Introducing…Peter Campbell, Assistant Director for Archaeology and Archaeological Science

dsc_2810It has been a pleasure to return to the British School at Rome as the Assistant Director for Archaeology and Archaeological Science. As a Research Fellow at the BSR in 2017-2018 working on the Portus Project, I engulfed myself in the community’s mixing of ideas from artists, historians, filmmakers, poets, archaeologists, and the numerous other disciplines that flow through the building. Starting as Assistant Director, I look forward to facilitating this interconnectedness between our awardees, fellows, visitors, students, and the public.

My PhD in archaeology is from the University of Southampton, while my MA (East Carolina University) and BA (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) were in maritime archaeology and anthropology. My research broadly examines the spread of ideas through Mediterranean maritime connectivity. As a result, I typically work underwater on shipwrecks, harbours, and sunken cities. However, I enjoy terrestrial survey and excavation, frequently working in cave sites (writing the chapter on archaeology in the National Speleological Society’s Caving Basics). Mixing caves and underwater research, I edited the book The Archaeology of Underwater Caves which examines paleolandscapes and ritual sites around the world. I have directed archaeological projects in six countries, mostly concentrated in the central and eastern Mediterranean. Currently, I co-direct the Egadi Islands Survey Project in Sicily and Fournoi Underwater Survey in Greece. My research uses archaeological science such as elemental and molecular analyses, but also UV/IR fluorescence, paleomagnetic dating, isotope analysis.

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Amphorae from part of a reef where a shipwreck occurred. Photo by Vasilis Mentogianis.

Beyond field archaeology, I research the illicit antiquities trade and my work has been used in policy papers and presented to the OSCE, INTERPOL, and UNESCO. I enjoy teaching and have experience in a variety of higher education contexts, as well as taking new approaches to education through digital learning such as FutureLearn and TED Ed . I also maintain an active public profile, publishing articles in New York Times , Bloomberg, and The Guardian, as well as recently appearing on BBC, CNN, History Channel, and National Geographic. I am often found on Twitter @peterbcampbell.

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A diver carefully raises an amphora to the surface. Photo by Vasilis Mentogianis.

I look forward to the challenge of further building existing research projects and finding new research avenues for the BSR. Together with Director Stephen Milner and Assistant Directors Harriet O’Neill (Humanities and Social Sciences) and Martina Caruso (Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries), we are planning a series of impactful events, conferences, and projects. Over the next year, we will host events on subjects such as Object-Oriented Ontology and the Anthropocene, conferences on archaeological science and machine learning, and seek to bridge art and research through exhibitions. As a person who is collaborative at heart, I am thrilled to have a position within such a prestigious interdisciplinary institution.

Peter Campbell (Assistant Director for Archaeology and Archaeological Science)

Portrait photo by Antonio Palmieri. Cover image by Vasilis Mentogianis.


Peter Campbell, along with fellow Assistant Directors Martina Caruso (BSR) and Harriet O’Neill (BSR), will speak in the UK in March.

MONDAY 11 MARCH 2019, 18.00–20.00

A legacy and trajectory of interdisciplinarity at the BSR

The BSR Assistant Directors will examine the origins of the British School at Rome in the early twentieth century, in particular its award-holders’ exploration of art, architecture and archaeology. They will discuss their personal research and the points of connection between them. Continuing the legacy of interdisciplinarity, the talk will examine the pathway forward, and how to pursue this collaborative trajectory into the BSR’s twelfth decade.

This event will be held at the British Academy, 10 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AH. Please contact ukevents@bsrome.it if you wish to attend.

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The instrumental street art of Pinacci nostri

Ellie Crabtree is Pilkington Rome Awardee (funded by the Roger and Ingrid Pilkington Charitable Trust, October-December 2018) and here she tells us about her research into multidirectional memory and contemporary street art in Rome.

I arrived at the BSR to find out more about how street art in Rome is changing the way in which people engage with the city and its histories. My first month was dedicated to visiting the many street art projects that have developed in the city’s peripheral quartieri in recent years. It was during these journeys that the Pinacci nostri project caught my attention. As an extraordinary example of the agency of cultural practices to motivate new, more active ways of using city space, the project enacts the potential that Doris Sommer ascribes to art in The Work of Art in the World (2014) as neither useful nor useless, but provocative.

