25 February 2023

Of Columns And Lizards, Vitrines And Stones: The Shimmering Pasts Of Giulia Parlato’s Diachronicles

25 February 2023 - Written by Camilla Marrese

Currently on show at Triennale Milano as the winner of Luigi Ghirri 2022 Prize, Diachronicles is Witty Books’ sublime start of the year, too. Designed by Nicolas Polli, and with an introduction text signed by David Campany, Giulia Parlato’s first photobook plays with the idea of the document as a container for unstable truths, visions to decode, disappearances and astonishing wonder.

Diachronicles is a circle, starting and ending with flashes of light over the soil. In the first, light-paper pages, frames from a video show an alleged archaeological excavation. Taking place in total darkness the scene is intermittently lit: tools and blocks of earthly matter become suddenly readable, just to disappear into the shadows again. 

Then pages get thicker, and Giulia Parlato’s series of photographs begins. The story it tells is one of weird rituals, and gestures performing truth. It’s a story about memory and distortion, as in the twisted column illustration making the book’s cover: a serpentine that pulls the past’s edges, flowing around them, and making them less stable.

What are the objects we see in these images? Are they findings from the excavation we just witnessed? Six hands touch a completely covered object. A bucket flickers with light in the midst of a field. As the artist describes to me on the phone, "Photographs in the sequence flow like in waves: we are in a basement underground, and find a stair. We come up, a bird looks at a sort of cardboard-made horizon, then a ceiling opens up, as if we could enter it somehow". It’s continuous ascent, to then go back down again under meters and meters of soil. 

What was long buried underneath can now only whisper in its own peculiar language. Drenched in ambiguity, it will always avoid truths, resisting attempts at finding stable meanings. Parlato’s images inhabit this fragile terrain between solid, scientific-like photography and the mythological, mysterious nature of unspeakable matter. Key to the photographs' silence is a lack of captions: "You must ask yourself some questions", Parlato says."Are these archival images? Are these historical fakes, or are they 3D renders? Is there a staged element to this image, or is there not?". One could go on: Where are we, exactly? Which discovery are we looking at? Is this a series of proofs, or is this just a dream?

David Campany’s introductive text plays along these absences, making the choice that suits Parlato’s work best - he tells a story. He imagines an art and archaeology museum would acquire the series Diachronicles, and diligently upload all its details and material on an online database. The database would, then, face an unknown virus attack. As Parlato’s work loses any reference around it, uncertainty and mystery become its new meaning: an enigma for speculation, opening up questions about what a museum could and might be. 

In a way, Campany’s words make Diachronicles equivalent to the artifacts reproduced in its photographs: this book is then just another document, floating between truth and fake, history and myth. What allows for this to happen - for things to be turned into museum artifacts, for meanings to be carried through time, for material and conceptual disgregation to be averted - are the protecting and displaying structures. The wood axes of a storage closet. The glass walls of a cabinet. The ropes around a marble column. The spine and binding of a book. The white space around a photograph on the page. Is this another meaning to be found in Parlato’s series, starting and ending with photographs of artifacts completely covered, hidden under heavy tissue? Not only the mystery these structures evoke, but also the key, operational role they play.

“A layer Campany’s introduction unveils”, Parlato adds, “is the ironical side of the work. At a first glance, my images are all but humorous. But as you better go into them, you can start sensing how absurd the things they picture sometimes are - historical falses sold to extremely famous museums as real, sculptures I made myself, the cast of a colleague’s big toe masqued as a finding”. 

Closing the loop, we find the video frames on lighter paper once again. “We start digging and finish digging”, Parlato says. “The discovery begins, and ends, in the mud”. Last, an unbound folded sheet of paper falls off the pages. It’s Matthew Rhys Thompson’s short story The Boy, coming with the photobook's Special Edition. Between the lines of this tale of discovery, Diachronicles' imaginative power emerges. A story of columns and lizards, of matter and marvel, of vitrines and stones. A story of marble feet and gloved hands, boxes and holes, dust, and never answered questions. A story of things, and of all the possible, shimmering values one can attach to them, as post-its on a cave’s rocky wall.


All photos © Giulia Parlato and Witty Books


Diachronicles is published by Witty Books
24x30 cm / 120 pages
500 copies / Soft cover with Swiss binding
Design by Nicolas Polli
Text by David Campany
Published in February 2023
ISBN: 979-12-80177-21-6


Giulia Parlato (b.1993) is an artist based in London. Her practice delves into histories, myths and cultural heritage, involving photography and video. Giulia’s work is shown nationally and internationally in group and solo exhibitions including Triennale (Milano, 2023), Photo London (2022), Fotografia Europea (Reggio Emilia, 2022), Unseen Photo Fair (Amsterdam, 2021). She is the recipient of the Luigi Ghirri Award (2022) and Innovate Grant (2020) among others. Giulia's work is held in public and private collections.


Camilla Marrese (b.1998) is a photographer and designer based between Italy and The Netherlands. Holding a BA in Graphic Design from ISIA Urbino (IT), she is about to graduate from Design Academy Eindhoven's MA in Information Design (NL). Her work, often realized in a duo with Gabriele Chiapparini, was exhibited in several festivals and galleries including Fotografia Europea, Kranj Photo Fest, and PhMuseum Lab.

Written by

Camilla Marrese

Reading time

6 minutes