contemporary art / history of art

Elena Franco

Born in 1973 in Turin, Italy, Elena Franco studied architecture and restoration at the Politecnico in her hometown. She works in the field of urban and territorial valorisation. As author of articles and essays about urban revitalisation for Il Giornale dell’Architettura, she often is invited as lecturer at congresses and workshops in Italy and abroad. Additionally, Elena is artistic director of the Fondazione Arte Nova, which is destined to enhance the Liberty culture and Art Nouveau.

In conjunction with her commissions from local communities, photography is essential to her for research and documentation. Hence, Elena developed in 2012 “Hospitalia” – her first artistic photo project. Therefore, she investigated in ancient hospitals and their archives in different countries of Europe, to find evidence of social aspects and community responsibility in medical care. The result is a photo series of historic care facilities, today abandoned, transformed or still in use. Presented in different solo shows or as part of group exhibitions in many Italian cities and in France the series entered in public and private collections. The artist was awarded with the Premio Mediterraneo and in 2016 selected as finalist for the Combat Prize and the Premio Streamers. Published by ARTEMA, Tiziana Bonomo edited a book with the pictures of “Hospitalia”. Moreover, the series was object of several single publications.

During her research for her first photo project, Elena discovered depictions of the Imago Pietatis (Christ of Pity), devotional images, intended to stimulate compassion and pity in the contemplator. In the Bolognese Archivio Storico del Monte di Pietà (Historical Archive of the Mount of piety) she studied the iconography of these pictures. The archive bears 138 administrative volumes from the period between 1473 and 1808. This was the time, when the Foundation of Mounts was active in the allocation of affordable microcredits for small craftsmen and traders. The book’s edges are decorated with the Imago Pietatis. They are referring to solidarity of caring in the largest sense. Depending on the time of origin, the embellishing elements are varying. One prominent component is the passionflower, occurring after 1609. Brought to Europe by the Jesuits, the flower was identified with the passion of Jesus.

For Elena the passionflower implies the contrast between the beauty of the plant and the cruelty of Jesus’ suffering. In her opinion, his dead is not simple, but an unjust death by injustice and domination and therefore inacceptable. Often, the Imago Pietatis, includes the Christian message of resurrection and with that of salvation. In her reflection there is a need of anticipation of a reality, which finds its only reconciliation with the death, no matter if physiologically or unjust, by the creation of artworks.

Consequently, Elena created several oeuvres related to the archive and its depictions. The result was presented in the exhibition “Imago Pietatis” at the Bolognese Studio Cenacchi from 24 January to 14 March 2020. On this occasion, the artist published an artist book in the edition of three, with 414 photos of the 138 archival images and many details. These volumes are following the design of the administrative books. Moreover, there are series of posters, where single photos are featured on coloured ground. Two of them are forming the word “Love” with the signature letters of the tomes; one in English and one in Italian. The series 1 was our artwork of the month in April 2020. However, the artist didn’t limit herself in the reproduction of the originals in a new context. She also printed details on cloth. Additionally, she highlighted the passionflower by creating processed depictions of the plant. The series “Passiflora #1” shows it in different states of appearance: the flower itself, a leaf, the fruit from the outside and a cut-open fruit to show the inside. A catalogue with commenting essays referring to these oeuvres and the archive of the Mount of piety was also published. As one of the winners of the premio New Post Photography, Imago Pietatis will be on view in a special exhibition at the postponed edition of the MIA Photo Fair 2020.

All the works have in common that their artistic language is contemporary. Elena borrowed from different fields like advertising and the close art history to create original oeuvres. With her research and artistic echo to the archive, she enhanced the awareness of this cultural heritage. At the same time, she wants to inspire personal reflections in the observer.

Elena lives and works in the province of Turin.


Artwork of the Month / April 2020