Green Wallspine (Villa Carpegna) was made in Rome during my Abbey Fellowship in Painting. October – December 2019.
Our first Abbey Fellow in Painting for 2018-19 Simon Callery is now back in the UK and showing some of his work from his BSR residency at the ongoing Jonah Jones Centennial Exhibition. In this blog Simon tells us about his process for making Green Wallspine (Villa Carpegna) which was first shown at December Mostra.
During my fellowship I had plans to take my canvas out onto the streets of the historic city centre and work directly in contact with the hard surfaces of the walls and streets. After days of looking for potential sites I realized that this was going to be impossible and I wouldn’t be able to work in such a busy and well-protected environment.
I decided to approach it in another way. One morning I took the metro east to Battistini in the suburbs, the last stop on the A line, with the intention of finding somewhere quiet to work whilst walking back to the BSR in Parioli. The folded canvas I was carrying had already been coloured with chromium oxide pigment and rabbit skin glue size.
On the busy Circonvallazione Aurelia, a noisy main road leading back into town, I found an entrance off the thoroughfare into the Villa Carpegna. I was in a walled urban park. In an overlooked corner of the park a redundant set of stone steps led up to a bricked-in aperture in the wall. I was able to put my canvasses on these steps and mark and puncture them. I worked quickly and in response to the broken surfaces I could feel under the fabric.
Now I had some material with scratches and holes – a record of physical contact with the city. Back in the studio, I cut and sewed these canvasses into four distinct parts and incorporated a step into the proportions. I made four small wood brackets to support them, next to one another, at 90° to the wall.
Researching the site of my work I found out that Villa Carpegna had been built on farmland acquired by Cardinal Gaspare Carpegna in 1684 and subsequently developed by architect Giovanni Antonio di Rossi. It was acquisitioned by the Comune di Roma in 1978 and it now houses the Quadriennale di Roma, an organization set up to support and promote contemporary Italian art.
Oona Grimes (Bridget Riley Fellow 2017–18) started 2019 with two solo exhibitions featuring work made during her residency last year. In this blog Oona discusses her Rome experience and the genesis of the work made. Oona also describes her adventures in film-making and what comes next.
I arrived in Rome on 2nd January 2018 with the sound tracks of Nights of Cabiria and Roma Citta Apertà playing in my head.
I was on my way to revisit the films of the Neorealists, films I’d watched as a child and misremembered ever since.
Day 2: returning from a Cavallini eye fest I stumbled into Il Museo di Roma in Trastevere and met Toto…..Italy’s most loved and respected and irreverent comedian.
Toto agreed to become my leading man.
The giant story board began……..
He starred in a number of stencil drawings: drawings on black paper celebrating the flatness of frescoes, blackness of analogue film & badly restored conservation patches:
‘Toto & le tre sorelle Fontana’, ‘Toto meets San Bartolomeo’ & later ‘cinzano & cherry soda’ & ‘the lovely season’.
Just Being on the streets of Rome I was surrounded by the cast, all in mid flow enacting their daily dramas.
I had arrived with specific Missions – visits to Cinecittà and plunderings of the archives at Centro Sperimentale; time to spend with the Etruscans and my love of their graphic flattist tomb paintings, all of which were topped and tiramisu-ed by anamorphic murals in Trinità dei Monti, underground scavi-scavenging in San Giovanni in Laterano – adventures from Mithras to Mussolini, Etruscans to E.U.R. toga tying, fascist fountains all the fascinating tangents that emerge from the kind of casual conversations that can only happen at the BSR.
Rewatching the films from Rossellini to late Fellini on their home pitch I wanted to understand the films more intensely, and my way of knowing is though drawing.
Daily I would make A4 coloured pencil drawings from my mis-memories of films watched as a child; fast drawings ‘Not a Neorealist Storyboard’ and larger slower stencil drawings continually circumnavigating the left brain: ’the fumetti grrrrls’ and ‘ragazze e ragazzi romani’. Filling notebooks in order to make sense of the overwhelming input and to ground myself in the sea of visual treats. The pile of books grew daily; the gestures & observations, colours and pattern, the folds & drapes of melty marble all subtly oozing into the drawings – a thesaurus of stolen characters.
