Imagining and reimagining Rome with the Midlands4Cities Doctoral Training Partnership

At the start of June, a group of nine students from the Midlands4Cities DTP arrived at the BSR for a week-long residential workshop, bringing together doctoral researchers in archaeology, art history and theory, classics, museum studies, performing arts, and photography. Taking the creative community of the BSR as a model, the aim of the workshop was to use the city of Rome as a stimulus for conversations across a range of academic and practice-based disciplines.

Co-produced by Midlands4Cities academics and BSR staff and award-holders, the programme was designed to build connections between our doctoral researchers and the wider community of artists and scholars at the BSR.

Anna Brass Studio Visit 2

Studio visit with Anna Brass. Photo by Lara Pucci.

Our activities began with visits to the studios of artist award-holders Anna Brass and Jade Ching-yuk Ng, led by Marta Pellerini (Visual Art Residency and Programme Curator). Hearing Anna and Jade talk about the challenges and rewards of making new work amidst Rome’s vast artistic heritage was the perfect introduction to our explorations of the city. Our studio conversations introduced themes that would crop up again and again over the course of the week: the unresolvedness of the urban fabric, things not being (materially) what they seem, the proliferation of fragments and layers, and the tension between history and contemporaneity.

With these themes in mind, Neil Christie (University of Leicester) led a walking tour of city walls and gates, starting with the Porta Pinciana and ending with what remains of the Servian walls at Stazione Termini. Neil got us thinking about how Rome has been defined and redefined by its walls, and how what remains of them tells a story about the physical and ideological development of the city.

Piazza Colonna

Walking tour with Neil Christie. Photo by Lara Pucci.

After our first foray into streets of Rome, we returned for an archival tour of the city with librarian Valerie Scott and archivist Alessandra Giovenco. Valerie and Alessandra showed us highlights from the BSR’s incredible topographical collections – including Piranesi’s improbable etchings, Robert Macpherson’s pioneering photographs, and Sir William Gell’s delightful sketchbook – sharing fascinating insights into collection history and conservation practice along the way.

Library Archive Session

Library and Archive session. Photo by Lara Pucci.


The Pantheon photographed by Robert MacPherson, 1850s. Courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archives.


Close-up of a William Gell notebook. Photo by Ben White.

Harriet O’Neill (Assistant Director for the Humanities and Social Sciences) led a follow-up session engaging the group in collaborative research to produce a museum label for one of a selection of intriguing archival objects. Working in multidisciplinary groups, students got to grips with researching unfamiliar objects and interpreting them for a general audience, bringing to light new information about the BSR’s collections in the process.


Photo by Antonio Palmieri.


Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

Wednesday took us to the Roman Forum in the company of Niccolò Mugnai (BSR Residential Research Fellow). Niccolò expertly guided us through the Forum’s fragments and layers, unpacking the evolution of the ancient city, and exploring alternative theories about what remains. Taking refuge from the heat, we concluded our Forum visit in Santa Maria Anitqua whose immersive multimedia displays allowed us to examine the effectiveness of digital technologies in heritage interpretation.

Niccolo Forum

Forum visit with Niccolò Mugnai. Photo by Lara Pucci.

Back at the BSR, David Robinson (University of Nottingham) invited us, by way of the writing of nineteenth-century British travellers, to return vicariously to the sites we had visited that morning. Examining the ways in which the Roman Empire was used both to endorse and critique British imperialism, David got us thinking about the multiple and expedient ways in which the Roman past has been reimagined.

This set the scene for Thursday’s visit to Piazza Augusto Imperatore where Chris Siwicki (BSR Rome Fellow) and Lara Pucci (University of Nottingham) discussed Augustan monuments and their fascist-era appropriation. As well as comparing the political uses of architecture under both regimes, we shared ideas about shifting attitudes to heritage and conservation, including the vexed debates surrounding the material legacies of the fascist past.


At the Ara Pacis with Chris Siwicki and Lara Pucci. Photo by Ben White.

