The ‘Rome and the Colonial City 2020’ Conference

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Rome, following Greek models, spread its power across the Mediterranean by founding hundreds, if not thousands of new cities. Unlike older cities, Athens and Rome included, which evolved over time through a more organic, laissez-faire development, these colonies were based on a grid layout.

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Falerii Novi Archeological structure, Credits to Roberta Orsini

That layout then influenced the formation of new city foundations in Medieval Europe, in the New World after 1492, down to its most brazen imitation by Mussolini. What were the ideals that lay behind these new cities, and particularly their grid layout? The grid has both egalitarian, and authoritarian characteristics. This conference pulls together specialists on antiquity, the middle ages and the modern period to question some of the “colonialist” assumptions in the literature, and to look at the changing ways in which antiquity has influenced modern urbanism.

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Artwork by Sofia Greaves

The papers span from antiquity through to the twentieth-century. Speakers consider colonial cities from Greek foundations in Italy, to Roman foundations in Italy, from Spanish Latin America in the 16th century, to British North America, Australia, and Africa.

The conference, which is free to attend, will be held over three days in Rome (28-30 January 2020). Papers are organised thematically, so that each day covers antiquity through to the modern period. The first day will focus on theoretical writings about the city in the colonial context; the second looks at colonial foundation as a process of experimentation with urban models; the third looks at the ideological underpinnings of the grid, its use whether for egalitarian ideals or social control.

Days 1 and 2 will be held at the British School at Rome; Day 3 will be hosted by the Dutch Institute (KNIR) across the valley from the BSR.

Papers will be 30 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of discussion. It is expected that the conference will result in a book publication.

The Project

The ‘Rome and the Colonial City 2020’ Conference is organized by the ‘Impact of the Ancient City Project’ under Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill in Cambridge, funded by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme (Grant Agreement No. 693418).

Visit the project website here: https://impanccit.wixsite.com/impanccit

Artwork is by project member Sofia Greaves. https://sofiagreaves.wixsite.com/sofiagreaves

Programme

Pompei e Santorini: L’eternità in un giorno exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale

The exhibition Pompei e Santorini: L’eternità in un giorno at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome (running 11/10/19-6/1/20) covers a lot of ground. The two ancient sites are linked by their tragic histories as places both devastated and preserved by volcanic eruptions. Pompeii met its fate just under two thousand years ago in AD 79, while the site of Akrotiri was destroyed somewhere around the middle of the second millennium BC (the exhibition dates the eruption to 1613 BC). Through a combination of ancient objects and more recent works of art, the display offers its visitors a look at the sites’ ancient lives and at the efforts of later audiences to uncover and respond to their remains.

Linking Greek and Roman cities by the natural disasters which befell them has an ancient precedent. When philosophically musing about how all things have to come to an end, the second century AD Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius listed Pompeii together with Herculaneum and the Greek city of Helike which was destroyed by a tsunami in 373 BC (Meditations 4.48). Even cities do not last forever. Despite its title, the exhibition rarely actively compares the two ancient sites. Aside from the first main room, both Pompeii and Akrotiri have their own spaces on separate floors.

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Frescoes, ceramic vessels, and bronze objects in a room dedicated to Pompeii. Photo by A. Kozlovski

As with many other exhibitions on Pompeii, the rooms dedicated to the city are largely organised around different spaces in a Roman house. With sections on the domus, the garden, and the triclinium, frescoes line the walls and a mosaic sits on the floor. A beautiful display of a lararium is accompanied with bronze statuettes of the lares, while jewellery and ceramic, metal, and glass vessels of all kinds line the cases. Some highlights from the Roman rooms include a hunting scene graffitied onto a fresco from the House of the Cryptoporticus and the remains of a large and elaborately decorated metal chest with a complicated opening mechanism. A panel entitled ‘L’ultima cena’ speaks to the modern consciousness of Christianity’s beginnings, a masterpiece of Renaissance art, and another current exhibition on Pompeii. Andy Warhol’s Vesuvius (1985) and a video work by James P. Graham ends the section.

The site of Akrotiri gets a slightly different treatment. Beginning with a video which details the history of excavations, the display focuses on the major themes of archaeological interest such as social status, daily life, and cult and ritual. While a variety of ceramic vessels dominate this section, the famous Fisher Boy frescoes from the West House and the plaster casts of furniture are welcome additions. The section ends with a video by Francesco Jodice entitled A great disturbance in the palace (2019).

