British Journal of Photography. Diachronicles by Giulia Parlato. Written by Flossie Skelton.
Joint runner-up for the BJP International Photography Award 2020, Giulia Parlato creates a forged archive of historical artefacts to question our understanding of the past
Can we ever truly know what happened in the past? It’s a question at the heart of Giulia Parlato’s Diachronicles, in which the Italian photographer appropriates the visual language of historiography to highlight its fragility in pertaining to fact. “History was written, for the most part, by people who won wars,” says Parlato. “This means we have a very narrow view on what’s actually taken place.”
Principally, Diachronicles is influenced by modern archeological studies, forensic crime scene photography and the museum space — imagery and practices that attempt to ‘reconstruct’ the past from scattered clues. The work appears to present an archive of historical artefacts, sites and dioramas. In reality, it’s all artificially staged in London-based studios and on location in Sicily, or taken from museum forgery collections. The project is a fiction: “a forgery in itself.” The idea for Diachronicles was conceived when Parlato visited The Warburg Institute in London. Here, she browsed the photographic archive of counterfeit works that had been sold to cultural institutions around the world: once such instances of fraud had been discovered, and each artefact’s value instantly diminished, the objects were promptly stored away from public view. It begs the question, how can something hold a deep historical significance at one time, and then lose it entirely a moment later? How can ‘truth’ be subject to change?
With this in mind, Diachronicles seeks to expose the limitations inherent to second-hand accounts of history. In the series, gloved hands unearth, containers transport, and utensils measure. Accordingly, viewers are implored to search for meaning: a reflection of the human pursuit of knowledge, and the arbitrary value we assign to inanimate objects; the neat and linear narratives we construct from obscure fragments. Diachronicles’ reality, however, is much more frustrating.
“Ultimately, it’s impossible to tell a finalised account of the past,” says Parlato. “Every image is constructed in a way that makes you look for factual information. In the end, you’re left without any. The facts are missing.”
Source Magazine. Diachronicles Review. Written by Michael Mack.
Photography is implicit in the writing of histories, and this smart conceptual project uses the medium to explore the role of archeology and the museum in the control of historical narratives. The installation views suggest a complex interweaving of astute and incisive images to produce a complex collage impression of the themes.
Fisheye Magazine. « Diachronicles », l'histoire et le simulacre. Written by Julien Hory.
Présentée à Paris Photo à l’occasion de la Carte blanche – Étudiants 2019, l’artiste sicilienne Giulia Parlato questionne notre rapport à la vérité. Sa série Diachroniles propose une mise en perspective de la photographie comme document irréfutable.
« Je suis fascinée par la dimension historique de l’image en tant que détentrice de la vérité. Mon travail tente de contester cette formulation en créant des espaces nouveaux propices à de fausses histoires. » Avec la série Diachronicles, l’artiste Giulia Parlato réalise un travail en profondeur sur la valeur d’authenticité du document photographique. Par ses recherches, menées en collaboration avec des scientifiques de renom, elle développe une quête sémiologique visuelle dans laquelle elle questionne le rôle des symboles dans la construction des identités et des croyances. Comme le laisse supposer le titre de cet ensemble, Diachronicles est également une recherche sur la construction du langage et son évolution dans le temps.
Avec ce travail, qui sera présenté pendant Paris Photo à l’occasion de la Carte blanche – Étudiant 2019, Giulia Parlato a poursuivi une démarche minutieuse, presque académique. Développé avec l’aide de conservateurs de musées, de responsables du patrimoine et d’archéologues, ce projet s’attache à une problématique importante : celle du faux et de la fiction dans le réel. « Je faisais des recherches aux archives photographiques de l’Institut Warburg (Londres), explique-t-elle. Quand je suis tombée sur la section des faux, j’ai commencé à réfléchir à la relation que l’histoire entretient avec la fiction. » La question de la contrefaçon devient alors centrale pour elle. Mais le fondement de son travail est la recherche perpétuelle des hommes à vouloir trouver leur passé dans la terre avec toute la mélancolie et la frustration que comporte l’échec.