Pinacci nostri describes itself as a street art ‘movement’ which since 2015 has realized around 70 murals in Pineta Sacchetti, a neighbourhood to the north west of Rome. The movement originates with the migration of Lello Melchionda. Having moved to the area as an adult from Avellino, when his son was born he realized that he knew nothing about the history of the area to pass on to his first-generation ‘piccolo romano’. His curiosity led him to carry out a personal oral history project with the area’s older generation inhabitants whom he got in contact with through local Facebook groups. Around this time Lello also got to know the Muracci nostri street art project in neighbouring Primavalle which gave him the idea of initiating a street art movement that would use muralism as a means of publicly recounting the private and collective memories he had gathered.

La bicicletta verde

La bicicletta verde by Tina Loiodice, Via Calisto II

Borghetto Braschi

Borghetto Braschi by Carlo Gori
Via Calisto II

 

During my interview with Lello, he emphasized to me that for Pinacci nostri street art has always been seen as an instrument, as a ‘motivator’ rather than a ‘container’. This reminds me not only of Doris Sommer’s urge for us to view culture in terms of its provocative potential, but also of the conviction of writers in memory studies about the potential of memorywork to provoke new ways of being in the present as much as in the future.

La street art è stata lo strumento per mettere insieme le persone, portarle in strada.

Lello Melchionda

From this perspective, Pinacci nostri’s twin objectives to use street art to motivate social links in the area and to publicly commemorate past events doesn’t seem coincidental. In fact several murals recall past examples of resistance ‘dal basso’ successfully carried out by locals in Pineta Sacchetti, including those that commemorate the campaign ongoing since the 1970s to protect the local park Pineto from development. At the same time as recalling these past campaigns, the murals in the park are themselves instrumentalised as agentic objects that draw attention to the park as a cultural space, further promoting its protection against the continued threat of development. Enacting what Sommer describes as the ‘acupuncture’ effect of cultural acts which catalyse further acts, Lello also told me how the attention on the park generated by the murals led to it being used for new activities, including by an outdoor theatre group FuoriContesto and by the new ‘popular’ football team, Pineto United, whose players comprise locals from Pineta Sacchetti and asylum seekers from the local centro d’accoglienza.

Se ne casca una...

Se ne casca uno ne pianteremo cento / If one falls, we’ll plant a hundred by Qwerty, La casina in Pineto park. The initials S.E.P. on the bomb refer to the Società edilizia Pineto which wanted to redevelop the park.

Elsewhere in the neighbourhood, the very act of realizing the murals—which the project’s artistic director Carlo Gori describes as a ‘process’—became a powerful tool for bringing together neighbours who had never previously spoken to one another but who share common interests in redeveloping cultural and social life in the area. In addition to a new organisation of volunteers that take care of the piazza, Pinacci nostri also fostered the establishment of Urban Arts Project which provides a space to put on cultural events.

Pinacci nostri is not the only example in Rome of the tangible provocative effect of public art. On the other side of the city, the Museo dell’altro e dell’atrove (Maam) is a contemporary art museum housed in an abandoned factory that protects the homes of the people (most of whom are recent migrants to Rome or are part of the Roma community) who illegally occupy the building. Earlier this month I organised for a group of artists and scholars from the BSR to have a guided visit of the museum. One of the first murals we were shown, which is by Stefania Fabrizi, depicts an army of incorporeal figures who are only seen because of their highlighted outlines. The tour guide Gianluca Fiorentini explained to us that these figures each represent the way in which the Maam considers each artwork: as a warrior that peacefully protects the homes of those who live in the museum.

As someone whose gaze is normally only turned towards contemporary culture, being at the BSR has given me a deeper awareness that the provocative potential of cultural practices, and particularly of public art, is far from a new phenomenon in Rome. From the perspective of my thesis, which explores current cultural practices that destabilise conventional ideas about Rome, I can’t help thinking that the emergence of projects like Maam and Pinacci nostri in the city is not entirely coincidental. Together they hint at the ongoing potential of Rome’s extraordinary historical palimpsest as a place in which to continue to explore and to incite the provocative potential of cultural practices in the present.