Daily I would walk to Piazza Rotunda & beyond, just to Be in Rome, early before the crowds; to watch the roadsweepers and shopkeepers setting up, to see the light changing over the city.
Gradually those walks and those films wove themselves into my dreams and my drawings.
Surprising shifts began to happen.
Particular scenes began to haunt me, sequences with specific relevance to time and place. I began drawing singular actions and repeating them in order to comprehend them. Repeated actions, drawing them now physically, drawing myself into the film.
‘Umberto d.’ headlined the series, the scene where he is reduced to begging in front of the Pantheon. A deceptively simple action duplicated and filmed over 3 months as the skies changed and the tourists crept in.
i.phone rushes that usually end up on the cutting room floor. Rehearsals. I wasn’t acting I was drawing the moment.
They just happened, they happened by being there, by having time, by having no pressures or deadlines.
I saw them as studies, and just cut them together as if watching behind the scenes preparation.
Looping slapstick-like fragments, stretching the commedia dell’arte element by repetition and abstraction, a Sisyphean rehearsal for a never to be released film. Owning the discourse through mis-remembering, imitation and low tech re- enactment.
The scenes from familiar films chose me, and following ‘Umberto d’, ‘mozzarella in carrozza’ from Bicycle Thieves emerged. Focussing on the excruciatingly painful scene in the restaurant Antonio and his son Bruno can’t afford – a scene of misplaced pride, disillusion and the vivid class divide between them and the diners.
The studio became a mini props, production design & costume department. The planning behind Stromboli’s Bucket was perhaps more interesting than the final mini short : fabricating a glass bottomed bucket, negotiating hardware shops and perspex manufacturers, locating a suitable ‘Sea’ : the Laghetto di Villa Borghese which of course was chiuso on the day due to storms, so a nearby fountain quickly stepped in as understudy for the shoot.
Then ‘u.e.u.’ from Pasolini’s ‘Uccellacci e Uccellini’ filmed in Garbatella. Bird calls haunted me in the studio, their repetitive song & dawn chorus invaded my dreams. ‘u.e u.’ is a sublime dance of mis-communication, mis-translation, absurd jumpy hand gestures referencing both kinesics from paintings and everyday communication. Using 16mm film cut with iPhone clips I chased language – both the learning and losing of it – the omissions, the torn, the discontinuity, the patches, the bad repairs.
Walking, watching, hand gestures, sign language, language of hands, mis-translation, mis-communication, bird language, dance language.
Drapes and folds, pleats and drapes, fabric fashion folds all seeping into the work
Returning to London with a new-found confidence and focus I made 2 new films : ‘Oscar’s dance’ and ‘wheres Marcello?’ The latter shot on Holkham beach Norfolk a cross channel reflection of Sabaudia. ‘Angelo del fango’ now fulfilling her role and Cabiria dancing her dreams in Hackney.
The one-day schedule remained, initially the time my cameraman came to visit in Rome, but appropriated to retain an element of rawness and rehearsal-ness, using costumes and props that were instantly available.
And I won a prize! My first film festival entry at The Swedenborg Film Festival with ‘u.e u.’ and a prize selected and presented by the wonderful and sadly missed Susan Hiller [1940-2019].
All six films were shown at Matt’s Gallery London on mini i.pads. Hand held like reading a paperback book, one to one, sitting on the floor : ‘Hail the new Etruscan #2’ : 19-27 Jan 2019.
And the giant story board is on show at Danielle Arnaud co art London : ‘Hail the new Etruscan #1’ : 12 January – 9 February.
‘ragazze e ragazzi Romani’, large stencil drawings patched and collaged filling the Georgian house with Italian characters.
Next ………. A solo show at The Bower in Camberwell 5 June – 7 July 2019 and an off-site adventure at The Venice Biennale in May (contact Danielle Arnaud for details).
Oona’s exhibition ‘Hail the new Etruscan #1’ is open at Danielle Arnaud until 9 February 2019 (123 Kennington Road London SE11 6SF, T/F: +44 (0)20 7735 8292), the gallery is open Thursday, Friday & Saturday 2-6 p.m. or by appointment. Oona Grimes is represented by Danielle Arnaud.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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, 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.
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.
Ahead of the December Mostra as part of our Meet the Artists series, we spoke to Samuel Hasler (Creative Wales-BSR Fellow) about his research into giallo films… and ghosts at the BSR.
