December Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Tal Regev

As we approach the December Mostra, we are taking a closer look at the individual practices of our resident artists. The second interview is of Tal Regev, our Derek Hill Foundation Scholar.


You came to Rome with the aim of researching ecstasy in Italian art. You are especially interested in the sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. How are you developing your work in Rome in relation to this subject matter?

In my research about ecstasy in Italian art I am specifically drawn to the fall as a tactical response to an emergency. I am interested in the attempt of Teresa to find refuge from the most silent symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia and fainting fits which she notes in her writings. The angel pierces through her heart with a golden spear and when he pulls it out she sinks into ecstasy.

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, Bernini

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1645-52

I am interested in the realms that one falls into in ecstasy and how very subtle violences between individuals could push towards losing the boundaries of the physical body. In my research I’m specifically looking for notes of fracture and violence in Italian art. I am interested to bring those elements into my work as a silence which underpins everything.

Rapid shifts, 2018, oil on canvas, 190 x 160 cm

Tal Regev, Rapid Shifts, 2018. Oil on Canvas 190 x 160 cm

The shape of a snake recurs often in your paintings. Does this figure have a specific meaning in your practice?

The snake is a part of my talismanic series Rapid Shifts: swirling snakes leave the body and pull out information deeply embedded in the cells. They cut cords, and detoxify the blood cells. They operate as a healing element in my work, as a counterpoint to the personal experiences that leak through bodies.

Tal’s work will be exhibited alongside other resident artists in the December Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 6 December 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 14 December 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser).

Viscera, 2017, oil on canvas, 170 x 150 cm

Tal Regev, Viscera, 2017. Oil on Canvas 170 x 150 cm


December Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Holly Davey

As we approach the December Mostra, we are taking a closer look at the individual practices of our resident artists. Our first interview is of Holley Davey, our Creative Wales-BSR Fellow.


In the past two months you spent some time researching the archive of stage sets at Cinecittà Studios, reflecting on the connection between sculpture, architecture and the lens. You are interested in exploring the relationship between the constructed reality and the viewpoint it needs to be seen from as well as the abstract architectural forms that are created behind the set itself, to hold the two-dimensional fabricated reality up. How are you developing this research during your time in Rome?

I have been developing this research through acts of looking; taking photographs, spending time in a number of archives, at Cinecittà studio’s researching film sets and visiting a number of roman ruins.

From this looking and researching, I have been particularly interested in the geometrical constructed forms behind the film set façade and I started making a series of small models, working with different materials such as tracing paper, printer paper, photographs, wood, plaster and fabric. I’m really trying to understand the space and forms of these constructions and how materials can inform this. I am fascinated by the rub between these constructed forms needing to support the façade but in the same moment the sense that it is all about to collapse.

Holly Davey Research image

Holly Davey, Research Image, 2019

As part of my research, I have been looking at the photographic archive of Agnes and Dora Bulwer, starting with their images of roman archaeological ruins. Very quickly, I became fascinated by the photographs with a single female figure in the frame. I worked with these photographs, cutting out the female figure, creating a white silhouette and then using these abstracted figurative forms to create the façade of their identity.

A lot of my work is coming together with the writing I am doing around these fragmented elements and the process of working with an archive. My research has become an archive of thoughts and potential ideas so I have also started to use some time here to think about how I enable the audience to engage with the work and the different ways I can present the research.

It has been a very playful period using new materials, taking creative risks, even if, for quite a lot of the time, I feel a bit uncomfortable about what I am doing because I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone and beyond the parameters of my practice. This is a conscious decision on my part, I see it as an amazing opportunity to try something different so I can discover something new about my work, my process and myself as a person.

Holly Davey, Cut out number 29, Photograph by Dora Bulwer, Bulwer Collection, British School of Rome, 2019

Holly Davey, Cut out number 29, Photograph by Dora Bulwer, Bulwer Collection, British School at Rome 2019

Martina Caruso, BSR Assistant Director for Fine Arts, Architecture and Creative Industries, introduced you to the figures of two photographer sisters, who worked for many years at the British School at Rome under the Direction of Thomas Ashby and whose memory has been canceled from the archive of the Academy. How is this amazing discovery having an impact on your practice?

