Book Review The Flying Carpet By Cesare Fabbri Reviewed by Karen Jenkins “Mined from his native Ravenna and the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy over a ten year period, Fabbri’s photographs speak to one of art’s wonderful assertions: to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange."
Reviewed by Karen Jenkins
The Flying Carpet.
Photographs by Cesare Fabbri.
Mack, London, England, 2017. 72 pp., color illustrations, 9½x11½".
Despite its inventory of village landscape basics — stretches of fences and facades, trees and shrubbery, and bits of infrastructure, the universe Cesare Fabbri has created in his debut book The Flying Carpet hints at an alien realm. Wandering page by page, unaided by the absent local populace, we hone in on these recognizable forms to determine our location and set a path. Yet they quickly betray us, refusing to serve as a road map or an answer key. They are the alphabet of another tongue; delightfully resistant to the charms of even the keenest translator. In these familiar haunts, Fabbri finds himself to be both native speaker and novice; finding in a deep acquaintance, his own mysteries. Mined from his native Ravenna and the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy over a ten year period, Fabbri’s photographs speak to one of art’s wonderful assertions: to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange. Within the two short paragraphs that accompany the images, Fabbri concludes: “Sometimes, something too familiar becomes invisible. Photographs allow us to discover and see for the first time something that was right before our eyes.” His title references a 1987 work by Italian writer Cristina Campo, Tappeti Volanti (Flying Carpets) which points to the real as a gateway to another realm. Fabbri’s fodder, his inspiration for the quietly fantastical photographs collected here, is all that is hidden in plain sight.
Fabbri’s photographs feel like a message, but not one easily read. Written language is absent from his views, barring a few stray words or scraps of text. Signs are redacted or incomplete, more evocation than disclosure. Communications seem to be issued in color blocks and geometric forms. As this pattern emerges, other objects start to feel like public broadcasts of their own. Strange items strung up and unfurled like flags are plain to see but refuse to give up their signification. A flowering sapling is hoisted over a roofline and a sky-blue bouquet flutters over a street corner. What urgent dispatches do they deliver? Language demands order and discipline, as well as allowances for idiosyncrasy and abandon, and Fabbri’s photographs also bear this out. Images are joined to one another like words in a sentence, frequently connected in recurring runs of power lines or other cables. Pod-like bushes and roadside trees are tethered frame to frame as if they might allow the missive to float away or unravel if not properly moored. Both control and creative cultivation are seen in a vineyard’s rigid rows, wrapped fruit trees and front yard shrub sculptures. The eponymous flying carpet is itself both tied down and attempting flight.
For all the ways that these photographs pull in those eager to crack the code, they also reward the careful viewer with the means of escape. Markers of containment and border lines abound; fences, walls and hedgerows recur in image after image. They are coupled with motley, inanimate sentries at their posts — from a jaunty bearded bust and a colossal head to a t-shirt scarecrow and a literal watchful eye. And then, the opportunity to shift to another dimension, to lift off or slide through is offered in a ladder peaking over the top of a solid perimeter wall and a volleyball net that reads as a portal. A metal storage drum mimics a submarine. Arrows echo spaceships — both the means and directional aid to escape. A black cone looks like a witch’s hat — evidence of a vanishing act just missed. For all this adventure to be found within what is also the banality of home is a marvel and a testament to Fabbri’s talents. These are images to be savored not just by those who enjoy looking at photographs, but who like to make them. They will color my next image-making jaunt; no flying carpet required. — Karen Jenkins
KAREN JENKINS earned a Master's degree in Art History, specializing in the History of Photography from the University of Arizona. She has held curatorial positions at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ and the Demuth Museum in Lancaster, PA. Most recently she helped to debut a new arts project, Art in the Open Philadelphia, that challenges contemporary artists to reimagine the tradition of creating works of art en plein air for the 21st century.
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