The Cool Couple

Approximation to the West, Fiume Tagliamento, Trasaghis #001A/B, 2013 Stampa a pigmenti su carta fine art / Photo printing on fine art paper
130 x 290 cm Courtesy the artists

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Stivali cosacchi, Arta Terme #001
Sella cosacca,
Arta Terme #002
Residenza del generale Krasnov, Verzegnis #002A/B
Tagliamento, Trasaghis #001A/B

Series “Approximation to the West”, 2013
Photo printings on fine art paper
Courtesy the artists

The work presented by the Italian duo The Cool Couple, comprised of Simone Santilli and Niccolò Benetton, deals with an episode dating from the final years of the Second World War in Carnia, a peripheral region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, that between October 1944 and April 1945 was invaded and occupied by over 20,000 Cossacks allied with the Nazis, transforming the area into the so-called territory of “Kazackaja Zemlja” (Cossack land in Northern Italy). One of the marginal and lesser known tragedies of the overall conflict, this episode allowed the artists to confront themes like the concept of the Nation-State, the encounter-clash between different ethnic groups and cultures, the idea of the narration of history and the persistence of memory.
On the one hand, the two Italian artists carried out exhaustive research of the sources, through the recovery and study of archival material and direct eyewitness accounts. On the other hand, these traces of history and memory have been processed through the medium of photography that, as the artists refer to it, constitutes “an attitude that alters and enlarges the range of possible approaches to the archive, the story and the description”. It emerged, for example, that traces of this passage had been concealed, and often removed, by the local people. The memory of the events transforms into reconstruction, and above all narration, which takes account of the reality but also of the projections and the suppressions.
The Fiume Tagliamento, Trasaghis #001A/B diptych shows a double view of the Tagliamento River, taken from the same viewpoint with a 180° rotation: this was the border crossed by the Cossacks at the time of the invasion, and this is the same border that the defeated invaders crossed again, before being sent back to the Soviet Union. The two images of the diptych Residenza del generale Krasnov, Verzegnis #002A/B show two details of the “fogolar” (the fireplace) of the Stella d’Oro Inn of Villa di Verzegnis, the residence and headquarters of Atamano Krasnov, the general in charge of the Cossacks and legendary figure reputed to have fought alongside the Tsarist troops during the October Revolution. These two large black and tarred surfaces refer not only to the dreams and illusions that have vanished, but also to the actual destruction of all objects belonging to the Cossacks through bonfires after the victory of the Allies. The third work is again made up of two images, treated to become anaglyphs, a pair of stereoscopic views resembling the maps used by armies in the course of the conflict. The boots and saddle portrayed are two finds from the time of the invasion and are kept today in a ranch where horses are bred that are said to have descended from those brought to Carnia by the Cossacks.


The Cool Couple was founded in 2012 by bringing together the research of Niccolò Benetton and Simone Santilli on the language of contemporary photography and visual culture. In 2012, the Cool Couple participated in Leggerecittà, an artist-in-residence program hosted by the municipality of Treviso, Clinicaurbana and Marco Zanta. In 2013, the duo won the Eberhard Prize with their project Multiple, a reflection on photography’s potential to analyze collective behavior, and also appeared in the exhibitions Asolo Contemporary, dedicated to site-specific projects in the historic village of Asolo (Treviso, Italy), and Sapere Aude , within the Off Biennale in Venice.

Niccolò Benetton (1986, Italy) earned a BA in Philosophy in 2009, with a thesis entitled “The Decisive Moment in Cartier Bresson’s Poetics”, followed in 2010 by an MA in Photojournalism at the Contrasto Agency in Milan. In 2011, he completed an MA in Photography and Visual Design at NABA (Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti, developed in collaboration with FORMA Foundation for Photography. During his studies, he took part in the publication of Nothing to see here, a culture and photography magazine curated by Italian artist Francesco Jodice, and in the collective exhibition Lost in Franciacorta, curated by Francesco Zanot and Luca Andreoni. In September 2011, he was selected for a one-year artist-in-residence project hosted by Mountain Photo Festival and exhibited his works in the final exhibition Artists in Residence 2010/2012 in Aosta.

Simone Santilli (1987, Italy) obtained a degree in Visual Arts and Performing Arts in 2010 from the University IUAV of Venice. In 2011, he completed an MA in Photography and Visual Design at NABA (Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti) and the Foundation FORMA in Milan, initiating the collaboration with the studio of the artist Francesco Jodice. In 2012, he became a professor at NABA, where he teaches visual culture and cross-medial photography techniques. He is also Art Director of the magazine Nothing to see here. He has participated in several exhibitions in Italy and abroad: (2008) Centro Culturale Candiani, Mestre; (2010) Palazzo Montedomini, Florence; IRCCU, Venice; (2011) Refrigerators Milanesi; Dieschönestadt Galerie, Halle an der Saale; Congress Center, Berchtesgaden. In 2009, he was selected for the residency L’industria abitata, organized by the Lazzari Foundation in Prato and curated by Marco Zanta.

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