"Her works are surreal and immediately bring to mind not only Federico Fellini but also David Lynch and Diane Arbus," says East Wing director Peggy Sue Amison
“There is something amazing going on here,” says Peggy Sue Amison, the artistic director of East Wing gallery in Dubai, speaking of the work of her Ones To Watch nominee Teresa Visceglia. Her words somehow echo the bellow of a circus ringmaster animating an eager audience. “Teresa is a creator who strikes a resonating chord that grabs viewers by the heart. Her works are surreal and immediately bring to mind not only Federico Fellini but also David Lynch and Diane Arbus.”
Indeed, it is through the circus that we are introduced to the Italian photographer’s work. She first attended a performance with a friend and then returned several times until finally she was led backstage, “thanks to a wizard”. There her photographic research found its breeding ground. “It is a metaphor of existence, with all its contrasts,” she says.
The presence of the curtain – which hangs as a backdrop on many of the photographer’s sets – has a particular symbolic significance as an informal division between the sublime and the material. It separates the backstage from the performance, “where the worlds of fiction and reality are merged”.
Being led through the narrative of Chapiteau, as she’s named the series, it feels like you have stepped into Visceglia’s shoes. The gloomy aesthetic basks her subjects in a haunting half light and their blurriness suggests the camera’s movement: a stolen glance imposing on a moment of intimacy.
“Chapiteau rattles with the cacophony of the sound and energy of pre-performance – what lies behind the curtain that, transformed with light and dry ice, becomes the magic of a traditional circus,” says Amison. The images are black-and-white, as they are almost exclusively in Visceglia’s projects, “to take away the context of time and space”.
Born in 1967 near Matera in southern Italy, Visceglia’s first contact with photography was leafing through old family albums. But rather than musing over the portraits and holiday snaps, she was most attracted to the out-of-focus accidents, half-framed cut-offs and wonky horizons. “My favourite is one where my mum’s wedding veil was blown across her face by a gust of wind, covering her entirely,” she says.
Visceglia’s fascination with image distortion and the tension between fact and fantasy was nurtured by her studies of expression and drama through cinematography at the University of Coimbra, Portugal. The unnatural backstage interactions between actors of theatre and the circus are also central to her research – that crucial moment just as private becomes public. While juggling her day job as a teacher and translator of Iberian languages, she hopes to continue to explore these themes in new contexts for future projects – which for now, she is keeping under wraps, “for superstitious reasons!”