From the 18th century onwards, the aristocracy of continental Europe began the custom of embarking on long journeys with departure and arrival in the same city in order to perfect their knowledge. The most frequent destination for what was called the Grand Tour was Italy.
On the Grand Tour, aristocratic youth learned about the politics, culture, art and antiquities of European countries. Spending their time visiting the most picturesque places in different locations, studying and shopping, the Grand Tours soon became indispensable elements of a young aristocrat’s education.
The unique historical and geographical features presented by the Italian territory, the history and the numerous monuments inherited from ancient Rome, made the country a favourite Grand Tour destination.
Sonata is a collection of photographic images taken by Aaron Schuman over the course of four years of travelling through the Italian territory, a portrait that strives to capture not so much the data produced by an objective reality, easily detectable, but rather the creative process that, starting from an observation, is slowly taking shape through ideas, suggestions, imaginaries and fantasies also suggested by the voices of countless travellers who have crossed the “Bel Paese” over the centuries. A process of listening, that activated by Aaron Schuman, which takes shape in a formal substance poised between imagination, fantasy and narration.
Finding inspiration in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Italian Journey (1786-1788), one of the most representative literary works regarding the Grand Tour, Schuman’s work investigates what Goethe himself defined as “impressions of meaning”, reinterpreting and investigating those same questions of a romantic and introspective nature that the author of Journey to Italy asks himself during his wanderings through the country.
The images that emerge from this questioning and overlapping of voices are curious, a tension thickens the atmosphere of the images that convey the sense of a renewed sensitivity for details, an attention to curiosities and oddities, the sense of a mystery that finds full expressive satisfaction in its expression and suspension.
The ancient cracked statues, the battered museum walls, the paths modelled by the passage of millennia, the landscape dotted with the constant presence of votive statues, are some of the elements through which Aaron Schuman gives life to a narration of the places and things that animate the Italian landscape.
Using the linguistic and formal modalities of a sonata as a guide for the visual composition (three movements moving through exposition, development and recapitulation), the author invites us to a crossing, an exploration of the Italian territory in which each element is stretched between the shadow and light, between terror and euphoria, between the harmony and dissonance produced by a complex historical and cultural inheritance that the author does not look in a simplifying way, but rather through a penetration of that organicity and complexity that always constitutes a place and its crossing.
Aaron Schuman is an American photographer, writer, curator and educator based in the United Kingdom. He received a BFA in Photography and History of Art from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1999, and an MA in Humanities and Cultural Studies from the University of London: London Consortium at Birkbeck College in 2003.
His work has been exhibited internationally – at institutions such as Tate Modern, Hauser & Wirth, Christie’s London, Christie’s New York, the Institute of Contemporary Arts London, the Ethnographic Museum Krakow, Format Festival and elsewhere – and is held in many public and private collections, including the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, The British Library, the National Art Library, and the Museum of Modern Art Library.