Annalisa Sonzogni


by Régis Durand

Photographs of towns are fascinating to many people and have been since the very inception of photography. Of course, one might say that this is because they constitute irreplaceable documents as in the case, for example, of Marville’s extraordinary images of a Paris undergoing the upheaval of Haussmann’s urbanism. But on top of any documentary character they may have, each of us clearly feels that their appeal lies more in the fact that the town is the place in which all sorts of developments and experiences meet, forming a veritable “school of the world”. From here, the mind soars towards new territories and explorations.1

Even those photographs with the greatest picturesque and nostalgic character preserve something of that essential mobility, those myriad individual experiences of which they constitute the overburdened, sometimes barely visible, account. And what of those works in which the process of analysis has been elaborated with the strictest attention: the views of the Zone around Paris by Atget; the urban traces of Walker Evans; the mushroom-towns by Lewis Baltz; the finely revealed historical stratae by Thomas Struth; or, more theatrically perhaps but extremely clearly, by Gabriele Basilico, and as though re-invented and recomposed in terms of frame and colour by Stéphane Couturier.

These typical examples spring to mind when one looks at the photographs of Annalisa Sonzogni, at the same time as the awareness that, with her work, we are standing in front of something very different. As she has herself indicated, the fact that she presents nocturnal views is the sign of an overturning. It is not the fact that they lack precision, or that they give us no information about the town, and no-one would claim that the analytical element is absent. But nevertheless, this is shifted and in some way corrupted. A nocturnal view, as also an excess of light by day, “cinematises” (to borrow Smithson’s term) reality. Something from the realm of fiction, narrative, even the theatre, makes its entry. Everything becomes susceptible to taking on the look of a “scene of the drama”. The recent history of photography also provides numerous examples of this nocturnal mystery of the town, from Robert Adams to Jeff Wall, and from Brassai to Ruth Blees Luxemburg.

Annalisa Sonzogni is clearly part of this tradition, but just as in the artists mentioned above, there is an initial difference in her, a minimal declension which causes a gentle drift towards a territory belonging to her alone. Defining this formative kernel, which is more a principle than a territory, is an extremely hard thing to do.

Can one seek guidance in what she herself rather enigmatically says about the esoteric tradition that supposedly links the three towns photographed, Turin, Lyons and Prague? Having little personal knowledge in this field, and little taste for it in truth, I prefer to think one must see this as a metaphor, an indicator, in order to try and translate what is at stake in this work.

The first observation one can make is that it is not so much the nocturnal urban landscape which is shown here as the lights which punctuate (and transform) it. Lighted windows, on their own or in clusters, arbitrarily spaced over a facade, invite us to ponder on their unknown lookouts and unknown activities. Is the visual metaphor of that mystical network evoked above to be found there perhaps? More certainly, it is the image of an overturning: the exterior invites us to consider the interior, the night the evening, the visible appearance the spirit. This transforming alchemy is a formula I also see in an enigmatic image of the act of creating, the atelier by Francis Ponge. For him, the atelier is in the first place a sort of coda, or context, for each poem or group of poems; it is what accounts for the work as it is produced, with its variations, remainders, pentimentos, readings that have accompanied it, and so on. An image in some way of the factory of writing. But naturally, this is not simply a case of archives of the creation. When all is said and done, the atelier will remain the site of an incomprehensible metamorphosis, as incomprehensible as that of life itself. Ponge thus dreams of these ateliers, in the physical sense this time, dotted around the town, of these cells of look-outs, these strange cocoons in which one spies a “pathetic immobility of a nymph” on the edge of its transformation.2

This is nevertheless a relative immobility since it is the stillness of a gestation or change of state. And which must also be placed in relation to the dimension of each town, in which a myriad similar cells bear witness to the persistence of a life of the spirit in the heart of the night. In his piece presented in the French pavilion at the Venice Biennale of 2001, Pierre Huyghe offered a marvellous image, that of the facades of buildings in which the windows lit up and darkened arbitrarily in an accelerated, computer-controlled vision of the night, in an astonishing condensation of time.

Every spectator will project a different reading upon the serene views by Annalisa Sonzogni, which will lead him to reflect upon his own desires and sufferings. Some will consider them serene, for example, if they evoke the peaceful joy of those who share a common belief, a secret intuition or a simple simultaneity of existence in the special time that is night. Others will see anxiety and solitude. But whatever the case, these isolated lookouts bear witness to a presence in the atelier, in that house that is a paradox because it is both a place of refuge and a place of mutation, of movement. In the essay mentioned at the beginning, Peter Sloterdijk speaks of a word, Einhausung , which he compares to the Greek oikeiosis, to mean the action of moving into a house, and which he compares to the idea of “coming-into-the-world”, “permanent birth as the code of mobility of the human creature who has not been wrongly fixed”.3 However, the installation does not take place without an exodus, the taking over of a territory without migration, immobility without metamorphosis. What we have here, in these photographs, is like the image of a given suspense, of a wait between two states, two movements, two ways of being in the world; a code of intelligibility rather than one of mobility, for the use of those who know how to keep awake.



1- On this point (and also below), I draw on Peter Sloterdijk’s remarkable analysis in “Tournant et révolution--Discours sur la pensée heideggerienne du mouvement”, in  Essai d’intoxication volontaire , Hachette Littératures, 2001, p. 273-335

2- Francis Ponge, Oeuvres complètes, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, 2002 (1948), p. 567-570

3- op.cit. , p. 307