I have always been interested in female voices within history and in previous commissions, I’ve researched the absence of them in archives, libraries, collections. I am always looking for traces, seeking out where are the women in this place, where are the female voices, how are they being acknowledged, how are they being seen by an audience, by the outside world. The impact of discovering the Bulwer sister’s echoes with my early photographic work, using the camera lens as a mirror to life. Seeing their works has had a huge impact on me as they are amazing photographers, photographing archeological ruins in a very interesting way and there is very little known about them. I have been curious to research their life together in Rome during the late 1800’s, to understand their wider narrative such as where were they living? who did they know? What were they reading? Trying to find out who were they?

For me the amazing thing about working with archives is that you are looking at the fragmented  evidence of existence, you get glimpses of people, you find tiny scraps of information that you can start to piece together, and it seems you’re almost getting a picture of them but then they disappear.  This is very exciting to me as you never see the whole.  This translates into my work, in which you see a collection of fragments and the audience can then create a version of the whole for themselves.

Holly’s work will be exhibited alongside the other resident artists in the December Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 6 December 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 14 December 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser) . 

Holly Davey Studio at British School of Rome, 2019

Holly Davey, BSR Studio, 2019

Cardinal Alessandro Albani: collecting, dealing and diplomacy in Grand Tour Europe

On December 11th-13th, 2019 The British School at Rome and the Centro di Studi sulla Cultura e l’Immagine di Roma are presenting an international conference entitled Cardinal Alessandro Albani: collecting, dealing and diplomacy in Grand Tour Europe. The opening evening and first day will be at the BSR with the second and final day hosted by our partners the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma, where the Centro Studi Roma has its base.

This conference had its origins in conversations between myself – formerly assistant director at BSR, now Research Fellow – and Dr Jonny Yarker, former Paul Mellon Rome Fellow and now a prominent London-based dealer in the art market. We had worked together on the 2010 book published by Yale University Press Digging and Dealing in Eighteenth Century Rome which dealt with the excavation and trade in antiquities and Cardinal Albani (1692-1779) was at the heart of that world. The conclusion of our discussion was that it was time to focus on the figure who is mentioned everywhere in contemporary correspondence and by modern scholars but who has remained somewhat in the shadow, both of his librarian Johann Joachim Winckelmann and of his magnificent collections of antiquities. We approached the Centro Studi Roma through its director Mario Bevilacqua – architectural historian and Piranesi specialist – and the conference collaboration was born. Thanks to a generous grant from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, whose Deputy Director Martin Postle is our special guest at the conference, we have been able to proceed with our planning.


Alessandro Albani as a young man, on his elevation to the rank of Cardinal (1721)

The Keynote lectures on Wednesday 11 December at the BSR at 6 pm will be given by noted senior scholars of classical sculpture and ancient Rome Carlo Gasparri and Salvatore Settis. They are curators of the spring 2020 exhibition at the Capitoline Museums showing antique sculpture from the famed collections of the Torlonia family in Rome who own both the Villa Albani-Torlonia and the antiquities collected there.

The conference will feature groups of papers on different themes relating to Albani’s life and career including his private life, his association with scholars and artists – particularly Winckelmann and Giovanni Battista Piranesi, his diplomatic and political associations, his dealing and networking in the European art market and of course his antiquities collections – both the two he sold and his third collection which remains largely intact. His commission to the architect Carlo Marchionni for the new villa outside the northern walls of Rome to house his collection and as a location to host parties for foreign dignitaries is also examined.

His particular connection with the British – both as Grand Tourists in Rome and politically as allies of the papacy – is a focus of this conference, notably the sale of his vast drawings collection including the Cassiano del Pozzo ‘Paper Museum’ to the English King George III through the dealing efforts of the architect brothers Robert and James Adam; we are delighted to have the partnership of the Royal Collection Trust through its Director Tim Knox; the Cassiano del Pozzo project director Rea Alexandratos, who works at the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle where the Albani drawings are kept, is one of our speakers.


Giovanni Battista Piranesi, View of Villa Albani (1769)

Our third partner is the Fondazione Torlonia and we are grateful to them for engaging with us in the planning of a private visit for the speakers to the Villa Albani-Torlonia. The timing of the conference is serendipitous, coming only a few months before the long-awaited exhibition of the Torlonia collection at the Musei Capitolini – a collection where many Albani objects have been kept. No doubt this gathering of researchers including both established and younger scholars from a variety of disciplines and international backgrounds will provide a valuable focus for discussion of the future directions for study and research on this most important figure of the Roman 18th century.

