A place without identity: Tomaso Clavarino sets his gaze on the North of Italy

“Landscapes are always mindscapes,” reads the essay by Gianluca Didino accompanying Tomaso Clavarino’s latest book titled Padanistan—a title that only sounds familiar and like a provocative pun to Italians but for everyone else could be a small dot on the map, a forgotten place, or a country with its own traditions and identity. Yet, this term depicts a territory whose identity is undefined and fragmented.

Padanistan is in fact a play on the toponym ‘Padania’, which is often used to refer to the Pianura Padana, an area which encompasses the Po Valley across northern Italy from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea. Coming into use in the second half of the 1990s, Padania contains a strong political and identity connotation in the imaginations of the collective through its use by the Italian political party Lega Nord. They have used it to describe a hypothetical territory via a statue of independence from the Italian Republic. Even today, it is recognized as the most economically productive place in Italy.

Fascinated and at the same time distrustful by this area, Italian photographer Tomaso Clavarino undertook a self-conscious flânerie along the state highway that connects Turin and Venice, in order to show how Padania’s identity is actually a non-identity that generates disorientation in those who observe it, and even more so in those who live there. Contemplating his straightforward documentation, there is a lack of beauty that levels the Po Valley landscape with a brushstroke of flatness and anonymity. Clavarino’s gaze rests on the details of the everyday, on faces crossed by chance, on fragments and remnants of normality—on the dysfunctionality of a place that lives as if in constant apnea. Through this project, realized over the course of six years, he documented a place that could be anywhere. Without judgment, his wandering is an observation, a testimony to a stasis that is not only physical but also ontological, where the only sign of transformation is the faces of the adolescents on whom Clavarino’s camera rests—unconsciously or not—very often. 

His slanted look on the young local passersby is not surprising. There is a genuineness in their eyes that is perhaps the same that Clavarino desperately hunts for, the genuineness of those who enjoy what they do without too much aspiration and ambition.

We spoke with the author to learn more about his project.

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