Le faux est un moment du vrai
Le parti pris de Giulia Parlato pour traduire ce récit d’une quête est la fiction. « Je me concentre sur la mise en scène, confie-t-elle. Je pense que ça vient du fait que mon oncle est réalisateur de films et scénariste. Nous sommes vraiment proches et nous travaillons parfois ensemble. D’autre part, enfants, nous avions un jeu avec mon meilleur ami. Il était le réalisateur et sa sœur, mon frère et moi, ses acteurs. » Pour explorer ce dépassement de la réalité et la façon dont le passé peut être réinterprété, elle construit une esthétique intemporelle, minimaliste dans un style archiviste. En documentant des fouilles archéologiques dans le centre de la Sicile, Giulia Parlato a beaucoup appris sur les processus de recherches et les a réutilisés pour ses besoins personnels et pour mettre en place son récit.
En contextualisant ses prises de vue, les Diachronicles de l’artiste italienne brouillent les pistes. Bien qu’elle considère sa démarche à la fois historique et expérimentale, dans ses images, le temps se suspend et les traces qui, croit-on, se révèlent, ne délivrent qu’une histoire imaginaire. À moins que, si « dans le monde réellement renversé, le faux est un moment du vrai » (Guy Debord, La société du spectacle, 1967), nous puissions nous demander en quoi cette histoire serait moins légitime que celle qui apparaît dans les livres. À une époque où notre rapport à la vérité interroge, où l’identité européenne est au cœur des débats, l’œuvre de Giulia Parlato affirme sa contemporanéité.
Photographic Museum of Humanity. Reconstructing the Past, One Object at a Time. Written by Lucia De Stefani.
In her fiction-documentary work Diachronicles, Italian photographer Giulia Parlato reconstructs and then photographs artifacts while she wonders on the arbitrary meaning we apply to objects, as we tell our story and make our history.
And then there were the hands—many hands, reaching: wrapping an artifact in a thick sheet of plastic; holding a lizard, its tail slightly curled between gentle fingers. There were hands that analyzed and hands that catalogued; hands that asked and hands that showed.
As they all tended to some precise task, indicate an intention or a meaning, these hands also point towards the heart of Giulia Parlato’s work Diachronicles—exploring our ancient need to examine and understand reality, to question the present and past, through clues scattered all around us.
In this soulful search for knowledge, we attribute values to artefacts that represent aspects of the world. Yet, such traces remain elusive and they depend on our attribution for the narratives we build around them.
"In the end, one never gets to a total awareness of the past," Parlato says, "because we haven’t really been there in the first person."
Diachronicles arises from the confluence of her acute sense of wonder and a burning need to question. Shot in black-and-white—with her sunbathed homeland, Sicily, as the backdrop—this unmistakable landscape where layers of history overlap also becomes a place of the senses and the mind.
The initial idea, though, arose at the Warburg Institute in London, where Parlato perused the photographic archive of counterfeit works that had been sold illicitly to cultural institutions around the world. Once the fraud had been revealed, their value overturned, these objects were stored away from public view.
“How can an object have a certain value, a historical significance in a certain moment, and then lose it completely a moment later?” Parlato asks. “And what does it mean to insert a disturbing element within a well-established narrative”—within history as we know it?
To find such disruptive elements, the Regional Archeological Museum Salinas in Palermo was a good place to start. There she learned of i Falsi di Mastressa (“Fakes of Mastressa”), a collection of bogus small statues whose authenticity was claimed by an improbable couple.
That’s where Parlato started photographing the fakes, but then she took a further step introducing a more disruptive element: she began creating the artefacts herself, then photographing them, composing a collection of timeless archival photographs, whose value is the result of a fictional construct.
What authenticity do we attribute to an object then?
In her quest, Parlato uses photography as instrument for reconstructing the truth, drawing from the craft of archaeology and archival work as well as crime scene photo-documentation—two distant fields that both investigate the past.
