June Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists… Chris Browne

With only two days to go until the opening of the June Mostra, we bring you the next interview from our Meet the artists series, this time with Chris Browne (William Fletcher Foundation Scholar). Here he gives an insight into his practice and discusses the surprises, the benefits and the challenges of working in Rome.


Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Chris Browne has an ongoing interest in spaces, particularly man-made, and how these inhabited environments influence and shape people’s behaviour and sense of themselves, as individuals and as groups. Elements that contribute to the character of these architectural spaces, such as time, climate, colour, texture and scale are key to the development of the current group of works. Browne’s mode of expression could be classified as contemporary realism, working mostly in oils and various graphic media.

You have previously been based at the Florence Academy of Art: I was wondering how you find Rome as a city to work in in comparison to Florence?

I knew it would be different, but I was surprised by how different it is. Rome is a lot more diverse in terms of colour and texture and influences. It’s not as unified, but that’s part of its character, and there are so many layers – it’s great.

Given your interest in classical and renaissance architecture, in a city like Florence or Rome you are spoilt for choice for subjects to focus on. Have you found it a challenge to narrow your focus?

The images that I’m doing came pretty soon, and other images have built up but I’ve had to put them on hold and I’ll work on them when I get back to Australia, or in Rome if I can come back here. It’s a matter of logistics: because I’m a slow painter, there’s only so much I can do in the given time.

Have you found yourself drawn to a particular area of the city?

I’m drawn towards the textures, graffiti, decay, colour and variation of the street life, and of the churches too. I was looking at marbling in a church the other day and there was this tiny little area of a trompe l’oeil moulding, and it was one of those instances where you are struck by the quality craftsmanship and the discovery of it. I’ve been looking at a lot of marble; the churches here have such a range of it, and I’ve just been trying to build up my knowledge about the types of marble – I sat in on the City of Rome lecture on marble which was really good. I’ve been looking at those materials which unfortunately in Australia, you just don’t get.

Taking for example this image of the piazza overlooking the Piazza del Popolo [the central painting in the photo below]: what is the process behind this? Do you take a picture, do you work on site, or do you revisit it many times? 

I revisit a place to see it in different conditions, different groupings, and just to get a sense of how the light plays in the space. The figures tend to come last – I first suss out the context, and I don’t paint a picture from beginning to end in a short time frame. I take it to a stage, then leave it, then come back and decide what works, and the figures come later. Obviously, in that particular place there is such a range of figures and types of events – you can’t really distil that.


Works in progress in Chris’ studio. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

I don’t paint in public if I can help it. I don’t mind drawing in public, that’s less noticeable. I tend to do a lot of watching, looking, and I take photos as well. I mainly draw with a sketchbook quietly somewhere, and take visual notes on colour, scale, tones.

Your works have a tranquillity to them, and I was wondering, because Rome has its very beautiful and picturesque and monumental side, but it also has the chaos and the crowds of tourists and graffiti and rubbish, do you think that infiltrates your work, or do you actively distance yourself from it?

There is a tension: I love the baroque and the classical, and coming to Rome I did want to incorporate more baroque and more movement and chaos into these images which are very still – but I keep going back to the quiet churches and things like that, so I’m gradually trying to force myself to put a bit of movement in, it just doesn’t come naturally. I tend to still things down, but I’m trying to go against my tendencies and bring a bit more life, texture, things like that. It’ll probably take me a couple of years to do it properly. Patterns of behaviour keep repeating themselves. But I am already planning my next trip back as the process needs to be ongoing, rather than just a one-off. I feel an affinity with Italy and with Rome, so I am happy to focus on this area than, say, other parts of Europe.


Works in progress in Chris’ studio. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

How have you balanced the relative brevity of your residency with your practice, in which you paint a layer and you have to leave it for a stretch of time to dry properly before you go back to the next?

I like the long process of letting the layers dry properly but it’s a bit tricky here, and I’ve actually been experimenting with a few mediums. Take this canvas here: the paint keeps sinking in, so I’ve had to adjust my mediums so that it doesn’t dry matte all the time. I don’t want it to crack, but for the mostra I’m taking a few risks in terms of not waiting as long. They’ll probably be about 70% finished for the mostra and in the last few days I’d like to put on an overlay, otherwise they will stay quite matte and dull.