The collaborative theme continued into the afternoon with an inspiring talk by Stephen Milner (BSR Director) on the biology of the book. Hearing about Stephen’s innovative work with the Books and Beasts project highlighted the rich possibilities of research co-production across the humanities and sciences.

That evening, we were introduced to the cinematic city by way of the BSR’s screening of Roma, città aperta (dir. Roberto Rossellini, 1945) to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Rome. Viewing Rossellini’s on-screen reclamation of Rome from Fascism neatly bridged our on-site explorations of the city’s fascist and cinematic heritage.

Friday morning took us to Cinecittà for a tour of sets and studios. Visiting the set built for HBO’s Rome series was a particular favourite. Having immersed ourselves in the fragmented authenticity of the ancient city, the vision of a fibreglass Rome made whole, however inauthentically, proved captivating.


Cinecittà. Photo by Lara Pucci.

After the spectacular fakery of Cinecittà, we spent the afternoon exploring a wealth of original artworks and documents at the Giulio Turcato Archive. This special visit, organised by Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries), introduced the group to a key figure in Rome’s post-war art scene. As Martina led us through the collection, we discussed the peripheral place of Italy in histories of modern art, as well as issues of archival research and practice.

On Saturday morning, our work-in-progress session invited small groups of students to present initial responses to the week’s activities. Each group brought together researchers from different disciplines and institutions to consider how their varied expertise might, collaboratively, address questions raised by things we had seen in Rome.

The first group (Rachael Banes, Kallina Brailsford, Zoltán Pallag) examined the musealisation of Santa Maria Antiqua, raising urgent questions about the competing priorities of historical narrative and visitor experience. Group two (Laura Dudley, Emily Gray, Ben White) used an independent visit to the Time is Out of Joint exhibit at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna as a point of departure for exploring Rome’s rich dialogues between past and present. Our third group (Ashley Chhibber, Tadas Stalyga, Jessica Venner) introduced the evocative concept of scavenging to draw attention to the highly selective conservation of the city’s material heritage.


Photo by Ben White.

The sharing of these thought-provoking ideas was a real highlight of our week at the BSR.

Students are now exploring ways to develop these Roman discussions into more resolved work back in the Midlands, where we plan to expand our collaborative conversations to include researchers from the wider M4C cohort.

In the meantime, we hope that our workshop participants will return to their research refreshed by the experience of Rome. By inviting students to step outside the intense focus of their PhD projects, the workshop encouraged them to reflect on how alternative approaches might inform their own practice. If research is enriched by conversation, there should be no shortage of wealth to take back to the Midlands!


Lara Pucci (Assistant Professor in History of Art, University of Nottingham)

Photography workshops

The past few months have been photographically eventful at the BSR, and while we have yet to set up a bona fide dark room, we appropriated the lavatories by the lecture theatre for an afternoon of impromptu printing.

On a sunny Saturday in March, Anna Brass (Sainsbury Scholar in Painting and Sculpture), David Whiting, a darkroom-based photographer and member of The Gate Darkroom in London, and Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries), organised a pinhole camera workshop: we hung black-out material over the bathroom door, set up the safe lamp and laid out three trays for the chemicals. To dry the prints, we made do with string and clothes pegs in the neighbouring cloak room. In spite of these rudimentary arrangements, some excellent results were achieved.

Fig. 1 Anna Brass BSR tennis court March 2019

BSR tennis court by Anna Brass.

The fourteen participants included scholars, artists and staff from the BSR and beyond: Mercedes Jaén joined from the Spanish Academy with professional British photographer Richard Davies. Jaén’s skilful experimentations picked up on unusual aspects of the Lutyens façade.

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BSR façade by Mercedes Jaén

Richard also achieved interesting results using his digital camera as a pinhole by removing the technical apparatus and turning it into a camera obscura, directly exposing the digital screen.

Fig. 3 Richard Davies In_the_dark_room

Richard Davies in the dark room

David Whiting’s pinhole camera was passed around as one of the most reliable for actually taking a photograph. Others transformed shoeboxes, tea boxes, and Anna Brass made her own nine-hole camera which doubled up as a miniature house.