Samuel Hasler (photo by Antonio Palmieri)
Your research at the BSR focuses on Italian cinema, especially on the genre of giallo. How are you developing the study of this cinematographic style?
I came to Rome imagining that I might make work in a certain way, I had written notes towards a sort of giallo screenplay/novella that I was enjoying working on and I imagined I would develop this here. I also brought some low-grade video cameras with half a plan of making some short videos. Inevitably things have moved sideways a little, but giallo cinema and horror cinema is still an influence on the way that I’m putting the work together.
I came up with a working title for a film or text work I Colori Dei Telefoni which to me sounded like the name of a giallo style film, but also it came about after being told about the Telefoni Bianchi films. This got me thinking about phones and their presence in cinema. Phones in giallo films would of course be all different colours, on those 70s film sets of bold colourful design. In horror cinema there is a very specific way in which phones work. They allow contact between our villains and victims with an unknown distance between them. The voice becomes violent and intrusive. The ringing phone becomes an ominous portent.
For a while I thought I’d make a film based on public payphones in the city. I’ve no idea what that film would be. I wanted to make phone calls to the public phones from the BSR and see who answered, but I don’t think Italian payphones work this way, and I don’t speak Italian.
I started recording stuff with my low-grade cameras at night.
My hands have a natural tremor, it’s very noticeable when recording film. I became interested in the way this would generate a specific quality to the film, and how the autofocus was constantly battling with the jerky movements of the camera. One night there was a tremendous thunderstorm, that went on for hours and I got some beautiful footage of that. I liked the way the camera was struggling to deal with the sudden shifts in light and this got me interested in working with all these limitations. The camera also picks up rain in a particularly clear way. So there was a bunch of interesting textures across the footage I was getting. All filmed at night, mostly in the rain, and as often as possible, in the crashing lights of a thunderstorm.
So I don’t really know if I did any research in a typical structured way into giallo, or if I’ve done lots more than I was doing before I got here. But the aesthetics of vintage horror, and the atmosphere of these things have been important in the way that I’ve made work.
All the footage I’ve made is black and white. I like the idea that I might make a film called I Colori Dei Telefoni, filmed in black and white, and with no telephones in it.
Sometime before the mostra I’ll watch All The Colours Of The Dark which is a giallo by Sergio Martino, and I’m sure like everything here, it’ll start to feed in.
Visiting the archives you found material belonging to a very important personality for the BSR, Eugenie Sellers Strong, Librarian and Assistant Director from 1909 to 1925. How is the story of this woman having an impact on your research in Rome?
Eugenie Sellers Strong. Courtesy BSR Archives.
When I heard that the BSR had a ghost I couldn’t resist finding out a bit more about it. I love those trashy television programmes like Most Haunted. The wonky film style and the often lone presenters talking to camera. It all clicks into a range of other work that I’ve made. I love the way those shows present our beautiful fears and the romanticism of nocturnal spaces, but through the most hysterical, crude and idiotic lens.
Anyhow, the British School at Rome is haunted (maybe) by the ghost of Eugenie Strong, who was the first Assistant Director and Librarian of the British School at Rome. She was a formidable character and a huge influence on the organisation as it stands today. I’ve been talking with the brilliant archivist here, Alessandra Giovenco, and hatching plans, maybe for some kind of artwork to develop out of the archive material here. It’s early days on this, but it’s such fertile territory; I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of it.
Sam’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.
Last week we held the workshop All about Concrete: from the Pantheon to the Present, the second in the BSR’s series of interdisciplinary research study days in the UK on the historicity of materials and the work of the BSR. This event was generously sponsored by the Concrete Centre and hosted by the University of Liverpool in London.
The day, organised by BSR faculty members Vivien Lovell, MaryAnne Stevens and Marco Iuliano, comprised a series of presentations on the use of concrete over two millennia. Speakers highlighted the extreme versatility, strength and plasticity of the material.
Alan Powers (London School of Architecture) opened the day with a keynote presentation exploring ‘Cult Contrete’, which provoked lively debate.