I guerrieri della luce

I guerrieri della luce (2013) by Stefania Fabrizi, Maam. Photo by Emma Bond.

 

Grazie mille to Lello Melchionda for kindly offering me his time for an interview, as well as to Gianluca Fiorentini for his English-language tour of the Maam for the visitors from the BSR.

For more information about Pinacci nostri and Maam:

http://www.pinaccinostri.org/

https://www.facebook.com/museoMAAM/

 

Ellie Crabtree (Pilkington Rome Awardee (funded by the Roger and Ingrid Pilkington Charitable Trust))

All photos by the author unless otherwise indicated.

Meet the Artists… Jade Ching-yuk Ng / December Mostra 2018

As part of our December Mostra Meet the Artists series, we spoke to Jade Ching-yuk Ng (Abbey Scholar in Painting) about forgotten architecture, voids, and authenticity.

You work in painting and printmaking, and your interest lies in deconstructing symbolism within history and real-life characters and making them part of fictions. Which direction is this interest taking in a city like Rome, where there is a constant struggle between history and real life?

Snakes, shells, arrows, sun, chariots, horses…and naked roman goddesses seduce many people because of their ubiquity around the city. These symbols were once the idols of superstitious believers, similar to today’s repetitive advertisement on YouTube, a form of propaganda. By communicating via specific icons the audience is compelled to believe in another product or figure.

Rome seems to me to be a man-made metaphysical playground, where iconic figures can be found just lying around. The painted marbles inside churches give the illusion of surface but do not allow us to penetrate into the centre of the material. A historical city could become just another simulation.

The past has always held power over people’s spiritual beliefs, and Rome’s overloaded classicism overpowers reality. I am not sure what to think when people relate Rome to Aristotle’s metaphysics. I often question how to perceive symbolism not by considering the physical objects themselves but rather by taking a virtual bird’s eye view of the city and turning into a pataphysical form. In particular our visit to Santa Maria sopra Minerva made me wonder how we could not only travel into the frames within the frames of the frescoes visually, but also pull ourselves back to any frames we want – then we would really have the freedom to see beyond the history that is given.

Another struggle might be the ‘authenticity’ of materials at ancient sites. The trip to Ostia Antica made me think about the importance of ‘fake’ and ‘real’. The old brick and the new brick gradually submerge into one. Authenticity is not restricted to a certain time period, but should be seen as a progressive change over time.

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Split, linocut, monotype, caran d’ache, acrylic, ink on paper mounted on artist-made board, 89.5x70cm, 2018.

Is there a specific sculpture/character/piece of architecture that has particularly inspired you in these past three months?

I have been particularly inspired by Manzù’s rather violent bronze reliefs at St Peter’s Basilica where they are placed at the front gate before walking into the church. I was intrigued by how a religious place could manipulate your emotions. If I were to caricature religion, it would be as the pigeon lady outside Piazza del Popolo.

I also enjoyed looking at Giuseppe Perugini’s Casa Sperimentale. It is a real shame that it is abandoned now but it does make us aware of the forgotten architecture beyond classicism.

The moulding workshop at Cinecittà impressed me so much, especially after talking to the props maker whose family has worked there for three generations since the Mussolini era. It is incredible getting to know how they casted from the original sculptures and reproduced them for a film set. When you walk into his workshop, it reminded me of a blow-up Rome with collages of fragments lying around, piling on top of each other. The gigantic fingers and the tiniest heads all morphed into a room that becomes a toy town. The experience of weaving through his workshop gave me the sensation of looking at objects using a zoom-in and zoom-out lens to picture the random displaced relationship between the props and me.

Last but not least, the relationship between the mouth and the staircase in the Parco dei Mostri di Bomarzo fascinates me, where the monster’s mouth turns into a frame, which is the enlarged body part, encouraging you to walk into the space physically but once you enter, it is only the void.

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The chariot fell into Jacuzzi labyrinth, linocut, monotype, caran d’ache, gouache, ink on paper mounted on artist-made board, 89.5x70cm, 2018.

