Nicolò Degiorgis, Prison Museum | Collector Daily

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2021 by Rorhof Books (here). Softcover with metal hook binding (16×24 cm) and printed subtitle, 440 pages, with matched color photographs. Includes essays by Letizia Ragaglia and Anna Rita Nuzzaci. In an edition of 1000 copies. Cover design by Michele Degiorgis and Walter Hutton. (Cover and distribute the plans below.)

Comments/Background: The city of Bolzano, Italy is located in the province of South Tyrol, in the northern part of the country, near the Italian Alps and not far from the border with Austria. It includes several medieval castles, a cathedral, an archaeological museum, vineyards and funiculars in the nearby mountains. For photographer Nicolò Degiorgis, Bolzano is his hometown and the headquarters of his independent publishing house Rorhof.

Throughout the history of photography, there is an undeniable repeated pattern of photographers paying close attention to their local surroundings and ultimately seeing (and documenting) nuances of life there that have passed unnoticed by others. In the case of Degiorgis, he has been making photographs in the region near Bolzano for over a decade, then transforming these images into innovative self-published photo books. Over the years we have considered a number of these books: Hidden Islam (from 2014, commented here), PEAK (from 2015, reviewed here), and blue like gold (from 2017, reviewed here), the projects carefully observe everything from Muslim mosques hidden inside mundane buildings to the craggy rock formations of the nearby Dolomites.

Bolzano also has a relatively new contemporary art museum, Museion, which was built in 2008, and in recent years Degiorgis has exhibited several of his projects there. It’s a sleek futuristic cube designed by Berlin architects Krüger Schuberth Vandreike, with eye-catching transparent front and back facades. And it may have been his repeated comings and goings to the museum that led Degiorgis to notice that the city jail (built in 1870) is located nearby on the same block. The fortuitous proximity of these two seemingly unrelated structures is the starting point for Degiorgis’ most recent project/photobook Prison Museum.

Degiorgis’ conceptual framework for this project is a little more rigid than one might have expected. It would have been simple for Degiorgis to notice these two buildings and then take photographs of them, leading to a round-trip comparison of the two. Along the way, it may even have become clear that a museum and a prison are surprisingly similar conceptually, in that they house (or store) objects and people, respectively.

But Degiorgis had to make this association very early in this project, as his execution of the comparison of the two buildings (and indirectly, of their two functions) is surprisingly demanding. His images are not just paired after the fact with a few lucky likenesses, but appear to have been meticulously scouted, planned and pre-visualized in advance (likely delineated by his building access) to maximize the specific visual echoes the artist intended. . underline. The juxtapositions are as perfect as seems possible within the confines of such an effort, with viewpoints, perspectives, and subjects matched with an uncanny fidelity.

Prison Museum is organized as a relentless series of double-bleed spreads, each with an image of the museum on the left and an image of the prison on the right. As Degiorgis saw, while the surfaces and styles of the two structures are markedly different, the functional similarities between the two are uncanny. There are doors, walls, hallways, rooms, work areas, kitchens, bathrooms, storage areas, stairwells and other practical spaces, and as seen by Degiorgis , the two feel like twins separated at birth (with the same underlying DNA, but different histories). Degiorgis then dives even deeper to find unlikely repetitions of fire extinguishers, doors held open by trash cans, telephones, sinks, hooks, desk chairs, urinals, TV screens, boxes boxes, light switches, ladders, buckets with mops, benches, table tennis. tables and countless other objects common to both locations. As this parade of pairings progresses, the dialogue between the two places begins to resemble a harmony, or a set of notes played an octave higher than the other.

More unexpected is the inversion of aesthetics seen in the two locations – the museum is uncluttered, minimalist and functional to the point of being unwelcoming, while the prison is worn, messy and surprisingly human. While not exactly a reversal, these style opposites feel awkward at best – isn’t an art museum meant to be a living place that brings people together to share art, while a prison is often a dark place where criminals are separated from society as punishment for their crimes? Perhaps the most striking image pairings in the book make this distinction explicit, with stark white walls and rooms at the museum matched by colorful murals and prison cells decorated with personal effects. While the museum is undeniably more polished, it’s almost as if the prison is a friendlier place to visit; seen as an aggregation, the museum has almost no color anywhere, while the prison has color almost everywhere, especially a soothing shade of lime green paint that sweeps the hallways.

The design and construction of Prison Museum are constantly thought through, with every detail and every decision seeming to be chosen or made with intention. At over 400 pages, Prison Museum is the brick of a book, but the clarity of its design makes its weight seem appropriate. The cover is understated, with a simple design playing with the two title words connected by dots (almost like a walking map), the front cover with the words in one orientation and the back with the reverse. A white belly band encircles the cover with architectural line drawings of the two structures, one on the front and one on the back. The photobook is bound using two metal zip ties pulled through aligned holes, essentially “handcuffing” the pages together; the binding is intentionally tight, making it difficult to fully open the book, forcing the images closer together. And the pages themselves are cut in such a way that flipping them back and forth only produces a stream of blank white pages, while flipping them the other way exposes all the color images, creating another back-and-forth choice. Much like the close physical location of the two buildings, Degiorgis’ book cleverly reproduces the feeling of a close (almost too close) presence intertwined.

Few recent photobook projects seem as precise and conceptually rigorous as prison museum, and Degiorgis’ photographic execution amplifies this sense of sharpness. This is a photo book that has been painstakingly designed, almost like a mathematical proof, but with carefully constructed images. Prison Museum offers a surprisingly compelling set of visual insights into the relationship of these two local buildings, the clarity of the argument forcing us to consider whether such unlikely parallels are more broadly universal than we might have imagined.

Collector’s point of view: Nicolò Degiorgis doesn’t seem to have a consistent gallery representation at the moment. Therefore, interested collectors should probably contact the artist directly via his website (link in sidebar).

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