Fig. 4 David Whiting using Anna Brass' nine hole pinhole camera

David Whiting using Anna Brass’ nine-hole pinhole camera.

In May, BSR archivist Alessandra Giovenco invited Tony Richards, a professional wet collodion plate photographer from The John Rylands Library (The University of Manchester), to give us a demonstration of this Victorian technique. Tony talked BSR scholars, artists, staff and patrons through his methods as well as how to avoid explosions and intoxications from the chemicals. Artist Kirtika Kain (National Art School, Sydney, Resident) became Tony’s assistant for the day observing that the workshop opened ‘a world of early photography so new to us: the chemistry, physicality and magic of each element. As an Australian-Indian artist, I couldn’t help but reflect on early colonial and ethnographic photography as I stood before the lens.’

Fig. 5 Kirtika Kain wet collodion workshop

Kirtika Kain poses for the camera.

David Whiting also found the workshop to be a ‘fantastic opportunity to discover one of the earliest photographic techniques for creating extremely high-quality images’ saying ‘I now feel confident about using the techniques in my own darkroom-based practice and exploring collodion’s rich artistic potential.’ Kirtika, David and Alessandra were able to create glass and metal-based prints of their own after learning about the theory.


Having to sit still for five to ten seconds means that the sitter’s stare acquires a holographic, slightly haunted quality which transpires in Victorian photographs, somehow bridging a gap with the past and helping us feel connected to some of the early practitioners and their subjects.

Fig. 7 Anna Brass Kirtika Kain and Stefania Peterlini wet collodion workshop portrait

Portrait of Anna Brass, Kirtika Kain, and Stefania Peterlini, using the wet collodion technique.


Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries)

City of Rome Postgraduate Course 2019

A long-established component of the BSR study offer, the annual City of Rome Postgraduate Course took place from 1 April to 29 May 2019. With Cary Fellow Robert Coates-Stephens on sabbatical (on a Fellowship at ANAMED, the Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations within Koç University of Istanbul), this year’s course was directed by Amanda Claridge (Royal Holloway University of London, Emerita Professor). The programme was co-organised and run with Niccolò Mugnai (Residential Research Fellow) and with the precious support of Stefania Peterlini (Permissions Officer); logistical support was kindly provided by Tanya Di Rienzo (Administrative Officer), Natalie Arrowsmith (Communications Manager), and Christine Martin (Residence and Estate Manager). The course was attended by a group of eleven MA and PhD students from the universities of Nottingham, Manchester, Oxford, St Andrews, Warwick, Reading, and King’s College London.

Fig 1

The City of Rome group at the Maritime Theatre of Hadrian’s Villa.

Each year this course offers an exciting opportunity to delve deep into the history, archaeology, topography, art and architecture of the Eternal City. The richness of the programme and its thoroughness make this course unique in the context of higher education within and beyond the UK. This year’s programme was further expanded to include some sites located in the environs of Rome: Segni, Tivoli, Praeneste, Grottaferrata, the Alban Hills (Lanuvium, the Alban Lake, Nemi, Villa Palazzola), and Rome’s maritime façade (Ostia, Portus, Isola Sacra, Castelporziano). The chronological frame under examination spanned from the Archaic period through to Late Antiquity (eighth century BC – fifth century AD). However, we also looked at the profound urban transformations of the Medieval and Baroque periods, dedicating some time to visiting the principal churches in Rome, such as Santa Maria Maggiore, San Giovanni in Laterano, San Pietro in Vincoli, Santa Maria in Cosmedin, San Lorenzo in Lucina, Sant’Agnese fuori le mura, Santa Sabina, and Santa Maria in Trastevere.

