Untitled (from Swan Song series), Providence, Rhode Island (1978) by Francesca WoodmanLa Galleria Nazionale
I am interested in the way people relate to space. The best way to do this is to depict their interactions to the boundaries of these spaces. Started doing this with ghost pictures, people fading into a flat plane – i.e. becoming the wall under wallpaper or of an extension of the wall onto floor. Closer to what I am doing now is my beginning last spring of [M.] or myself enclosed by a glass coffee table. Also video tapes – people becoming, or emerging from environment.
Glass makes a nice definition of space because it delineates form while revealing what is inside it is also a cold and somewhat harsh material. I want to do two series of pictures using the glass box in waterman.
(Denver, 1958 - New York, 1981)
Francesca Woodman was born in Denver, Colorado, on April 3, 1958, into a family of artists. She lived between the United States and Italy, in Antella in the Tuscan countryside where she attended the town’s elementary school for a year, learning to speak and write Italian perfectly.
After returning to the United States, since 1972 she attended art courses at the Abbott Academy, a private female-only institution.
Her first photographs date back to this period, printed in her bedroom, for the occasion transformed into a dark room, in which the fundamental traits of her poetics are already beginning to be outlined, albeit in an unripe way: the coincidence of ego narrating with the subject of photography, the self-portrait, the use of the self-timer, the feminine, the spatial composition according to strongly pictorial guidelines, the organization of space based on the body, the nude, the private dimension.
It is not narcissism that moves Francesca Woodmann’s incessant research on herself, but, rather, from the very beginning, the need for a continuous and lacerating investigation of the artist into the self through photography.
Between 1977 and 1978, thanks to a scholarship from the Rhode Island School of design in Providence she was in Rome for a period that would prove particularly happy in her production.
For the artist, the capital represented a fundamental moment in her maturation path both as a woman and as an artist. During this happy period some of her individual vocations took shape, such as her fascination for surrealism, which would be reflected in her work.
In 1979 the artist graduated in photography from Rhode Island School and moved to New York where, in November of the same year, she set up her first solo show entitled Swan Song at the Wood-Gerry Gallery in New York.
She decided to enlarge the print format of the photographs up to a maximum of one square meter and to break with the custom of installing the works at eye level. In fact, some photographs are placed very high up, others almost in line with the floor, some arranged in pairs, others completely alone on the wall, according to a composition studied on the morphology of the exhibition space.
Furthermore, along the entire perimeter of the room, she placed a continuous line of specimens as a sort of skirting board. In addition to presenting itself as a literary homage to Marcel Proust’s Recherche, Swan Song refers precisely to the swan song and therefore to its flight, from the top of the ceiling to the socle of the floor.
It alludes to a movement within an environment that includes photographs and the surrounding space. It is therefore not just a question of a particular set-up method but of an actual installation.
Since the spring of 1980 she has been working on the Temple Project, a sort of reconstruction of the façade of a Greek temple whose caryatids are made up of models wrapped in classical drapery. From this moment Francesca Woodman began to experiment with the blueprint technique, thus highlighting her desire to work exclusively on the large dimension.
In January 1981, the edition of Some Disordered Interior Geometries, one of the six photographic notebooks designed during the Roman period, was released. On the 19th of the same month she voluntarily put an end to her life.
Francesca Woodman and Paola Ugolini