Each black and white image in Petrocchi’s latest book, Sculptural Entities, strips objects of their original contexts, creating new visual dialogues between ancient and contemporary forms
“The common thread in all my projects are photographs in which truth and fiction coexist, and history and imagination belong to the same realm,” says 33-year-old, Rome-based artist Giovanna Petrocchi. “This comes as a result of my belief that there is no such thing as objectiveness of the photographic medium, even when it’s in relation to historical matters. And the same goes for archaeology: it is usually regarded as a scientific discipline because it deals with the meticulous reconstruction of the past. But for me, fragments, artefacts and antiques all invite speculation, and lend themselves to imaginative interpretations.”
Petrocchi is musing on the ideas behind her latest book, Sculptural Entities. Mixing found images of mammoth tooth fossils with the oddly-shaped silhouettes of cardboard, build-your-own dinosaur models and puzzles, the series explores museology and the relationship between organic and artificial forms.
Created through a process of digital collage in photoshop, each black and white image in Sculptural Entities strips objects of their original contexts, and creates new visual dialogues between ancient and contemporary objects. The mammoth imagery was found online from sources including Google, small collections in the public domain, and eBay pages of fossils for sale, while other pictures in the book were found from within Petrocchi’s own archive of scanned references and research.
Petrocchi often re-photographs objects and museum displays and then populates these places with surreal artefacts of her own making. The roots of Sculptural Entities began in early 2020, and it became clear to Petrocchi early on that the book format was the perfect presentation for it, because she wanted to create a fictional catalogue. The artist wanted to create a publication of images that appear to be repetitive at first sight, but which inspire viewers to notice the nuances in shape and form between objects and symbols.
Meanwhile, she adds, “a small orange symbol at the bottom right of each composition identify the page’s numbers of this fictional catalogue and are, in fact, petroglyphs cut-outs from the imagery of prehistoric rocks collected from the internet”.
Petrocchi has always been interested in the realm of museology, mainly fascinated by the contradictions and controversies that lie within the concept of it. “The purpose of museums nowadays is to educate and ‘civilise’ the general public, but they still are one of the main symbols of colonial power,” she says. “And it is amazing being able to look at statues, objects, tools from different cultures all in the same room in your own city, but is it still fair? And what can be done now to give voices back to the people (and objects!) that have been silenced thus far?” Ultimately, she hopes that her work will inspire viewers to question the role of museums in societies today, especially on where their artefacts come from and how their histories are contextualised.
Joanna L. Cresswell is a writer and editor based in Brighton. She has written on photography and culture for over 40 international magazines and journals, and held positions as editor for organisations including The Photographers' Gallery, Unseen Amsterdam and Self Publish, Be Happy. She recently completed an MA in comparative literature and criticism at Goldsmiths College, University of London