The course provided an up-to-date account of the historical development of the major monuments and urban spaces of ancient Rome, discussing – and in some cases challenging – the results of the most recent archaeological research undertaken in the heart of the city. This was complemented by targeted visits to the Capitoline Museums (Palazzo dei Conservatori, Palazzo Clementino-Caffarelli, Palazzo Nuovo, Centrale Montemartini), the Etruscan National Museum (Villa Giulia and Villa Poniatowski), the Roman National Museum (Palazzo Massimo, Palazzo Altemps, Crypta Balbi, Baths of Diocletian), the National Museum of the Early Middle Ages, the Vatican Museums (Museo Gregoriano Profano, Museo Pio Clementino, Museo Gregoriano Egizio, Museo Chiaramonti, Museo Profano, Braccio Nuovo), the Ara Pacis Museum, the Museum of the Imperial Fora at Trajan’s Markets, as well as to the various indoor and outdoor exhibitions that are currently on display across Rome (read the review by BSR Rome Fellow Christopher Siwicki here).

Fig 2

View over the Forum, Palatine, and Capitoline from the Vittoriano’s panoramic terrace.

Fig 3

Investigating the Forum of Caesar and the topography of the Imperial Fora.

Fig 4

The exedra of Marcus Aurelius in the Capitoline Museums.

Fig 5

Walking around brickwork tombs in the necropolis of Portus at Isola Sacra.

Fig 6

Stunning opus sectile decoration from Ostia at the National Museum of the Early Middle Ages.

During many of these site visits the group was accompanied by leading experts, who offered their invaluable insights and fostered a productive discussion with the students: Monica Ceci (Sovrintendenza di Roma Capitale), Francesco Maria Cifarelli (Sovrintendenza di Roma Capitale), Luca Attenni (Museo Archeologico di Lanuvio), Stephen Kay (BSR Archaeology Officer), Letizia Ceccarelli (Politecnico di Milano), Carlo Pavolini (Università della Tuscia), Eleonora Ferrazza (Musei Vaticani), Simonetta Serra (Sovrintendenza di Roma Capitale), Mark Wilson Jones (University of Bath), and Paolo Vitti (University of Notre Dame).

Fig 7

Discussing the Pantheon’s building project with Mark Wilson Jones.

Fig 8

A fascinating tour of Hadrian’s Mausoleum (Castel Sant’Angelo) with Paolo Vitti.

Alongside more traditional locations like the Roman Forum, the Palatine, and the Colosseum valley, the City of Rome group was granted the opportunity to access numerous other sites thanks to the permits issued by the respective authorities. Highlights included: the sacred areas of Sant’Omobono and Largo Argentina, the round Temple of Hercules and Temple of Portunus in the Forum Boarium, the insula of the Aracoeli, the Temple of Veiovis on the Capitoline, the auditorium of Maecenas, the House of the Knights of Rhodes, the Altar of the Fire of Nero on the Quirinal, the Basilica Hilariana on the Caelian, the so-called ‘Casa Bellezza’ on the Aventine, the tomb of the Scipios and the colombarium of Pomponius Hylas on the inner Via Appia, the excubitorium of the vigiles in Trastevere, and the archaeological remains and collection of sculptural antiquities at Villa Wolkonsky.

A recurring theme of this year’s programme was undoubtedly represented by ‘underground’ explorations: the mithraea of the Circus Maximus and of Palazzo Barberini, the compital altar of Via San Martino ai Monti, the temples under San Nicola in Carcere, the nymphaeum of Via degli Annibaldi, the Horologium of Augustus, the excavations under the Lateran basilica, the buildings underneath San Clemente, the Roman houses under Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, the sacred spring of Anna Perenna, the insula of the Vicus Caprarius at Trevi, and, of course, Nero’s Domus Aurea.

Fig 9

Looking at the temples of Largo Argentina and their transformations through time.

Fig 10

Exploring the preserved frescoes in the auditorium of Maecenas.

Fig 11

Down into the mithraeum of the Circus Maximus.

Fig 12

Getting suitably equipped before entering the Domus Aurea.

