March Mostra 2017 / Meet the Artists… Sinta Tantra

Our annual March Mostra is opening tomorrow and we are really looking forward to seeing what our six resident artists and architects have produced over the course of the past three months. As the finishing touches are made to the gallery, we bring you a teaser of what to expect in the fifth interview of the Meet the Artists blog series, this time with Sinta Tantra, our inaugural Bridget Riley Fellow.

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Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Sinta Tantra describes her work as ‘painting on an architectural scale’, creating works that celebrate the spectacle, questioning the decorative, functional and social role of art. The compositional arrangements are rooted in formalism, when private becomes public and when the viewer becomes active. Her work is an ‘overlay’ of colour which inserts its identity within pre-existing spaces – heightening a sense of fantasy within a functional context. 

So far, has being in Rome made a big impact on your work?

Realistically speaking, it’s quite a difficult city to settle into – visiting as a tourist is quite a different experience to living here. Naturally, I am of course interested in the many artists and writers who were inspired by Rome, but equally, I’m also interested in the people who weren’t – James Joyce is an example. He said something like, ‘Rome was like visiting the corpse of your dead grandmother’. Quite a shocking thing to say, but for me it’s about looking at ideas around the ‘Grand Tour’ and subverting that.

In his letters to his brother, Joyce writes about walking around the city and how he has a new idea for a book which would later on become Ulysses. From this, I became interested in how you walk around Rome, the relationship the body has to the city and how our own individual journeys become invisible line drawings traced/overlaid onto the city itself.

I’ve also been inspired by the colours of Rome, not only in nature – there’s amazing light here –  but also in the fashion, style and music – everything is very vivid compared to say an ‘English taste’. People here seem to walk with confidence, a sense of ‘peacocking’ and I love it! The colours in my recent paintings have been inspired by this – more vivid, more reds and yellows.

Is this residency different in that, given that you are here for a longer period than usual, you wouldn’t usually have the opportunity to do two mostre?

Yes absolutely, I see it as both a residency and an academic programme with things being divided term by term. It’s very structured, so it’s quite nice having two mostre and being able to reassess and reflect at the end of each three-month period.

Have you found it difficult to manage all the travelling you’ve been doing?

Yes, I’ve been doing some travelling outside of Italy as I’m managing a few projects back in the UK and in Asia.  I’ve been trying to feed all these influences and inspirations back into my studio in Rome – the idea that ‘all roads lead to Rome’.

In your introductory talk, you showed us a lot of large-scale, outdoor installations – has the residency in Rome been a challenge, given that for this mostra you are in a way confined to the gallery space?

In the first term, I wanted to focus on settling in, contextualising my location, research and making paintings. The second term I’ll be doing public art projects and working outside the BSR. One of the things I’m interested in doing next term – maybe going back to this idea of journeys and walking around the city – is to create three mini public art interventions based on James Joyce’s walking route around the city.

If you could do an installation anywhere in the city, where would you choose? 

I’d love to do any of the piazzas. The piazzas here are like platforms or stages where people congregate. They have a very different feel to squares in the UK. Maybe that’s another thing I was inspired by – this Italian attitude of being ‘seen to be seen’. It’s quite dazzling for a foreigner because Romans come across with such confidence – a kind of bravado which I like and am trying to incorporate into my work.

What is usually your approach to making a final piece, and has that changed at all?

Regarding the painting process, it’s still the same. I’d say the colours have changed though because of the natural light in the studios. I can mix colours with more intensity, as opposed to London where I work under electrical light.

Do you think that being in an environment with both scholars and artists has had a different impact on your work than it would have had you been working solely alongside other artists?

The interdisciplinary side is very evident – scholars see and speak very differently to artists. But because of the community and the activities that go on here, conversations between us happen quite naturally.

Also, usually on a typical art residency, artists work more independently. The environment here at the BSR feeds into your work – you might be having a conversation with someone at dinner who will immediately take you to the library after coffee to give you a book to read.

Can you tell me a bit about your final piece for the Mostra?

It’s part painting, part sculpture, part domestic object. It consists of four painted screens configured in a way so that it’s free-standing rather than on the wall. Some of the motifs on it are inspired by the Piranesi prints that I came across at the BSR.

When it comes to choosing what to show in the Mostra, what is the process? Do you start a work thinking, ‘I’m going to show this in the Mostra‘, or do you come to a selection process and think, for example, ‘these three pieces work well together’?

A bit of everything: I plan for things quite in advance, but then again I take such pleasure in positioning my paintings in the gallery and how it interacts with the architecture. This is quite different from my public artworks that are always placed precisely.