“It is important to recognize the power that an artifact has and the multiplicity of stories contained within it,” she says. “It is the power that these objects and fragments left behind have today, hence the importance of the past.”
Animals, too, enter her frame, intensifying the sense of a Mediterranean landscape and culture. The lizard, peeking from the open fist, from animal is transformed into an object by the holding fingers, speaking about the cycle of life and death. A hawk, peering down with a wider vision of the horizon and thus reality, symbolizes wisdom. But its trajectory is interrupted by an insurmountable wall—a visual metaphor for the limits of our own knowledge.
There is something supernatural, perhaps mystical, in the way some things are photographed, Parlato says of her process. “[I wanted to] underline the fascination that humanity has for what we will never get to know, this kind of melancholy for a time in which we have never really lived, this desire to understand why we are here now, which will remain forever impossible to satisfy.”
A value system shapes the story (and history) of a people, but it can also be subject to sudden shifts. That’s when it’s a relevant question to ask who writes the story (and history), and what responsibilities and consequences come with authorship.
“We must try in the best way we can to represent all the voices of our present, so that in the future the story won’t be told again by only a single narrator as it often has been.”
British Journal of Photography. Diachronicles by Giulia Parlato. Written by Joanna Cresswell.
Looking at the authenticity of museum objects, Parlato explores what they can teach us about history.
What part do museums play in shaping our understanding of history? It’s a question that London-based Italian photographer Giulia Parlato has asked herself often in the past few years. “They’re places to learn about the past, and places where objects end up being elevated to a higher status of interpretation. But what happens to the discarded, unrecognised, or lost material culture that is not displayed?” she says. “A museum is tidy, organised and clear. We like to think about time as a linear, horizontal path, but there isn’t such a thing. It’s much more complicated than that.”
Parlato’s new project, Diachronicles, emerged from this thinking, and she started working on it while researching for another work at The Warburg Institute in London. “While I was there I began browsing through the forgery section, and I started to think about the relationship that history has with fiction. In particular, what happens when you disrupt the historical narrative, which is ultimately really fragile, being a fabricated story in itself,” she says.
As she began shooting, Parlato got in touch with curators at the Regional Archaeological Museum Salinas in Palermo and learned of the story of Dr Savario Cavallari and Gaetano Moschella, an archaeologist and a farmer respectively, who in the mid 1800s produced and sold a series of limestone figures to museums across Europe as Ancient Greek artefacts. Captivated, she began to think of how she could create her own historical fictions in front of the lens. Diachronicles thus features photographs that appear to be presenting an array of artefacts and dioramas when, in fact, none of what we see is what it seems. “It’s all either created by me or friends, uncategorised material, or a forgery taken out from a museum storage space,” she explains.
The images were staged in studios in London, on location in Sicily, in museums and in the photographer’s garden, knocked together from objects and set-ups that might just pass as ‘authentic’. Shooting in black-and-white, Parlato wanted the images to have the feel of those from a timeless archival collection, hoping it would lead the viewer
to scour them for evidence. Each of the photographs is titled so as to destabilise the authenticity of what we’re seeing – an image of a museum display cabinet, for instance, is called The Storyteller, “because it’s a condensed space where narratives take place, like the pages of a book”.
Parlato has plans to expand the work over time. She will be accompanying an archaeological expedition in Turkey in the summer, and is researching the advanced technologies that museums use to authenticate artefacts. “Even though inaccuracies, scams and fake news have always existed,” she says, “I think that particularly interesting questions can emerge from a body of work about the fragility of historiography right now.”
Diachronicles, Catalogue, Solo show at Palazzo Rasponi 2. An Imaginary Archeology: Diachronicles and the space of omissions. Written by Benedetta Casagrande.
“The invented image has its own truth” . Giordano Bruno, A general account of bonding, 1591.