During the first full day Thursday 12 December at the BSR there will also be a presentation by Adriano Aymonino from the University of Buckingham & Colin Thom from the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, introducing the Adam letters digital publication project they are launching. A display of Albani-related rare books and early photographs of Villa Albani from the BSR collections will be held in the Seminar Room, prepared with the kind assistance of Valerie Scott, BSR Librarian and Alessandra Giovenco, BSR Archivist. They will be shown alongside the volumes of The Paper Museum of Cassiano del Pozzo: A Catalogue Raisonné , recently published by the Royal Collection Trust, a series that is nearly complete with a total of 20 volumes across three series.

The conference is open to all without charge; registration is welcome though not obligatory and a volume of essays based on the conference papers is planned.

Dr Clare Hornsby is a Research Fellow at the BSR.

Conference coordination
Mario Bevilacqua, Direttore, Centro di Studi sulla Cultura e Immagine di Roma
Clare Hornsby, Research Fellow, British School at Rome

Honorary Committee
Elisa Debenedetti, Andrea De Pasquale, Marcello Fagiolo, Carlo Gasparri, Barbara Jatta,
Tim Knox, Maria Vittoria Marini Clarelli, Stephen Milner, Martin Postle.

Scientific Committee
Mario Bevilacqua, Amanda Claridge, Clare Hornsby, Ian Jenkins, Harriet O’Neill,
Susanna Pasquali, Jonny Yarker

Conference schedule

Wednesday 11 December at the BSR at 18.00

Carlo Gasparri – La collezione di sculture antiche in Villa Albani a Roma: una storia ancora da scrivere
Salvatore Settis – Lo specchio dei principi: fra Villa Albani e il Museo Torlonia

Thursday 12 December at the BSR at 9.30

Angela Cipriani Il cardinale Alessandro Albani nei manoscritti del Diario di Roma nella Biblioteca Casanatense (1762-1773)
Heather Hyde MinorWinckelmann and Albani: text and pretext
Ginevra OdoneRivalità e gelosie tra antiquari. Il Conte di Caylus, il cardinale Alessandro Albani e i loro intermediari
Brigitte Kuhn-ForteAlessandro Albani e Winckelmann
Maëlig ChauvinIl cardinale Alessandro Albani e i regali diplomatici : l’arte al servizio della politica
Susanne Mueller-Bechtel Il principe ereditario di Sassonia Federico Cristiano, Alessandro Albani e le arti
Matteo BorchiaI vantaggi della diplomazia: Alessandro Albani protettore di artisti tra Roma e l’Europa
Lisa BeavenFashioning a new classical aesthetic: Camillo Massimo, Alessandro Albani and the palace at the Quattro Fontane
Francesca FavaroIl privilegio di copiare: apprendere l’architettura nella biblioteca di Alessandro Albani. Le copie prodotte da B.A. Vittone (1704-1770)
Rea AlexandratosAlbani drawings and prints in the British Royal Collection: George III’s purchase of 1762
Robin SimonThe significance of Alessandro Albani’s patronage of Richard Wilson 
Steffi Roettgen“Noi non siamo venuti che per vedere il Parnasso di Mengs” – note sul complesso rapporto del pittore sassone al cardinal Albani.

Friday 13 December at BNC at 9.30

Andrea De Pasquale Introduzione
Alviera BussottiAlessandro Albani mecenate delle lettere
Brunella PaoliniAlessandro Albani nell’archivio di famiglia di Villa Imperiale a Pesaro
Antonio BecchiBibliotheca Albana Romana: documenti inediti e prospettive di ricerca
Susanna PasqualiPhases of construction at Villa Albani: what we know so far
Patricia Baker and Giacomo Savani‘Contriv’d according to the strictest Rules of Art’: The Reception of Roman Baths and Gardens at Villa Albani 
Elisa DebenedettiVilla Albani nei Taccuini di Carlo Marchionni
Alessandro SpilaCarlo Marchionni a villa Albani: una possibile evoluzione progettuale
Eloisa DoderoDa Palazzo Albani alle Quattro Fontane al Museo Capitolino: la nuova vita della collezione del cardinale Alessandro 
Caroline BarronThe Epigraphic Collection of Cardinal Alessandro Albani
Elizabeth BartmanAlessandro Albani as restorer
Christoph FrankDrawing the Albani Collection: Giovanni Battista Piranesi and some of his Contemporaries



Ancient and modern in the eternal city

Soon after returning from Rome, I logged into Facebook to find a question posed by a friend. She appealed to classicists, asking whether, when they visit Rome or Athens, they navigate using modern landmarks or ancient monuments/topography. Like others who commented on the post, this is a binary choice I find difficult to make, because in Rome the ancient and the modern are so frequently enmeshed.