And do you think that you can do that because it’s a six-month process – do you think that, say if you were here for just three months, you would try to encompass that whole process into that shorter time frame?

It’s very important as an artist to not just produce work, but to produce work, reflect on it, and then make new work in response to that. Having the six months enables you to learn a lot more.


Sinta’s work will be exhibited alongside the five resident artists in the March Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Saturday 18 March until Saturday 25 March 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Ellie Johnson.

March Mostra 2017 / Meet the Artists… Vivien Zhang

For this instalment of the March Mostra Meet the Artists blog series, we spoke to Vivien Zhang, our 2016-17 Abbey Scholar in Painting. Here Vivien reflects upon the progression of her work since the December Mostra, her approach to the upcoming March Mostra, and her projects for the next three months at the BSR.

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Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Vivien Zhang’s work looks at the idea of repetition and painting as a site for assemblage. Context-specific motifs, such as the mathematical shape gömböc and aluminium foil, enact as well as interrupt fields of repetition. Layering in Zhang’s work often simulates algorithms found in digital imaging software – an approach influenced by our ways of engaging with visual material today. Zhang explores through her work our expanding accessibility to images and information today, our shifting authorship and authority over such materials, and our increasing re-identification as trans-border inhabitants.

This is your second BSR Mostra – have you noticed a significant change in your work or your approach to your work since the December Mostra?

Yes, definitely. I think my work for this Mostra will be more experimental, more unfamiliar for myself. Whereas for the last Mostra, it was the first time so I was still getting to know what the BSR is and what Rome is like. So partly, I think the December Mostra was more like a presentation of my known practice, whereas for this one I might be able to unpack what I do a little bit and introduce things I am interested in that I have found in Rome.

When I look at your work, I see all these different layers and I have to really study it to work out which layer is on top and how they are woven into each other. Can you talk me through the process of building up a piece of work?

Someone recently asked me how much of the painting would I know before I first start one. I know I progress a painting through the different layers. I don’t start with a vision of what the final painting will look like, but I usually know which basic shapes and forms I would use in a work – for example the pebbles in this work [see image below]. So the first move here is the background in silver, and then I add these bands which are images that haven’t properly loaded on the internet. The third move is the addition of this math shape, the gömböc. The scientist behind the gömböc originally tried to find a pebble as a natural physical example of a gömböc; that’s why the pebbles are here. The process of thinking about the space [on the canvas] happens while I am doing the work, instead of it being predetermined and knowing how it will look at the end.

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Since you met Gabor Domokos, one of the creators of the gömböc, have you revisited the shape and have you been looking at it in a different way?

Definitely! [Shows the gömböc] They manufacture this shape in different materials, and this is a new synthetic plastic which is cheaper, lighter, and more affordable for students. It always rocks back to that stable point. If you play around with it for a little bit, it doesn’t roll for as long as I had hoped it would before returning to its stable point – the inventor did say that the heavier the material is, the better the demonstration. When I met him – for the first time in January this year – he told me lots of political stories that surrounded his research and the production of the shape, and that was incredibly fascinating, adding another dimension to the shape.

Is there any particular site or gallery or space in Rome that has made a particular impression on you?

That’s a question I might have to answer after the BSR! Because at the moment, everything is captivating… But I did go around yesterday, looking for something I want to focus on next term, and that is the flood markers around Rome. Rome has been a long victim of flood and since the thirteenth century flood markers have been put up all around Rome to mark various catastrophic ones – this one outside Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. They’re like markers of history. All the buildings and sites in Rome are markers of history, and they are so because they are allowed to survive in the city, to remain. These flood markers, on the other hand, are symbols of a particular happening, marking a relationship to the rest of the standing history of Rome. What’s more, they were actively placed and were made to have a kind of elevated status – are they like commemoration plaques? What’s their relationship to the rest of history, the city and its people? This is something that’s interesting to me.

Gavin Brown is a gallery that’s made an impression on me. It’s a commercial gallery in a dilapidating church in Rome. Using the site as an exhibition space is quite challenging. Obviously for any artist who has a show in that space, it’s very impressive and an exciting opportunity.

Have you got an idea of where you’ll be in the gallery and do you know what the other artists are going to show, and have you thought about how your work will interact?

I think we make a point in every Mostra meeting that this is a show without an overarching exhibition theme, but there have been interesting new conversations. For example, this term, we have Sinta [Tantra, Bridget Riley Fellow] who is an artist who works much more with abstraction and Caroline [Cloutier, Québec Resident] who works with trompe l’oeil. I feel like I identify with their works much more perhaps than works in the last term. But last term was very challenging in a good way, because I usually don’t show with figurative artists. The context gave a new twist to my work and maybe to the way people read my work.

