CO-OP Encounters #1: Fotoromanzo Italiano

by Unseen July 12 2018

Unseen CO-OP is back for its second edition. First introduced to increase the representation of artist-run initiatives and collectives worldwide, CO-OP encouragers artists to present challenging works of art, dynamic presentations and new commercial formats. In the coming months, we’ll be speaking to each of the participating collectives to find out more about the collaborative processes that drive their practice forward.

This week we are excited to introduce Fotoromanzo Italiano, an artist-run collective from Italy that aims to reinvent photo-novel practices by exploring the mix of text and image, distorting our understanding of reality and fiction in the process. Speaking on behalf of Fotoromanzo Italiano for this interview, we caught up with the enigmatic Michele Apicella, Director of Innamorati a Milano magazine.

What inspired you to start working as a collective?
The authors who form the collective each have their own established careers. But when they founded Fotoromanzo Italiano they became colleagues, and in doing so they realised they all shared similar fields of interest in visual culture, but especially in the visual language of the image and the way images are created and used today. They felt less restricted in Fotoromanzo Italiano than in their own careers, so they undertook a new project together focusing on Italian imagery and the vernacular culture. They explored the recent past in order to find the roots of the present, to reveal an illusion. It started as a bit of fun, but it soon turned into a very serious game.

How has working as a collective changed the way you interact with the art market?
I don't know how much it has changed, but the reaction of the art world has been both enthusiastic and surprising. Many critics and curators have fallen in love with Fotoromanzo Italiano's puzzling work, commenting that even if they cannot fully understand it, they appreciate its presence. It’s a complicated relationship, like a love story in a photo-novel.  

Furthermore, I don’t think the members of Fotoromanzo Italiano care if what they do is art or not. We all know that today, for an artwork to be considered as such, it only needs to slightly resemble the pre-existing notion of 'art'. They like to interact directly with their audience, even those that come from outside the art world. For example, when they launched the magazine Innamorati a Milano (Lovers in Milan), they chose to present it in normal spaces instead of galleries: a sandwich shop, a clothing store, a former nightclub, a karaoke bar… Their photo-novels deal with historical fact, environment, social issues, youth, immigration and they use this photo-novel medium to speak about topics with the perfect amount of seriousness, passion, lightness, irony, fun, just as it happens in everyday life.

What sets you apart from other collectives?
I have to say the members of Fotoromanzo Italiano were the first to revive and actualise the photo-novel seven years ago and now many people are following their lead. Their approach is innovative because they love to combine disciplines and be performative. They love mixing languages to twist and mess things up. Fotoromanzo Italiano is a melting pot that unifies image and text. They call both this iconosphere and their fictional attitude ‘neo-reality’, a place where you really don’t know what is real and what is fiction.

​​​​What do you have in store for us at Unseen Amsterdam 2018?
Fotoromanzo Italiano has asked that I don’t give too much away, but I can give you an impression. For CO-OP Amsterdam, the members will present themselves as a ‘Photo-Novel Production Agency’, willing to spread the practice and the ‘dispositif’ of the fotoromanzo abroad. They feel the urge to illustrate and explain the various narrative possibilities that a photo-novel can engage. How the booth will look is still confidential, but I can say that there will be a photographic set in which they will do a casting, where they will look for people who wish to become a ‘photo-novel star’.

The participants will be part of a brand new photo-novel specifically conceived for Unseen that we will later publish, and the portraits will be printed and sold within CO-OP. All these activities - the making of the photo-novel (involving local people, CO-OP visitors and special guests), the scouting and casting - are designed to inspire fun and interaction among visitors. I highly recommend following Fotoromanzo Italiano’s social channels if you’d like to follow their work in progress and to book yourself in for activities. Hurry up, Fotoromanzo Italiano is looking for you!

Thank you, Michele!

Image: The end, from the series, Innamorati Milano, 2018 © Fotoromanzo Italiano