 

Jade Ching-yuk Ng (Abbey Scholar in Painting)


 

Jade’s work is currently on show alongside the six other resident artists in December Mostra, opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 22 December 2018.

 

 

Meet the Artists… Holly Hendry / December Mostra 2018

As part of our December Mostra Meet the Artists series, we spoke to Holly Hendry (Rome Fellow in Contemporary Art) about ideas of absence, presence, and containment.

Making and building processes are a big part of your sculptural thinking and in your latest work you are focusing on the idea of the mould and the cast as a sculptural form. I know you visited the collection of casts in the amazing Cinecittà Studios. How important was this experience for your residency in Rome?

Visiting Cinecittà was really important for me. As well as still being a functional workplace, the workshops hold an amazing collection of sculptures that were props for films, ranging from full size versions of the Colossus of Constantine or Mickey Mouse, to architectural mouldings and reliefs. I have been interested in the idea of sculptural edges – specifically the mould as a container as well as being a sculptural form in itself – the way its inside becomes its outside when used to cast from, and its relationship with the authentic or the copy in terms of reproduction.

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Cinecittà

It has been useful for me to see replications and copies of actual artefacts in places like Pompeii where the original is in the museum and a direct copy has been placed in the site. I have been thinking about the way our relationship changes knowing what is ‘real’ or ‘fake’ and what that really means. I have also been looking and thinking about reliquaries while I have been in Rome, and their function as the container for relics that are often said to be body parts of saints. These containers become just as (if not more) important as their innards, acting as the physical form of contact between worshippers and higher realms.

For me, these ideas of containment have connections with moulds too. I love that Cinecittà has become this graveyard of fragments, body parts, mould parts that seems able to deal with the cast as what it stands for as both a precious original and a cheap reproduction. I have been thinking about them in relation to the idea of a sarcophagus – directly translating as skin case or flesh eating stone. These sarcophogeal skins are a sculpture as reliquary or grave – a shell of memorial referencing their counterpart existing elsewhere. The Alberto Burri monument in Sicily does the same thing, speaking about an absence (the ruined town in Gibellina) through its own presence. So that is why Cinecittà felt so important to me with all the old moulds and forms – these objects as the spaces that speak of other sculptures – and the logic or procedure behind keeping these ‘skins’ of the sculptures that would facilitate their potential recreation. 

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‘graveyard of fragments’

 

You have a show at Frutta Gallery in Rome until January 2019. Could you tell us more about this project and do you think there is a connection between this show and the works you are showing at the December Mostra?

The Frutta show was a way for me to work through thoughts concerning sculptures and images. The title of the show was GUM SOULS which conjured something that simultaneously speaks of material base-ness and a higher realm. I have been reading about ‘out-of-body experiences’ and the idea of a soul as the character of your body – something full of life, yet the only materially ungraspable part of our body, and the word gum, for me, conjures something quite physical, be it in your mouth or a rubbery texture that gets stuck to the bottom of your shoe. (I think that reliquaries can reference both extremes of carnal and transcendent too.)

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Detail from GUM SOULS, Frutta Gallery

The works in the Frutta show also deal with humour, using fake, joke-shop-like body parts that are commonly used to give the illusion of life, because faking can also be funny. I was interested in the way that these objects (and hopefully the work too) straddle the lines of humour and mortality – dumb Halloween style bodily appendages that represent ancient figures of abjection such as the vampire, ghoul, zombie or witch.  Using these materials, the Frutta show presents these sliced or lobotomised anatomies in the form of a series of wall and floor-based sculptures. They are made from cast sections that are placed together (in the same way that you would construct a puzzle) to create a form of chunky image that straddles the lines of image and sculpture – flat but fighting to be three-dimensional.

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Installation view of GUM SOULS, Frutta Gallery

Since I have been in Rome I have looked at lots of floors, and images made from other materials, such as mosaics and opus sectile images (created from fragments of broken tile and marble shards). They are objects that have been pushed into a flat surface to form an image. I was particularly excited about the ‘Unswept Floor’ mosaic at the Vatican and the use of shadows and perspective on a flat surface to depict detritus. It also made me think more about rubbish, breakdown and bodies and I have started to make works that acts as containers for things – perhaps bins or money boxes.