It will be interesting to see this Mostra after last term, as it will be so different with the December Mostra all being figurative painting.

Last term the artists were all very ‘painterly’ and the conversations painters have amongst ourselves are quite distinct, just for example the mere fascination with a colour or medium, talking about how ‘buttery’ or ‘creamy’ paint can be, the painterly gesture, and so on. But just this morning I was listening to Morgan [Gostwyck-Lewis, Scholars’ Prize in Architecture] talk about his work and how he wants to activate the exhibition space and use his findings with the Etruscan tombs, and the kind of bands in tombs used as horizons. Again that’s really interesting and makes you think more about what you’re looking at, absorb his perspective and approach and then use it in your own work and when it comes to staging the show.

Have you found it a challenge keeping a balance between the BSR and travelling for meetings or exhibitions?

It’s difficult and I think everyone is trying to balance the opportunity of being in Rome, in the BSR, and the other opportunities that come around. I think at the end of the day I just go organically with what is on offer. For my Pescara show [at SOYUZ], the curator originally found my work somewhere and then learned that I was in Rome coincidentally, so it was nice to piece something together. With the Milan art fair that’s coming up later this month, the gallery applied knowing that I was in Rome but with no expectations. And when we got in, it’s like wow, that’s a really nice addition. It will be nice to travel to Milan and see it as a tourist but also to do work there. Also Pescara would probably be at the bottom of my list for places to visit as it’s a new town, it’s been bombed during war and all the architecture there is from the 70s, but when I visited I received a real sense of the Italian lifestyle – I was there hanging out with Italian artists, curators and architects, and just socially you experience a different totality.

Your award is nine months long; do you think that the knowledge that you’ll be here for that amount of time affects the way you work, given that you can plan ahead as to how you’re next going to use your time in Rome?

Yes, definitely, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad – taking things at a leisurely pace maybe. But I think because of the nine-month timeframe, I can keep my normal practice going which I don’t want to leave aside, but also absorb this new place. Nine months seems long but it isn’t actually. I can imagine that for the people here for three months, it might be almost like a teaser to Rome.

Is there anything else you would like to to say about the work coming up for the Mostra?

I am interested to see, because there is so many site specific works – Caroline and Morgan’s –putting together the show will be a very different process. In December, it was a case of bringing all the work to the gallery, swapping and changing and seeing how things fits together. This time we have two pieces that have to be in specific positions, and then everything else has to be coordinated according to these two works – which I think could make it simpler. It’ll be a good challenge again, because I have never worked in an exhibition with very big site-specific and trompe l’oeil work. The test is maybe how to install mine and Catherine’s paintings on canvas: when these pieces sit next to larger installations, paintings can become decorative touches or appear very introspective, so the challenge is to avoid that problem.


Vivien’s work will be exhibited alongside the five resident artists in the March Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Saturday 18 March until Saturday 25 March 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Ellie Johnson.

March Mostra 2017 / Meet the Artists … Catherine Parsonage

The March Mostra is drawing closer, and in today’s blog we take a closer look at the practice of Catherine Parsonage (Sainsbury Scholar in Painting and Sculpture). This will be Catherine’s second BSR mostra, so we asked her to elaborate on how her BSR residency has impacted upon her work so far.

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Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Catherine Parsonage uses painting and sculpture to pursue the ultimate reduction of the female form, condensing the body to its most elementary essence through single deft lines. The drawings and paintings carefully choreograph the body as the fashion photographer might its subject, creating a distilled mise-en-scene, where the subtle shifts in weight and angle are imbued with movement and poise.

This is your second BSR Mostra – would you say your practice has changed much since the December Mostra? If so, how?

I think that my practice shifted very soon after I arrived at the BSR and has continued to do so since the December Mostra. All of the artists at the BSR during autumn had very particular approaches to painting and our conversations and time together encouraged me to approach painting in a way that more clearly reflects direct experience.

Since being in Rome, what has made a particular impression on you that has been reflected in your work?

The collection of Etruscan artefacts in Villa Giulia, particularly the ceramics and mirrors have definitely been reflected in my work, (as I already use very linear, reduced lines to depict the body.)

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Etruscan mirror exhibited in the Villa Giulia. Photo by Catherine Parsonage.

Can you tell me a bit about the pieces you will be showing in the March Mostra?

The March Mostra is collaboratively curated so the final pieces are still slightly unknown but I think I will be showing a selection of drawings with a photograph, and then potentially a painting. It will be the first time I have exhibited a photograph alongside other works so it will be interesting to see how that plays out.