Has the residency presented a challenge with regards to working alongside artists whose practices are so different from your own?

It was interesting, with the Florence Academy, the style and technique is very uniform, but here it is more unexpected. Initially I felt I had to compromise and adjust my practice, but in the end I continued doing what I do, as they continued doing what they do, and so I’m quite comfortable with that.

Would you say that, despite not having to compromise you practice as you at first felt you might have to, your practice or approach has changed in the past three months?

There’s bound to be an influence. I probably couldn’t pinpoint it exactly, but certain things seep through. For example, at the Florence Academy I’d learn something, but it wasn’t until six months later on that it became engrained and I knew what to do with it. There’s not a eureka moment but there is an accumulation.

The residency has been good because being in this environment with this group of people – researchers, archaeologists, historians – is a richer, broader experience, with a diverse set of influences.

Chris’ work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Friday 16 June until Saturday 24 June 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)

June Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists… Gary Deirmendjian

The second artist-in-focus for our Meet the artists blogs for June Mostra 2017 is Gary Deirmendjian, National Art School, Sydney, Resident. Here he discusses how he has been interacting with Rome during his residency, and explains the process behind some of the works he will be showing in the June Mostra.

Can you reveal a bit about the work you will be showing at the June Mostra?

I came to Rome loaded with ideas of engaging with the city’s architectural palimpsest, but those have been side-lined and the city itself has been pulling me towards it and I’ve just followed my nose. In the Mostra, I will be using one of the cabinets next to the lecture theatre as a display for things that have washed up at the footsteps of the BSR. I’ll be displaying them as archaeological dig finds. You can imagine someone digging this up in 2000 years’ time – if we ever make it that far – and they’ll be just as excited as archaeologists today upon making a discovery and pouring into its tiniest details.

The other is this notion of lead handkerchiefs, and that’s what’s on this table here. These are impressions taken of the city itself: some of them I’ve wrapped around the physical objects that already existed in public space, like the foot of a sculpture in the Borghese gardens.


Cast away objects picked up by Gary for his Mostra display. Photo by Ellie Johnson.


Impressions made with lead handkerchiefs. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

How do you work with the lead handkerchiefs? Is the material quite malleable?

They’re thin enough to be malleable but hard enough to keep the form – I made my own tools to work with them. This is an impression I made of one of the statues in Villa Borghese. You can see it’s quite baroque when you look at the drapery, acting like a cloth that’s shrouding something.


Impression of a statue made by Gary. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

Working with something like this, do you aim to get the folds in a certain way – for this impression, were the creases deliberately placed?

No, it’s purely incidental. No two can be formed the same way, so that each time I do it it is unique to that instance. There’s also a cobblestone which has been ‘wrapped’, but the others are impressions of the city itself, so that thing had to have been there, I had to be there to make it happen, and they are a record of that moment in time.


Cobblestone shrouded by a lead handkerchief. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

Another example is an inlaid bronze skull and bones relief from the floor of the church Santa Maria del Popolo: for this one I went in with a group of tourists and dropped the sheet of lead in place and stomped on it over and over again to get the impression, using tourists as a cover. other versions of these are simply leaving lead sheets on a road or pavement, and collecting them a day or two later. in these instances i’m allowing the city to shape the work. So, some are incidentally formed, whereas others are more me in a concerned way.

How do you decide on a space for an intervention – say with the link you did in the studio or the interventions opposite the GNAM [Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna]?

The site ends up choosing you: with the space opposite the GNAM, I was walking there on a regular basis and noticing the biscuits [bitumen pieces], and you’ve got this bombastic gesture of the gallery directly opposite this very humble space, on equal height, where quite a few homeless people sleep at night. My heart always goes towards the ordinary, and so to do something anonymous and ordinary and hope that that might lead to some sort of a dialogue was the impetus, really.

Do you feel any protectiveness over your public installations, or is it the case that once it’s there it’s open for people to do what they want with it?

