Viana Conti, “Industria”, 2011

Excellent subjects: Jill Mathis and Art, Guidi and Industry, Genoa and the Sea.

The fields are, respectively, the high aesthetic of the photographic language, the preservation of a family tradition in the field of nautical accessories by means of contemporary patronage, the choice of an exemplar venue. Unequivocal shared values are quality, efficiency and internationality.

Jill Mathis is a well-known, internationally exhibited photographer from Texas who has chosen to live by the Piedmont’s shore of Lake Maggiore. Guidi is a firm from the Novara area, which has crossed countries and continents with their products and patents. The connection that ties the exhibition to the Fondazione regionale per la cultura e lo spettacolo space, until 2010 dedicated to Christopher Columbus, is a deep one. It can be found in Liguria’s ancient tradition of seafarers with a remarkable heritage of industrial archeology, connotations that an American photographer sees from a perspective and a culture of “otherness”.

A further tie is the fact that the Fondazione manages the Wolfsoniana, the collection of modern art gifted in 1993 by the American patron Mitchell Wolfson, housed in Nervi’s museums. The stage for the exhibition is the prestigious Doge’s Palace in Genoa. Genoa is one of the great seaport towns on the Mediterranean restored to its status of a mythical and proud city of the sea. It became a global reference point for the nautical industry and this year will host the 51st International Boat Show. The corpus of about fifty images, laconically yet effectively entitled Industria, is hosted in the emblematic rooms of Liguria Spazio Aperto.

Jill Mathis, a fine art photographer with an extensive background, is an expression of the American philosophy of solidity and pragmatism.

In her approach to the world of nautical accessories (the valves, the filters, the bolts, the washers, the kilns) she almost seems to recompose, fragment by fragment, a whole universe which tastes of sea and fire, vapours and smells, silence and noises. Through the photographic image she searches for a visual narrative that becomes a parallel text made of words and images, a parallel text that in an overall view or a detail constantly records a story with intensity and passion. The result is a sequence of photographic works, which through high pictorial effects, light and colour, form and structure, narrate the epic of daily work.

Hands, often pictured as subjects, in the direct contact with mechanical objects become vehicles of the mind, of the will, of sensoriality. They express the dedication to the work, the intention to bring it to conclusion within the established times and terms.

The poetics of the work is highlighted in a close-up where a metallic device reflecting a turquoise light, is caught in a dialogue with a gold curtain, luminescent dust covering surfaces marked by wear, liquid drops shooting out of the machinery. Pieces of machinery become sculptures, spots of colour in the architecture of the workshop. In her relationship with reality this artist, gifted with considerable sensitivity and an unpredictable iconic imagination, catches the secret of matter and the potential energy of her subjects, captures the deep silence hidden in the noise of the foundry, and portrays them in a transfiguration which is touched by a sacred-mystical aura. The final result is not different from what she could have done, and has done, when taking pictures in such enchanted landscapes as the Baraggia moors, or portraying charismatic personalities.

In the transition from physical presence to image, Jill Mathis subjects acquire a second truth, an intensity of communication, and a different nature, born out of the eyes, the culture, and the world vision of the artist, which the German language expresses in the word Weltanschauung.

In her photographic work one can read a certain history of art: in the black and white of her unusual classical compositions, in the seductiveness of her ambiances one understands the quality of her way of seeing, rather “symphonic”, tonal, spatially involving and yet open.

She was trained in black and white and follows a photographic tradition similar to the reportage of the 1930’s FSA (Farm Security Administration) and those from the New York School with the chiaroscuro and symmetries of Albert Eisenstadt and certain commercial photographers. When using colour, Jill Mathis captures the pictorial climate of Abstract expressionism, the fluidity of Rothko, the metropolitan realism of Edward Hopper, the abstract geometries of Albers, the framing of Peter Halley.

Her abstractions move beyond the everyday of the objects portrayed, sublimating them in a vision where the finite dialogues with the infinite.

The exhibition and the catalogue are based on the synergy between concreteness and metaphor, on the synesthesia between visual, sound and smell. Reading the images one can capture the concept of “astanza”, a word derived from the Latin adstare, to be present, used by the Cesare Brandi as an abstract term: an epiphany of an absence, the representation of an object which is somewhere else, the withdrawing of reality into the visible form of an idea, beyond phenomenal perception. In the nautical universe of Guidi, Jill Maths photographic work opens visual landscapes suspended between concrete and oneiric reality, between the material and the immaterial.


Viana Conti
Genoa, June 2011