Have you been experimenting with different materials or techniques since being in Rome?

Yes I have been part of a printmaking group in Piramide for my first four months in Rome, it is the first time I have done any traditional etching and it has had a huge impact on my painting; I hope to continue etching throughout the rest of the residency.

How do you choose which pieces to show?

For this mostra particularly I am choosing pieces to test out some new combinations and modes of framing and showing.

Have you started to think about new ideas to work with for next term?

I have some longer term projects which I have been working towards for next term including a project in stained glass and ceramics.


Catherine’s work will be exhibited alongside the five resident artists in the March Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Saturday 18 March until Saturday 25 March 2017, closed Sundays.

March Mostra 2017 / Meet the Artists… Caroline Cloutier

The second awardee-in-focus as part of our Meet the Artists blog series as we approach the March Mostra is Caroline Cloutier, our Québec Resident. We spoke to Caroline about her practice, the installations that she has produced for the exhibition, and how her time spent in Rome has influenced her work.

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Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Caroline Cloutier is interested in the reflective function that exists in specular and photographic images, and in their ability to evoke virtual spaces. Using mirrors and large-scale photographic prints, her installations deconstruct exhibition spaces or reveal them as a mise en abyme. Sculpted with new hollows and multiple surfaces, the spaces of her interventions become the locus of a truly upended reality, a virtual space of indeterminate boundaries into which the body is inscribed by mental projection.

Can you start by briefly describing what you will be showing in March Mostra?

For this exhibition, I have produce two different installations. One is a very large-scale photographic installation and it will interact with the architecture of the gallery. The second piece will be a small intervention in the gallery corridor.

Do you always keep the gallery space in mind while you are working – both for the March Mostra and for your other shows?

My art installations are always site-specific, and the same goes for these two installations for the Mostra. Usually, the way I work is to go into the [exhibition] space and I have to take time to understand how the architecture and the space work, and how the body feels in the space. After that I can use some of the architectural details: I photograph them and I use them as a trompe l’oeil, so the main idea is always to combine the virtual space and the real space. This is what I’m doing for the two Mostra pieces: they are installations but they are also images, and the resulting images depend very much on the architecture. I will use images of the floor, the ceiling and the walls, and duplicate these elements.

Can you explain the process behind selecting a space to work with?

It is not so much that I choose the space, rather the space determines what I want to do with the architecture, because I play with reflection. For example, for an installation I might place a mirror in front of an architectural detail to reflect it, so if I want my pieces to interact with the architecture and create an illusion of perspective, I have to know exactly where I’m going to work.

How has being at the BSR, or more generally in Rome, influenced your work? Has there been a site or museum or gallery that has made a significant impression on you?

Many sites in Rome have been inspiring for me, but Villa Farnesina is one that made a particular impression. It was very interesting, because a prime attraction of the Villa is the wall paintings which play with perspective and illusion and trompe l’oeil. The art piece is the room itself and its wall paintings, without needing to put other paintings or sculptures or furniture in the room, and for me it was very inspiring to see both how the artists played with perspective and the anamorphose that comes through the paintings when you move through the room. For me, it was a very immersive experience. Although it is very different from what I am doing now, being able to see the artists’ process of entering a room and asking ‘what can I create as a picture that will become an extension of the real space?’, and to see that they had been working this way even in the Renaissance period, was very inspiring.

Can you tell me a bit about these photographs that you have up in your studio? Have these been taken in Rome?
Yes, I can talk about this photo-montage of these four photographs I took in the Chiesa S. Carlino alle Quattro Fontane [first visited on a tour led by Assistant Director Tom True].

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Photos by Caroline Cloutier

This is in the crypta – I was so amazed by how all the spaces interrelate in this crypta. You have this central room, and outside of it you have these little niches and openings which let you see inside the central room. What you can see from those openings, the construction of it as you can see on the picture, is that it is so perfect. You really can see how the space was mathematically constructed and I was amazed by how it creates a perfect composition. I just took a picture of the openings to see how the space imbricates and how it is harmonious and perfect. This is a study for me, it is not a photographic artwork project. After the tour, I obtained permission and returned and worked in the crypta for about two hours and took many photographs, and these four photos capture a sense of what for me were the most striking observations in this space.

So, say you are going to see a site or a gallery or museum – do you take some pictures on your phone then go back with your camera if a place makes an impression on you?

