1986, Bergamo


On 10 October 2013, I found this among the letters of Susan Edmonstone Ferrier:


Such is the situation poetical, geographical, atmospherical, intellectual, and optical of the damsel who now addresses you; and these lines, descriptive of her unhappy circumstances, may prove no less instructive to posterity than they are interesting to present times. As I find my correspondence is carefully preserved by you, I flatter myself it is with the view of being one day presented to the public in twelve handsome octavo volumes, embellished with a portrait of the authoress, and enriched with a facsimile of her handwriting. Having this hope before my eyes, I carefully abstain from the vulgar practice of dating my letter, aware how greatly uncertainty adds to interest.

With regard to this letter, my future biographer will say (for my Life must go along with my head and hand): It has been found impossible to fix any precise date; all we can ascertain is that it must have been written somewhere in the vicinity of the sea during very tempestuous weather, and we also learn that the author was much addicted to reading by the fireside (probably with her toes on the fender), and that her sight was materially affected by this unremitting attention to her studies. Of the nature of these studies it would be presumptuous to hazard a guess. We certainly cannot deny what has been alleged, that ‘Jack the Giant Killer’ at this time formed a part of her course of reading, but it is not probable a mind such as our author’s could take much delight in such scenes of rapine and bloodshed!

Susan Ferrier, a writer born in Edinburgh in 1782, was the author of three novels, which remained anonymous until 1851. She died in 1854. Today she has been almost completely forgotten.

I had to find a way to answer her. There exists a profound contradiction between the projection and reception of one’s own work into the future, thinking of oneself in another time, and being forced to authorial anonymity almost all one’s life. Her letter was a vain fantasy of eternity, a request for memory, a desire. My response, whatever form it took, would be the vindication of something which had not come true.

Months later, I was taking some photos in an abandoned space, which was shortly to be renovated. I hung a piece of fabric between two doors, and took a shot of myself standing, side-on, hidden by the weave of the fabric. The more I looked at my self-portrait, the less I could recognise myself. The fabric had created a barrier, a filter, beyond which the light designated an indefinite space. In this space, a new identity had taken shape.

The portrait is thus my response to Susan Ferrier: an attempt at empathic identification, an exchange, between her story and my imagination.


Eleonora Quadri, Anonymous Author, 2014, installation
Eleonora Quadri, Autoritratto, Susan Edmonstone Ferrier 1818, 2014, inkjet print, 146×110 cm
Eleonora Quadri, 40 km da Malta, 24 maggio 1941, 2013, diptych
Eleonora Quadri, from the diptych 40 km da Malta, 24 maggio 1941, 2013, text 51×54
Eleonora Quadri, from the diptych 40 km da Malta, 24 maggio 1941, 2013, gelatin silver print, 51×54 cm