C41 Questions On: Printed Narratives with Chiara Ernandes

Questions On is the video interview format created by C41. It consists of three simple questions addressed to our network of friends, partners and creative minds. This series will go through Printed Narratives, questioning the role of contemporary publishing in the digital era. This episode features Chiara Ernandes on the occasion of her participation in Charta Festival, that will take place from the 17th to the 25th of July 2021 in Rome.

Charta is a festival of contemporary photography that aims to highlight photographic books and independent publishing. The theme of this edition, Demons, aims to investigate all the darkest derivations of the human condition, from territorial to social or psychological problems, giving a transversal point of view on the criticalities of the contemporary world.

Chiara Ernandes was born in Rome on 8 August 1989. After graduating from the Classical Lyceum, she turns her attention to photography and attends the three-year course of the Roman School of Photography and participates in in-depth courses and workshops.

The author is also interested in humanistic and sociological subjects that enrich and influence her artistic career. In her research nature becomes an indispensable metaphor. The complexity of the topics that characterize her approach is expressed by different types of visual media, integrating and combining them with the language of photography.

For the past two years, she has been dedicating herself to her Still Birth project, which in July 2021 will become a book published by Yogurt Edition.

About Still Birth – words by Chiara Ernandes: 

I was born dead on the 8th of August 1989. Cyanotic and hypotonic, I was intubated and resuscitated by a cardiac massage. After 5 minutes my vital values stabilized.

Over the years, this event has taken on different meanings for me. It has always been hidden in a corner of my body. A body that kept its secret, its absolute reasons and its unanswered questions. This very first episode of my life legitimized my oddities, defended my limitations, exasperated my desperation and my being different and distant from the rest of the world. It supported my disobedience.

Then I felt the need to search for myself, to declare to my own self that I existed. I began to ask my body to attempt to remember where it had been, what language it had spoken while trying to begin its journey. I put myself in the shoes of a speleologist, an astronaut, a diver, a scientist, a researcher. I entered my sidereal craters, in my rocky calcifications, in the fusional dimension that time takes on when it does not exist. I saw myself scattered in the light, I confused myself for a stone, I hid inside my mother’s from whom there could be no separation.

I started from death, by contradiction.

What is the story behind the project? Is photography a way to certificate existence? 

Behind Still Birth there is a research, first of all personal, because I start from an autobiographical episode related to my birth. I was born dead on August 8th, 1989 and I was dead for about five minutes, later reanimated by doctors. This episode accompanied me throughout my life in a silent way, but I believe that it worked very much underneath and found its own space, spreading a bit throughout my body, even in very hidden areas. At some point I needed to take care of myself and put the very scattered pieces of my story back together and go from there, from those five minutes, to see how they might have affected my life. I needed to get into uncharted territory and I went in there, trying to figure out what my body had imagined and felt being in places other than this, with a different space-time order and different emotions. A non-place in a way, a limbo where I had decided to stop and to which I wanted to give a meaning. I needed to make all this an image. I approached this path through the construction of a project with a visual language, including different media, in line with the chaotic feeling that has always accompanied me and with which I initially assembled the images. I have carried on this story tapping also significantly into the scientific disciplines in which I am strongly interested, such as anthropology, psychology, archaeology and art, but especially rock art. It taught me to consider the first art forms as a definition of oneself – before belonging to a geographical place – a way to see oneself. This investigation that took place during the development of the work, its planning, and the collection of images proved to be an inner analysis that led me to realize the time in which I lived, and thus to prove to myself that I was existing. I did this through various means. I did it by imprinting my hand as if I were a prehistoric man. I did it by imprinting my face in a plaster cast. I did it by experimenting with different ways and trying to define the places of my muddled soul and memory, because I needed to reconstruct it in an imaginary way, drawing from familiar, archival photos, also scattered, without an order that was in album form, poster form, frame form, or anything else. So I needed to do it on my own, putting together all these sensations, and all my restlessness that Francesco, the editor and publisher of the book, saw in García Lorca’s Duende, which is this primordial, creative and destructive force that moves the soul of artists with great restlessness. This was what the book fed on. A restlessness that I have always perceived in myself and that I needed to tame in some way. I also tried to deal with the archetypes, the archetype of the feminine, the archetype of death, the archetype of creation, in a way that would sublimate the subject of the book a bit. Again, I tried to use media in the form that was most satisfying and useful to me.

Your surrealist gaze gives space to contradictions. What opportunities lie behind the unexpected?

I tried to dissolve my greatest contradiction, that is, being born dead. This paradox to which I have wanted and I think I will always want to give a meaning, which I imagine will be different every time, every time it will be a new answer to questions that will come to me and to which I like to respond with an invasion or contamination of thoughts, from magical thought, to scientific thought and to invent my own reality and my own way of being in the world, which I would not be able to have if not with the visual language, through the visual arts, which are for me a great form of self-analysis, which trace paths that otherwise I would have difficulty in assembling and seeing.

Publishing could be seen as an anachronistic practice. Why do you think it could still have a role in shaping contemporary visual culture? Is printing a way to return images to where they belong?

That’s why I believe that publishing books is a fundamental form of concretizing concepts, stories and thoughts, with the possibility of being spread in a much more sensorial and empathic way than publishing on the web or seeing a web portfolio can be. The book as an object, of course, is different. It gives you a space, and it occupies a space in which it exists and in which you can have a very immersive time of reflection. Also, I think for contemporary photography, publishing is very useful because it’s a form of experimentation that needs to be both merged with photography as a language, but also needs to be known as a new form of language that has an important and huge freedom of expression.


Featuring: Chiara Ernandes

Curated by Robin Sara Stauder
Editor: Alice De Santis, Nicole Salotti and Christopher Jr. Obinna Egbutu


Time to read
7 min
Words by
Robin Sara Stauder
Published on
23 July 2021
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