Yes, I never carry my camera around with me so usually I will revisit a site with my camera. I will visit sites without having any expectations, and I can take photos with my phone but if a place makes a strong impression then I don’t even need to do that – I know that it is somewhere to go back to. And if after a couple of days I still have the place in my mind, I know that I need to go back and take my camera and see what is happening there.

Do you feel that after working here for three months your practice has changed, or has the way in which you approach you work changed?

It may change afterwards, I think. As we are talking now, I have been here two months and this is my first time in Rome and in Italy, and my first real contact with all those masterpieces of painting and architecture. So far I’m processing all this and I feel that it affects a lot of things in the way I’m thinking and the way I want to create, but for now it is too soon to say. Maybe for the mostra what has changed is that the two pieces of work that I’m showing are a lot more about anamorphose, which has not been such an important part of my work before. This is a slow process, but of course I have been moved by many of the new things I have discovered and it will change how I will work afterwards.

Is there anything else you would like to say about your work or about the mostra?

There are so many things to say about the subject, the themes around my work, where I want to head… I have recently thought that I would like to try out collages. But I haven’t had the time yet – the last two months have already gone so quickly! I went to the Olympic neighbourhood recently and took many photos of the buildings that were really interesting to me – the forms, the shapes, how the sunlight falls on the blocks, so I now have many photos of this area and I don’t know what will happen with that, maybe I will do a photo collage with those motifs. But because it is new, I don’t know how to work with it… maybe now that I have made the installations for the mostra, this is more the experimental part that I can begin to work on without the pressure of showing these new ideas in an exhibition yet. And maybe this is how my practice will change, because so far all my photomontages are done on the computer, and I really feel that I need to work more with paper and making things by hand.

Maybe that can be your next BSR residency!

It’s maybe something I will take back with me to Montreal and work on in my Montreal studio. I have a lot of new material now, which is great!


Caroline’s work will be exhibited alongside the five resident artists in the March Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Saturday 18 March until Saturday 25 March 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Ellie Johnson.

March Mostra 2017 / Meet the Artists… Morgan Gostwyck-Lewis

Over the next few days we will be introducing you in turn to our six resident artists and architects who will be exhibiting in the March Mostra, opening Friday 17 March. The first awardee in focus is Morgan Gostwyck-Lewis, this year’s Scholars’ Prize in Architecture Winner, who here discusses the project he is working on for the Mostra.

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Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Morgan Gostwyck-Lewis investigates the relationship between architectural ornamentation and figurative representation in Etruscan art. His research focuses on the elements that connect them, through the use of photography, writing and paint. Lewis is an architect whose projects have primarily been for the arts and education sector, and whose research has focused on the representation of landscape.

First of all, can you summarise your project?
I’ve been looking at architectural painting and ornamentation in a set of early Etruscan tombs (8-6th C BC). The Etruscans are an iron-age culture transforming into a quite sophisticated, quite internationally embedded urban culture, getting the hang of making cities, writing and new forms of art with a lot of important iconographic development. They retained a lot of iron age conceptions, and they’re making these rooms which are quite interesting because they conflate a number of different architectural features, and they are relatively early in the classical tradition, so that’s also interesting. I don’t think you could claim that they are the origin of specific architectural ideas, they certainly get things like decent columns and four cornered rooms from more-established cultures, but they are using them in a way that I think is quite telling of where and how those architectural motifs originally emerged and certainly how they can be deployed, and that’s quite useful for an architect to think about [as] these can be quite difficult things to articulate and subjects to get a handle on. So, in the set of tombs that I am looking at I have focused on a particular architectural motif which is a figurative horizon line that then becomes something that we may describe as something more ornamental. The project is really research about this process more than it is a project about making a piece.

Why the interest in Etruscans? Where did the inspiration for this project come from?
I’m not particularly interested in the Etruscans as a topic in themselves. I guess I found the rooms they were making just inherently appealing and I had a hunch they were doing quite strange things, and I still feel they’re doing quite a lot of strange things that I haven’t really got in to – this movement between what is figurative and what is repeated as a pattern and how that relates to the way it’s arranged spatially is quite complex. They’re very loose with their boundaries – for example a sea motif that very quickly becomes a setting for a real sea scene – and that is quite unusual, to jump back and forth so fluidly like that and to do it so seemingly effortlessly. And I presume that that’s because they were in a culture that was being forged incredibly quickly.

