A long journey through nothing new

In conversation with Gianluca Morini

I became interested in photography around age seventeen. I travelled a lot at that time and photography was a way of spontaneously freezing the memory of these journeys around the world.

At nineteen, I spent two months travelling in South America. I stayed in Cuzco for four days, couch-surfing. I met with a photographer who had been working there for a couple of months. He was the first that showed me Stephen Shore’s American Surfaces, and I clearly remember thinking “wow, how can someone like photographs of toilets and half-eaten sandwiches?”.

The importance of that encounter became clear only when I returned. I started looking for an interesting project to work on near home, and after a lot of failed attempts I started dedicating myself to studying photography on my own, buying books and spending a lot of time with photography gear. And guess what, American Surfaces was there waiting for me.

My development was personal and lonely. Living somewhere like I do damns you and at the same time frees you to discover your own path. Most of the art industry is located in Milan, and you have to choose wisely when dedicating a day to go there. With work and university, it’s not that easy either. This forces you to find a community wherever you are. After three years since I seriously dedicated myself to photography, I have made friends and connected with amazing and professional creatives who, like me, prefer to stay in the peace of the countryside, and we are already planning some interdisciplinary collaborations.

Are you interested in any specific genre of art or photography?

I’m interested in any work that explores the relationship between humans and our cultural landscape, but I’m also discovering works which highlight phenomenology and psychological constructions. I used to like street and documentary photography some years ago, but it lost its fascination over time and I’m enjoying conceptual projects more these days.

Talk to us about your project A long journey through nothing new.

The work started as a geographical and anthropological exploration into the industrial region I live in, and in particular how the landscape is changing and how the border between province and city is getting thinner year on year. I spent some months exploring this, but after a while what I had in my hands was not satisfactory and far from a true correlation with what I’d initially had in mind.

During that time I recognised that the main problem was that I didn’t have any cultural affiliation to the landscape; I only bring a surname – a surname that came from my grandfather – but my roots are in Brazil. It was my parents who decided to live here after a year of holidays and a medical complication with my father, but also for them this was a land they have no personal relationship with and we still talk about leaving. So the problem was that I could not understand because I have no cultural memory of this place, and this created a bigger problem – the one about identity.

I decided to investigate this particular feeling of “not belonging culturally” to the place you were born, which is somewhat of a paradox. Thinking about these new ideas, the work started happening more freely. I then dedicated a day each week for a small journey to explore the area, and the fact I had these new in minds, it allowed me to see Italy as if I were a stranger living here for twenty-three years. I use the landscape to describe what I think is a feeling of “absent presence”, of distance, and in some way of melancholy.

The project itself, and all the developing of the concept in these three years, has been tremendously good for my mental health.

What’s the importance of belonging to you?

For me it’s incredibly important to feel connected to a place as you live in it in a more conscious and relaxed way. It’s something that allows you to understand the people, which is the main thing. I struggled a lot with interacting with my peers; on the human side everything was fine, but there was something deeper that made me feel uncomfortable, distant.

That was a perception I had also from my foreign friends, most of whom are used to having a big community between their families, especially Turkish and East European families who are the main foreigners leaving here. I think this is a reaction to the same feeling I have of not belonging, amplified by being in such a closed and racist culture as Northern Italian is.

Now that some time has passed since starting the project, do you find that you feel more connected and feel more like you belong?

I don’t. In fact, I feel more disconnected, even if in a conscious way. However, this helps because it allowed me to understand that the only relationship I have here is with my past and my memory of it, which is beautiful when you can manage it. But my family, my roots are the other side of the world, and that’s still hard to think about.

Recommend us something…

I’ve recently finished a book by J G Ballard titled The Atrocity Exhibition. It’s an experimental romance discussing the effect of media on our sub-consciousness, involving Freudian ideas of sexuality and giving meaning to events such as the J. F. Kennedy assassination or the Vietnam War in a deep and sinuous way. It shows how the media tends to put different types of news – images mainly – in an order which doesn’t allow us to react with the right emotional setting, messing with our interpretation of them. This book was written in 1970, when television and media didn’t have the power they have now.

It was a strong and enlightening reading, and I think is giving me the push to move in a more abstract and conceptual way that I’ve been looking for.

Tell us about one photograph or piece of art that has strongly influenced you.

The work I still have in my mind is by one of the first photographers I knew about, Lars Tunbjork. I was amazed by how he could process different types of photography, from landscape to documentary and street photography, all surrounded by a strong conceptual investigation. He worked with elements like depression, consumerism, lost of cultural identity, work and mental burnout genuinely and innovatively for his time.

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