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Plaster casts of furniture from Akrotiri. Photo by A. Kozlovski

The final two rooms contain art from the last few hundred years, punctuated by a few more finds from Pompeii. The first room includes striking works by artists such as Jan van Oost and Damien Hirst, hauntingly curated among the copies of Fiorelli’s casts of Vesuvius’ victims. The final two rooms contain works by William Turner, Giovanni Maria Benzoni, and many others. Since much of this section deals with the very human cost of the disasters that have allowed this exhibition to happen, it is a great shame that not a single work is by a woman, even though, as is common in art spaces, many of the bodies on display are.

Ultimately this exhibition is a story of reception and response. Response to ancient tragedy and the accident of preservation. All made meaningful through the efforts of archaeologists, the words of Plato and Pliny, the travels of Grand Tourists, the reconstructions of conservators, and the work of contemporary artists. While a timeline panel appears twice, the layout of the entire display speaks against an easy chronology for all these responses. The show starts in 2019 and jumps back and forth between the present and the different pasts that the objects have come to represent. It shows that a past preserved is much trickier and more multifaceted than the story of a volcanic eruption which freezes a city in a day implies.

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Works of contemporary art set among copies of Fiorelli’s casts of the victims of the eruption at Pompeii. Photo by A. Kozlovski

This multiplicity of stories also provides the opportunity for visual variety. While the ancient Greco-Roman world has long been curated through mostly stone and clay, with occasions of metal, glass, and plaster, this exhibition has much more. Ancient powdered pigments, carbonised trees, a fishing net, shells, and soil. All put alongside more recent paper pages, resin, hair, a canvas of flies, and velvet. What might be a disorder of forms and materials is disciplined and drawn together by a beautiful display which makes their colours bright and their shadows crisp. Such a visual mixture speaks closer to how a world actually is – composed of many more shapes and textures than those physically robust enough to last thousands of years without a layer of ash to preserve them. Some of the gallery texts refer to these materials: one points out that the Roman nymphaeum on display was lined with solidified lava to create a grotto-like effect. Ancient Pompeii, therefore, was not only already made from the fruits of the volcano that destroyed it, but its ancient inhabitants engaged with their visuality long before any of the modern receptions on display here. Another panel speaks of ‘mausoleums full of ashes’, metaphorically tapping into the material ambiguity between the burnt remains found inside the funerary ash urns that feature in so many archaeological museum displays and the volcanic ash that covered these two cities.

Pompei e Santorini: L’eternità in un giorno is worth seeing while it is still in Rome. Although both sites have interesting stories and have yielded fantastic finds, the display does make it clear just how hard it is to compete with the Vesuvian cities for attention. Pompeii gets much more space, both on the exhibition floor and in its narrative. It is a great fortune to see the finds from Akrotiri but they are ultimately more distant, having travelled further and occupying less of our collective imagination. Pompeii, on the other hand, we are very used to seeing on display.

Upon entering the exhibition we are promised ‘eternity in a day’. As we leave and go down the staircase with its large glass windows which reveal a vista of Rome, the stories of Pompeii and Akrotiri cannot help but take up an odd space. Having pondered the meaning of an eternity made through the destruction of an instant and the memories of centuries, we are left to return into the city which has long worried about its own decline. Eternity has long been at stake here. It is, after all, the città eterna.

Alina Kozlovski (Hugh Last Rome Awardee, Sept-Dec 2019)

Inaugural recipient of the Thérèse and Ronald Ridley Scholarship, Donna Storey

This year I was named as the inaugural recipient of the Thérèse and Ronald Ridley Scholarship, established to support a current PhD candidate in the Classics and Archaeology department at the University of Melbourne, Australia. The scholarship provides for the successful recipient to spend two months in residence at the British School at Rome (BSR) between September and November to undertake research to assist PhD completion. My thesis, entitled ‘Race and Romanità in Fascist Italy’ sits at the intersection of Roman history and its modern political reception. It investigates the Italian Fascist regime’s use of ancient Rome for Fascist propaganda, particularly as justification for policies of forced Italianization in annexed borderlands.

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Donna Storey with Ronald Ridley

The incredible resources at the BSR are rich and plentiful; in particular, for my work, the ability to access Italian periodicals such as Capitolium was invaluable. Additionally, the library contained many books which were instrumental to furthering my research. Of course, one of the fantastic things about being a resident at the BSR is the opportunity to visit other academic institutions in Rome; as such I was also able to utilise the wonderful libraries at the German Historical Institute, the Austrian Historical Institute, and the Belgian Historical Institute. I was welcomed with open arms at each of these institutions, which is indeed indicative of the generous nature of the academic community in Rome. Finally, I was able to utilise the resources of the Central State Archives in Rome, as well as the National Library. The combination of these resources contributed to a very productive couple of months of research.