Is this the first time you’ve done a project like this? Are you used to producing work for mostre and is the process at the BSR very different?
I have made stuff for a mostra before as a student – this is quite a big part of architectural education. Usually you’re making miniaturised versions of a hypothetical building and therefore you are concerned about how it looks as a piece, but really it’s a model and you almost want to avoid thinking about it too much as a piece, because you can then fall in love with it to the detriment of what you’re modelling, which is perhaps a kind of endemic problem more widely found in society in fact, but here, if you know the end point is a mostra, you want whatever you make to read as a thing in itself. As a way of doing research, that might strike one as odd, because perhaps one might think the natural outcome of a research project like this would be a paper. But it’s nice because it means that I get a studio and the opportunity to address the material aspect of topics. and most of all because you are forced to do things in a different way.

Do you know which space you’re going to have in the gallery?
Yes, I really needed to think about the space and know what the dimensions would be before I could start making the installation – I couldn’t just make something and put it in there.

Has doing this project given rise to new ideas? Have you thought of new projects to pursue beyond the BSR?
Yes, in terms of my analysis of this topic I feel like I’m just starting. Even in looking at a specific topic, such as a particular motif in a limited number of Etruscan tombs, I feel, there is obviously a huge amount more that could be done. In terms of transforming it into something instrumental, I think it’s always interesting to think about the origins of the architectural motifs as a way of treating space and it will somehow feed in to later work. I think perhaps I had a broader interest in the interior use of colour before I arrived which has remained latent in looking a specific moments in the tomb during the time I have been here, but it would be great to revisit that in the context of what I have been looking at. The point is that colour is always spatial, so perhaps this research is one way into rethinking that topic. I think that’s something I would really like to do next.

Have you had the chance to speak to our resident Etruscan expert, [Director] Christopher Smith, about your topic?
Yes, we had a great meeting. He was very good to talk to about it. I think because he has a brilliant overview of the field and although he is not an artist himself, he has a good sense of what art is for and how art works, so I think he tried to understand where I was coming from and where an architect could play a role.

Has your time at the BSR changed the way that you work or approach a project?
I think the BSR has great resources; the library is fantastic, and you can visit all the relevant sites. I think it would be impossible for me to do this kind of research in London. So in that sense, that is great. In terms of changing the way I work, it’s possibly too early to tell. Three months is a short time and it’s quite difficult to know if any momentum can be sustained from this project. Maybe it will. What’s really nice here is that you get the chance to talk to a lot of people who work in other fields and so that might feed in to future work.

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Morgan’s work will be exhibited alongside the five resident artists in the March Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Saturday 18 March until Saturday 25 March 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Ellie Johnson

Keeping up with the borsisti: Part II

A few weeks ago, the Life at the BSR blog took a look at the progress of the research and practice of some of the award-holders who arrived at the BSR at the start of the year. This week we are checking in with the other new arrivals: JD Rhodes, Mark Somos and Caroline Cloutier.

John David Rhodes (Balsdon Fellow)

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While staying at the BSR, JD is researching modern cinematic depictions of Rome in a project entitled The uneternal city: modern Rome according to cinema. During the past couple of weeks, he has shared his expertise with fellow BSR award-holders by arranging a two-part study series, Spatial and Visual Empiricism. The first session, Piazzas, Doors, Hallways, was a seminar held at the BSR in which the methods for thinking about urban and domestic space, and the spaces that link them, were discussed. The second session, Cinematic Place and Roman Urban History, put this discussion into practice as JD led his group to  EUR, a district in Rome which Mussolini chose to develop as a showcase of Italian Fascist architecture. Below are some photos of the EUR trip, taken by Zoe Cormack (Rome Fellow).

 

We are very much looking forward to JD’s talk, Disembowelled vision: Fascism, Rome and cinema, taking place at the BSR on Monday 13 March.

Mark Somos (Balsdon Fellow)

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On his time spent as an award-holder in Rome so far, Mark writes: ‘My first month at the BSR was wonderful. Like Rome itself, the BSR staff and fellows are a daily source of joy and learning.

‘Work has been going well. For my main project on finishing a census of Vesalius’ Fabrica (1543 and 1555) I’ve visited the BNC, the Lincei, the Vatican and the Angelica, which together hold over half the total copies in Rome. My co-authors and I are on schedule with the  manuscript. Our publisher is very supportive, and continues to invest resources.

‘Because the project is going smoother than expected, I started another one. There were several possibilities, and Christopher [Smith, BSR Director] very kindly advised me on which one to follow. I am now reading Alberti’s I Libri della Famiglia, written in Rome and Florence in the 1430s-40s, and now regarded as the first work to seriously examine the boundaries between private and public in early capitalism. I’ve always thought that an insufficient interpretation of the book; and it turns out that Rome is the place to reread it. When Alberti discusses planting different pine trees, one finds several of the varieties he had in mind in the Villa Borghese. When he transforms the semantic range of terms like ‘masseria’ and ‘masserizia’ to cover thrift, economy, self-mastery, correct relationships within the household, the right way to protect the household from contentious and unprofitable politics, one can then talk to native Romans to learn that ‘masseria’ also invokes a widely recognisable, romantic architectural image of a self-sufficient homestead, something between a villa and a farm. I look forward to closely examining what is probably the most important (and neglected) manuscript in the Vatican.

