Twelve black and white photos of trees might not grab your attention immediately, though if I add that they are millennium-old olive trees from Puglia, presented as large-format prints exhibited in the ISAIA Showroom in Madison Avenue as seen through the perceptive and sensual lens of Barbara Luisi, you'll certainly want to take a look.
Art critic Manuela De Leonardis writes in the exhibition's presentation blurb,
Olive trees, sculptures of nature. Olive trees narrate history. Scarred barks, twisted forms, proud crowns. Wind, rain, and the passing of time mold these trees, protagonists, along with humanity, of a thousand-year old history. In Puglia , in the Mediterranean, they are the very icons of the land, with its characteristic texture of a big garden. It is a boundless human heritage.
These trees are both old, gnarled and reeking of history yet also extraordinarily sensual, a quality more associated with youth; a fascinating combination, I suggested to Luisi.
This is a wonderful remark! Yes, it is the sensual part that interests me photographing these subjects. The bodies, like human bodies offer themselves to our regard naked, show their wounds, their skin, their way of dealing with getting old. In my works for Skin and Fragility, I worked with young human bodies, now after photographing the ‘millenari', as they are called in Puglia , I want to compare their bodies with beautiful older human bodies. Bodies of people who have faced life, not unlike these trees.
I told her I find the trees almost ‘creepy', as they seem to be communicating… expressing. A strange sensation.
The trees in reality ARE communicating, this is what I wanted to show and you saw it right away. Trees are communicating and helping each other with their roots, they help younger trees grow, they help each other against plagues. Why is this creepy? Only because we do not expect it!
If Interflora has shown that you can ‘Say it with flowers', Luisi goes further by showing that the trees have something to say themselves.
The ‘ulivi millenari' show me personally a transcendental way into myself, they tell me to come close and look and see how beauty and age combined is a way into almost eternal life. They show me that there is always a way to grow somehow or to find a way out of problems: sickness, sadness, insecure-ness. They open up after they reach the age of 50, then they deal with life in a different way and they also grow around problems. Nothing has to be straight to be good. They show that not only youth is beautiful. Even their fruits have still the same high value. They show that value in life does not need to go down with age.
A wonderful message in today's youth obsessed culture… these trees are wise. ‘Even their fruits have still the same high value' is a delightful observation. She got to know these trees while spending time near her house in the south of Italy.
I started to explore the south for prehistory, dolmens and menhirs, like Stonehenge… and I came by some of the olive gardens, they immediately spoke to me. I started to search for the oldest plantations and found out that Puglia already before Romans and Greeks ruled in Puglia — which was called Calabria then! — had the oldest plantations in the Mediterranean. Puglia olive oil for lamps and food was exported through the great port cities of the ancient world. These trees are still alive today!
The sea and beaches of Liguria were the inspiration of Luisi's book Pearls, tears of the sea, and nature has strongly influenced many of her collections.
Nature is music for me, away from noisy cities. In Liguria I can hear the sea from my bed, in Puglia the wind in the trees. My senses are more awake and I feel very much alive and all sensations are stronger.
Yet it is in one of the world's Top 10 noisiest cities that these twelve photographs will be displayed. Photographs of trees that existed centuries before New York existed; an interesting juxtaposition…
This is the best thought! These trees existed before America became a nation, they existed before and during so many periods… there were Greeks, then Romans, then the Byzantine Empire, the Crusades, the German House of Hohenstaufen, then ruled by Genoa and Venice, the Arabs in the 15th century, corsairs, then by Naples, the Austrians, Sicily… before they became ‘Italian'. What an adventure of life!
American historians are the best about European history, so also the American audience will be much more sensitive than Europeans about the wonders of the almost eternal life of these very European monuments, the olive trees in my project VITA AETERNA.
ISAIA Napoli – Showroom New York City
22 September 22 – 30 October 2016
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.