T3 Tokyo Photo Festival: Invisible Stratum
The T3 Tokyo Photo Festival takes its inspiration from a book by American Sociologist Richard Florida. In The Rise of the Creative Class Revisited, Florida asserts 3Ts as a condition necessary for the prosperity of a city: Talent, Technology and Tolerance. Including work by artist from around the globe, T3 Tokyo Photo Festival, which takes place in Ueno Park and its surroundings, presents different ideas or perspectives that encourage the audience to discover new points of view, and to initiate new conversations. In May 2017 our founding director Federica Chiocchetti and curator Miho Odaka were invited to co-curate the exhibition Invisible Stratum. Designed by Masatoshi Hirai, it featured work by artists who use photography as a means of visualising various invisible layers that exist in our world.
With the metaphor of stratum as a hint, co-curator Miho Odaka hoped the photographs included in Invisible Stratum might help establish things that we usually see, such as the dwellings in which we live and the surfaces on which we walk, but also things that remain hidden from view; things buried beneath billions of years of history. From those strata, fossils and earthenware are often discovered, and we who live on the surface layer can listen carefully to the breath of life that surely lived in the period of the relics that are unearthed.
Naturally, Chiocchetti’s inspiration for Invisible Stratum came from a powerful poem written by the modern Italian poet Eugenio Montale. According to Italo Calvino, Montale’s poem encapsulates a small and somewhat nihilistic phenomenology of perception:
Maybe one morning, walking in dry, glassy air, I’ll turn and see the miracle occur: nothing at my back, the void behind me, with a drunkard’s terror. Then, as if on a screen, trees houses hills will suddenly collect for the usual illusion. But it will be too late, and I’ll walk on silent among the men who don’t look back, with my secret.
For Chiocchetti these two incredible stanzas describe a miracle that could occur, in a moment of extraordinary transparency, to ‘men that look back’: seeing the absolute void that lurks behind the thin visible layers (‘as if on a screen’) of what we call reality (‘trees, houses, hills’). Behind the ‘usual illusion’ of what appears to exist, maybe, one day we could see the nothing, which is normally invisible and kept as a terrifying secret.However, invisibility does not always have a negative connotation, such as being associated with the void, the nothing. We deal with invisible things everyday and they can be extremely positive in that they reveal a whole universe of other things, entities, energies, information, networks, beings, feelings, memories, dreams, etc. Despite their presumed oxymoronic relation, photography and invisibility have always ‘flirted’ since the medium’s inception, if we consider the 1860s spirit photographers who claimed to have captured ghosts and paranormal entities in their images.
The supernatural has not been the only element in the discourse. Notions such as the ‘optical unconscious’, i.e. the numerous unintentionally captured details revealed by a photographic image, or the ‘unphotographable’, i.e. the presumed inability of the photographic apparatus to represent immaterial aspects of reality, as denounced by Bertold Brecht, have always accompanied the histories and theories of photography.In responding to the theme of Invisible Stratum Chiocchetti thought it important to encourage the viewer to reflect on the different nature of layers of invisibility that we encounter in our everyday life and their implications. From concealment from public knowledge and surveillance, to voyeurism, optical illusions, gender issues and the spiritual world, the idea is to invite the viewers to adopt a contemplative and critical mode when they experience the intrinsic ambiguities of the photographic image.