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Feature: Massimo Cataldo - A retreat manifesto

By Massimo Cataldo

I had chosen a narrow path that ran back and forth between the moors and the pine forest, which are separated by a large hallway of grass. A thick wall of ferns marked the entrance to the corridors that snaked through the forest. Natural chiaroscuro, pinecone-covered floors, and that eerie cosiness that one experiences when stepping foot in a carpeted hotel hallway. It seemed like the perfect departure place to me.

From an aerial point of view, a wooden path can be seen drawn in a continuous line across the length of the moors, allowing humans to walk through. Inside, a multitude of small trails resembling small, wild gardens. On several occasions, I wished that I was swallowed by nature there. I always felt attracted by the rain, as well as the thick branches that delineated narrow paths and ended their courses in dark waters. Perhaps I perceive them as doors. Doors to hide behind, to be protected and locked in by. Is it more about what they can hide, or how they can help me to disappear? Or at least to pretend to be gone, as I pretended when I was a kid. Coal mining buildings were childhood temples. I found consolation in the ruins. Mental landscapes evoke the urge to disappear. Backyard geography gives rhythm to shady goals. Do you still look at the trees the way you used to? These remote places, do they help you cope with your own essence?

My creative process always begins from obsessions and failures - attempts to express the unspeakable through images, sounds, and more recently, words. The above extract constitutes the introduction page to the book project I am currently working on: a compilation of photographs and fragmented reflections pertaining to not only photographic situations themselves, but to the formation of an internal quest defined by recurrent themes of “disappearance” and the pursuit of “the absolute”. Last autumn I finally read Les Chants de Maldoror by Isidore Ducasse which allowed me to articulate certain sentiments that had always otherwise been buried beneath the surface of my own conscious mind. To mark the 150th anniversary of Ducasse’s death, Steve Finbow and I created a tribute to his everlasting shadow. This multimedia collaboration permitted me to exercise some ideas I had already been considering for the directing of a prospective short film, and involves layers of different atmospheres transitioning from one to another, paired with a narrator’s voice that submerges viewers’ senses into wetlands rather than guiding them. A swamp exploding from a holy water font.

I truly cherish collaborating with artists whose visions and works align with my own, and am currently engaged in three partnered projects: a video-photography project with Maja Šimenc (an inspiring visual artist from Slovenia); a second multimedia collaboration with Steve Finbow inspired by the life of French serial killer Joseph Vacher; and lastly, a haiku-soundscape experiment with Thomas Moore, whose stunning poetry figures among some of my favorite recent discoveries of the past year.


Massimo Cataldo is a photographer and musician based in Belgium. He is preparing his first photography book.

In Our Own Words is an ongoing feature where artists and writers are asked to speak about their new work, ideas or projects in their own words. It is also part of invert/extant Transmissions for the Artist Writings series. If you would like to be kept up to date on this or other projects, please sign up for our newsletter.


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