In addition to the daily site and museum visits, the programme featured a rich series of public lectures which were delivered by international speakers: Eloisa Dodero (Musei Capitolini), Stefano Camporeale (Università di Siena), Paolo Liverani (Università di Firenze), Gabriele Cifani (École normale supérieure, Paris), Frank Sear (University of Melbourne), Nicholas Purcell (University of Oxford), Lynne Lancaster (American Academy in Rome), Ginette Vagenheim (Université de Rouen-Normandie), Christopher Siwicki (BSR;  University of Exeter), and Olivia Elder (BSR; University of Cambridge). The series proved to be a great success among the students and the BSR community of scholars and artists. It was also very well attended by residents of other academies, universities, and institutions in Rome, thus stressing the role played by the BSR in encouraging a stimulating intellectual debate and exchange of ideas with this audience.

Feedback received from the students has confirmed once more the importance and distinctiveness of this programme of study. Among their comments: ‘this was a life-changing experience’, ‘I’ve learned so much and I’m looking forward to putting it into practice’, ‘it was amazing to visit sites that are inaccessible to the public’, ‘my time spent at the BSR on the City of Rome course has been incredible’, ‘I appreciated how interdisciplinary it was’, ‘lectures have been informative, diverse and engaging’. The fact that the course continues to be so popular among our students is due to the enormous efforts of all those who have contributed to its organization, preparation, and development over the years. Indeed, if there is an ambitious plan to pursue, it is the preservation and constant improvement of this course. Ad maiora, City of Rome!

Text and photos by Niccolò Mugnai (BSR Residential Research Fellow)

HMA Jill Morris CMG on ‘UK–Italy: reflections on a historical and contemporary relationship’

We were delighted to welcome the British Ambassador to the Italian Republic, Jill Morris CMG, to the British Academy on 10 June 2019 to give our final UK lecture for the 2018–19 academic year. It was an honour to host Her Excellency in London for an event that further demonstrated the British School at Rome’s strong working relationship with the British Embassy in Rome.

In her talk entitled ‘UK–Italy: reflections on a historical and contemporary relationship’, Her Excellency discussed the historical connections between the UK and Italy, considered the relationship between the two countries as seen from her position as Ambassador, and highlighted how the BSR and the Embassy were collaborating and partnering on projects as part of a ‘British family in Italy.’


The presentation was followed by a lively Q&A, the audience asking a broad range of questions concerning the current political situation in Italy, and whether Brexit would affect the work the BSR undertakes in the future.

We were also honoured and pleased that our President, HRH Princess Alexandra, attended this special event.


From left to right: Professor Stephen J. Milner (Director, BSR), HRH Princess Alexandra, HMA Jill Morris CMG, Professor Charles Tripp (Vice-President (British International Research Institutes), The British Academy), Dr Robin Jackson (Interim Chief Executive, The British Academy).

The evening was also well attended by our Council members, alumni, Ashby Patrons and Members, as well as long-standing friends of the BSR, many of whom Her Royal Highness was delighted to meet at the reception after the lecture.

50-GPA_1598You can watch a video recording of the event, which includes the Q&A, below.

Text by Natasha Burbridge (Development Officer). Photographs by Greg Allen. Video recording by Steve Wells.

Fresco-making workshop


Anna de Riso, from Studio Sottosopra Anna de Riso Paparo conservation laboratory in Rome, led a two-day fresco-making workshop which was attended by both Humanities and Art award-holders and Assistant Directors, Martina Caruso and Harriet O’Neill. We were also delighted that artist Helen O’Leary could join us from the American Academy. We started with a lecture during which Anna outlined the history of fresco-making and the main techniques used. This theoretical session was quickly followed by the practical, mixing the plaster and preparing our surfaces before deciding whether to trace and then pounce an existing image or paint directly, onto the topmost layer. We then began applying our pigments.


The paragraph above outlines what we did, what we learnt was far more complex and arguably more meaningful. As an art historian I was familiar with written descriptions outlining the process of fresco-making and canonical examples of the technique. I also had the opportunity to inspect fragments of frescoes such as A Group of Four Poor Clares (possibly about 1336-40) by Ambrogio Lorenzetti during  my time at National Gallery, but experiencing the medium through making transformed my thinking. Understanding how the plaster is applied, dries and feels, the strength needed to mix it, often using our hands, combined with getting to grips with how the pigment behaves once applied to the surface, provided a new appreciation of the subtlety and confidence artists such as Lorenzetti possessed, particularly in their approach to flesh tones. It also provided an insight into how a workshop might have worked, especially in relation to the transfer of drawings to the plaster.