I’ve worked enough in public space to know that the public have a mind of their own and there’s no way of even trying to control that beast – it’s wild and unruly, and exciting as well. I do get incredibly precious as I’m making something, but for me the magic is in the making and it’s where the art lies. Once it’s there, I tend to distance myself through photography, and then before you know it, you are less emotionally connected.

Would you say you have had to build up to that attitude over time?

Yes, definitely. Working in public spaces, you’re on equal ground with everybody and it’s quite raw and unlike a white cube gallery, where everything inside that white cube has been mediated through some authority, whether it’s curators or critics or gallerists. The ‘specialness’ of that is something I find grating, because the truth is if you shut down all the art schools and all the galleries, there would still be art and it would probably be more authentic.

At first, leaning towards the public was harrowing in terms of being overly protective, but you toughen up. The whole point of the stack was to see what might happen, and it ended up producing some surprising results which were quite satisfying. The roman stack almost became a permission for people to play there, both children and adults. The public can either give or take away, but you just have to take the good with the bad I suppose!

Working in Rome in comparison to working in Sydney, are there any parallels that you have noticed or perhaps been surprised by?

I don’t have a studio in Sydney, but a lot of people give me spaces to work in, like the National Art School. The city itself is my studio and I suppose I have simply continued to act in that mode here in Rome. The parallels are just me being me, but the context is obviously different, and it’s made me aware of other things. For example, in Sydney I wouldn’t have been aware of bitumen, but here I’ve become super aware of it. The two places have been quite different, but being open to the differences, they excite and create possibility.

So, in Sydney the city is your studio, but here you have both the city and you have the studio; how do you think that has made a difference to your practice?

Having a studio is a huge luxury for me. It’s been a home first and a studio second – whatever you see here has happened outside and brought inside just for convenience. Other than the link work, I haven’t really worked in the studio. So I guess old habits are hard to break!

I’m making a lot less than I used to. I’ve never been comfortable rendering one material to appear like another, or making something look like something else, so more and more I’ve been appreciating the actuality of things, and sites do in fact contribute important resonance to any work’s suggestive mix. With those objects in the display case, each one of those things has its own story to tell: each one has been made, distributed, retailed, purchased, taken away, used and then tossed. They’re now individuated things by virtue of the sum total of their incidental experiences.

My definition of art is very much a ‘small letter a’ art, and I can’t see it as being anything more than just a suggestive form of communication. Hopefully, it’s akin to poetry, and it’s got some suggestive power that can lead someone to individual thought and feeling.  If my work can do that for some, then my job is done.

Gary’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Friday 16 June until Saturday 24 June 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)

June Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists … Sinta Tantra

As we approach the June Mostra, our third and final Mostra of the academic year, we will be publishing a series of blogs taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. The first artist-in-focus is Sinta Tantra, this year’s Bridget Riley Fellow, who reflects on the last three months which have formed the second half of her residency. 


Sinta Tantra. 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.

In your interview before the March Mostra, you said that looking forward to the next three months (April-June) you would like to work on a public art project. Has that plan come to fruition, and if so, how?

Yes, the first term was more about getting to know the city and settling into studio life here in Rome and at the BSR. The last three months have been about trying to create a public artwork outside of the studio. I knew  I wanted to create a public art piece, but I wasn’t sure what form it would take.

Since the last interview, I have been given a fantastic opportunity to create the flag for the Palio di Siena. The drappellone flag is the winning flag for the Palio horse race which happens twice a year and has been a tradition since medieval times. It happens in Siena, so I’ve been spending quite a bit of time there – trying to understand the culture of Palio, how it affects the people, and what the drappellone truly means to a Sienese. The drapellone is very much an artwork for the city and the people.

I know that the work you’re doing on the drappellone is top-secret, but could you tell me how this project marks a change from the way you usually work – whether in the materials you’ve been using or with the restrictions on your work, having a criteria to fill with the drappellone design?

