Ilaria Abbiento – Sea, travel and the geography of thought

Ilaria Abbiento, Nautical chart of Capraia island. From the artist's study archive.
by Azzurra Immediato

The theme of the journey that Photolux Magazine has investigated, in the latest Issue and other Focus onis about to conclude with the perspective and photographic research of Ilaria Abbiento, an artist from Naples who has chosen the sea as the ideal place for her to discover through photography and more; a research, hers, capable of creating a personal atlas, an intimate logbook for an imaginative and evocative boat to sail on routes traced in a peculiar cartography, that the author called Cartografia del Mare [Cartography of the Sea].

In the interview that follows, Ilaria Abbiento lets us join her on part of her journey giving us a glimpse of lyrical visual poetry that brought us all closer to her sea.

Ilaria Abbiento, Quaderno di un’isola [An island’s notebook], 2019. Courtesy Claudio Composti MC2gallery.

Ilaria, how did the theme of travel enter your photographic research?

“E c’è che vorrei il cielo elementare
azzurro come i mari degli atlanti
la tersità di un indice che dica
questa è la terra, il blu che vedi è mare.”
[And it’s that I would like the elementary sky
blue like the seas on the atlases
the tersity of an index that says
this is the earth, the blue you see is the sea.]

[Pierluigi Cappello, from Azzurro elementare]


The seas of the atlases. I remember that as a child I spent hours and hours observing them. My eyes got lost in the deep blue that dissolved into the lighter shade of the watercolor, between the coastlines, in the dotted routes, between the meridians and the equator and on the contours of the islands. An imaginary journey where my little heart could dive into the Atlantic Ocean, cross the Ionian Sea, land in the Persian Gulf and, as if by magic, dive into all the seas of the world illustrated in the large pages of the Atlas. I think that this turquoise spell, full of wonder and amazement, gave rise to my desire to explore, to travel and to navigate, today an essential trait of my artistic research.

Your travelling is dreamlike, imaginative, propelled on the surface of the Mediterranean as if diving into the waves with the camera. How do you build your not only photographic journey and how is your project born?

The core of my work appears mainly through photographic images, but the process of each of my works is studded with material elements, poetic and literary reads and continuous experimentation with different supports. I think that “the project” was born many years ago, when the choice of the theme came from my profound love for the sea. The sea is the recurring element through all my work and, by now, it reveals itself to my eyes in many different forms. I can find it even when it is not there. At the beginning of my research, I did not realize what my intent was. Now I have understood that my work contemplates the idea of ​​building a sort of poem, an aquatic anthology of visual and material stories that can dialogue over time. Each of my projects stems from the urgency and desire to explore the theme of the sea as a liquid emulsion of my intimate essence. I observe nautical maps, I study the history of the landscape, I write notes, collect traces and images, I read poems, I draw imaginary maps. This is how I build my geography of thought.

Ilaria Abbiento, Cartografia del mare [Cartography of the Sea], 2017. Courtesy Beatrice Burati, Anderson Art Gallery.

The sea and its routes have become an inner geography that has led you, in recent years, to investigate the Mediterranean from a completely different point of view from that of news, journalistic reportages or landscape photography. Yours is a sort of intimate dialogue with the Mare Nostrum; tell us about the depths you have chosen to investigate.

My research starts from a deep introspective immersion that investigates my inner ocean.

The Mediterranean, the sea, represents my liquid state. Through its poetic  I am able to heal my internal wounds, to collect the fragments and to lose myself in its blue tempera to find myself. As if in apnea, I gently dissolve into the Mediterranean, dip my thoughts in blue, and sand my hidden stones.

Ilaria Abbiento, Quaderno di un’isola [An island’s notebook], 2019. Courtesy Claudio Composti, MC2Gallery.

Looking at your cartography and your photographs, what do you still have to ask to the Mediterranean? Where do you think your lens will make its next journey?

I could define the Cartografia del mare as the foreword of my narration on the Mediterranean. It is a polyptych made up of 24 elements: 12 cuttings from the nautical chart and 12 different seas.

I chose to use a cartographic itinerary to navigate along the coastline of the Gulf of Naples, the city where I was born. For several years I have cruised the shore exploring, day after day, an ever-changing stretch of coast. I built an imaginary archive of the sea and its variations in relation to the landscape, the climate, the light and my moods. The cartography of the sea is an aquatic diagram in which the sway of the sea recalls the temperament of my hidden archipelago.

After having created a series of works such as Lido Conchiglia, Atlante, Correnti gravitazionali, 12 volte mare, Come la marea, I set sail from my coast to navigate and work on the concept of  “island”.

Ilaria Abbiento, Quaderno di un’isola [An island’s notebook], 2019. Courtesy Claudio Composti, MC2Gallery.

In 2019 I created Quaderno di un’isola [An island’s notebook] at the time of my Photosolstice artistic residence, on the island of Asinara, in Sardinia. My task was to draw a visual map of the island, but upon returning from my trip, observing the images I had collected and the notes I had written, I realized the island I was observing was me. This was followed by a still unpublished project “καρδιά” (“Heart”), created in 2020 on the island of Capraia in the Tuscan archipelago, for Plaza Art Residency curated by Claudio Composti, MC2 gallery, which will be exhibited as soon as the rules relating to the pandemic will allow it.

Regarding the future, despite the difficult moment we are going through, I reinvigorate myself at the thought of a beautiful journey that awaits me to another island, Corsica, for the artistic residency won in 2019 with the Photolux Festival in collaboration with the Center Méditerranéen de la Photographie in Bastia.

I still have so much to ask the Mediterranean, but, perhaps, it will be the sea asking me questions.

Ilaria Abbiento, Quaderno di un’isola [An island’s notebook], 2019. Courtesy Claudio Composti, MC2Gallery.

That ‘foreword’, that Cartografia del mare that I had the pleasure of hosting in a curatorial project a few years ago, Imago Murgantia Emergenze Artistiche, together with Massimo Mattioli, and which I had described as follows – “the Cartografia del mare, a project developed with Enrico Stefanelli, generating a photographic video path and a mapping that leads the artist to perform a conceptual act aimed at the construction of an intertwined narrative, a mixture of frames and fragments that seem to derive from the unconscious, filtered through the vision of the sea. The survey proposes the voice of the sea as the only one worth listening to, the only borderline to follow, while the water dissipates into the sky, its wave motion finds rest on land. The sea is the soul with which the Neapolitan photographer has formed an indissoluble bond, it is her memory, captured by the maps and by her shots. However, it becomes collective, as a visual poem that plunges the bystander into the blue infinity, with a melancholic force, anchored to an ancestral bond with the water, whose perpetual rhythm, for a few moments, is in synch to that of our breath.” – today is the prologue of an almost infinite series of questions, shots, maps, routes and desires that Ilaria Abbiento has placed in the sea, where her dialogue, as imperishable as the waves, continues, regenerates itself, like the tides, like the spirit that from the abyss comes back to the surface and continues to amaze, waiting for the next journey.


April 27,  2021

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