‘My wife, son and I have also spent a great deal of time just walking around. It’s a joy to share this city, and spend days in the Vatican, Capitoline, MAXXI and other museums.

‘All three things – Vesalius’ anatomy atlas, Alberti’s manual on modern households and politics, and absorbing the living historical city en famille – are only possible here. From completing projects to starting new ones, I expect to enjoy my Fellowship’s benefits for many years to come’.

On Wednesday 8 March, Mark will be giving a talk entitled Gender and power in the reception of Andreas Vesalius’s Fabrica: results from the census, which we are very much looking forward to!

Caroline Cloutier (Québec Resident)

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‘During the first weeks of my stay in Rome, I had the privilege of doing on-site studies of trompe-l’oeil paintings from the Renaissance. While those have given me important revelations for my current research, lately I have found myself being strongly inspired by the modern Italian architecture, and the late afternoon sunlight that draws sharp triangular shadows on the suburbian buildings. Feeling enriched from those heteroclite new inspirations, I am currently working on a unique site-specific photographic installation for the March Mostra, that will dialogue with the architecture of the BSR gallery’.


All portrait photos by Antonio Palmieri

‘I have walked this ancient road…’

Nicole Moffatt is a PhD candidate at Macquarie University in Sydney Australia. She is spending spring and summer at the BSR as the Macquarie Gale Rome Scholar for 2017. Her research project is A world both small and wide: Letter-bearers of antiquity. Here Nicole tells us about a recent walking trip on the Via Appia and how it reflects an earlier BSR tradition.

Richard Hodges, in his Visions of Rome: Thomas Ashby Archaeologist, provides an extract of a letter written in January 1920 by a young Winifred Knights, the celebrated British painter and BSR award-holder (1920-3). In it she describes a day spent with Thomas Ashby and other students hiking through the Alban Hills. Ashby, then director of the BSR (1906-25), was a keen walker, an activity he combined with research and photography of the ancient Roman remains across the Italian countryside. The occasion described by Winifred was not an isolated one, as students often accompanied Ashby on his field trips. Robert Gardener (Craven Fellow 1912 to 1914) for example took this photo of him in May 1913 at the Traiana Viaduct, on their journey on the Via Appia-Traiana.

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Photo by Robert Gardner – Courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archive

It was only in drawing together notes and photos of a recent excursion into the Italian countryside for this blog that I came across Winifred’s description of a similar day nearly a century earlier. The following is an account of that more recent and particularly fine day, with a group from the BSR who likewise walked on the ancient Via Appia, before hiking into the Alban Hills for lunch.

Our group for the day was led by the BSR’s Finance Manager (seasoned hiker, Nick Hodgson), together with award-holders (from the left) Morgan Lewis (Scholars’ Prize in Architecture Winner), Vivien Zhang (Abbey Scholar in Painting), myself (on camera), Neil McNally (Abbey Fellow in Painting) and JD Rhodes (Balsdon Fellow). From the beginning the plan was clear: as always, coffee and cornetto first, then make our way to the beginning of the Via Appia and from there our way to lunch at Nick’s favourite place in the Alban Hills.

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Photo by Nicole Moffatt

First, we took a short detour to visit the Fosse Ardeatine on Via XX Settembre. Here JD shared with us a beautiful and touching memorial dedicated to the 335 victims of a massacre by the Nazis in 1944 at Marzabotto. The monument included a magnificent mausoleum designed by architects Giuseppe Perugini, Nello Aprile and Mario Fiorentini in 1948. It consists of a massive tombstone that seemingly floated above a vast burial vault containing the granite tombs of the victims.

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Photo by JD Rhodes

From here we walked on to the Porta Appia, or what is now known the Porta San Sebastiano. The gateway at the end of this road sits within a third century defence wall constructed by the Emperor Aurelian and within it the Arch of Drusus, dated to the first century AD.

The archives of the BSR house a substantial photography collections, including those of Thomas Ashby and Robert Gardener, from a period when the idea of capturing historical structures in the photographic form was still in its infancy. With help from BSR Archivist, Alessandra Giovenco, and Librarians, Morgan’s recent photo of the Porta Appia was matched with earlier photographs.

