Annalisa Sonzogni

Identikit II

Exhibition Review: LILIAN BAYLIS SCHOOL London, UK, 6 – 20 MARCH 2015

by Gaia Tedone

Annalisa Sonzogni’s site-specific installation at the Lilian Baylis Old School continues the artist’s photographic exploration inside buildings of historical relevance. A significant precedent took place in 2010 at Casa del Fascio in Como, Italy—the Fascist’s Party headquarters designed by the rationalist architect Giuseppe Terragni in the 1930s. In both projects, the relationship between photography and modern architecture is the departing point of an extended research that unfolds in several chapters. The identification of a site worth scrutinising and its photographic documentation is followed by the eventual placement of the photographs within the site itself. The notion of ‘staged photography’ here comes as a useful tool, not so much to interpret Sonzogni’s carefully composed pictures, yet to understand a fully coherent relationship to the site, which is ultimately transformed into a ‘stage for the photographs’.

The dim lightings and red curtains hanging from the ceiling turn the school’s former assembly hall into a theatrical set, where twelve large-scale photographic prints are on display. Mounted on mobile structures, the photographs gain a tri-dimensional depth, which vividly renders the straight views of the building’s architectural features, from its large luminous windows to its empty classrooms. The school’s past history as a site for learning and experimentation is present in each of the residual objects the camera willingly captures—the blackboard and solitary desk, the row of vacant chairs, the colourful paint stain left on the walls. Some of the furniture resurface as props within the room’s unusual split-levels layout. Sensibly arranged in direct relation to their corresponding photograph they open up a chain of interrelated references that appeals to an inquisitive gaze. What is visible as photographic representation subtly finds its counterpoint as an object or in a particular perspective within the installation.

The fabricated interplay between the inside and outside of the picture is most vivid within the group of four photographs that occupies central stage. Rear-mounted onto mirror surfaces, they reflect the curtains, furniture and audience’s silhouettes that create the surrounding environment. The photographs inhabit the space as much as they construct it. Similarly, looking at them inscribes the viewer as an integral part of their texture. One cannot help but feeling mocked by the tricks of a skilful director, as the more details you notice in the photographs and installation, the less clear it becomes the distinction between the two.

In such recursive process, one fundamental picture seems to be missing: the installation view of the overall set. Ultimately, this is the image that ties up the different elements of this impeccably designed stage—the building, the scenography, the photographs and the audience. Throughout the opening night the artist initiated the process by producing additional photographic images she defines as ‘new composites’. These are certainly more than a plain form of exhibition’s documentation. They can be described as the project’s final chapter, the momentum the artist gently builds up to as she stretches the notion of ‘stage photography’ outside the edges of the print. I would find compelling to see them incorporated within the actual exhibition, but perhaps this could be the challenge for the next building or venture.