Discovering art in unexpected places

As we all get ready for Autumn and the campus turns auburn-red, it seemed nice to share one last story about Summer.

Photo: author.

Photo: author.

This Summer, I was lucky enough to be invited by a friend to spend two weeks at her house in Italy. So, in mid-July, I headed off to a little Tuscan island called Isola del Giglio – literally Island of Lilies, and for good reason: the entire island is blooming with flowers all over. I was ready to relax, enjoy the holidays, lose the smartphone and for a few days that’s what I did. Sea, flowers, sun and the Mediterranean: I was quite willing to believe that was as good as life could get. Until I accidentally bumped into every art historian’s dream.

The island has three small villages, one of which, Giglio Porto, is located around the harbour (you might have heard of this area as it is where the Costa Concordia cruise ship hit the rocks in January 2012). In the second week of my stay, I found myself roaming the village in search of something to fight off the perennial 40 degrees. Now, being lactose intolerant in Italy means opening up to a whole new level or research for gelato; therefore, my eye was caught by a small organic ice cream shop placed in a little alley next to the sea. The selection of homemade ice cream was remarkable – figs, blackberries, mango and all sorts of other lovely things – but within a few seconds what really caught my attention was the selection of photographs hanging casually from the walls.

Remo Mattera, Bolivia, Salar de Uyuni, 2009. © Remo Mattera.

Remo Mattera, Bolivia, Salar de Uyuni, 2009. © Remo Mattera.

They were amazing.

A colourful mosaic of landscapes from all over the world stared at me, duck taped to the walls like they were nothing. The subjects of the pictures spanned from polar deserts, to Asian ruins, to portraits and scenes of markets, souks and workers. They portrayed Indian temples, overcrowded Mexican buses and deserted Cambodian beaches. Obviously, I forgot everything about ice cream and proceeded instead to make the acquaintance of the ice cream seller and amateur photographer, Remo Mattera. He explained to me that for 15 years he and his lovely wife have been using the earnings from running their ice cream shop during the Summer to travel the world during the Winter. What a smart idea. It is not every day that you meet someone who is an excellent artist and manages to balance his time between making amazing dessert on an island, virtually cut off from the rest of the world, and backpacking in Northern Thailand.

Remo Mattera, India, Gokarna, 2012. © Remo Mattera.

Remo Mattera, India, Gokarna, 2012. © Remo Mattera.

While (due to his budget) the quality of the pictures may not be perfect, and they might lack the photoshopped finish of many contemporary images, it is precisely this that makes his work unique: a vintage, personal finish combined with great eye for stolen moments, and a stunning portrayal of different cultures. From Tibetan children in traditional costumes drinking from a can of Sprite (the magic of globalisation!) to an African medicine-man living in a hole in the ground, these images are as educational as a documentary yet they also contain moments of humour and a  non-pretentious attitude that makes them approachable. To make the challenge even more appealing to me, his work has never actually been exhibited. His private nature and  “I am just doing this because it makes me happy” attitude have meant that their display has been limited to the walls of his Italian ice cream shop.

Remo Mattera, Peru, Machu Picchu, 2004. © Remo Mattera.

Remo Mattera, Peru, Machu Picchu, 2004. © Remo Mattera.

Having been curator of Crop Up Gallery (the Nottingham Art History student curatorial group) during all of last year, I couldn’t help but explore the idea of an exhibition with him. He shyly but happily agreed. I left with a handful of contacts (access to emails is limited on the island) and a mind roaming with exhibition ideas. Hopefully, and through the wonderful medium that Crop Up gallery is, it will be turned into reality sometime this term.

Costanza Bergo (2nd year BA Art History student and member of Crop Up Gallery team)

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2 responses to “Discovering art in unexpected places

  1. Pingback: Celebrating student enterprise: Art History’s Crop Up Gallery #£100m | nottsarthistory·

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