Just beyond the gateway, recessed into a more recently constructed wall, we located the first milestone of the Via Appia. We were on our way!

Three kilometres on we started to find our pace, and leaving the Aurelian wall well behind, we approached the first century tomb of Cecilia Metella (later thirteen century fortress of the Caetani family). It is around here that the texture of the ancient road began to reveal itself, competing with modern restorations.

Beyond this wall the residential area of the Appia began to fall away and we increased our pace. Walking three abreast, Morgan, JD and Vivien began the serious business of exchanging ideas, pulling apart, examining and reassembling research, issues, opportunities and life experiences.

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Photo by Nicole Moffatt

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Photo by Nicole Moffatt

It was not all about the walking, as this part of the Via Appia also features tombs and monumnets to ancient lives, be they catacombs, mounds, rotunda or monuments such as that of Marcus Servilius Quartus.

There were now seven kilometres between us and the Aurelian walls, and off to our left were the remains of the magnificent second century Villa Quintilius. It was the modest abode of Sextus Quintilius Maximus and Sextus Quintilius Condianus (consuls of 151 AD). The estate stretched for the best part of a kilometre along Appia and through the trees we glimpsed the aqueduct installed to meet the considerable water requirements of its lavish gardens, fountains and bath house. Cassisus Dio records that things didn’t end well for the Quintili brothers who fell afoul of the Emperor Commodus and after he murdered them he subsumed their vast estate.

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Photo by Vivien Zhang

Moving on a kilometre or so down the road the Casa Rotonda loomed into sight. A mausoleum dating to the first century BC that now supports a farm house that was built in the Middle ages. This is an interesting example of the repurposing of buildings and monuments from antiquity: an emerging interest of mine. A comparison of the two photos suggests some preservation works on both buildings.

Eight kilometres on we passed the distinctive Torre Selce, a twelfth century tall-tower medieval fortress built on the remains of a first century BC tomb. The photos below record stages in its deterioration and then restoration – and the mystery remains as to the identity of the gentleman in Ashby’s photo.

Before long, monuments, tombs and crowds faded and the road stretched on (and on) through the Parco dell’ Appia Antica. To distract from aching feet, I reflected on my research and the letter-bearers for whom this road would have been very familiar. More specifically, the complaint by some writers that the contents of their letters (presumably carried by a bearer with ‘loose lips’) sometimes travelled faster than the letters themselves! The idea of information (absent of modern technology and any form of privacy) looping ahead of the person carrying, it an interesting one. Presumably the contents of a letter were being shared with any number of fellow travellers, as they walk and exchange views of a range of matters over a bag of nuts, handful of cranberries, chocolate, fruit and bottles of water … hold on, that was us!

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Photo by Nicole Moffatt

At this point the cornetto and caffè of breakfast were a distant memory, and the priority was to reach Nick’s restaurant by 3pm. Its location: the picturesque town of Castel Gandolfo, also home of the Pope’s Summer Palace with commanding views of the volcanic Lake Albano. The catch: it was many, many, many metres above sea level. Still Nick’s confidence was unwavering as he pushed our group ever onwards, ever upwards through alleyways and country lanes, past orchards, an inquisitive foal and an excitable, yet singularly focused, Rottweiler.

Finally, 25km of ancient road and a hiking trail woven through the Alban Hills lay behind us. In front of us, Gandolfo and our prize … lunch. Alas, our restaurant table was not ready on arrival as earlier patrons had settled in for a languid Sunday lunch. Too weak to argue, we staggered off to a local bar and over a birra resolved to stage a ‘stretch-in’ protest at its front door. Eventually, the patrons were sent on their way and the table was ours!

Afterword

The BSR archives contains a thumbnail sketch of the ancient town of Amelia, drawn by Thomas Ashby nearly a century ago. On it are various observations and a comment that has stuck with me since it was first pointed out by my colleague Jane Wade. Ashby simply wrote ‘I have walked this ancient road …’ and I might suggest it was probably with a number of students in tow. I’d like to think on Sunday the more recent edition of BSR award holders enjoyed a glimpse of this earlier Ashby BSR tradition.

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BSR Archives – Courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archive

Thank you to Valerie, Alessandra, Beatrice and Francesca: the generous and knowledgeable staff of the BSR library who have indulged my personal interest in Thomas Ashby, his research methods and Roman roads in general. Thank you also to Nick Hodgson, who surely went above and beyond the call of duty for a Finance Manager when he agreed to walk this ancient road with us.


Nicole Moffatt (Macquarie Gale Rome Scholar)

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Photo by Vivien Zhang