Critical notes

Enrico Serpagli shows a new chapter of his photographic research dedicated to a peculiar place in Val Badia, the new square of the church of Corvara, that impressed him for an unusual architecture, a visual metal barrier surrounding the square, which refers to the image of the wall and to the idea of limits. Watching the barrier close up, however, it is uneven having small decorative louvers that seem to many small windows overlooking the surrounding landscape.

The perception of reality depends very much on the overall view that we take up on things, enabling us to see also beyond the limit, either natural or imposed by the laws of man. The new series of photographs by Enrico Serpagli entitled Behind the scenery exactly investigates the borders of gaze, to see behind real or mental borders, opening the eyes not only on the known world but also on minimal realities, on those light visible interstices who dwell beside us in the invisibility of silence.

Photography draws viewer’s attention to the enigmatic nature of reality by placing under the magnifying glass of sight the appearance of things and their inner nature… It’s just what happens with the photographs of the series Behind the scenery: looking directly at pictures we see, in the first instant, a grey wall oxidized by time filling the entire space of the picture, creating an impression of invisibility.

Soon after the first glance, the focus of attention falls on the little details on the wall, appearing as if they were different colored fragments placed there for no apparent reason, creating an indecipherable mosaic of tessera on the scenario lying behind – the mountain landscape around the square, with its houses and street furniture.

Openings, who break the veil of invisibility and the aesthetics of the limit, are subtle glimpses into a world beyond the wall that we can discover thanks to the intuition of Enrico Serpagli: recognize these visual elements as many smaller goals focused on the unknowable… What we see through these unwitting targets, that the artist wanted to bring to our attention? Details of houses and lawns, unrecognizable portions of cars, and other subtle elements that inhabit our daily spaces.

It is not important what we are able to recognize of the image behind the curtain; what is valuable is the opportunity, given to us by the artist, to go with the glance beyond the light of full visibility of things, to look beyond the boundary of appearance, to discover what usually remains in the threshold between visible and invisible.

In Behind the scenery, as well as in the Invisible Landscapes (2012), the relationship between presence and absence becomes the central focus of Serpagli’s photography, which in this case also suggests a further reflection on the significant presence in our age of real or imaginary walls. Barriers that can also become storehouses of time and human life.

It is the outlook of Enrico Serpagli to let out from anonymous even the smallest, invisible presence… A poetics of vision out of the chorus, which brings attention to the soul of the little things and our relationship with them.

(Marinella Paderni, from “Look beyond the visible”. Critical essay on “Behind the scenery”, 2016)

Indecipherable geometries and biomorphic figures, drippings, scratches, erasures that stratify in the space creating a sort of calligraphy of time, absolute colour abstractions where shape disappears and leaves space for the power of monochromes… There are many sensations, associations and ideas that spontaneously spring from Enrico “Giulio” Serpagli’s photos, as if we were trying to understand an unknown and mysterious language written in an obscure code…

More than being a representation of reality, his works make the invisibility of contemporary landscapes visible. In his shots, Serpagli captures an event just before the instant it becomes a fleeting moment, just before it irreparably disappears without a trace, a memory… The unknowable side of reality is what captures Enrico “Giulio” Serpagli’s attention, a vision that he wants to share with beholders… Through the abstraction of a fragment of reality from its usual context, Serpagli offers this opportunity – being able to see the most secret and invisible spirituality of the world…

It is not important to know the original subject of these photographs but it is fundamental to discover their meaningful potential beyond what is already evident… The attention to detail, its isolation from background noise, its estrangement from illegibility increasingly caused by a bursting contemporary landscape, is a process of alienation that derives from the necessity to create a slit on the running flux of things – a différence – from which to eventually see the image time of the all living… If a contemporary landscape is the scenery of his look, the search for the soul of places is the significance of his actions…

Each of his photographs is the essence of impressions sent by a particular place, is the shiver cracking the surface of eyesight and putting the beholder in touch with the intimate nature of places, connecting the outside with the inside. Such drift in point of view breaks through the hidden, showing the truth inside things… The encounter with the unintentional, with chance, with the ephemeral, is the other bedrock of Enrico “Giulio” Serpagli’s work. The casualness of a shot will reveal from a distance more than what the eyes may have caught beforehand through the lenses. The revelation of a detail differing from the rest, of a detail telling more than the overall vision issues from a sort of artist “wandering”, who going through the landscape, spots the emergence of pure, fluctuating and indefinable happenings, and of an order of worldly reality living below the surface of what is known, of what is evident…

His is a visual experience which coincides with a sort urban nomadism, a meandering through the landscape, only to get lost in the soul of places and encounter “singular shapes” in their uniqueness. In fact, the creation of a work of art lies in the fate of a journey, in a casual encountering and subsequently in the distance. To the artists, wandering therefore turns into the experience of drawing close to the soul of the world which leads to the exploration of the real and unreal, imaginary and symbolic, ludic and oneiric.