The relationship between the ancient and the modern is something that all visitors to Rome confront. The many layers of the city’s past are particularly visible at certain sites in the city. At San Clemente, a twelfth-century basilica (still in use today) is built over the remains of a fourth-century church, a second-century Mithraeum (sanctuary of the god Mithras), and houses destroyed in the Neronian fire of AD 64. Piazza Augusto Imperatore today plays host to Augustus’ mausoleum, the Augustan-era Altar of Peace (moved to the square in 1938 and now housed in a glass structure built in 2006), Fascist-era buildings, and a daily-changing outdoor art installation.

The presence of the ancient alongside the modern, and an engagement with the relationship between past and present, is not a contemporary phenomenon; it has been a feature of the city since antiquity.[1] The ancient cityscape was littered with monuments from earlier periods, and writers reflected on the changes or continuities. Vitruvius describes the ancient (albeit heavily restored) hut of Romulus on the Palatine that ‘can recall to our minds and make clear the customs of antiquity’ (On Architecture II.1.5). Juvenal’s Umbricius laments the transformation of the Porta Capena (Satire 3). Perhaps most famously, the Pantheon, though rebuilt by Hadrian in the second century, carries a version of the original building inscription commemorating Agrippa’s erection of the monument a century and a half earlier.

Having time to appreciate the different phases of Rome’s history through long weekends of wandering or conversations over dinner, rather than having to dash from archive to archive on a compressed research trip, is one of the luxuries of a long-term residency at the BSR. The opportunity to consider the modern city against the ancient is especially exciting for me, since the themes of my research (multilingualism, identity, citizenship, migration) frequently invite reflection across the ancient and modern worlds. I have been thinking explicitly about how modern cities can be used to inform our understanding of ancient Rome, and vice versa. In the remainder of this blog, I therefore want to look at three sites of ‘modern’ Rome that each give a snapshot of ways that past and present (or more accurately different pasts and different presents) relate to one another.


Foro Italico

The first site is the Fascist-era sports complex known as the Foro Italico, north of the Milvian Bridge. The complex’s decorative scheme is an expression of Romanità, a movement in post-Risorgimento and Fascist Italy that sought to revive the ideal of ancient ‘Romanness’. The site makes use of ancient Roman visual language. Larger-than-life heroic statues offered by the different provinces of Italy tower over the marble stadium. The main processional way is covered with black and white mosaics in which, disconcertingly, passably classical images of wrestlers and toga-wearing statesmen are interrupted by bobble-hatted skiers, loaded tanks and acclamations to ‘Duce’.


Though the focus of my work is on textual rather than visual sources, seeing such active (mis)appropriation of ancient Romanness was especially interesting to me, given my research into changing conceptions of Romanness across time, and the gap between ancient and modern understandings or assignments of ‘Roman’ as a category. The term Romanità is itself an anachronism: though meant to mirror the Latin Romanitas, this term was not used before the third century AD, in the writings of the Christian author Tertullian.

The lack of in-situ commentary or explanation of the site’s use of ancient visual languages to promote one of the darker chapters of Rome’s history is surprising, all the more so given the site’s continued prominence in the city’s present. The complex is the home ground of AS Roma and Lazio, and hosts the Italian Open tennis and Six Nations rugby matches; it is therefore a site that welcomes visitors from across the world. It is a place where the encounter between ancient and modern shouldn’t go unremarked.

Jewish Quarter

A different perspective on the relationship between ancient and modern is offered in the Jewish quarter, just south of Piazza Venezia and Largo Argentina. The Jews formed a particularly interesting group in the ancient city, being more visible in the inscriptional and archaeological record than other ethnic groups.[2] They marked themselves out by the use of distinctive iconography and by their patterns of language use. In contrast to the inscriptions of the city as a whole, where Latin dominates, the majority of surviving Jewish inscriptions are in Greek, with some also in Hebrew. Language continued to be an important facet of Jewish identity into later periods. An inscribed bilingual Italian-Hebrew box for donations to orphans is still visible on the Via del Portico d’Ottavia. Modern restaurant signs and blackboards also frequently display Hebrew. As I discovered in the poignant Jewish museum, a unique Judaeo-Roman dialect of Italian survives in the streets around the synagogue today.