Visiting Ostia Antica _photo credit Donna Storey

Ostia Antica, Donna Storey

Additionally, I visited some wonderful sites and exhibitions while in Rome, including Parco Archeologico di Ostia Antica, the Sepolcro degli Scipioni, and the exhibitions Pompei e Santorini — L’eternità in un giorno at the Scuderie del Quirinale, and the Carthago: The immortal myth at the Colosseum. The latter was of particular interest given that BSR Assistant Director for Archaeology, Dr Peter Campbell, had been involved in the recovery of some of the artefacts on display. It was great to be able to hear Peter’s experience in the field first hand. I was also able to visit relevant Fascist sites and monuments, including the former Fascist youth headquarters and the Foro Italico (formerly Foro Mussolini). I was even able to attend a football game (soccer for us Aussies) for a true Roman experience, A.S. Roma v Napoli. A.S. Roma won of course!

The Columbarium at the Sepolcro degli Scipioni_photo credit Donna Storey

The Columbarium at the Sepolcro degli Scipioni, Donna Storey

Part of the joy of living at the BSR is the camaraderie with fellow residents. I met many people who made my stay a wonderful one, including the BSR Award Holders; all amazingly smart and talented artists and scholars, working on brilliantly interesting things. It was a delight to get to know each and every one of them, and I feel incredibly richer for having done so. However, it is of course the incredible staff who make an institution like the BSR really tick, and though I cannot list them all here, I sincerely extend my deepest gratitude to each of them for making me so welcome. Although I do feel compelled to make a particular note of perhaps the most important member of staff: resident feline Fragolina, without whom life at the BSR would not be anywhere near as delightful as it is.

With fellow residents at the Sepolcro degli Scipioni_photo credit Donna Storey

With fellow residents at the Sepolcro degli Scipioni, Donna Storey

My time at the BSR and the opportunity to undertake research in Rome was absolutely invaluable, and the generosity of Thérèse and Ron in making this possible will make such a difference for postgraduate research at The University of Melbourne, not only for myself, but also for future recipients, and indeed to the Melbourne Classics and Archaeology program. It was wonderful for BSR Director Stephen Milner to welcome them with a special dinner on Sunday 3 November, and I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to them both for their very humbling generosity.

Donna Storey, PhD Candidate
The School of Historical and Philosophical Studies
The University of Melbourne

The Thérèse and Ronald Ridley Scholarship is supported by the generous contribution of Emeritus Professor Ronald Ridley and Mrs Thérèse Ridley. Professor Ridley began his career in 1962 in the (then) History Department at the University of Melbourne as a researcher, teacher and supervisor, before joining the faculty as a Lecturer in 1965. Following the awarding of a DLitt in 1992, Professor Ridley was appointed as a Personal Chair in ancient history in June 1997, becoming Professor Emeritus following his retirement in 2005. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (London, est. 1707), the Royal Historical Society (London), the Pontifical Academy of Roman Archaeology (Rome) and the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

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Thérèse and Ronald Ridley

December Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Mariam Gulamhussein

Thank you to everyone who made the December Mostra a success. Our eighth and final artist interview is of Mariam Gulamhussein, our Giles Worsley Fellow.

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Studio view, 2019

Your research interest for this residency focuses on the architect Luigi Moretti and how his work was influenced by Michelangelo, especially in the building Casa il Girasole in Rome. Could you tell us more about it?

Moretti had an eclectic way of applying Michelangelo’s sensitivity into his own architecture. What was originally an aim to understand the ‘feeling of construction’ in Michelangelo’s designs since the age of 19, later developed into an architectural ambition that he explored, not only through his writings and making (sketching, plaster casting, photographing Michelangelo’s work) – but in his own architectural designs. During my time in Rome it has been important for me to get a good understanding of these influences, firstly analysing the original documentation and models held at the Archivio Moretti-Magnifico and the Archivio Centrale dello Stato di Roma, and then placing Moretti’s explorations alongside my own physical responses to the building. For me the Casa ‘Il Girasole’ which is just around the corner from the BSR on viale Bruno Buozzi, is particularly significant because it shows not only tectonic and formal assonance with Michelangelo’s work but material assimilations in light, colour and texture. Ultimately the proposal invites a contemporary reflection on the value of our built history as precedent and I hope to take an essence of this feeling into my own architectural process today.

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‘Il Girasole’, 35mm b&w film photograph printed on fibre paper, 300 x 400 mm, 2019.