(Marinella Paderni, from “The invisibility of small things”. Critical essay on “Invisible landscapes”, 2012)

Enrico Serpagli is not trying to escape from reality, he is striving to research. His look does not reject the present, but rather it is stimulated by that ratio so often used during his scientific activity. Up against an apparent drift of shapes and colours, the presence of a sense, of a precise address is felt. This is to be found in the forma mentis of the palaeontologist, that is to say, in the man busy understanding and rebuilding the secrets of the past life hidden among the rocks. The size of the find is of no consequence… What is of importance is the essence of information, necessary to place the finding onto the tree of life and proper geologic time…

Photographs behave in the same way. They are like the fossils which Serpagli has looked for and gathered with his lens. Even the filing method is similar. In both cases, the palaeontologist and the photographer use a direct visual approach despite all perspective suggestions. The absence of depth excludes any representative intention in favour of the perceived “body”. A technique relinquishing the narrative atmosphere, the different psychological narrative levels but rather directly exhibiting a slice of the world…

Surely, in Serpagli’s art, indications have a suggestive value and are not aimed at precisely defining the shot or the frame topography. This drifts from scientific preciseness to concentrate on that sense of order not only present in fossil finds or stratigraphic sequences… What is perceivable is a structure animated by an inner force that is not found everywhere. One needs to know how to sense it. Its capacity to reveal itself depends upon the level of receptivity of the beholder and upon the achieved sensibility able to capture the aesthetic revelation. A culture going beyond the palaeontology studies and its laboratory research transcending art in its various pictorial aspects. Simply leaf through the photographs to grab the stylistic features of Joan Miró, Mark Rothko, Piet Mondrian, Sam Francis and so on through the avant-garde. A visual culture which goes beyond painting and its protagonists. In Serpagli’s photos there is a search for an order that surges from the synthesis of scientific and artistic disciplines. The result is absolutely aesthetic…

Each completed shot is added to the others in an organic way, thus confirming the presence of a global plan. It is not a question of arbitrary accumulation, of a mere sum of images, rather an aesthetic network whose different interpretations correspond to the multiple understandings of the Text. Serpagli does not wonder about the Author, but nevertheless, while feeling a sense of order, recognizes His presence.

(Daniele Astrologo, from “Introduction” to “Sense of order”, 2008)

The most important lesson that evidenced by the photos of Serpagli is undoubtedly the informal; but it’s that informal that goes up to the present day. This does not mean that such images should be seen as an updated version of Pictorialism as the informal has become a not eliminable item of our visual culture.

(Franco Vaccari, January 30th, 1999)

Serpagli takes us inside a mysterious world of magic and delicacy, a world of things that we have under our eyes but we can’t see because we don’t know or don’t want to see.

(Beppe Zagaglia, Il Resto del Carlino, February 1st, 1999)

Enrico “Giulio” Serpagli has the ability to turn ordinary items into visions curiously abstract and make them as belonging to a “feeling of order”. The initial impression, even before you get close to the photographs, was to see hanging on the wall paintings of Miro, Fontana, Carrà or Kandinsky. When I found myself in front of his shots, captured from the ordinary, simple and introvert materials, I discovered his genius that he revealed, through his unconscious vision, the objective reality of things. It’s a kind of “metaphysical photography”?

(Gigi Cavalli, ESVASO, September 21st, 2009)

Serpagli search not special effects, but the rare quality of color and sign everything manages to reveal, recomposing in a ideal unit of expression and sense the different fragments. It’s the eye of the researcher used to discover and record the image iconologically not obvious but vigorously essential, with an air of family with the essentiality of science.

(Michele Fuoco, La Gazzetta di Modena, February 8th, 1999)