It’s not unusual in the sense that I often work with commissioners — developing ideas ‘inside out’, consulting and seeing which direction they would like to move forward. What is different is what the artwork symbolises. It feels a bit like stepping into the shoes of a medieval or Renaissance artist — not only does it have its function for the horse race, but it also a religious object. I have to include figurative elements such as the Virgin Madonna of the Assumption — quite a challenge for an abstract geometric artist such as myself! I also need to include a dedication on the flag — this year, the dedication is to Giovanni Duprè, a sculptor born in Siena, marking 200 years since his birth.

The response I’ve had from the public has been pretty overwhelming, and they’ve not even seen the artwork yet! I’m already getting social media messages from people saying how much they’re looking forward to seeing the flag and meeting me in Siena.


Public artwork project by Sinta at Canary Wharf from 2012: ‘A Beautiful Sunset Mistaken for a Dawn’.

And how do the differences between Rome and Siena impact on your work?

I think Siena has been quite good for me — it’s smaller in scale, and it’s a much friendlier city than Rome. Working on the Palio has meant that I’ve been able to meet more Italians in a more relaxed, natural environment, seeing how they live in their community — that has been quite inspirational. It’s quite difficult to find those real communities in Rome. In Siena, I was lucky enough to visit the contrade and the communities that run them and witness how important they are. The contrada is a meeting place, a social place, a hub where activities happen.

Since the March Mostra, have you noticed a difference in your work, and what are the most significant changes?

That’s quite difficult to answer because three months is a quite short timeframe. I think, overall, I would say the colours in my work are far more heightened. Living in Rome and living in Italy, you’re far more aware of seasons — I’ve always been inspired by the light, sky, colours — how they convey feelings and meanings. Those senses are intensified living in Italy — parks turning lush, green, colourful,  the smells of flowers. There’s an awareness of change, and you can’t help but reflect that change in your work somehow.  I’m not so afraid of colour combinations that a few months ago I would have avoided – I’ve become braver about colour ‘clashing’.

In your last interview, you said that one of the things that influences you here is the vibrancy, the peacocking, and the idea of being seen to be seen. Have these elements continued to inspire or influence your work, or have you found any other aspects of the atmosphere in Rome that you have taken on board and that you have used in your work?

Yes: with the changing seasons and warmer weather and longer evenings, that peacocking and display of confidence plays out a lot longer. I think a lot of Italy feels like a theatre, in the architecture and spaces in the city – whether in Rome or Siena – everything becomes part of a drama or play — it’s quite fun seeing that.

In the March Mostra, the piece you showed was The Piranesi Effect, which referenced the Piranesi prints you worked with in the BSR archive. Have you continued to use either the resources within the BSR or beyond in other academies or libraries in Rome, and if so, how?

I found out that there was a sculpture by Duprè in storage in the Gallery next door [Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna], and as the drappellone needs to commemorate Giovanni Duprè, I was eager to see it. It was incredible to have gained access to that through the BSR, because it would otherwise have been quite difficult to see. In other libraries, I have had access to papers and books about Duprè, and I’ve also been reading into Siena and how it was an important city as part of the silk trade, and so it’s been interesting to see how these cities played a role commercially, economically and visually.


Sinta Tantra, ‘The Piranesi Effect’ Tempera on linen 4 panels, 180 x 60 cm each Photo by Roberto Apa

With four new artists joining us this term, whose work is quite different from the artists we had from January-March, do you find that you work differently being surrounded by new people who work differently?

Yes, it’s always fascinating meeting new people and seeing how they make work and their practice. One of the artists I’ve been inspired by here is Gary: we both create public artwork, but we approach it in incredibly different ways. I admire his sculptures — immediate, slightly guerrilla-style and inspired by the city. His work appeals to not just art-lovers but the general public too. He created a sculpture just opposite the school in Villa Borghese. I witnessed how people fell in love with it. It’s quite inspirational to see how public art can have such an effect on people, especially in a city like Rome. There are a lot of public artworks in the city, especially sculptures, but there aren’t many contemporary or temporary artworks. Temporary artworks make people engage in quite a different way to the space. Although Gary’s work is different to mine, we both share an interest in engaging people with places.