More striking was the fact that frescoes in museum collections have been removed from their original context. This is an obvious point, but hitherto I had considered frescoes more decoration than wall and yet it became obvious as the workshop progressed that they were part of the physical structure of the buildings they came from, bestowing them with an aura and poignancy I had not previously considered. It was enormously productive to work alongside artists who were able to articulate the opportunities and limitations of the medium and classicists and archaeologists who could illuminate the context and subject matter of ancient frescoes.


BSR serendipity struck again when a number of newly trained fresco-makers joined Professor Rosamond McKitterick on a study trip to Catacombe di Priscilla, to see amongst other things, its frescoes. It was surprising to observe how our looking and understanding had been enriched through practical knowledge.

Harriet O’Neill (Assistant Director for the Humanities and Social Sciences)

June Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists…Karin Ruggaber

As we approach the June Mostra, our third exhibition of this academic year, we are taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. The sixth interview is from Karin Ruggaber our Abbey Fellow in Painting.

So you’re making this sculpture on the wall with concrete. How long have you been working with this material, and why?

Yes, I’ve been working on this seascape relief here in the studio in Rome. I’ve been experimenting with concrete since 2005. It is like stone but it’s not stone. It presents a sort of instant geology. You can shape it and bring your imagination to it.

I like to work with architectural facades, and I’ve been making work that relates to architecture in the sense of how your body relates to architecture, how you stand with it physically and become immersed in it.

I think we understand objects with the whole body, beyond the visual sense.  It is something to do with touch and how we relate to scale and material, and move in space. The idea with my larger-scale pieces is that you move alongside them as you would move alongside a wall, navigating them with your body.

Karin Ruggaber studio

Karin Ruggaber, BSR studio, June 2019.

I was trying to reconcile this aesthetic with that of the fountain installation you made at the Romanian Academy.

Yes, they’re two different strands of my work. I saw the fountain at the Romanian Academy and instantly connected to this space. Ever since I came to Rome I had this revelation about water, although I was already working on marine subjects before. I like this subject matter, the idea of the aspiration of it, of escape, of the sea being this powerful force connected to identity. The many fountains in Rome are strangely magnetic sites, monuments but also functional water systems. There is definitely a sense of Italy, and its past as a naval power, being connected to the sea, in reality and mythologically. There are perhaps parallels with Britain and its past as a maritime empire.

I collaborated on a fountain piece with a friend of mine last year, working from an image of a nineteenth-century painting of a shipwreck and sirens and mythological creatures being sucked into the sea. There was a logic to do with the current political situation in Britain. The title of the painting is A Shipwreck in Stormy Seas with a Siren on the Rocks by the history painter Lacroix de Marseille.

There is an idea of a dark force, a seduction, something uncontrollable at work, stormy seas being of course a political metaphor too. As well as the temptations of nationalism, of mythological narratives.

Karin Ruggaber fountain installation (blue) Romanian Academy

Karin Ruggaber, Fontana del Nettuno, 2019. Wire, climbing rope, plastic, rubber, European palm, Bay tree, Cypresse, Olive, Rose, grass, wheat, European pine. Spazi Aperti XVII, Accademia di Romania in Roma.

Would you say your inspiration is derived from nineteenth-century epic painting rather than a direct experience of the sea?

Maybe both. I’ve been looking at figuration and ornamentation around water and marine life in Rome, in the fabric of the city, historic as well as contemporary. I’m fascinated by ports, such as the one in Naples for example. I was in a group show recently in a seaside resort in Britain, at Towner Gallery in Eastbourne, and I like the figuration around seaside resorts.

Fountain where

Michele Tripisciano, Fontana del Tritone del Commune di Marino, 1889. Piazza San Barnaba, Marino Laziale.