Do you consider yourself to be a visual artist?

I don’t know if I can categorise myself in this way. If I reflect on where I am now, being at BSR is such a special opportunity to learn from both scholars and artists and I feel like I have been in a privileged position of being in between the two. The way I’m working is trying to explore this relationship to the arts firstly in the process using more artistic ways of making as a means of researching and naturally therefore in the result. During my time I have asked myself a similar question about the nature of my work and I think it is polyvalent and this multiplicity is what I enjoy the most.

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‘Il Girasole’, negative void plaster and clay cast, 2019.

 

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser).

December Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Bea Bonafini

In conjunction with the opening of the December Mostra, we are taking a closer look at the individual practices of our resident artists. The seventh interview is of Bea Bonafini, our Abbey Scholar.

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Bea in her studio at the BSR

What is your relationship with materials like ceramic and fabric?

I approach both of them as materials to be stained and layered, and then reconfigured again and again. I use fabrics because of their versatility, my daily intimacy with them, because they keep us warm and embellish the body, they make objects comfortable, it’s what we sleep in. I like using an inlay technique to shape the material into a patchwork made up of separate entities. The cut-out form can be removed, repeated and replaced. Within the rules I set myself, the process of making can become very methodical, where the repetitive slicing and splicing eventually creates a complex composition of juxtaposed and superimposed forms.

My relationship to ceramics is closer to food. I knead clay and dough in the same way, and whereas one becomes edible the other becomes its container. I’ve made ceramics that have a functionality that is then stretched into something more abstract and surreal. My recent series looked at ceramics in a religious context – Acquasantiere were used a lot in southern Italy, at the entrance of homes or churches, depicting an iconic figure like the Virgin and Child. They contain holy liquids while also referencing very bodily things. I began staining porcelain with pigments in the same way I do with my fabrics by using chalk, pastels or oils. The pigments don’t just sit on the surface but stain the fibres and the clay, permeating the whole of the material.

My textile pieces can be really monumental, from 12 or 15 metres long, to much smaller and intimate hand sewn pieces. When I work with textiles, it’s often horizontally on the floor and it’s very sculptural. Whereas the ceramics give me that direct relationship with my body.

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Laboratorio di calchi del De Angelis a Cinecitta

You always work with fragmentation and in Italy you have the chance to see fragments of Etruscan and Roman frescoes. In which way are you thinking of linking them with your work?

I’ve been thinking more and more about how through time things can be superimposed. How a layer of painting is painted over with different imagery at some point later in time, hiding the previous work but not entirely, and so they coexist. They are overlapping and speaking over each other. I’ve also been thinking about layers of soil that contain different objects within it. I’ve been doing tests with jesmonite poured in layers to trap fragments of beach glass or horse hair or tiny bits of ceramics within it. I’ve then been smashing them to turn them into rubble, and trapping them between sheets of plastics amongst a collaged composition of other fragments of drawings, prints and fabrics. I’m thinking more and more about how objects can contain many other objects within them, and our ideas of how to salvage material, like a healing process.

Bea’s work is exhibited alongside other resident artists in the December Mostra. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 14 December 2019.

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser).

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Rilievo in tufo a Cerveteri all’entrata del museo

December Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Max Fletcher

In conjunction with the opening of the December Mostra, we are taking a closer look at the individual practices of our resident artists. The sixth interview is of Max Fletcher, our Sainsbury Scholar.

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Max in his studio at the BSR

How did you become interested in the play El Nost Milan by Carlo Bertolazzi?

I had been reading William Morris’s play The Tables Turned; or, Nupkins Awakened which was written in the 1890s in London. At the same time, I was also reading a Louis Althusser essay, The ‘Piccolo Teatro’: Bertolazzi and Brecht. Carlo Bertolazzi, the subject of Althusser’s text, was an Italian contemporary of Morris, and while the themes that they explore are similar, the form that each’s writing takes could not be more different.

Morris’s play has a clear narrative and deals in no uncertain terms with the prison system, police corruption, wealth inequality, and protest. After Judge Nupkins dishes out heavy sentences to the poor, and lets the wealthy go free, a tipping point is reached when the court room is stormed by Morris’s comrades. The result is a socialist utopia, blighted only by the lone figure of Nupkins who wonders through the countryside, unsure of his place in this new society. Bertolazzi, on the other hand, has a more nuanced understanding of form. El Nost Milan’s setting is a funfair and consists of the unemployed in 1890s Milan walking the stage and waiting for something, anything. Food, perhaps, if they’re lucky. The play ends with Nina, the daughter of a fire-eater, leaving world of the fair and poverty in exchange for the other side, where in Althusser’s words ‘pleasure and money reign.’ It is a world of exploitation and corruption but at least there is truth. Each act follows the same structure: nothing much happens as some forty characters come and go, yet there is a sudden flash of action, a conflict, before the act closes. This radically changes the course of the play. The gap between non-dialectical time (waiting) and dialectical time (sudden action/ conflict) is what so excites Althusser and makes Bertolazzi’s play so radical.