The work for the Mostra has similarities to the Frutta works in that the Mostra work is made from parts that fit together. However, it feels different through the way that the new work has more of an architectural function, standing away from the wall. I have been using perspex to make sections which has an interesting effect on the weight and form of the materials and I feel excited to keep going with this.

Holly Hendry (Rome Fellow in Contemporary Art)


 

Holly’s work is currently on show alongside the six other resident artists in December Mostra, opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 22 December 2018.

An ambasciata d’obbedienza to the Holy See: the marchese Giambattista Lupi as Ranuccio II Farnese’s envoy to Clement X in 1671

John Condren is Rome Awardee at the BSR (October-December 2018) and here he tells us about his research project on the marchese Giambattista Lupi as Ranuccio II Farnese’s envoy to Clement X in 1671.

My first ever visit to Rome was in mid-July 2017, as the Lucifero heatwave caused intense difficulty for the entire Italian peninsula. In baking heat, I spent an enjoyable three days in visits to the Musei Vaticani and the Palazzo Barberini, climbed the dome of St Peters, brazenly flouted the city’s by-laws concerning the eating of gelato on the Spanish Steps, and jostled through the crowds at the Trevi Fountain.

My Roman sojourn in that marvellous summer was an agreeable prelude to three weeks of archival research in the north of Italy, in the state archives of Parma, Modena, and Mantua, all of which I had worked in several times before. I am continuing to develop my 2015 PhD thesis (on Louis XIV and these small Italian principalities) into an academic monograph. My first stop after Rome was beautiful Parma, three hours to the north by train, and considerably more tranquil than the Eternal City at the height of summer. The Archivio di Stato in Parma boasts a vast wealth of documentation from the late seventeenth century, and specifically on the Farnese dynasty’s material and ecclesiastical interests in the Papal States.

During my stay in Rome I had wandered into Piazza Farnese to gaze in admiration at the sixteenth-century palazzo which dominates it.

1. Palazzo Farnese

Palazzo Farnese

2. Palazzo Farnese

This was the seat of the dynasty from northern Lazio which had tasted the grandeur of the papacy (Pope Paul III, r. 1534-1549) and which was one of the most important aristocratic families in Renaissance Rome. My research on the Farnese in the seventeenth century concerns their use of French diplomatic support in Rome to gain concessions from the Holy See. In the 1640s, Duke Odoardo Farnese, ruler of Parma and Piacenza, had fought an inconclusive war against Pope Urban VIII [Barberini] over the Duchy of Castro, an enormously wealthy territory which had long constituted part of the Farnese patrimony. The conflict flared up again in 1649, whereupon it was ultimately agreed in 1652 that Castro should be returned to the Farnese after eight years, on payment of a substantial fine.

3. Castro

Castro

But in 1660, Pope Alexander VII [Chigi] declared that the Farnese had never paid their debts, and accordingly he formally confiscated (incamerated) the duchy of Castro and the county of Ronciglione. Duke Ranuccio II (Odoardo’s son) protested volubly through diplomatic channels at this manifest injustice, but to no avail.

4. Ranuccio II Farnese, duke of Parma and Piacenza (r. 1646 - 1694)

Ranuccio II Farnese

Alexander remained unmoved – at least until 20 August 1662, when his Corsican Guards made the mistake of attacking the French ambassador’s carriage outside the Palazzo Farnese – now leased to the French monarchy and serving as its embassy to the Holy See. This caused a serious diplomatic incident. Sensing an opportunity, Ranuccio allied himself with France in the ensuing quarrel between Louis XIV and Pope Alexander VII – something of a cold war, which lasted until February 1664.

Cardinal Chigi apologising to Louis XIV

Cardinal Chigi apologises to Louis XIV in August 1664 on his uncle’s behalf

Thanks to Louis’s insistence, Ranuccio once again received papal promises that Castro would be his after another eight years – so long as he paid some 1.8 million scudi which the Camera Apostolica claimed was still outstanding. This stipulation proved impossible for the Farnese, whose treasury had been depleted by Duke Odoardo’s fecklessness in the 1630s and 1640s.

