Ilaria Sponda: Photography is one of the medium that serves your multidisciplinary practice. What fascinates you about it?
Niccolò Quaresima: What fascinates me about photography is how easy, fast and accessible it can be to take a photo. I’m not saying taking a good photograph is easy, but image-making is. I like the fact it can either take months of preparation, heavy instruments and delicate chemical reactions or it is just the tap of our finger on a screen. It has become an incredibly versatile medium and its peculiar relation with reality, along with the theoretical history (decades of semiotics research which seems to have lost all of its meaning today) there is about photography’s relation with reality attracts me like moths to a flame.
IS: ”Planet Agar Agar” is purely a photographic work. Could you describe the process and narrative behind it?
NQ: “Planet Agar Agar” sprouts from another project idea: using sperm to dissolve photographic slides with portraits of boys. Eventually, I realized that the result of the action of bacteria on the film was extremely similar to NASA images of faraway galaxies. That’s how I came to the idea to create a narrative about an imaginary journey to a fictional planet. It was the spring of 2020 and we all were quarantined inside our homes thus our need to travel was at its highest.
Agar Agar is a jelly-like substance not only used in biology labs to cultivate bacteria, but it is also a common vegan food, so easy to come by. I started using various photographic materials (such as X-ray scans, old polaroid films, unexposed film rolls, etc.) I had in my house, which became traces of a mysterious archive if portrayed in an abstract environment. That’s how the “Planet Agar Agar” story begins.
IS: What kind of materials constitute it?
NQ: There are various materials involved. The main ones are Agar Agar, film rolls and Petri dishes (shallow transparent lidded dishes that biologists use to hold growth medium in which cells of bacteria, fungi and small mosses can be cultured). There are also daily materials such as gauze, gallium (the non-toxic metal inside thermometers) and rotten fruits, which turn into alien landscapes or strange finds. Fundamental was the use of UV light and negative images, which helped turn realistic images into abstract and space-like documentation.
IS: Mold and fungi are central to the research linked to “Planet Agar Agar”. By photographing these beings, you facilitated the encounter between the biological and the technological. Did you find any friction?
NQ: Actually, I did not. Bacteria are incredibly flexible, every day they would turn into something new and thus creating new imagery that helped constitute the narrative of the project. Either scanned, photographed with daily light or using UV lamps the Petri dish and the life within intersected easily with technology. Probably a biology lab would not agree with the methods I used but the aim of the project was not to have scientific and clean bacteria colonies, but rather to let life evolve — within some kind of boundaries — and create new photographic images.
IS: How do fiction and reality merge in your practice? As photography is clearly not about the latter anymore, what new possibilities do you think have opened up?
NQ: I believe that nowadays photography is almost a limitless medium. Like any other medium it has its own boundaries but if we don’t look at them, and instead work as if they were not there, there is a huge field of possibilities. The fact that we can easily mix AI-generated images and traditional film photography, darkroom printing on paper and laser print on usual materials — without having to worry about the “photographic trustworthiness” of it all — elevates the medium to maximum freedom, and with this kind of freedom, an artist can explore any topic they feel like matter.
IS: I’m interested in the way you give plasticity and tridimensional physicality to photography, as in your latest work “Generazione di città”. Could you explain what brings you to bring out this plastic research? How do you select the materials?
NQ: Plastic has been one of the world’s biggest enemies since the 1990s: pollution-wise it’s a horrible product, but for the photographic medium it is also a hidden gem. It is versatile, more resistant (compared to paper), and allows us to demolish the idea that a valuable photograph is a fine art print on luxurious paper. I’ve started working with Plexiglass (and all the other brands of methacrylate) because of its resemblance to photographic film: shiny, transparent and — when thin enough — flexible. I’ve then realized its sculptural possibilities and started manipulating it. I am strongly interested in the physical gesture, heat and stress needed to manipulate a plastic print, as it adds some other layer to the artwork: it allows the artist to reconnect and get closer to the image.
The way I select materials is always based on their properties. Let’s not forget the good old Walter Benjamin philosophy and the fact that while the medium is photography the final artwork involves other media linked to the printing process, such as paper, plastic, fabric, etc. For “Generazione di Città” I chose Plexiglass because of its solidity and the fact that once moulded through fire and hand manipulation it solidifies into a new shape, just like the pavement of Milan, moulded by heat and parked scooters. For “Dusk to Dawn” I used silk fabric because of its fluid-like materiality. because I needed to evoke sensuality and the feeling of nightlife.
Niccolò Quaresima (Rome, 1995) is a visual artist mainly working with photography, which he uses as a fluid language. His creative process is rather intuitive but nonetheless strictly formal: whether for editorial projects or immersive installations, Niccolò’s body of work stays precisely tuned. He is interested in thematics of freedom of expression, both social and cultural, but his research always pushes the photographic medium in order to achieve higher levels of versatility focusing on the photographic substrates and the tridimensional aspects hidden within its physicality. Therefore, his work is twofold: if the subjects — the narrative cloak — are always changing within the contemporary social issues, the manipulation of the matter is a constant.
Niccolò graduated in New Media at Milan’s Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, and obtained the Master in Photography and Visual Design at NABA, Milan. In 2020 he founded the duo F/Q. He was the assistant Anouk Kruithof and collaborates with ECAL for research projects about photography and design. He is part of Camera ClubMilano, curated by Bruno Ceschel.