Sinta’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Friday 16 June until Saturday 24 June 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)

A research trip to Tunisia

Last April, Coleman-Hilton Scholar Jason Blockley travelled to Tunisia to visit a number of sites to complement his research on the economies of late antique North Africa. Over the course of this trip, Jason clocked up an impressive number of miles and site visits, travelling between cities and across countryside, exploring both ancient, medieval and modern sites. Read on to find out more…

During the Roman period the provinces that cover the area that is now Tunisia were among the richest and most productive in the entire empire. Every year millions of tons of wheat, olive oil, fine pottery, and other goods left Tunisia’s shores for sale or distribution elsewhere in the empire. My research investigates the relationship between the state and the economy in Late Antique (c. 300-450) North Africa, which took me on an eight-day trip of Tunisia in April. While there I was lucky to have the expert services and friendship of Sami Harize, a veteran guide and expert on Tunisia’s cultural heritage.
For the first two days of the trip we were busy exploring the many ruins of Carthage, the ancient capital of Roman Africa which today is a suburb of Tunis. Like Rome, Tunis/Carthage is a patchwork of ancient ruins scattered amongst a modern metropolis. The ruins alone reveal the immense size and prosperity of Roman Carthage, a city that would have housed several hundred thousand people. The city boasted all the comforts and infrastructure that Rome had, including splendid baths, theatres, an arena, public aqueducts, and a sophisticated harbour system.

The Bardo Museum in Tunis contains more evidence of the splendour that the citizens of Carthage enjoyed, including a staggering and unparalleled collection of ancient mosaics.

After having visited the major sites and museums in Carthage we set out for a three-day, ~1,000km tour of northern and central Tunisia. To properly describe all the incredible sites we visited along the way would require a short book at least, as it is impossible to travel anywhere in Tunisia without seeing some monument or cultural treasure. On the first day we drove through the verdant lush north of the country to see the cities of Dougga, ancient Thugga, and El Kef, ancient Sicca Veneria. The countryside is incredibly fertile and picturesque, and in antiquity the grain grown here was essential in keeping the city of Rome fed.

Though both Thugga and Sicca Veneria were modest provincial cities they both boasted all the comforts of Roman urban life, including baths, theatres, and fine homes for the wealthy. Many of the ruins of Sicca Veneria have disappeared beneath the modern fabric of El Kef, but the ruins at Dougga are pristine, and a sure rival for sites like Pompeii. Dougga, like many other ancient ruins in Tunisia, coexists with modern pastoralists just as it would have done in antiquity.

On the second day, we started heading south into central Tunisia, where the landscape became more arid and rocky. Not well suited for growing wheat, this area specialised in olives. In fact, the area is practically a forest of olive trees as it was during the Roman period.


Olive groves in central Tunisia. Photo by Jason Blockley.

Along the way we visited Haïdra, ancient Ammaedara, and Sbeitla, ancient Sufetula. During the early years of Roman rule in Africa Haïdra was an important military site, a role it resumed during the tumultuous Byzantine period. The imposing triumphal arch, partially encased in ad hoc walls, also echoes the military history of the city.

The ruins of Sufetula lie in an impressive archaeological park right next to modern Sbeitla. Again, the ancient city boasted all the signature comforts of ancient urban life, but also has an unusual triple-Capitoline temple as well as several early Christian churches with mosaiced baptismal pools.

On the last day of our tour of the Tunisian countryside we visited Kairouan and El Djem, ancient Thysdrus. Kairouan was settled around 670 CE during the Islamic conquest of Africa, and the city’s Great Mosque was the first in the entire Maghreb. During the early Middle Ages Kairouan became the seat of power, politics, and culture in Tunisia, taking the place that Carthage (now ruined) had occupied during the ancient era. Although Kairouan was the centre for the burgeoning Islamic civilisation in Tunisia, vestiges of the country’s Roman history made its way into the city. The ruins of Roman monuments in Tunisia were used like a quarry to embellish Kairouan, including the Great Mosque – ancient architectural elements can still be seen today.