In other ways, however, the history of the Jews at Rome is not one of continuity. The papacy forced Jews to live in the ghetto between 1555 and 1870 (except for one short period under the Roman Republic of 1798–9). No such enforced ghettoization existed in the ancient city. Though there is literary evidence of the emperor Claudius expelling Jews from Rome (Suet. Claud. 25.4), authorities generally took a relaxed attitude towards migrant groups in the city and did not force Jews or other groups into particular areas. These differences highlight the changing role and attitudes of the state, and its consequences for the place of different ethnic groups in the city.


The ‘English’ cemetery

The place of foreign and migrant groups in the city is also a theme of the final site I want to highlight, the Cimitero Acattolico. (In English, the site is often known as the ‘Protestant cemetery’ or the ‘English cemetery’, and is most famous as the resting place of Keats and Shelley). Despite these anglophone labels, non-Catholics from all over the world, of many different faiths, are buried here.

This site marks a break with the ancient city: in antiquity, there were no burial sites specifically reserved for foreigners. Indeed, foreigners are often surprisingly difficult to trace in the ancient evidence.[3] The presence (or, more often, absence) of different languages is one illustration of this. In the Cimitero Acattolico, there are many different languages on display (English, German, Russian, Farsi, Arabic, Ancient Greek, Latin; sometimes, but not always, accompanied by Italian). In Rome’s ancient inscriptions, comparable multilingualism is relatively rare, though it is worth noting that even in the modern cityscape the multilingualism of the cemetery is itself exceptional.

But foreigners of diverse origins were present in ancient Rome. Writing in the first century AD, Seneca described how ‘more than half’ of Rome’s population came from elsewhere (modern estimates suggest that around 20% of the ancient city were immigrants).[4] Though never concentrated as they are in the modern cemetery, and rarely as explicitly marked out, glimpses of this immigrant population do appear, for example in the Palmyrene texts assembled in the first room of the Capitoline’s Galleria Lapidaria.

The modern cemetery draws attention to the place of foreigners at Rome across time, and the ways they are made both visible and invisible to us. Like the other snapshots I have offered here, it shows how considering the ancient and modern together can enrich our understanding of the eternal city, its changing identities and populations. To answer my friend’s question with a paraphrase: when in Rome, do as the Romans, both ancient and modern.

[1] On the presence of the past in ancient Rome, see Edwards, C. (1996), Writing Rome: Textual approaches to the city, especially Chapter 1, ‘The city of memories’.

[2] On Jews as an exception to other foreign groups, see Tacoma, L. E. (2013), ‘Migrant Quarters at Rome?’, p.127–145 in de Kleijn and Benoist (eds.) Integration in Rome and the Roman world. On Jews in ancient Rome, see also Rutgers (1995), The Jews of late ancient Rome; Leon, H. J. (1995), The Jews of ancient Rome.

[3] On foreigners at Rome, see especially Noy, D. (2000), Foreigners at Rome: citizens and strangers; Tacoma, L. E. (2016), Moving Romans: migration to Rome in the principate.

[4] On migration to ancient Rome and Italy, see especially Isayev, E. (2017), Migration, mobility and place in ancient Italy; Tacoma, L. E. (2016), Moving Romans: migration to Rome in the principate.

Dr Olivia Elder (CRASSH–BSR Research Fellow, Jan–June ’19)

Being Human Festival 2019: Discoveries and Secrets

A photo essay by Assistant Directors Martina Caruso and Harriet O’Neill on the Open Academy | Open Valley walk held here in the Valle Giulia to kick off the international season of this year’s Being Human Festival.

On 11 October 2019 the British School at Rome responded to the Being Human theme ‘Discoveries and Secrets’ with a walk through the national academies which characterise the Valle Giulia. Each Academy presented a secret object which walkers then discussed together, their conversations punctuated by Andrea Ventura, Kinga Ara and Harriet O’Neill’s enlightening interventions. The walk was introduced by Sarah Churchwell, (Being Human Festival Director and Chair of Public Understanding of the Humanities at SAS, University of London) and we set off at 15.30 from the BSR heading over to the Fontane delle Tartarughe opposite the National Art Gallery.

