Piero Martinello

Piero Martinello travelled across his home country of Italy in search of “outsider” men and women who embrace radical choices. The resulting project, Radicalia, comprises five sections that each connote a different kind of radical—including nuns, criminals, ravers, saints, and town fools—captured through portraits in a range of photographic formats, including vernacular images and those he has taken himself. For the Toronto iteration of his project, Martinello has worked with the historical context of Campbell House, interspersing the photographs among its period decor. His intervention introduces a most unlikely gathering of characters into a domestic space that, in reality, none of them would ever otherwise enter.

Each of the themes, or “chapters,” in Radicalia focuses on a different group of individuals captured in distinct modes of documentation. “Deviation” refers to those historically known as “town fools,” each of whom Martinello encountered in various small Italian towns or villages and photographed in traditional portrait format. Every “fool” stands apart in some way through their own volition, and with the support of their respective community who embraces their eccentricities as an essential part of the whole. Religious extremity is addressed in two chapters: “Devotion,” otherwise referred to as the saints and blesseds, which gathers vernacular images of deeply religious men and women across history who have become venerated saints; and “Contemplation,” which documents cloistered nuns currently living in convents across Italy, using images derived from the nuns’ passport photographs. “Eversion” portrays members of the Italian Mafia in collections of portraits organized by clan in a style known as “triumph photography”—a form of photo-collage traditionally used to identify and demonstrate the organization and connection within specific criminal groups. Lastly, “Evasion” captures anonymous participants at raves, parades, and festivals. These expressive images show their subjects caught in the midst of their revelations, in moments of interior ecstasy, capturing the full expression of the notion “to rave”: to be delirious, incoherent, and deeply enthused.

These various forms of individual existence, encompassing a wide range of contemporary and historical lives, come together under an unexpected collective umbrella in Radicalia. Here, criminals, eccentrics, and religious devotees are united in their shared expressions of embraced difference and “outsider” status. For his installations, Martinello places the portraits in ornate antique frames; in the Campbell House intervention, he has mounted them on walls in multiple rooms throughout the former home, particularly those designated for guests—the sitting room, dining room, and ballroom—replacing the period prints and portraits that would normally occupy its walls.

The original owners of Campbell House, Chief Justice William Campbell and his wife, Hannah, focused the structure’s design around comfort and entertaining. Today, the museum house continues to be used as a meeting place and a space for socializing. Constructed using classical Greek and Roman style emphasizing symmetry and proportion, the building reflects a highly ordered, traditional style at odds with Martinello’s subject matter, which emphasizes uniqueness and eccentricity. His characters offer an entry point for considering a different trajectory of history that emphasizes individual expression and the resistance of societal norms. Each person portrayed here is motivated by their own method of intense devotion— whether to an emotion, religion, or any number of beliefs that drive their distinct purposes. Martinello’s series blends the sacred and profane, and all manner of unique lives in between, to speak out against homogeneity.

Organized by CONTACT in partnership with Campbell House Museum

Supported by the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Toronto

Curated by Bonnie Rubenstein