-Simona Dell'Agli


Il Miracolo Italiano

Starting from the mid 50's Italy experienced the Italian miracle: a fast-paced economic and technological boom that lasted for around 10 years, enabling the country to overcome the destruction produced by the war and to reach a level of modernization matching that of other Western countries.

In 1954 television programmes first started, that same year Fiat launched on the market the Seicento, a small and cheap car that soon managed single-handedly to motorize Italy; both of these events helped in the making of what has been called il Neo-Italiano, literally the New Italian.
Television - that not surprisingly was at the time a communal activity, with whole streets watching the same TV set - enabled the relatively modern Italian language to be widely spoken and understood, reaching communities that had till then communicated only through regional dialects.
The new Italian man then owned a car to take his young family on short trips, followed the extremely popular quiz shows on television, spoke rarely in dialect and had enough money to go for a seaside holiday for one week in August.

It was in this climate that the Autostrada del Sole (or Motorway of the Sun, as it translates) was planned and built between 1956 and 1964: it was to be from the beginning an ambitious and symbolically charged project, demanding a great economic, technological and human effort.
It was soon to become the backbone of the Italian road system, it boasted some of the longest and highest viaducts and tunnels built in Europe at the time, and when completed it literally brought together the rural, impoverished South and the prosperous, modernized North.

Almost 40 years later, far from being the 'most extravagantly romanticized structure of the late twentieth-century built environment'1, the Motorway of the Sun seems to be perceived purely for its practical functionalism by its tens of thousands of daily users, and therefore often considered old and inadequate.
Where it once stood as the symbol of the union between modern technology and the romantic ideal of the Italian land, where it was once advertised as the perfect route for a short and fun trip for the whole family, nowadays its symbolic significance is completely forgotten.

Nature, car and photography have been linked together since automobile travel started to spread at the beginning of the twentieth century; yet, travelling on a motorway route is nowadays often considered to be as far as you can get from nature as possible.
There are countless examples around the world of nature having being 'engineered' around newly planned routes; but while one does not see any contradiction on visiting a nature reserve by car, it would seem inconceivable to organize a trip on a motorway to see the beautiful landscape of, say, Tuscany or Provence.

Marc Auge' argues in his seminal text Non-Places that driving on a motorway allows only glimpses of the distant landscape, mostly mediated by text, and that there is no involvement between the traveller and the view one experiences.
He writes: "The landscape keeps its distance, but its natural and architectural details give rise to a text, sometimes supplemented by a schematic plan when it appears that the passing traveller is not really in a position to see the remarkable feature drawn to his attention, and thus derive what pleasure he can from the mere knowledge of its proximity.'

I set out to photograph this specific motorway, but my emphasis soon shifted to the landscape visible from the car, while details of the road such as the tarmac, kilometres count, its innumerable overpasses and service stations remain practically invisible in my images.
This project is an attempt to prove that, in a peculiar way, a trip on a motorway allows some form of exchange between the traveller and the landscape; and furthermore it allows us to free our vision from the constraint imposed by the traditional understanding of the landscape.

Firstly, travelling in a car can be associated to the experience of watching a movie: the flicking of the images passing by, the loss of the sense of temporality, the view being framed by the window, the predisposition to daydream etc. As Edward Dimendberg pointed out, the motorway provides a “controlled visual experience analogous to the montage and multiplicity of perspective afforded by cinema'3. It is also, just like a movie, mostly experienced in solitude.

What one also has to be aware of is what exactly the word landscape connotes. Not only it is "all visible features of an area of the countryside or land, often considered in terms of their aesthetic appeal", but any landscape is also a social, historical and political construct.
A landscape is therefore not simply created by the act of looking; it is instead dictated by a multiplicity of factors, including the viewer's position in time and space. By studying this point of view, one understands why the landscape is experienced in such a fragmented way when travelling on a motorway route. The viewer lacks, physically and metaphorically, the stability needed to position one's self towards the landscape. Being in a space of transition, used only for travelling from A to B, and not commonly associated to personal or social identity, a motorway journey often induces a loss of awareness of one's physical position in time and space.
Again, just like in the cinema, one momentarily forgets oneself.

To paraphrase Marc Auge' I believe that motorway travel stimulates a fictional relationship between gaze and landscape5. It is this relationship, the view from the window recalling dreams, memories and fragments of movies, that I have attempted to recreate in my images.

1 E.Dimendberg, ˜The Will to Motorization: Cinema, Highways and Modernity", October 73 , (1995) p93
2 M.Auge', Non-Place, (London, 1995) p97
3 E.Dimendberg, ˜The Will to Motorization: Cinema, Highways and Modernity", October 73 , (1995) p94
4 The New Oxford Dictionary of English (1998)
5 M.Auge', Non-Place, (London, 1995) p86. the original quote reads 'Travel (something the ethnologist mistrusts to the point of hatred) constructs a fictional relationship between gaze and landscape'.