St Francis’ Wood


by Ilari Valbonesi

Il Bosco di San Francesco (St Francis’ Wood) is a series of photographs taken by Beba Stoppani from 2010 to 2012 at the Eremo delle Carceri, an ancient hermitage located on the slopes of Monte Subasio, a few kilometres from Assisi, where St Francis and his brethren isolated themselves in prayer in a forest of holm oaks.
This is a holy place that has always aroused devotion: classified as a hermitage, it has, however, always been impossible to control. It is, indeed, a chaotic place, where nature reigns supreme: bones, berries, the stirring of animals, mushrooms and memories living and lost, all participating in the decomposition of the organic material that turns into humus and nourishes the earth.
Thus, there is no refuge in St Francis’s Wood: just some shelters made of straw and mud or crevices between the rocks, where the human being undresses [ekénōsen] and, poor and helpless, like Francis, crouches in the shadow, bowing before the beauty of the creation like the leafy branch of a tree. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Because humility is a virtue of the earth and of any ascetic path where one person turns towards another.
Il Bosco di San Francesco is not only a spiritual journey seeking to explore the natural world that is always a source of marvels in its hidden recesses and its composite integrity. It is also the manifestation of the spoliation of the aesthetic gaze: a sacred retreat characterizing both artistic practice and the birth of sensitive experience in general.
In her photographs, Stoppani progressively goes beyond the most mimetic aspects of the woods in order to isolate the vision, create transparencies, bundle things together, dissolve light effects, find aesthetic forms, draw mandalic figures and represent the present structures of the trees in a continuous dialogue between interior and exterior.
With their trees, shrubs and grass, the woods extend both upwards and downwards, vanishing into their complex inner life and obliging spectators to concentrate on contemplation, since they are no longer able to isolate and control the whole in a compositional centre of the matter that has become completely visual. One enters the woods on foot. In this sense, the photographer’s experience is comparable to the sacred one of the woods: one is continuously distracted and absorbed by sudden noises, while the shadows form strange, ever-changing figures and everything we see is unexpected. The mechanism of attention — the photographic framing — focuses on and analyses the tract of landscape the camera is pointing at and, at the same time, goes beyond its process of separation. In this dialectic, the image reveals its ethical nature: an open-air temple, it comprises an interspecific array of views and perspectives.

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