Emanuele Trevi, writer

My project is my own home

My project is very personal, since it is my own home. Here I experiment an on-going project inspired by Warburg’s Library and Mnemosyne BilderAtlas: I keep a well-thought-out collection of art catalogues and books, ethnological and history of religions texts and very many art reproductions (postcards) and maps. I began my home image’s display in 2013 when I moved into an apartment with wooden doors; on these I pasted whole packages of postcards I had gathered throughout a long time, photographs, ‘art and dossier’ pages (a massively illustrated art magazine) etc etc… My idea would be to hang on walls, doors, furniture all the images usually hidden in draws and boxes; I am a great fun of pins ( I have thousands of them). I am thinking of leaving the house in such a display to somebody able to appreciate its underlying philosophy.

On which fields of knowledge are you focused?

Art and literature.

What is the object of your research?

My own life.

Could you identify some constants in your work? 

Personal memory, narratives on art works and cities.

How did you find out about Aby Warburg’s work? What interests you the most?

I read Aby Warburg. An intellectual Biography by Ernst Gombrich and Giorgio Agamben’s essay Aby Warburg e la scienza senza nome.

How would you define an Atlas?

I stick to the Renaissance idea: a memory theater.

Atlas as a conceptual, formal and mnemonic device; do you use it in your work?

To me an Atlas is the most precise and effective system of knowledge, its visual panels work in a similar way memory does. Given that memory is a private experience the Atlas turns images into a net of both personal and impersonal memories.  

Do you know about the existence of Mnemotechnics?

I do, but I am not particularly interested in it. I am not interested in feeding personal capabilities but rather in creating vertical spaces to be filled with numerous glued/nailed images; images kept in draws or in a SDcard die out and become invisible. I would dare to say that in Warburg’s project the single  panel is more important than the mounted images. I would also add that my  interest in Warburg’s Atlas lies more in the performative act than in its philosophical premises. I feel that art historians largely underestimate Warburg playful attitude in mounting the images of the Atlas and organizing the Library. 

Which mnemonic system guides the organization of your material?

Warburg searched for images capable of tracing genealogies which he then showed on the Atlas’s panels, but I am not interested in it since I enjoy an impulsive arrangement. Let’s say that I  juxtapose a collection of portraits, starting from Raphael’s up to Mattew Barney’s: in choosing the images I follow only one rule, which is to have seen the original with my own eyes and therefore to keep the experience of that encounter. I never display a reproduction of an art work not personally seen in a church, museum or exhibition spaces. 

Are there visual and emotional formulas (pathosformeln) in your project?

Well, yes there are. Portraiture and still life are my favorite genres in painting; lots of different kinds of migrations shape them as they are but this long time process becomes clear to the eye only when the images are mounted together on panels.

In your work, do you identify formal or conceptual recurrences such as repetitions and disruption, distance and proximity, identity and migration, conflict and colonization? 

I am not sure. I work on what I remember and that which I forgot, I don’t rely upon philosophical system.

In your work, what is the balance between image and text?

I seem to follow a mess up system; I love to insert images in my written texts  although I have never worked on it in an original/new way. Many others use images in their texts; W. G. Sebald was paramount in shaping this fashion, which has turned into a tradition, and I feel guilty for having boosted it.  The unrivaled master in text-image narrative is André Breton in Nadja (1928).

Thinking about Warburg’s ‘good neighborhood rule’, what are the books that underpin your project? 

I am here listing only contemporary literature or projects I was involved with, since I believe that all of us have read the essential writings. 

Giovanni Agosti, Su Mantegna, vol. I, Feltrinelli 2007. Agosti’s  book is among my favorite (the way in which the two sets of images are pasted and mounted on the pages is exemplary), 

Diego Mormorio, La storia essenziale della fotografia, Postcard 2017

Francesco Stocchi (ed.), Pascali sciamano, exhibition catalogue, Milano 2017. I appreciate the overall design and processing of materials of the book, to which I contributed with a text. 

Andrea Cortellessa’s essays on what he defines ‘iconotesto’ (a term slightly difficult to digest!) are enlightening


Emanuele Trevi lives and works mainly in Rome (1964). He is a writer and literary critic; he contributes to the culture section of Il Corriere della Sera, Il manifesto, and is part of the curatorial stuff of «Nuovi Argomenti». Trevi has written many critical texts (Istruzioni per l’uso del lupo, 1994; Musica distante, 1997; Il viaggio iniziatico, 2014), narratives (I cani del nulla, 2003; Il libro della gioia perpetua, 2010; Il popolo di legno, 2015), mémoires (Senza verso, 2004; Qualcosa di scritto, 2012; Sogni e favole, 2019; Due vite, 2020) and travel journeys (L’onda del porto, 2005; Ontani a Bali, 2015).