Manifesting themselves in different times and places, artefacts are marked by their trajectory1. Their irregular movements, comprised of disappearances, emersions and relocations, diverge profoundly from the linear and orderly movements of historiography, practice entrusted with the challenging task of fabricating a coherent narrative of the past, unraveling the skein of history through the interpretation of material fragments. In absolute terms, the dream of an all-encompassing historiography would be the dream of a fool, as the relationship between history and historiography is analogous to the relationship between an event and its memory: in both cases, what is selected for memorialization is fundamentally built on exclusion and forgetfulness. The irreconcilability of the expanded, circular time of history (which contains everything simultaneously) with the partitioned time of historiography (which collects and inserts fragments in the container of the historical discourse) materializes a disturbing truth: the inevitable partiality of historic knowledge. Adopting the aesthetic traditions employed in the documentation of archeological findings and museum objects — which legitimate the mechanical apparatus of the camera as a mean to convey an objective, unmediated truth — Parlato builds deceitful images of inexistent archeological relics, placed between “the crystallizing movement of the document (as a symptom of the object, emanated from the real) and that, more erratic and centrifugal, of the disparate (as a symptom of the gaze, emanated from the imaginary)”2. The Fantastic emanated by Parlato’s images is not a ‘declared Fantastic’, which aims to illustrate a totally unusual universe, but an ‘insidious Fantastic’ of subtle ambiguity, which cracks the surface of a predetermined regularity that appeared imperturbable3: that of the historic discourse. This space, consisting of endless similarities4, transports the viewer in the domain of dreams, in which “we seek the original model, we would like to be sent back to a starting point, an initial revelation, but there is none: the dream is the similar that eternally refers to what is similar”5. Wearing the vest of the archeologist, the observer finds themself attempting to interpret the images as if they were relics and, running into the impossibility of finding a precise and categorical narrative, to weave a network of fictitious associations between them. Arming herself with the tools of uncertainty Parlato cuts the surface of the historical discourse, forcing it to reveal the gaps on which it is built. It is precisely this space, the space of omissions , that allows the emersion of multiple coexisting narratives: what was previously a single narrating voice opens up to the inclusion of multiple voices, linear time is transfigured into circular time. The imaginary created by Parlato places before us the enigma of the similar and simultaneous , a theme loved by Georges Didi-Huberman, whose common root, simul , “expresses a kind of rivalry of fate”6 — the intervention of chance that acts on the fortuitous encounters with re-emerged artefacts and on the arbitrary selection that legitimizes objects within the sphere of academic discourse and places them within their institutional framework. By adopting an indirect language that superimposes reality and fiction, Parlato plays a trick on the invisible7 and succeeds in “making less obscure that which by nature escapes language and representation”8: the irreducible extraneousness of the past.
1 Willumson, Glenn (2004) Making Meaning: displaced materiality in the library and art museum, Photographs Objects Histories: On the materiality of images ed. by Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart, London: Routledge, pp.62
2 Didi-Huberman, Georges (1998) Apparente, Disparato , La Conoscenza Accidentale, Bollati Boringhieri editore: Torino 2011, pp.13, translated by the author
3 Caillois, Roger, (1965) At the heart of the fantastic , Abscondita srl: Milano 2004
4 Didi-Huberman, Georges (1998) Il sangue della merlettaia , La Conoscenza Accidentale, Bollati Boringhieri editore: Torino 2011, pp.74
5 Blanchot, Maurice (1955), Lo spazio letterario , Einaudi: Torino 1967, pp.235, translated by the author
6 Didi-Huberman, Georges (1998) Simile e Simultaneo , La Conoscenza Accidentale, Bollati Boringhieri editore: Torino 2011, pp.25, translated by the author
7 Caillois, Roger, (1965) At the heart of the fantastic , Abscondita srl: Milano 2004, pp.165
Lizard is part of Diachronicles; a mesmerising series of works through which Parlato examines the fragility of the historical space of the museum - a parallel world filled with poetic figures, possible forgeries and mysterious artefacts waiting to be decoded.
Lizard - a key work in Parlato’s acclaimed series - focusses on the moment between life and death - nature metamorphosing into culture - when animal becomes object. The representation of the lizard features prominently in the Mediterranean collective imaginary; a potent symbolism of supernatural wisdom.