The radiating sun drops low in the sky, as it meets the soft roll of the grassy, purple hills. From the striking colors of polaroids emerge horizon lines, trees, and animals, but they are not what they seem. This is Alessandro Dandini de Sylva’s landscape “language.” His abstract landscape representations captivated me through their investigation of photography, reality, and representation, and especially for the way that sculpture and the outside world impress new meanings of his work in the viewer.
Alessandro and I crossed paths years ago while I was deepening my knowledge of landscape photography. We became friends discussing small but meaningful experiences in Italy, from eating cheese with worms in Sardinia, to foraging for mushrooms in Cortina (he is an expert!), or the beauty of Ponza. An Italian artist, Alessandro has worked globally, from New York to Shanghai, and showed in galleries worldwide from London to Paris. He is a natural storyteller and absolutely encyclopedic about all things Italy, and while Italian landscape has been historically important to the artist, so too have Hawaiian volcanoes and caves in Lascaux, and many other landscape spaces.
Alessandro’s approach to landscape has taken various shapes over the years. His art practice has often considered what photography refuses to show, or what the viewer is unable to construct, which he has called the “void.” Alessandro has been using expired polaroid film with a 1970s polaroid camera for the last 10 years that allows for manipulation of the image using colors, burns, and time. His work breaks the boundaries of landscape representation, practically becoming abstraction, and the misfiling of his photography book in the Tate’s library in the painting section is a testament to his achievement. Finding this hilarious, he prefers to let them continue to believe that it is painting.
How would you describe yourself in a few sentences?
I work with photography, and more generally with images, including mine and those of others. And I do the same with books: I publish my own and edit those of artists, sharing adventures along the way. I collaborate with museums, foundations and galleries, and together with a group of expert and passionate researchers I have created an itinerant library of photo books for children.
What is your favorite museum or art institution in Italy? Do you have a favorite art work there/remember a particular exhibition?
Any intervention by Carlo Scarpa, from the Canovian Gipsoteca in Possagno to the Brion Tomb in San Vito, from the Museum of Castelvecchio in Verona to Palazzo Abatellis in Palermo. I am increasingly interested in permanent installations; I am fascinated by the idea that, over time, an installation designed to be perennial can generate a pilgrimage similar to those practiced to reach sacred places.
Which Italian art event do you look forward to the most each year?
Three come to mind: the Venice Biennale (although I prefer to visit it outside the opening days to avoid the frenzy of events and meetings), Artissima in Turin (which instead attracts me for a series of parallel entertainment such as Club to Club and Flat) and Hypermaremma (for which I will edit a new cycle of campaigns and photographic publications).
Are there any Italian landscape artists or theorists that inspire you?
Working with photography I suffer from the charm and artistic legacy of masters such as Luigi Ghirri and Guido Guidi. But perhaps I find more inspiration in contemporary visual artists with whom I have shared part of my journey with;
Those that come to mind are Fabio Barile and Domingo Milella, Stefano Graziani, and also Jose Angelino and Serj, and many others.
How does landscape work into your artistic or curatorial practice? Does Italian landscape find itself in your work even when it’s made in the studio? How?
I believe that for many authors of my generation, landscape representation has changed from the object of research to the language of research. In my work, I create dialogues between real and abstract landscapes to confuse the subject, in both that which is represented and the viewer. The idea is to create suspended and deliberately unresolved images to instill in the viewer a doubt about vision, as well as a doubt about its mechanical equivalent, photography.
Your favorite Italian weekend getaway?
Ponza and the other Pontine Islands, an archipelago of volcanic origin off the coast of Circeo. Easily accessible from Rome with an hour by train and an hour by ship, the island of Ponza recalls some of my most precious memories. As a kid, sailing with my parents and my brother, later in boats with friends, and now with my wife and son, only now he wants to drive the boat.
What is your favorite restaurant and what dish do you order?
La Sibilla in Tivoli. It has been serving guests since 1720 in a garden at the foot of the ancient temples of Vesta and Sibilla, just in front of the waterfall from the Aniene river. Sitting under centuries-old wisteria, you can enjoy the same view as travelers on the Grand Tour. And from there, Villa Adriana is just steps away (and obligatory!)