Andrea Alessio’s initial intention was to document and explore this place using photography as a means to discover and understand a reality that was completely new and unknown to him and his daily life. Over a period of two years, the photographer used the camera as an instrument to frame and measure an apparently cold and hostile environment. One day, after seeing a security sign with an arrow pointing at an empty space and the words ‘You Are Here’ written over [Image no. 14], Alessio experienced a feeling of getting lost yet was inspired by the clarity of the metaphor. The images in the series are a journey into another world, less real and much more metaphysical. Together, they form an allegory about the photographer’s own country – a land of inventors that has fallen into disgrace while trying to find a way to rise up amidst social, economical, and technological transformations.
To understand life in this research facility, Alessio had to de-familiarise himself with the habits that are normal to us and develop a way of seeing determined by the procedural stages confined within these spaces. While everyday attitudes, habits, and routines tend to conceal the real significance of the world around us, they can also be seen as ensuring security and communicating a sense of understanding and belonging. As the camera wanders through the facilities, we are presented with fragments of everyday activities. The relationship between the everyday and non-everyday is nevertheless a dynamic, untraceable one: the more one looks at the photographs, the more they start us thinking that science itself might not achieve anything but a fictional conception of reality – does photography open up anything about reality or, rather, it construes a fictional reality of its own? The strong physical presence meets a metaphysical quest to venture into, accustom to, and accommodate what is most uncertain, fragile, mutable, and capricious.
There is a pronounced human side to this documentary: the massive and potentially dangerous environment also shows details of everyday activities and offer an introspective look into the working rituals that are part of working and research conditions here. Photography becomes an archival document of the relation between an unstable environment, uncurbed quests, and ordinary routines, reminding us that only risk, experiment, repetition, and protocol can sometimes counter the accidents that most times happen without our will or control, originated by outside, unmastered forces. Technological overdevelopment brings a safe, reliable environment with the peril of the unmastered invading intot the everyday and challenging our perceptions and conceptions of safety, control, and life itself. Like Michael Danner’s Critical Mass, Alessio’s photographs are crisp, bright, distinct, and evidential, yet they reveal the dramatic resilience of the ordinary and the routine, an underlying social and political commentary. The significance of daily rituals is a means to challenge the limits to what one can know, experience, and control. Here as well, the dialogue between familiar and unfamiliar spaces, everyday rituals, activity protocols, and extraordinary inventions generate a sense of disquietude reminiscent of the irresolutions between the dawning trust in technological progress and the unstoppable technological aspirations. Nostalgic feelings mix with the strives to construct the future and understand the world, yet as the photograph that inspired the title of the series suggests, a sense of the unknown and untravelled continues to obscure our knowledge and understanding of it.
Alessio’s photographs are highly aesthetic: since that which belongs to our everyday can be approached aesthetically or from an aesthetic point of view, one cannot avoid the production of aesthetic objects and situations even when this has not been deliberately pursued. The photographs capture emotional and sensory aspects, almost as if we could feel the tension, touch the objects, and hear the noises generated by the installations, or be deafened by the silence of private places. Passing from close views of the buildings and facilities, stepping into changing rooms and offices, one understands the practised rituals these perceivable qualities emphasise. The control centre reveals the norms, conduct standards, and protocols that help us evaluate the conditions here: the closer one looks at what seems normal and non-spectacular, the more one understands routine as a process that can move beyond the scope of the everydayness and into a realm of the extraordinary. The specific industrial iconography, with its praise of progress and the constant reminder of the lurking dangers of nuclear catastrophes, makes one gradually learn to discern the broader spectrum of relations contained within the facilities – rituals of cleansing and changing outfits pointing to specific rites, individual self-renunciation for the benefit of an unconscious and opaque collectivity, forgotten hierarchies and protocols hiding the risks inherent in working here and the continuous quest to research, understand, and master the unknown. The power of place and the representations specific of the post-industrial age, together with keen awareness of how such facilities can determine deep, long lasting, and large ecological, economic, and social footprints, are thus expressive of how power and society can share integrative rationalist structures based on scientific planning. Like in the case of Critical Mass, the photographic documentary this series shares most with, viewers are given to see not only the dawn of industries relying on modernist politics, or the continuous acceleration of time and its adjacent nostalgic attitudes, but a sense of social coherence and uncurbed aspirations.
Text by Sabin Bors, May 16, 2015