I start to build the image — but at the same time the last.

In depicting this undiscovered place, beyond time and space, the use of different techniques was fundamental to translate a sense of in-betweenness into the photographic process too. The juxtaposition of the traditional handmade collage with other digitised interventions made sure to place the artistic process in limbo, in the same way as nature is positioned in this uncertain historical and geological context.

The animal-shaped prehistoric sculptures represent the only inhabitants of Lanzarote. These creatures, made of the same matter as the earth — antique, noble and poor at the same time — are ancient and new, almost platonic concepts of future animals.

Despite being made thousands of years ago, each sculpture is incredibly modern in its shape. Their stylised silhouette can be compared to those of contemporary representations of animals, and their funny features make a contrast with the melancholy and desolation provoked by each of the landscapes.

Let’s talk about your project ‘Lanzarote’.

To be honest, it is a project that happened by chance. I went to Lanzarote on holiday and it wasn’t really my intention to make documentary work about it. I would say that my motivation came afterwards, as a consequence of my experience there.

My perception of the island was of a place beyond the influence of time, frozen in an uncertain geological age without any trace of culture or civilization.

Because of the unusual features of its landscape — palm-filled valleys,lava fields, desert — Lanzarote gave me the impression of a place where futuristic scenes alternated with imagery of an earlier, more primitive earth. I wanted to translate this tension into a sort of visual diary that would encourage the viewer to reflect on how landscape photography in general is or could be understood today.

By combining personal photographs with handmade collages, digitally manipulated images and found images, I embarked on an intimate investigation of nature while acknowledging that, since the proliferation of digital technology, the way in which it is perceived and represented has dramatically changed in the past few years.

What are you up to next?

I have been working on another long term project for most of last year and this year, that I consider a continuation of Lanzarote.

My intention was to pursue the concept of appropriating pre-existing imagery from art history and modernise them. In this work, nature has no longer a leading role as it’s the ancient objects that are the only protagonists, but the sense of ambiguity in terms of time and space it is still very present.

The new series is a collection of found images, collage and digitally manipulated photographs in which I combine ancient artefacts with contemporary aesthetics. It is a journey between history of art, archaeology and the digital era, where the boundaries between the past and the future become undefined. I like to think of it as personal research aimed at reminding us of the precariousness of objects, civilisations and beauty.

Besides that, I have started an MA degree in visual arts so in the next months I will be testing new ideas. 3D workshops are my priority as I would like to incorporate some sculpture into the work.

What are you recommending?

Why look at Animals? by John Berger is a light read but quite powerful.
The author explores the ancient relationship between animals and humankind, and how it has been broken in the modern consumer age.

Then The Arrangement, a lovely artist book by Ruth van Beek where she reinterprets Japanese flower arrangements through collaged images.

Amongst my last listened to songs are: Afterlife by Arcade Fire and Wolves Without Teeth by Of Monsters and Men.

Finally, tell us about one artist who is currently inspiring you.

It is hard to pick only one, but I would have to say Joan Fontcuberta with his humorous and provocative photography. What I like about his work is that it is impossible to categorise; he continuously confounds the viewer with an ever-evolving array of techniques and approaches.

giovannapetrocchi.com