A little girl and a psychopath are walking through the woods, hand in hand. As they get deeper and deeper into the woods, the girl says, ‘This place scares me’, and the psychopath replies, ‘You’re scared? I’ve got to walk back on my own!’

Since 2002, Italian artist Francesco Jodice has been working on a collection of projects under the collective title of Natura. Each project investigates a crime or mysterious phenomenon that has taken place in a ‘natural’ environment: in the countryside, wilderness or outback. Jodice’s proposition is that settings of this kind allow us to ‘cut the cord of civilised living’, that they form an ‘ideal architecture’ for absurd, criminal or transgressive experience. The first Natura project was The Crandell Case. On the evening of Saturday 13 December 1986, Wyley Gates watched a film called Heartbreak Ridge at his local cinema, the Crandell Theater. He then went home and murdered his entire family. The second project,Il caso Montemaggiore, was set in the Montemaggiore woods of southern Italy, where five elderly people disappeared, without a trace, between 1998 and 2002. The Naturaproject, commissioned for International 04, investigated the unusually high incidence of UFO sightings in the Mersey Valley in the north west of England.

In his Natura projects Jodice employs two interlocking approaches: that of the private investigator and that of the entomologist. As private investigator, he visits and documents the ‘crime scene’, and interviews protagonists, witnesses, anyone and everyone with a perspective on the events in question. His gallery installations take the form of reconstructions, like the climactic scene in a detective story in which the facts are laid out before the assembled cast. Jodice produces photographs, maps, video and sound recordings, but no culprit, no solution. The pieces of Jodice’s jigsaw do not fit together. There is no narrative resolution, no restoration of order.

Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashomon (1950) is an inevitable reference point for Jodice’s projects. It is composed of a series of irreconcilable eyewitness accounts of a single event: the murder of a samurai. The connections between Kurosawa’s film and Natura, however, go beyond Kurosawa’s paradigmatic story of multiple perspectives. The first witness account in Rashomon, shown in flashback, is that of the woodcutter. His opening journey into the woods suggests a journey into another realm of reality. Later in the film there is a suggestion that the emotions worked out in the forest clearing – the scene of the murder – are so powerful that they somehow transcend rational explanation.

As entomologist, Jodice patiently observes the minute patterns and procedures of human life. For Natura, he focuses on specific cases as points of entry into the intimate social world of a particular community or group. The ostensible subject matter – the terrible or inexplicable event – is a pretext. The real subjects of Jodice’s study are the representations and behaviours produced by the ‘witnesses’ themselves. He is particularly interested in practices through which reality is invented or performed in everyday life. De Certeau called these practices ‘procedures of everyday creativity’, popular strategies that permit us all to reclaim some autonomy from the dominant meaning-making structures of commerce, politics and culture.

A central preoccupation in all this is the point at which the surface of everyday experience gives way to the extraordinary, the fantastic, even the horrific. The Natura projects open onto the familiar territory of Stephen King novels, The X-Filesa nd John Carpenter films, and beyond them to fairytales, myths and legends. Jodice is fascinated by such narratives, and by the compulsion we have to invest our immediate environments with forces and images of this kind. Like the woodcutter who opens Rashomon with the words ‘I just don’t understand’, Jodice reminds us in his Natura projects of our desire to know, and of the limitations of knowledge and understanding. He also reminds us of our desire not to know, to invoke and to retain the unknown.

Natura: The Mersey Valley Case, 2004
Film (35min), photographs drawings
Commissioned by Liverpool Biennial 2004
Exhibited at the BBC Big Screen



The Italian Cultural Institute