The first panel session, chaired by MaryAnne Stevens, explored the history of the use of concrete. Presentations encompassed over two thousand years of use from ancient Rome to Carlo Scarpa (1906–1978). Janet DeLaine introduced us to the seven virtues of concrete in ancient Rome, while Joseph Rykwert touched on the Renaissance ‘rediscovery’ of ancient concrete techniques. Richard Murphy closed the session, bringing us forward into the twentieth century, with his discussion of Scarpa’s use of water in his architectural projects – an analogy for concrete.
Giovanni Paolo Panini, Interior of the Pantheon, Rome c. 1734
After lunch participants were split into three groups and were treated to a study visit to to the Barbican Estate and Centre. These groups were led simultaneously by Catherine Croft (C20 Society), Dave King (Architect and Barbican Resident) and Vicky Richardson (Writer and Curator, of architecture and design). Even those who thought they knew the Estate well, were surprised to learn that there are over 100 different property types on the estate; that all of the concrete was hand chiselled (including the towers!); and that the water features were dyed to reflect depth.
We reconvened after the visits for the second panel session chaired by Vivien Lovell, which covered the contemporary use of concrete. Artist, Florian Roithmayr presented current work and described his process. Participants were able to see first hand concrete sculptures which Florian had on display throughout the day.
Concrete sculptures by Florian Roithmayr
Following this, organiser Marco Iuliano was in conversation with photographer Helene Binet, discussing themes in her architectural photographs of concrete structures. Finally Jo Melvin introduced us to the concept of concrete poetry and how it is produced in contemporary art practice.
The afternoon was concluded by two readings. Organiser Vivien Lovell read a poem entitled ‘Times New Roman’ by Pele Cox (written especially for the event) and Vicky Richardson read a passage from J G Ballard’s ‘Concrete Island’.
Concluding remarks were given by architect Eric Parry who succinctly synthesised the presentations and the interdisciplinary conversations of the day.
Text and photographs by Natasha Burbridge and Alice Marsh, BSR London Office.
BSR alumna Gina Medcalf’s (Abbey Fellow 2014–15) exhibition Oplontis Room 66 is currently open at the Kapil Jariwala Gallery, London. In this blog Gina discusses the dialogue between the historic and the contemporary and how the work is inspired by research carried out during her BSR residency.
Photo Antonio Palmieri
In the Oplontis Room 66 series of paintings I want to connect the historic and the contemporary experiences of painting. Already in my mind as an inspiring narrative before my BSR Abbey Fellowship of 2015, Roman wall paintings had a presence which demanded a deeper understanding. I followed the clues as my research unfolded, like reading a detective story. Similarly, the paintings which followed took their time to unfold, research and put into practice.
GINA MEDCALF ROOM 66/3L, 2018 Acrylic on canvas 131.5 x 113 cm
The Room 66 wall paintings are of exceptional quality. Perhaps by the same team of painters as the ‘fantastic’ architectural designs in the Cryptoporticus of Nero’s Domus Aurea in Rome. ‘The decorative system in the Domus Aurea spread from the capital to the rest of the Empire’, says Alessandra Zampieri in her book, Ornament and the Grotesque. And since it is a probability that Oplontis was built by Nero for his wife Poppea, the use of the same painters in the two locations could be considered. Oplontis is a supreme example of Nero’s ‘new’ taste in decorative art.
However, I was not so interested in the grotesques in Room 66 as in the strong contrasts between the red and black below and the white grounded, full polychromatic upper part. A visitor to the preview of my painting exhibition wrote, ‘I hope one day we will get to Oplontis, but I must say I imagined it as a rather sad and gloomy place and your paintings are so full of life that I must be wrong.’ The paintings at Oplontis are still full of life with their vibrant drawing and colour, two thousand years after they were painted.
In preparation for the Abbey Fellowship at the BSR, I looked at colour in Roman wall paintings from the point of view of use, availability and cost, then I looked for the closest equivalent to those colours in paints today. In Room 66 I found the key to unlock a convincing interpretation of that passage of time between c.50 CE and 2015. The red, black, yellow, turquoise, sienna and brown oxide colours and the integration of that colour and linear drawings were the foundation for my 2018 series of paintings.
GINA MEDCALF ROOM 66/4L, 2018 Acrylic on canvas 132 x 114.3 cm
Oplontis Room 66 is showing at the Kapil Jariwala Gallery, London until 2 November 2018.