In short, Bertolazzi’s play is highly eccentric, and as a result only achieved limited popular success. Yet it is the oddness of the play and its unconventional form that lead Althusser to suggest that it possesses a sort of alienation effect that goes beyond simply actor/ audience relations and manifests itself in the structure of the play, as with Brecht’s best plays. It is something that occurs between the ‘latent’ action of those passing time and the ‘manifest’ action that shapes each act. I found this account of the play compelling and wanted to research further into Carlo Bertolazzi. Yet, the play was written in Milanese dialect and has never been translated. It experienced a revival between 1955 and 1980 with Giorgio Strehler putting on several performances at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan, and the play even travelled to Paris, where Althusser was in the audience. The combination of an exemplary form and lack of an English translation drew me to research the play further and use it as a base for my time in Rome.

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Pieter Brugel the Elder, The Misanthrope, Capodimonte, Napoli

In your opinion is there a connection between painting and theatre?

Painting and theatre have always overlapped, and it is not uncommon to hear painting being described either positively or negatively as ‘theatrical.’ I am interested in how a relationship with painting can be maintained, while also incorporating a wider set of interests, theatre included.

Rosalind Krauss is adamant that medium cannot be abandoned, but nor can it retreat into itself. Instead it must be seen as a layering of conventions, in constant need of re-articulation. For Krauss, Marcel Broodthaers’s work could easily be characterised a part of a ‘post-medium condition’ but instead she suggests that medium is integral to Broodthaers. In his film A Voyage on the North Sea, we see a number of still images including: a painting of a ship at sea, the sails of the ship, the painted waves, and weave of the canvas. Each image is attributed a page number, but the sequence is muddled, indicating an incomplete history. Broodthaers states the film deals with ‘painting as subject,’ which Krauss suggests refers to medium rather than content.

In using Bertolazzi’s El Nost Milan as source material, I am interested in the written form of the play, but also how it becomes a device for structuring a series of paintings. Page number, act, scene, the use of dialect, and translation, are all variables in a sequence of paintings. These variables become part of the apparatus of painting. The paintings themselves can use theatre to imply a narrative, but at the same time eschew that narrative. They are capable of operating in isolation, but also as the backdrop to performance, to theatre.

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Max’s work is exhibited alongside other resident artists in the December Mostra. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 14 December 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser).

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Pasolini Monument, Ostia

December Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Marlee McMahon

In conjunction with the opening of the December Mostra, we are taking a closer look at the individual practices of our resident artists. The fifth interview is of Marlee McMahon, our Cranbourne Fellow.

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Marlee McMahon in her studio at the BSR

You’re a painter, but during this residency you have decided to experiment with the technique of collage. Could you explain why you decided to use another media?

My painting practice is quite time consuming and uses many materials. Rome provided me with the opportunity to push away from the rigid masking process that I had been using to make work; ultimately, removing paint was a simple way for me to open up my practice and to discover new ways of making. As colour is important in my work, I found that paper was a nice way to play with immediate colour, shape, and composition. Paper / collage allowed me a sense of freedom that I struggled to find in other materials.

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Designer Sale (M-tooth), 2019, Acrylic on Canvas (60 x 56 cm)

What do you find interesting in work by David Tremlett?

I think the materiality and his response to space through colour and shape are the key reasons why I am interested in his work. I appreciate the sensitivity is his application of pigment onto architecture in Italy. In many of his public installations he brings something new, colour, shape and an idea to a pre-existing place. The spaces that he installs his drawing directly onto are sites that he may not have a personal connection to. The kind of stamping of pigment onto (these sometimes foreign) buildings I find engaging. He manages to mark these spaces without offending them. Visually, I’m drawn to the different pigments that he uses, the colours are so organic and through his composition he creates works that have the most wonderfully quiet and calming effect.

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David Tremlett, decorazioni esterne della Chiesetta della Beata Maria Vergine del Carmine, Coazzolo (Asti) 2017

Marlee’s work is exhibited alongside other resident artists in the December Mostra. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 14 December 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser).