All about Concrete: from the Pantheon to the Present

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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2017-18: our year in events

This week we closed our 2017—18 events programme rounding off the rich programme of events curated by Assistant Director Tom True that we have proudly hosted here at the BSR over this academic year.  In this blog we look back over what has been a fantastic year, illustrated by snapshots that give just a taster of the varied, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary programme we have presented over the past year.

We began the first term with the workshop Digital Humanities and the Roman Campagna, a study day uniting scholars working on the landscape of Rome, focusing on the use of new digital technologies for research and publication. With presentations by BSR staff (former Director Christoper Smith, Assistant Director Tom True, Librarian Valerie Scott and Archivist Alesandra Giovenco), this lively workshop set the year’s focus on the importance of Digital Humanities and the challenges of transforming our unique resources into digital assets.

Friday 27 October 2017 saw us host Lost and Found: Places, Objects and People, a workshop that formed part of the international Being Human Festival. The workshop brought together experts from various backgrounds to discuss the importance of cultural preservation. Below are links to the video recordings of the workshop, a collaboration between the British Council, the British Embassy in Rome and the BSR.

In November BSR Research Fellow Emily Michelson (St Andrews) presented the paper ‘Walking Conversionary Rome’, which was all the encouragement needed for award-holders and BSR staff to hit the streets of Rome on foot, in the company of Emily herself and expert alumnus Piers Baker-Bates (Rome Scholar 2002-3). Together we traversed the most celebrated pilgrimage route, the Giro delle Sette Chiese (link to blog written by Assistant Director Tom True), the route connecting the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome.

'The pilgrims'

As usual the term culminated with the December Mostra, the first exhibition showcasing the work of our resident artists and architect. This term we were even treated to a live re-enactment of the ancient festival of the Lupercalia on the steps of the BSR! The first mostra was a grand success and set the bar high for the forthcoming mostre.

The second term began with an inaugural lecture given by Director Stephen Milner, who became the BSR’s sixteenth Director in October. Stephen presented a paper entitled  ‘And did those feet in ancient time.’ Meditations on movement.’

The lecture perpetuated the themes of walking and movement in the forms of both literal and figurative feet, along with the associated practices of walking and narration, as a starting point for examining the generative power of movement in the production of culture. You can listen to Stephen’s lecture here. To listen to Stephen’s lecture click here.

It was with great excitement that at the beginning of February we welcomed Deborah Howard, Mary Laven and Abigail Brundin (Cambridge) to present their findings on on Domestic Devotions. The Place of Piety in the Italian Renaissance Home, 1400-1600, a special event to concluding their five-year European Research Council project. In the way of a three-part presentation comprising research from the Faculties of History, Architecture and History of Art at the University of Cambridge, this multidisciplinary presentation gave us a glimpse through the key-hole into the spiritual lives of Renaissance Italians.

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The term continued with a fantastic line up of a huge variety of events including Richard Wistreich from the Royal College of Music on fighting and singing in the Renaissance, the 2018 Felicity Powell lecture by BSR alumnus and artist Nicholas Hatfull, and conferences by John Harrison (Open) and Krešimir Vuković (BSR; Oxford), concluding with the March Mostra, a brilliant showcase of the second terms artists in residence.

As usual, Cary Fellow and director of the City of Rome Postgraduate Course, Robert Coates-Stephens curated a fantastic City of Rome lecture series. Over the duration of the programme, which saw eleven postgraduate students traverse and penetrate the topography of Rome, we were treated to six fantastic lectures on the ancient city.

 

Kicking off the City of Rome Lecture Series, was our very own Rome Fellow 2017–18 Fellow Krešimir Vuković (Oxford), a graduate of the City of Rome course himself! Kresho introduced us to ‘Early Rome: myth, history and the environment’,  providing the the ideal introduction to the early beginnings of the city.

The third term also saw the launch of our 2018–19 Architecture programme, entitled Brave New World: New Visions in Architecture. 

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This new programme, curated by Marina Engel (Architecture Programme Curator), will investigate the nature of some of the changes that are being brought about by the younger generation of architects and designers. The programme was launched in May by Reinier de Graaf who presented a paper entitled ‘The century that never happened’ . See below for Marina’s introduction to the programme.

June saw us host no less than four conferences and the end of fellowship presentations by our long term humanities fellows. Lavinia Maddaluno (‘Materialising political economy: olive oil, patronage and science in eighteenth-century Rome’), Niccolò Mugnai (‘Bridging the Greco-Roman Mediterranean: architectural, artistic, and cultural interconnections’) and Helena Phillips-Robins (‘Dante and medieval weeping: literary text and historical religious practice’).

 

On 15 June the last mostra of the academic year opened. The June Mostra as usual was a great success, a showcase of collaboration between our artists and the conversations between their works.

 

It is not possible to mention everybody in such a short space but thank you to every participant or visitor to each one of our events. More specifically thanks must to go Assistant Director Tom True for curating such a diverse and lively programme, and to all who helped with organisation of every event. We are already looking forward to a fresh set of events beginning in September! New programme coming soon…

Alice Marsh (Communications and Events).  Photos by Antonio Palmieri, Chris Warde-Jones and Roberto Apa.

A look back at the June Mostra…

In June we saw the final Mostra of our 2017–18 programme, in which our seven Fine Arts award-holders put together an exhibition of works produced during the course of their residencies. Here we bring you a selection of photographs of works from the exhibition. You can read more about the practice of each artist by clicking on their name.

Josephine Baker (Sainsbury Scholar in Painting & Sculpture)

 

Oona Grimes (The Bridget Riley Fellow)

 

Yusuf Ali Hayat (Helpmann Academy Resident)

 

Damien Meade (Abbey Fellow in Painting)

 

John Rainey (Arts Council of Northern Ireland Fellow)

 

John Robertson (Abbey Scholar in Painting)

 

Murat Urlali (National Art School, Sydney, Resident)

 

Photos by Roberto Apa

 

Stanzas of recollection

This blog comes from Pele Cox the inaugural John Murray / Keats-Shelley Memorial Association Creative Writing Resident (October-November 2017; April-May 2018). In this post Pele shares with us the poem that she wrote and performed at the June Mostra.

I was asked to write this poem by Marta, Visual Art Residency and Programme Curator, as a homage to the artists for the recent Mostra. I decided to write a collage, using snatches from the favourite poems that some of the artists sent me. These are interwoven with my feelings of loss and gain at my own departure from the British School at Rome, which is communicated as a series of rooms (stanze).

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Stanzas

I

Leave the door ajar.

Cicero says if you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.

But give me a studio and a courtyard.

Leave the door ajar and let me enter in

 

where

words can bloom

mid stripped walls, the blue guitar,

where the mosaic hours

burn

the music of gravel and of rain.

 

My love is of a birth as rare 

As is for object strange and high

it was begotten by despair

Upon impossibility.

 

Leave the door ajar

let me look inside

a sight within

where

words can bloom

mid thorns and scattered chair

 

 

II

I have a room of my own,

With twin steel nests, a desk, the curved chair with wings.

My knees to the books and back again,

the trees beyond and studios beneath,

and artist strange and rare.

 

You walk in. “This room is not going to last.”

We are caretakers of its ending: a shutter,

a camera, exposed.

I reach for the chair again

where I sat for Pushkin, for Sholokov,

where I sat for the things I knew would pass

on.

 

Lady disturbed in her bed-

your thoughts of it?

Light is it a body

 

Leave the door ajar

and let me enter in.

 

In the smoke after twilight

on a milk white steed

Michelangelo indeed

could have carved out 

your features.

 

where the mosaic hours

burn

the music of gravel and of rain.

 

 

III

When I put my hands on your body

on your flesh I see the history 

of that body.

 

Leave the door ajar

and let me enter in.

 

Not just the beginning of its forming 

in that distant lake

but all the way beyond its ending.

 

This room is not going to last

we are the inmates at

its ending.

 

And yet I quickly might arrive

where my extended soul is fixed.

 

It is finished now

this room,

a stanza of recollection.

 

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Text by Pele Cox, photo by Antonio Palmieri.

What do we really know about African art in European museums?

31462683605_ebc546dc0e_b (1)As part of the British Academy Summer Showcase 2018 former award-holder Zoe Cormack (Rome Fellow 2016-17), presents the exhibit ‘What do we really know about African art in European museums?’ An exploration of the arts and heritage of South Sudan. In this blog, in advance of the exhibition, Zoe shares some of the developments to her project since she left Rome a year ago.

(Photo: Antonio Palmieri)

I came to the BSR for a Rome Fellowship in 2016-17. My project was to study four nineteenth century ethnographic collections, assembled by Italians and now stored in museums across Italy, from the territory that is today South Sudan. Rome was new ground, as my previous research trips had been to remote parts of South Sudan. The time at the BSR gave me the opportunity to begin concentrated study of South Sudanese arts and material culture stored in European museums. This week, my research will feature in the British Academy Summer Showcase, an exciting opportunity to share my findings with a wider audience in the UK.

In Rome, the question I was most often asked was, how did these objects end up in Italy? There are many historical connections between Italy and South Sudan. When Sudan was incorporated into Ottoman Egypt in 1821, Italians were among the first Europeans to visit. Some came as traders, some worked in the Egyptian government, others undertook scientific journey of exploration. In 1864, Daniel Comboni (a priest, now a saint) from Brescia established a missionary order in Sudan, the Comboni Fathers, who still have a major presence in Sudan and South Sudan. The Sudanese saint, Josephine Bakhita, lived in Italy from 1885.

Of the collections I studied, one was made by Romolo Gessi an Italian soldier who was appointed Ottoman-Egyptian Governor of Bahr-el-Ghazal (a province in Southern Sudan). He is known in Sudanese history for recapturing part of the province from slave traders on behalf on the Egyptian government (the collection in now in the Museo delle Civilità in Rome).  The others were made by; Giovanni Miani, a trained opera singer from Venice who to Sudan to discover the source of the Nile (the collection is in the Natural History Museum in Venice); Carlo Piaggia, an explorer who lived at a Zande court in the 1860s (the collections are in the Florence Ethnographic Museum and the Archaeological museum in Perugia); and Orazio Antinori (of Antinori wines) who founded the Italian Geographical Society (whose collection is in the Archaeological museum in Perugia).

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A case of objects from South Sudan in Giovanni Miani’s collection, Museum of Natural history, Venice. (image courtesy of the Museum of Natural History)

My research has addressed both how these collections were formed, but also how we might understand and work with them today. These are complicated objects to study. Formed at the outset of European and Italian colonial projects, ethnographic collections were integral to the process of creating difference, of categorising people and their material culture into discrete ‘tribes’ and generating the racial hierarchies that made the ideology of colonialism possible. In Sudan, this process viciously intersected with the growth of a long-distance slave trade in the Nile valley, which remains a painful rupture in South Sudan’s historical memory.

I wanted to understand more about how collecting had interacted with this violent history, but I also wanted to investigate how these objects might speak to current concerns about heritage, memory and community relationships in South Sudan. I have always been struck by how – despite the violent circumstances surrounding their incorporation into museums – these collections are a remarkable and unique record of historic arts and material cultures from South Sudan.

Juba from the air in May 2018 (photo by Zoe Cormack)

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Juba from the air in May 2018 (photo by Zoe Cormack)

Since I finished my Rome Fellowship I have had several opportunities to address this question in more depth. On my return from Rome, I began work on an AHRC Research Network about South Sudanese arts and heritage in Europe. I have also spent about four months in Juba (the capital city of South Sudan), where with a Juba based organised called The Likikiri Collective – are doing amazing work using theatre and oral history to explore memory, ideas of community and the nation. More recently, I met Deng Nhial Chioh, who runs ‘Maale Heritage and Development Foundation’ in a displaced persons camp in Juba. For several years, Deng has been using images from online museum databases to build a curriculum about South Sudanese cultural heritage for displaced students.

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Presenting my research (with Prof John Mairi Blackings, University of Juba) at the Catholic University of South Sudan, Juba. (photograph courtesy of the Institute of Justice and Peace Studies)

Through the AHRC network we have also brought some of the South Sudanese diaspora in the UK into the research conversation. One comment about the museum collections, from a member of the South Sudanese diaspora in London, has stuck with me. He said “these things are important because they are about us. They are about people and a future that can be better than the past.”  As South Sudan grapples with a new civil war, which shows no signs of ending, these objects seem to offer constructive ways of thinking about South Sudanese identity.

Another development, which underlines the importance of the Italians collections, has been the decision in 2017 by the Government of South Sudan to put the former slave-station of Deim Zubeir on the tentative list of World Heritage Sites. Deim Zubeir is where Romolo Gessi fought with and defeated the merchant Suleiman Idris. Gessi subsequently took a ‘trophy’ from Suleiman (including his sword) and obtained other objects at Deim Zubeir. These are now stored in the Museo delle Civilità in Rome and the Musei Civici of Reggio Emelia. These museum collections could be used to build a better picture of the site in the nineteenth century and be put into a productive dialogue with heritage initiatives in South Sudan.

Zoe Cormack is now Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the African Studies Centre at the University of Oxford. She has held postdoctoral research awards at The British Institute in Eastern Africa and the British School at Rome.

For an opportunity to see Zoe’s Summer Showcase exhibit, visit the British Academy Summer Showcase 2018, at 10-11 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AH. Open: Friday 22-Saturday 23 June,11 a.m.-5 p.m. and open for a late-night view: Friday 22 June, 6.30-9pm. 

For more information on the British Academy Summer Showcase 2018 click here.

 

June Mostra 2018 / Meet the artists… Damien Meade

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. Our next interview is with Damien Meade (Abbey Fellow in Painting).

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Photo Antonio Palmieri

Your work involves processes that evolve over a period of time. Tell us more about your method of working…

It is a long drawn-out process – from researching imagery to a finished painting, it can be an extended period of time, sometimes even a year or more.

I usually start with clay, with which I make objects and surfaces that I use as props for my paintings. Sometimes what I do with the clay is informed by a sketch, other times it is a notion, idea or feeling. I use clay as a way of sketching in 3D, a method of processing ideas or images.

I try to embrace the formlessness of the clay, in that I often stop short of any refinement or any full realisation of any intention. This part of the process constantly throws unexpected results back at you. Sometimes when you turn to what you have made, often what you were expecting to see is transformed just by the shifting of an angle.

The objects and surfaces that I make are not necessarily interesting in-and-of themselves, it is only when they are lit or viewed from a certain angle that they can give me an image that provokes a painting. I’ll spend a month or so working with clay and building a bank of images, editing as I go. When I have a series of images that hold my attention, that’s when I begin to pursue them in painting.

I set to painting for a number of months at a time. Each actual painting can take anything from just a few days to a few weeks, and I generally work on multiple things simultaneously. Things that aren’t working will be turned to the wall and forgotten about, until one day I see them anew, with greater objectivity, and I’ll work into them again, making changes until they make me want to look at them again.

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Untitled, 2018, Oil on panel, 65 x 49.5 cm

 

You mention that you start working with a clay model that over time becomes the painting. How do you recognise the completion of the model?

I don’t really. The sculptures are made quick and fast. Like I say, some hold my attention and others don’t. All I look for is that. Sometimes it is only when I am midway through the process of painting, or I have even spent weeks on it, that I lose interest in it and it is gone.

It is about settling on an image that sustains persistent looking, that keeps me there and holds my attention in that way. There is always an element of doubt throughout the entire process, will the image survive this degree of interrogation. But as finished paintings, when they work, they still have this effect on me.

 

While you have been in Rome have you encountered anything specific that you can imagine coming into your work?

I thought I came here to look at paintings, but it is the sculptures and objects that have really affected me – ancient Greek and Roman in particular.

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Ancient sculpture from inside the Vatican Octagonal court

It’s hard to talk about it beyond cliché, but of course with these relics its all about an extreme sensuality, and something uncanny – one thing invested with the qualities of another. In a kind of substitution of matter, you almost begin to see these relics as the ancients did – as alchemical in nature. And how this all permeates through time, through flesh as ruin. And the city itself – all that mediated matter and stratified layers of human activity. Like that sense of vertigo you get when you stagger between what was then and what is now, you start to see the city as one colossal archaic object, succumbing to entropy.

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‘Statue of Aphrodite, so-called charis’ Hadrianic period (AD 117-138), after original of the 5th century BC

In terms of how this will affect my work, I don’t know. As I say, evidence of the mediation of matter is everywhere here, and that’s precisely what I do as a painter and sculptor. Clay, like paint, is matter (or mineral) bound by fluid, and so in making paintings of clay, mineral mimics mineral. It interests me the role that minerals played in the genesis of life; that micro-instant when in a vent at the bottom of the ocean, geochemistry first became biochemistry. This perceived shifting of properties, between the animate and inanimate, the profane and the divine, is everywhere in this city. But maybe the influence of Rome is already in the paintings I have been working on for this coming Mostra. It’s all been getting under my skin a bit. It is a much broader and more immersive experience than just the influence of a singular work.

Damien’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 15 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 June 2018, closed Sundays.

Interview by Alice Marsh (Communications & Events). Photos by Damien Meade.

 

 

 

 

June Mostra 2018 / Meet the artists… Yusuf Ali Hayat

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. Our fourth interview is with Yusuf Ali Hayat, Helpmann Academy Resident.

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Photo: Antonio Palmieri

You were born in England to Indian parents and now live and work in Australia. How has movement across these cultures influenced your work?

A lot of my art practice has been preoccupied with ideas about being and longing and be(long)ing. Growing up in England, there is the big mainstream culture, then there are other cultures (which I grew up in and around). When I started to move out of the security of family and community I became more acutely aware of my distance from the dominant cultural centre. I think many people, especially second and third generation migrants, experience a hypersensitivity to all forms of exclusion and discrimination. There is an awareness that you (not coming from the dominant culture) might not always be represented in a lot things – and the things represented, are not reflective of your experience. In Australia too, I am aware of this ‘otherness’, I can also see trends that open up the mainstream without fetishizing and exoticising minority cultures. Difference is good!

I’m interested in the history of intercivilisational contact. If you think of cultures as fixed, bounded entities then there is no room for engagement. Culture is more dynamic, we need to create a dialogue, to try to keep finding ways to penetrate the established centre. Because of my perceived distance from the settled cultural centre that’s the position from which I negotiate my relationship with it. This distance creates a critical space that, for me, is also the creative space.

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Through interaction there is room for re-negotiation, the settled centre shifts and mutates in some way. I don’t necessarily have to find the equivalent in the mainstream culture but I might find something familiar then appropriate and reassemble. A lot of what I make comes from within this constant cultural translation. Instead of assimilating into the centre, maintaining a sense personal agency gives importance to the things I grew up with, that I value and help me make sense of the world.

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You work in a variety of different mediums. Tell us more about the processes you have been exploring while here in Rome?

I love learning new things and experimenting with materials and processes. I enjoy seeing how different materials behave and the potential for communicating something. I think about mediums and materials in terms of language. As with language and words, materials can carry meaning too. Jumping between different mediums I am looking for how I can best communicate. Sometimes this is also about reaching the limits of my technical skill and experience with the medium.

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I come across this problem often with my limited Italian and try a Spanish or English word or phrase. Some words don’t readily translate or don’t have an equivalent in the other language. This can lead to unusual phrases that can be exciting through being interpreted differently. I used to work at a residence for asylum seekers whilst their claim for refugee status was being processed. Someone came to say that their light was not working. He couldn’t find the right word for bulb, he instead said ‘there is no sunshine in my room’. It wasn’t a place many people would stay out of choice and I felt empathy for him which might not have happened in the same way if he had simply reported the bulb in his room needed replacing. This is what I mean by switching between languages (and mediums) new expressions are found, trying to say the same thing using different words.

The medium I have been working with here comes from looking around Rome and how most people I see engage with the city.

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I’ve spent a lot of time around Piazza Navona, I kept gravitating towards the depiction of the river Ganges in Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. A lot of visitors to Rome pass by there and nearly everyone takes a photo.

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It’s pretty likely that some people’s experience of the fountain is mediated through the screen and the photo they take away of themselves there. Photography felt like an appropriate medium to communicate something of how most visitors engage with Rome.

Photography is about time, a medium that is caught up in the register of time. This is relevant in a place such as Rome, where you are surrounded by the gravity of history, its weight and the build-up of time. I’m also aware of the physical build-up of time here and how that is visible in the depth of excavations!

Conventional photography is often about the snapshot – ‘the decisive moment’. The photographic technique I am working with abandons some of the conventions of photography — i.e. where there is a single perspective and time is constant across the frame.

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In the work for the Mostra the register of time across the image has shifted. The images are more an impression of the process and duration of making rather than a stamp of the moment in front of the lens.

Yusuf’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 15 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 June 2018, closed Sundays.

Interview by Alice Marsh (Communications & Events). Photos by Yusuf Ali Hayat