The stately side of Expo

The two photographers (and architects) Matteo Cirenei and Marco Menghi focused on the monumental and impressive aspect of Expo ephemeral architecture, now in the process to be dismantled.

Millions of visitors, millions of glances, millions of visions, millions of views. Expo was also this. Now Expo is over, the pavilions are being dismantled and dismissed. The discussions on what will become of that immense space which has become so attractive erupt in full fervor. But of Expo, soon, very few traces will remain.
As in an immense game of colored bricks, the buildings that were created are in these days destroyed or dismantled and will perhaps be rebuilt elsewhere, in new forms, with other meanings. In Astana before, in Dubai after. We are left with the memory of an exceptional event. And many, many photographs. Matteo Cirenei and Marco Menghi are precious. They were on the field when Expo Milano 2015, not yet become the Expo we all know, was just a huge pulsing building site, a project to be accomplished, a challenge to be overcome. It was February 2015. Escorted by security and watched over, the two photographers (and architects) roamed the yard absorbing the energy it emanated. All around, trucks and cranes, upturned ground, cables and piles of materials, roaring engines and a thousand different languages, Expo work in progress.
Albero della Vita. Photo Matteo Cirenei
Top: pavilions of Poland, The Netherlands and Intesa San Paolo. Photo Matteo Cirenei. Above: Albero della Vita. Photo Matteo Cirenei
Amidst, Matteo and Marco in search of beauty. Aware of being right at the heart of something big, Cirenei and Menghi addressed their photographic lenses to hard labour, to workers, to the homo faber and his achievements. That laboring from which poetry derives, the greek poiein. Energy turned into shape. Shape became beauty, enhanced by the knowing eyes of Cirenei and Manghi. The project, the prevision of the two photographers was the search of the other side of Expo: the one that had taken distances from the negativity and pessimism that had been spreading in the last few months before the opening of Expo Milano 2015 and that had been stirring gloomily above efforts. The protests, the sometimes harsh opposition, the fierce criticism returned to the sender, an eye addressed to the positive, to the transformation, to the building up. And here is the title of this project, The stately side of Expo: the monumental and impressive aspect of this ephemeral architecture, fruit of the labor of men: this is what Cirenei and Menghi have wanted to focus on, this is their project.
Padiglione del Belgio. Photo Marco Menghi
Belgium pavilion. Photo Marco Menghi
The two photographers go back several times, almost always together, on that field that enchants them. They follow its gestation, they document its growth. Until 1:00 pm of April 30th, 2015, the last moment in which non-experts are allowed into the yard, before the last important security, anti-terrorism and institutional bureaucracy controls. On May 1st, finally, Expo Milano 2015 would have come into the world and since then, for six months, it would have been for everyone. Matteo Cirenei leads us into a kind of step by step story, by progressively expanding his gaze from the detail and the particular to a much wider field of observation. His narrative begins with three big prints with a strong scenic impact of the higher order of the exhibition, a precise aesthetic search expressed in shapes and volumes, lines and spaces, interactive relationship between full and empty. The photographer proceeds, in the central order, with his research on volumes and shapes, of clear constructivist memory, almost a tribute to Rodčenko yet, at the same time, distinguishing feature of all his work on architecture, especially in Milan, which he has continued for years. Cirenei ventures finally to a vision of a setting which is more documentary, with images of the lower order. Here we also find whizzing planes in the sky, heaps of garbage and men watching the tests of the water jets of the tree of life in a sort of adoration. The space is dilated. Life is made evident. The man himself, a tiny actor to be discovered almost as unexpected element in the perfection of the composition, in the rigor of the whites and blacks of the largest size prints, is embodied, homo faber. And it is precisely the human aspect which interests Marco Menghi. His language is another language, dirtied by work, dust, grit.


The work of the man who dominates and drives the machinery and the yard dust raised by the workers deposit on the images as photographic grain. The spaces become much larger. Man is almost lost in these expanded environments yet, at the same time, his presence helps to convey the idea of the superb size architecture that is being built. Spaces are much larger. They are very high, almost a vertigo, the three images at the top. And men dots, industrious ants. The composition, even in the freehand execution, without delays that the use of the tripod would certainly involve, retains considerable rigor in the counterpoint of solids and voids, a precise study of lines and vanishing points, an accurate order which distances itself decisively from the total chaos of the photographed reality. And the image of the man with cable by Marco Menghi brings me to mind the never enough praised Franco Pinna and his rider with the rearing horse of Orgosolo, Barbagia 1967. And in this whirl of men and things Menghi also manages to capture tranquility. Those few seconds of pause stolen from the frenzy of the yard, the rest of an instant. Two styles, two glances, two different but not contrasting intentions, those of Matteo Cirenei and Marco Menghi. There is no generation gap between the two, even if they were born with twenty year difference: common interests dissolve it.


Both passionate about films and analog machines, with which they continue to work and do research, they have a real passion for printing, meant as ultimate goal of a long process that begins with the mental preparation of the shot, the pre-vision of the photography. Namely, the idea must be created, must be transformed into matter, in print. And so it has been for this project: Cirenei and Menghi in person printed the photos of The stately side of Expo (except for the largest ones). They are now at work with the second part of the work: the disposal of the yards. The exchange of ideas, knowledge and experience continues in a mutual enrichment. It’s a story to be carried on (and possibly to be imitated). Let’s wait and see what they will be able to show us, again.

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