Knowing all this, I was intrigued and delighted to discover in the reading-room in Parma the journal of an ambasciata d’obbedienza (embassy of obedience) which Ranuccio dispatched to Rome in the spring of 1671, after the elderly Cardinal Emilio Altieri had been elected to the throne of St Peter as Pope Clement X. Such embassies to Rome (widely perceived as being the Teatro del mondo) were important ceremonial occasions. They served to reinforce the moral right of the Church to exercise temporal power in the Italian peninsula, as the perceived defender of Italian ‘liberties’ against profane invaders from beyond the Alps (such as the French). With time running out to repay the vast sum still owing for Castro (due by 1672),  Ranuccio was hopeful of persuading a sufficient number of cardinals friendly to the Farnese that his claims could be honoured without recourse to his limited funds. The ambassador whom Ranuccio accredited to the new pope was the 45-year-old marchese Giambattista Lupi di Soragna, from the province of Parma. Coincidentally, after 1945, one of the first Italian ambassadors from the new Italian Republic to the Holy See was also a member of the Lupi di Soragna family.

6. Rocca di Soragna

Rocca di Soragna

After permitting myself a wry chuckle that an individual whose surname translates as ‘wolves’ should be sent on embassy to a city founded by a she-wolf’s adoptees, I settled down to read the document, noting the expenses which Giambattista Lupi incurred both in Rome and on his way there. The envoy purchased lavish presents for important dignitaries, and recorded his day-to-day expenses in meticulous detail. He described his reception in Rome and his meetings with the governor, various cardinals, the ambassadors of the major powers, and ultimately Pope Clement. The volume reflects my strong interest in what has been described as ‘new’ diplomatic history, wherein the actions, ambitions, and concerns of ambassadors, their families and their retinues are of more relevance than the intentions of their sovereigns.

Title-page

Title page of journal

This journal is a valuable insight into the challenging role of a diplomat from a minor European state, in a transformative era in European history. Lupi’s accreditation to the papacy was an act born of desperation. His sovereign, Ranuccio II, ultimately failed to secure any concessions whatsoever from the Camera Apostolica, and similarly failed to interest Louis XIV in applying pressure in Rome. After 1672, the question of Castro was dead, although the Farnese casa attempted to revive it at European peace congresses until the early 1730s – when the last Farnese duke, the bon-vivant Antonio, died without heirs in 1731.

My research in Rome, stimulated by my 2017 discovery of Lupi’s journal, has taken me to the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana and the Archivio Segreto Vaticano. Here, I have studied documents concerning the Farnese relationship with the Holy See, and the role of Louis XIV as a mediator on their behalf. Ranuccio II also strove to ensure that priests in good standing at the court of Parma were appointed as abbots and priors to vacant benefices in his territories, and to this end he enlisted the services of his family’s former enemies – the Barberini brothers, the cardinals Antonio and Francesco – whose magnificent portraits adorn the BAV.

8. Antonio Barberini

Antonio Barberini

I have also paid three visits to the Archivio di Stato in Naples, where much archival material concerning the Farnese (over 2,000 buste like the one in the photo) has been conserved since the eighteenth century. My research in Naples has yielded the correspondence of other Farnese ambassadors to Rome and France in the 1650s and 1660s – highly useful for comparison to Lupi’s mission. I have also discovered vast quantities of documentation concerning land ownership and ecclesiastical patronage in Castro and Ronciglione.

9. Archivio farnesiano, b. 567

From research in Naples

None of this work would have been possible without the supportive and enjoyable research environment provided by the BSR, and for this I am extremely grateful. When I was enjoying strawberry and mint-flavoured gelato in the Piazza del Popolo back in July 2017, I did not imagine that I would soon be staying a five-minute walk away in a beautiful Palladian villa for a full three months, and therefore able to conduct research of immense value to my current and future projects.

John Condren (Rome Awardee)

 

Meet the Artists… Soheila Sokhanvari / December Mostra 2018

Ahead of the December Mostra as part of our Meet the Artists series, we spoke to Soheila Sokhanvari (Derek Hill Foundation Scholar) about the use of pattern and colour in Greco-Roman art, as well as her recent public arts commission for the Mayor of London’s #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign.

