A trick of the light

Weekend Glitz | Crystal Wu 30 Oct 2020

To Elisa Sighicelli, her work is "a reflection on the act of seeing and the materiality of photography."

The Italian artist's first solo exhibition in Asia, Stone Talk, is being held with the support of the Italian Cultural Institute of Hong Kong.

Sighicelli's journey started as a master of arts student at the Slade School of Art in London. "Though I was with the sculpture department, I was working with photography, which I've always considered a physical material to manipulate and use in relation to space and the viewer's sensory perception."

While Sighicelli does photography work, she does not like to be labelled as a photographer - because her work is more than just the photographs.

Gyproc Habito Forte 5847 is taken at the Palazzo Madama in Turin, Italy, which now also houses the Turin City Museum of Ancient Art. While it depicts an everyday scene of sunlight illuminating the baroque interior, the contrast of light and shadow draws audiences in and feels so realistic that one might be in the palazzo.

Such poetic statements are common in Sighicelli's artwork. Untitled (6139) makes use of the fluidity of both satin and glass in classical architecture.

The distorted image through the uneven glass is accentuated by the satin's flowing nature, and its sheen makes the metallic frame more prominent. Upon closer inspection, one will see the frame of the artwork is also printed onto the satin.

Untitled (6885) and Untitled (6891) look like three-dimensional engravings from afar, but they are really just photos printed onto marble.

The two photographs depict the optical patterns of a sarcophagus in the collection of the Centrale Montemartini in Rome.

"The veins of the stone blend with the image, making it impossible to discern which features are real and which are photographed," the artist said.

While Sighicelli enjoys blurring the lines between two and three dimensional space, she also plays with the ambiguity between violence and desire, as well as the fine line between love and hatred - as in Untitled (6936), one of her favorites.

"I'm fond of the ones that were technically very difficult to make. The work is composed of four panels cut from the same large slab of travertine so the veins of the stone run from one to the other. "

The slabs show part of an ancient statue depicting Harmodius and Aristogeiton, two ancient Athenian lovers who became known collectively as the Tyrannicides when they committed an act of political assassination.

The partial portrayal of the statue made the two lovers' actions unclear: are they in ferocious combat or passionate embrace?

"I printed the photograph directly onto travertine, whose pitted texture conveys a sense of physical presence. Each piece is printed separately."

Like a moment frozen in time, the photograph of the statue becomes a work in stone, leaving audiences to contemplate the relationship between materiality and the visual image.

"All of the photographs are printed on specific materials that establish a dialogue between the image and the medium on which they are printed. Every work appears to be made from the substance it represents."

Partials of ancient Roman statues are depicted in a number of other artworks as well - including Untitled (9439) and Untitled (9038), which depict the torsos of a man and a woman respectively.

"I like to leave space for the viewer's imagination. I'm not interested in documenting a statue but selecting one of the infinite possibilities of a detail. This decontextualization is my way of appropriating a piece from the past and transforming it into something contemporary. I give it a new body by printing it on stone."

The exhibition, held at Rossi & Rossi until November 14, also features a selection of ancient Roman stelae and ruins which complement Sighicelli's artwork.

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