I wouldn’t say my interest in historical painting is tied to a particular period but it’s connected to the representation of a force. I like it when it becomes hyper-figurative, like many of the siren paintings of the late 1800s, early 1900s, when mythology ventures towards superstition, and the non-rational. I became quite interested in Neptune Fountains, and I have tried to see as many as possible. My favourite one so far is by the Sicilian nineteenth-century sculptor Michele Tripisciano in Marino Laziale, an hour south of Rome (it’s a twin fountain, the other one is in his home town in Sicily), and of course Neptune overlooking the port in Naples.

Neptune Naples maybe

Fontana Del Nettuno, Napoli, 1600, Domenico Fontana, Michelangelo Naccherino, Angelo Landi and Pietro Bernini. Piazza Municipio, Napoli.

I’m also interested in representation from the fascist era in Italy, and I just got a book out on Mario Sironi, La Grande Decorazione, with all these incredible murals. There’s something about how the narrative is stacked and literally builds an image or a relief sculpture on a building. I’m planning to go and see a fountain and a mural representing an underwater landscape and seascape in Naples, in the Mostra d’Oltremare, an exhibition area similar to E.U.R. conceived as a world exhibition in the 1930s and then reinvigorated after the war in the 1950s.

My fountain installation at the Romanian Academy integrates architecture and image and some kind of story-telling aspect, but also other things: it is a kind of re-working of a Neptune Fountain and presents a mixture between debris and ornament, it has elements of a rescue situation at sea, or an aftermath of something, perhaps a storm. It is a sort of anti-monument. When I started the water was an aqua blue colour and it has now become a lurid green because algae have grown in the hot weather. I like how the elements change it. I have been working with it and developing it for the duration of the exhibition, during which time, the weather has shifted from thunderstorms and rain to 35-degree heat.

The piece changes all the time and becomes difficult to maintain because it’s eroding in the water and functions with the weather, and that’s also what I like.

Karin Ruggaber fountain installation (blue 2) Romanian Academy

Karin Ruggaber, Fontana del Nettuno, 2019. Wire, climbing rope, plastic, rubber, European palm, Bay tree, Cypresse, Olive, Rose, grass, wheat, European pine. Spazi Aperti XVII, Accademia di Romania in Roma.

Does this have something to with climate change?

I suppose you can read a sense of crisis into the image of it, but I don’t set out to make issue-based work. For me there is a sense of urgency with these pieces and they speak of internal states, which inevitably speak of external situations. I’m interested in the direct experience with the work, its undercurrents, maybe the unspeakable side of it, not the headlines. And that is connected to the elements and to weather as an emotional landscape. And yet again, it is connected in the overall atmosphere perhaps because of the wider political landscape of chaos we’re finding ourselves in at the moment. There is something about grief perhaps, I’m interested in the translation of difficulty, of emotional states.

Since being in Rome I’ve been drawn to the idea of the fountain as a continuous flow of water, invigorating, restless but still, and transformative, and I have researched a little bit about the Roman Acqua Vergine system too.

I’m interested in the physical impact of something and clash between image and architecture. It’s connected to a kind of trauma in a way. Italy seems to have processed the Fascist period in a completely different way to Germany for example. In Italy you get a different glimpse and angle into this time period.

So much was destroyed in Germany, and has also become unspeakable, and maybe for me it’s also something I’ve been interested in because of my own family’s trauma from that period.

Karin Ruggaber with fountain installation, the Romanian Academy 2019

Karin with her installation at the Accademia di Romania. Photo: Jonathan Kim.

Karin’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 14 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 22 June 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries) . Photos by Karin Ruggaber unless otherwise stated.














June Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Jonathan Kim

As we approach the June Mostra, our third exhibition of this academic year, we will be publishing a series of blogs taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. The fifth interview is from Jonathan Kim our Helpmann Academy Resident.


Jonathan & The White series in studio 7

Photo: Jonathan Kim

Hello Jonathan, so what are you working on at the moment?

I’m making these drawings which I call paintings because after drawing I do more processing with ink, water and cotton wool. It’s like expanded painting. I’m making these for the exhibition at the Romanian Academy and I’ll also make sculptures using the materials in the Academy. They have a store room where they have wood stocks which I’m making into a sculpture.