IMG_4795SoheilaSokhanvari

Soheila Sokhanvari (photo by Antonio Palmieri)

As a cultural hybrid, born in Iran but having lived in Britain for most of your life, you are captivated by ideologies that connect Eastern and Western cultures, particularly through complex elaborate patterning in Islamic art and its connection to Greco-Roman and Byzantine art. How are you developing this during your residency in Rome?

 

I have always been drawn to pattern because my father was a fashion designer and through him I learnt about how we use colour and patterns to create visual identities and even for storytelling. Decoration, patterning and taste explore subliminal communication tools that are never neutral and contain the cultural, the socio-political, colonial history and economics of a society, for instance the clan specificity of the Scottish tartan or the Kente patterns of the African cultures (which were actually designs by the Dutch and adopted in Congo) have symbolic meaning that are culturally explicit. Patterns can be specific to an economic stratum as in advertising companies’ use of branding such as Burberry, Liberty, Gucci etc, they can also be specific to an era like the flower power of the 1970s and they can create a subconscious communication that historically we have used in considering each other.

lips like sugar

Lips Like Sugar, 2018, egg tempera on vellum

The Islamic geometric pattern was born out of the Greco-Roman patterns as a substitute for the figure in art. In Islam geometric patterning symbolises the infinity of God and the vastness of the universe and by decorating every single space it is meant to create delirium in the viewer in order to contemplate God. In Roman culture the geometric mosaic borders at the entrance of buildings were thought of as defensive devices in presenting a puzzle, that caused a ‘cognitive stickiness’ in demons who were trapped in an endless sequence of attempting to unravel the design and that any evil spirit would have become so fascinated by its entwined strands as to suffer from a paralysis of will so as not enter the buildings (Gell, A). The eternal city of Rome is a treasure trove of colour and patterns and it is fascinating how modern some of these Roman patterns are, of course that is because they have been an inspiration for designers and artists for centuries. I have been looking at the simple geometric patterns for instance the diamond shape opus reticulatum which was used by the Romans in their brickworks, the ◊-shape in the mosaic works – so simple and yet so mesmerizing – had a symbolic meaning too, the two triangles, one downward (Yin) and one upward pointing (Yang), embodies the balance of the universe and the networks of life. It is riveting to learn how for the Romans every colour and shape had a meaning that we have lost the ability to connect with or read.

I have also been binge watching Italian films and happily stumbled onto drawings by Fellini who was a witty draftsman. I adore his films and now am an even bigger fan of his. I have been working on portraits of Iranian pre-revolutionary female pop-stars photographed by men with a view to reinterpret them under my gaze.

Baby, I'M A Star

BABY, I’M A STAR, 2018, egg tempera on paper

You took part in a public arts commission in collaboration with Tate Collective and the Mayor of London, #BehindEveryGreatCity, to mark the centenary of the first women in the UK winning the right to vote. Can you tell us more about this project?

This project was curated by Tate collective as part of the Mayor of London’s endeavour to create a series of public art works each inspired by a specific woman who had been overlooked from London’s history. There were twenty artworks in total and I was given the site of Victoria Station. There were several conditions to meet for the proposal – it had to address the history of the suffrage movement and reference the legacy of the chosen artist for that specific station. Victoria Station was the location to celebrate Marion Dorn because she was an important female artist living and working in Chelsea, London, from 1923 to 1940. She was an American artist who designed the original pattern for TFL (Transport for London) which continues to inspire designs used today, and her textiles and carpets were hung in iconic interiors such as the Savoy, Claridge’s and the White House.  Marion Dorn was nicknamed the ‘architect of the interiors’ because of her designs for floors and carpets. She was a huge success opening her own company in Chelsea, London.

Stephen and SOheila

Soheila with BSR Director Stephen Milner at her installation in Victoria Station for the #BehindEveryGreatCity initiative

My piece was realised as a carpet inspired by an earlier carpet made in 1935 by Dorn and the colours that she used were symbolic of the American suffrage flag colours – green for hope, yellow for life and purple for loyalty. You can see my work which is presently hanging in the young people’s workshop at Tate Britain.

