10 May 2023

From Research to Exhibition, Martinello & Casentini Recall Their Time at PhMuseum Days

10 May 2023 - Written by PhMuseum

Photographer Piero Martinello and historian Piero Casentini have created an extensive documentation that invites reflection on the ethical and deontological dimension of science. Their work The Weight of the Word, was discovered thanks to the PhMuseum Days 2022 Open Call and exhibited for the first time at our festival. Learn more on their experience.

Installation shot from The Weight of the Word during PhMuseum Days 2022 © Martinello and Casentini / PhMuseum

Let's start with your project. It is a long-term analysis started with some very personal questions, can you tell us something about the process of researching and production/selection of images? How it has evolved over time?

In 2015, La Sapienza University hosted an international conference entitled Medical Eponyms and the Nazi Era. Radio Radicale recorded and broadcasted the conference proceedings, while some articles in the national press made the public aware of the topic, which until then had been little debated.

The underlying contradiction attracted us, and driven by the desire to learn more, we began searching for biographical documents, scientific publications, and medical ethics essays. At the same time, it emerged that the iconographic material moved on two parallel and opposite planes: on one side were the archive portraits of the doctors, taken from an appropriate distance that allowed the viewer to look into their eyes and recognize their physiognomy, and on the other were the scientific images, extremely methodical and close-up, so much so as to appear kaleidoscopic and abstract, almost disconnected from the human body from which they originated. It seemed to us that these scientists had lost the proper distance capable of recognizing the human being in the other. Their thirst for truth had led them in a race towards the infinitely small, and in this vertigo of scale, they had betrayed the Hippocratic Oath and the famous latin warning "first do no harm".

This book starts from here. The research, mainly conducted in Germany, Austria, England, and Italy, provided much more material than we expected, and, as often happens, questions instead of decreasing multiplied. We discovered how many twists and turns, even unforeseeable ones, these stories have taken. We seemed to see a paradox that affects not only these scientific researches and their promoters but also the current debate around the cancellation of eponyms. If this research, obtained by practicing evil, can be used in the service of good ("a moral enigma", as Rabbi Joseph Polak said), then these eponyms, even if they were cancelled as already happens in some cases, should still be studied and remembered. And only then, forgotten.

from The Weight of the Word © Piero Martinello and Piero Casentini
Installation shot from The Weight of the Word during PhMuseum Days 2022 © Martinello and Casentini / PhMuseum

Is the possibility of showcasing your work already affecting you while still in the process of producing work? If yes, how?

We started designing the exhibition while still in the research process, but as the material emerging from archives revealed its extent and vastness, it appeared clear that the project was becoming very articulated and complex to organize. We realized it was possible to show just a single part of it, as we did last year at Casa Capra with a site-specific installation about the Atlas of Topographical and Applied Human Anatomy by Eduard Pernkopf. Or, as we did at PhMuseum Days, displaying an overview of the entire project, which is composed of 9 chapters. But it really is a project that can adapt to the most different types of space.

How significant has been showcasing your work at PhMuseum Days? Can you recall the benefits of exhibiting your work at that specific career moment?

It was the first time we were showing this new body of work, and one of the first shows after two years of stopping so it was great to reconnect with so many people, meet new ones from all over the world and receive feedback and suggestions. The collaboration worked smoothly, and in a short period of time, we were able to design and produce the entire show.

from The Weight of the Word © Piero Martinello and Piero Casentini
Installation shot from The Weight of the Word during PhMuseum Days 2022 © Martinello and Casentini / PhMuseum

You were able to visit Bologna for the opening weekend, can you recall how valuable was that experience?

The welcome day was very well organized, with a guided tour around the city and a fun night at PhMuseum headquarters. Also, we enjoyed very much the weekend, going around town and seeing the installations by Munirah Almehri in Via dell’Abbadia and Ana Vallejo at Il Cassero, where we also had a great last night dancing.

When it comes to preparing a submission, do you have any advice for the new applicants to the PhMuseum Photography Grants?

Be clear regarding the relationship between the project you’re submitting and the topic of this year’s festival. Also, it might be helpful to include a few slides of how the show could potentially look like.

from The Weight of the Word © Piero Martinello and Piero Casentini

The Weight of the Word by Piero Martinello and Piero Casentini was selected through the festival's open call, learn from her experience and consider participating to have the chance of joining us in Bologna. You have time until 11 May to submit your work and exhibit at the upcoming third edition of PhMuseum Days.

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