I see your equipment – the set square and the ruler. Have you always used these?

My previous work was not geometrical, it was inspired by the Korean patchwork tradition (Jogakbo) in which there are not a lot of white geometrical shapes. People in Korea were poor in the past and didn’t have enough money to buy textiles so they would make textiles using rags, from which they would create blankets, clothes or hangings. My early works used a Korean patchwork combination of colour.

In my recent drawings I’ve been inspired by Roman design, monuments and architecture. I then add geometrical shapes into my compositions. The white may be inspired by Roman white marble: I really like the colour and the texture. But it may not only be from there, it’s my intuitive response to Rome, although its roots may be from elsewhere.

My work is rooted in a phenomenology of perception. Artists respond to their environment without thinking, through the body: an intuitive response to the buildings. That’s my theory. Look at these drawings for example: where is the positive space and where is the negative space?

Yes…I’m not sure.

Exactly. Because sometimes the colour is a positive space and white is a negative space, in theory. However, some people see the white as the form of an object and colour as negative background. There is no final answer. I want to ask people what they think of my drawing and if they feel something that’s an answer.

My practice is based on post-minimalist concepts, and before undertaking the residency in Rome I was particularly focused on the Korean painting style Dansaekhwa and the Japanese sculptural concept Mono-ha. The Korean painting style has texture, it’s called Dansaekhwa. In Mono-ha you put two or three materials together to create a relationship within the space.

The White series, 2019, crayon, oil pastel and ink on paper, 21x28.4cm (each)

The White series, 2019, crayon, oil pastel and ink on paper, 21×28.4cm (each)

Is that how you reconcile your two very different practices of sculpture and painting?

Yes, but they are two concepts that derive from a philosophy which Korean artist Lee Ufan developed called ‘Encounter theory’. Lee now works in France, he founded the Mono-ha movement in the 1970s in Japan and led the Dansaekhwa movement in the 1980s in Korea.

So, what is Encounter Theory?

For example, in my sculpture, you find stone and steel together: they are very different materials. The artist doesn’t make anything: you put something in the space and together they create a relationship through the interaction between each other. In Mono-ha, the relationship is an art work. I call this spatiality.

I believe this is relevant to an Asian theory, connected to the theory of Yin and Yang where material can stand for anything, so for example steel is cold and wood is warm. This works for colour too with the Five Elements Theory: white stands for metal, black is for water, red is for fire, blue is wood and Yellow is soil. Korean people always think about materials as embodying another kind of other being. I put together different materials to create relationships between them. I want to create spatial relationships amongst materials in a phenomenological way.

I apply these theories in my work. So here you have steel with paper: steel is cold and paper is really warm, creating a balance. In the West, perhaps plus and minus together don’t compensate for each other, whereas in Asia plus and minus together create a balance. And here, stone is cold and steel is a little colder: minus and more minus can create a balance too. They balance each other out and create a harmony with the environment.

Wood and Earthen I, 2019, found branch and broken pot, 30x30x80cm

Wood and Earthen I, 2019, found branch and broken pot, 30x30x80cm

How are you developing your practice in Rome?

My painting and sculpture is based on Dansaekhwa and Mono-ha, and Encounter Theory. I find that Mono-ha and Dansaekhwa have limitations in terms of materials and as concepts because both movements have very traditional roots. I want to expand this type of theory with my work and since I’m in Rome I’ve been looking at Arte Povera because it has a broader concept of materials. My sculptures and paintings have developed within an Arte Povera framework. Some materials contain the memory and history of the previous user. With Mono-ha and Dansaekhwa, the materials used for art do not have any memory or history from the former user: they are just raw materials. Whereas with Arte Povera, the materials are from everyday life and so everything you see in my sculptures here is from the surrounding environment of the BSR.

Tin & Brick II, 2019, found tuna tins in the hole of a brick wall

Tin & Brick II, 2019, found tuna tins in the hole of a brick wall

Jonathan’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 14 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 22 June 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries). Photos courtesy of the artist.