For our first stop, our group of circa 50 walkers looks over onto the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna which was built for the 1911 International Exhibition where Andrea Ventura from AMUSE (Associazione Amici del Municipio Secondo) plays La fontana di Valle Giulia all’Alba from Ottorino Respighi’s Fountains of Rome.


At the Academia Belgica Charles Bossu introduces us to their library designed in the 1930s by Gino Cipriani and Jean Hendrickx.IMG_6652

Asker Pelgrom from the Royal Dutch Institute KNIR making us laugh over correspondence he found in the archives from the 1930s describing the raucous behaviour of Dutch award-holders and their consequent banning from the BSR.IMG_6657

The Dutch Institute’s secret object was a beautiful statue of Rhea Silvia with her sons, Romulus and Remus by Corry Franzen-Heslenfeld, winner of the Dutch Prix de Rome in 1929. It was placed at the Royal Netherlands Institute in 1935.IMG_6659

At the Swedish Academy Fredrik Tobin illustrates the shared tools of archaeologists and looters.IMG_6666

The secret object of the Danish Academy hides behind gates, apparently impermeable to the gaze: a sculpture titled Aurora Septentrionalis in travertine marble by Danish sculptor Søren Georg Jensen which Adelaide Zocchi responded to in both a historical and personal way.IMG_6671

The leaders of the walk Harriet O’Neill, Kinga Ara and Andrea Ventura on Piazza José de San Martin where we learn about Pope Julius III’s activities in the Valle Giulia.IMG_6680

Walkers rapt by the Romanian Academy’s Director, Rudolf Dinuwith, with the Egyptian Academy in the background.IMG_6682

The Romanian Academy’s secret object was the 1930s pigeonholes recently re-used in a contemporary art experiment involving award-holders from academies across Rome writing in.IMG_6686

Moving on from the Passo dell’Arco Oscuro where we learned about bandits and the Madonna, walkers climb the steps up to our next stop…IMG_6691

On the 1930s staircase of the Austrian Historical Institute that was intended to welcome Mussolini and Hitler but was never inaugurated.IMG_6705

An unusual sunset view from the Austrian Historical Institute overlooking the Church of Sant’Eugenio.IMG_6710

Another unusual view from the Japanese Cultural Institute overlooking the Villa Giulia Museum and gardens.IMG_6712

And the secret Japanese Garden revealed from behind a sliding door made from rice paper.IMG_6719

A lantern sculpture is the hidden object set in the Japanese garden, it once offered guidance in case of a snowstorm.IMG_6720

The final stop on the steps of the BSR where dancers from the Compagnia Excursus/prod. Pindoc hint at our secret.


Have you guessed yet?


Culminating in the rose garden, Harriet O’Neill reveals the tome-like exhibition catalogue featuring three works by Alma Tadema which hung here during the 1911 international art exhibition and inspired the dance, from an idea by Theo Rawler.IMG_6743

Ricky Bonavita, the choreographer of the dance and founder of Compagnia Excursus/prod. Pindoc with Theo Rawler gives a final speech to describe the troupe’s vision and his site-specific response to the BSR’s neoclassical architecture with dance as a means of research and enquiry.IMG_6749

Photos by Martina Caruso.

Imagining and reimagining Rome with the Midlands4Cities Doctoral Training Partnership

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

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

Anna Brass Studio Visit 2

Studio visit with Anna Brass. Photo by Lara Pucci.

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

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

Piazza Colonna

Walking tour with Neil Christie. Photo by Lara Pucci.

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

Library Archive Session

Library and Archive session. Photo by Lara Pucci.


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


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

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


Photo by Antonio Palmieri.


Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

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

Niccolo Forum

Forum visit with Niccolò Mugnai. Photo by Lara Pucci.

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

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


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

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

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

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


Cinecittà. Photo by Lara Pucci.

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

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

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


Photo by Ben White.

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

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

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


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

June Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Jonathan Kim

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


Jonathan & The White series in studio 7

Photo: Jonathan Kim

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes…I’m not sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what is Encounter Theory?

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

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

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

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

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

How are you developing your practice in Rome?

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

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

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

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

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