In her recent book Non-Human Photography, media theorist and artist Joanna Zylinska proposes to think photography not only as an artistic practice for documenting time and memory, but as world-making practice.

Photography has actually the agency of shaping facts and how the world is conceived and perceived: “photography is a formative practice of life not only because it represents our lives in various ways but also because it actually shapes life. It does so through images but also through various kinds of material impressions it activates—and also through the forms of perception it generates” (Zylinksa 2017: 7). In this sense, photography is a deeply ethical practice, it has a certain responsibility on how the world is perceived and conformed. Moreover, for the author photography, both artistic and scientific, has been instrumental in the public acknowledgment of what has come to be known as the Anthropocene—“ i.e., the present time interval, going back to at least the Industrial Revolution, in which the human has been recognized as a geological agent that has had irreversible impact upon the Earth” (1), and the horizon of extinction.

In this context what becomes evident is that Patrizia Posillipo’s work The Earth beneath the Feet is not literally representative of a catastrophe but hints at, from a very subjective and subtle point of view, how the world could look like after extinction. The installation conceived for the space of the Church Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco stems from a series of photographs the artist shot in Iceland. The work consists of a photographic print on canvas of approximately 13 meters long unfolded along the central nave of the Church on which a selection of eleven shots follow a personal syntax. In these images any human presence is completely absent, if not for certain traces, like a small construction seen from afar.

The topic of the volcano and the vulnerability of the living if confronted with its destructive power, or at least the constant threat of it, is one, although not the only, trait d’union with the program of Terrestri. Iceland is a fragmented and complex land: Under a fertile, basaltic surface, sometimes very green, sometimes completely white, there is the magma that, given the right conditions, suddenly can make the mountains erupt.

Then, there is the election of the Church to present the project, which is not accidental: Just as the construction of Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio was designed on two levels, with an upper part that refers to the earthly and profane plane, and an underground part that alludes to Purgatory, something similar seems to happen in the land depicted by Patrizia’s photos: Iceland resembles a kind of natural, profane purgatory, that emerges from time to time to the surface creating beauty and sometimes disaster.

The sequence of works arranged on the canvas focus on often almost-abstract landscapes that could also belong to a future moment, perhaps to a situation of extinction. If this extinction is caused by the geological instability of the island, by the destructive activity of humans, or by all these factors at the same time, for the moment is not given to us to know.

However, The Earth beneath the Feet does not only point out to the possibility of a moment of extinction of humankind, but it also proposes a vision of how the Earth will move on even if we disappear as species. This kind of research is much more compelling that the simple representation of an apocalyptic future because it helps us think of a broader, more complex, and in which we may probably not exist anymore as a species. Moving away from a human scale, making the effort of thinking beyond a human time and space is probably the main theoretical tool that artworks like this one can give us to try to cope with the challenges of the Anthropocene and imagine new possible scenarios.

Gabriela Galati