Reviewing an artist’s work

Sometimes, the things that matter most are the ones we notice the least. This is one of the thoughts that the retrospective exhibition on the work of photographer Manolis Baboussis leaves the viewer with after a rich visual tour that encompasses the artist’s works from the early ’70s to the present. Atypical of most retrospective exhibitions, this is not a display that follows a linear, chronological order but groups works from different periods in a manner intended to evoke visual and conceptual associations. Rather than compartmentalizing the artist’s work and treating his former work as fixed in the past, the exhibition suggests that it can always be revisited and seen through a different perspective. Arranged by Baboussis himself, the exhibition is all the more interesting for that reason since it offers the viewpoint of an artist on his own work. An imaginative display is one of the most distinctive aspects of the exhibition; it serves to show that the presentation of art can be a creative process and a vital factor in guiding our vision. In Baboussis’s exhibition, the display also encourages viewers to look at the works more closely, therefore prompting them to exercise their visual appreciation but also to retain a strong impression of what they see. What partly helps leave this strong impression is the artist’s distinctive visual style. Throughout most of his pictures, Baboussis abstains from photographing people and, possibly because he is an architect, focuses on space, making us aware of how the architecture we inhabit or even an object’s shape and form captures emotions and reflects on social realities. Trained at Florence’s School of Architecture and a pupil of Adolfo Natalini, Baboussis initially used photography to document the performances of a music group (of which he was part) at several of Italy’s mental hospitals. He took photographs of the mentally ill and produced a series showing the hospital’s interiors. Like other photos in the exhibition, which include a bank’s interior, bank safes and a cash machine, these interiors consider the mechanisms of institutional power and control. Enclosure, containment and ways of escaping them: These are some of the issues that Baboussis has explored for the past 30 years, looking for them in the most ordinary places. His images are suggestive and sometimes ambiguous, at times even distanced and aestheticized, but fully sensitive to our social and emotional worlds.