Soheila Sokhanvari (Derek Hill Foundation Scholar)

 


Soheila’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in December Mostra, opening Friday 14 December 18.30-21.00.

Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 22 December 2018, closed Sundays.

 

 

 

Mithras in Capua Vetere: shining new light

Philippa Adrych is the Judith Maitland Memorial Awardee at the BSR (October-December 2018) and here she tells us about where her research on the cult of Mithras has taken her during her residency.

Last week I took some time away from my cosy nook in the BSR library for a trip to Santa Maria Capua Vetere, a Campanian town only forty-five minutes from Naples by train. This wasn’t my first time there, so I knew roughly what to expect: winding streets, a general air of sleepiness, and then – suddenly at the end of a road – the arches of a Roman amphitheatre.

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The distant arches of the amphitheatre 

But, impressive though it is, I hadn’t actually come to Capua Vetere for the amphitheatre. I was visiting for something far more hidden away: a mithraeum. Capua Vetere has one of the most famous examples of a sanctuary to the Roman god Mithras (mithraeum) in Italy. Located underground, it follows the traditional shape of mithraea: rectangular, narrow, with stone benches lining a central aisle and leading towards a cult image on the rear wall.

When I was in Capua Vetere before, I was mostly interested in frescoes on the fronts of the benches, which are usually thought to represent scenes of initiation. The Roman worship of Mithras is typically categorised in scholarship as a ‘mystery cult’, with accompanying ideas about secrecy, a membership that was restricted by gender (men only, as far as we can tell) and perhaps by initiation.

But on this visit, I wanted to spend more time looking at the fresco that fills the back wall of the mithraeum, and is its most defining feature.

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Tauroctony fresco, Capua Vetere mithraeum 

It shows the youthful god Mithras kneeling on the back of a large white bull to subdue it; with his right hand, he plunges a dagger into the bull’s shoulder. This is a depiction of the tauroctony (bull-slaying) scene, that is found in almost every mithraeum around the Roman Empire, from Syria to Spain. Opinion on the meaning of the scene is still divided, but it was clearly so important to worshippers that it became the defining marker of their sacred spaces.

This tauroctony fresco is remarkable for the preservation of its colour: rich reds, blues, greens and yellows that make the figures incredibly vivid. The action takes place within a representation of a cave, with painted stones forming a semi-circular vault over Mithras’ head. Just outside the cave you can find small busts of Sol and Luna, the divine personifications of the sun and moon. They can be identified by their attributes: the crescent moon for Luna, and a whip and radiate crown for Sol. One of the rays from Sol’s crown pierces through the rocks of the cave and the shadows within, until it brushes up against the edge of Mithras’ cloak.

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That faint ray of light

What could this signify? Could it be intended as a way of bringing light into the darkness of the cave? Or should we interpret it as a means of involving Sol in the moment of bull-killing? One thing we do know is that this motif was not unique to Capua Vetere. It appears on tauroctony frescoes from the mithraeum of the Palazzo Barberini in Rome and the mithraeum at Marino in Lazio. It can also be found on several stone reliefs, many of which are Italian in origin. The features of the scene vary: sometimes the ray reaches towards Mithras’ eye; sometimes Sol doesn’t even seem to be looking at the action within the cave. A copy of a relief now in the Naples Archaeological Museum hangs above the entrance to the Capua Vetere mithraeum, as though preparing you for the fresco inside.

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Tauroctony relief, Capua Vetere mithraeum

There is no rocky cave on this relief; the ray disappears amidst the folds of Mithras’ cloak, and the god turns to look directly at Sol.

Details like this inevitably raise more questions than we can answer. But that doesn’t really matter. One of the joys of staying at the BSR is undoubtedly the opportunity to visit mithraea and to shine some faint light onto Mithraic esoterica. My research has always centred on the primary sources for Mithraic worship, particularly its archaeology and art; my trip to Capua Vetere fired me with enthusiasm to look more closely at the richness of Mithraic material culture, and left me ready to get back to my writing desk.

Philippa Adrych (Judith Maitland Memorial Awardee)

All images by Philippa Adrych.