El Djem, like El Kef, has mostly buried its ancient ruins beneath the modern city – except for its immense amphitheatre, which was among the largest in the Roman Empire. The amphitheatre, sited in the heart of the city, is clear evidence that Thysdrus’ arid environment was no impediment to the Romano-Africans building a prosperous and comfortable city.

El Djem

The amphitheatre at El Djem. Photo by Jason Blockley.

After El Djem our tour of the Tunisian countryside and its many cities and towns was finished and we drove back to Tunis. The next few days were spent exploring more of medieval and modern Tunis. The city’s Medina (old town) is a lively and bustling labyrinth full of small shops, cafés, homes, and mosques. The modern city has far outgrown its ancient, medieval, or colonial limits and is today a veritable metropolis.

My journey through Tunisia was rewarding in many ways. It provided needed nuance and context to my research, and I am grateful to Sami for pointing out countless things I would have otherwise missed. Experiencing and learning about modern Tunisia was equally rewarding. Lastly, the people of Tunisia remain a hospitable and generous people despite the hardships they have weathered over the years.

Jason Blockley (Coleman-Hilton Scholar)

Original photographic prints from the BSR Photographic Archive on display at Palazzo Poli in Rome

On 16 May our Library team attended the opening of a photographic exhibition that sees the participation of 30 Italian and foreign institutions in Rome, including many members of the URBiS Library Network Catalogue.

Alfabeto fotografico romano

The list of all the institutions in Rome both Italian and foreign participating in the exhibition

The exhibition shows more than 300 photographs arranged by theme in alphabetical order: Acque, Bellezza, Cronaca, Danni, Esplorazioni, Feste, Giochi, Habitat, Incontri, Lavoro, Mostre, Nudo, Oltremare, Potere, Quotidianità, Radici, Spettacoli, Trasporti, Urbanistica, Viaggi, Zibaldone. This approach, presenting the photographs according to theme rather than chronology, results in a more evocative and inspiring experience for the public and demonstrates the diversity and richness of the photographic collections across the participant institutions.

The title of the initiative stems from the exhibition’s three distinguishing elements:

  • the alphabetical order in which the images are presented (alfabeto)
  • the nature of the objects on display – exclusively photographs (fotografico)
  • the provenance of the collections, all from public and private institutions in Rome (romano)

We are very proud to have participated in the exhibition by contributing some original photographs from our Photographic Archive: five original albumen prints from the John Henry Parker Collection have been selected for the section Acque, Danni, Potere, Urbanistica and Viaggi, as well as two silver gelatin prints from the John Bryan Ward-Perkins series ‘War Damage’ documenting the destruction of the San Lorenzo basilica during World War II.


The exhibition catalogue showing images documenting the destruction of the basilica of San Lorenzo during World War II

Alfabeto fotografico romano

Attendees at the exhibition opening

The accompanying catalogue includes more than 200 images and a description of each item is provided by the curators of the photographic collections.

We are very grateful to Maria Francesca Bonetti (Istituto Centrale per la Grafica (ICG)) and Clemente Marsicola (Istituto Centrale per il Catalogo e la Documentazione (ICCD)) for having dedicated their efforts to setting up this highly collaborative project.

Alfabeto fotografico romano

Audience attending the presentation of the exhibition

On a personal note, I would like to express my gratitude to Beatrice Gelosia, Deputy Librarian, for her invaluable help and support throughout the preparation of both the texts published in the catalogue and the photographic material selected for the event.

Do not miss the opportunity to go and visit this outstanding exhibition, on display until the beginning of July:

Venue: Palazzo Poli, Via Poli, 54 (Fontana di Trevi) – Rome

Date: 17 May-2 July 2017

Time: Tuesday-Sunday, 14.00-19.00

Free entrance

Alessandra Giovenco (Archivist)

Understanding, designing and creating maps: a workshop on new software in archaeology

Earlier this year, Research Fellow Maria del Carmen Moreno, who joins us at the BSR this year from the University of Southampton to carry out research on the port system of imperial Rome, generously offered to share her expertise on new software being used in archaeology. Here she reflects on the workshop which she organised and conducted, and on the role this software has to play in this field of study.

My name is Maria del Carmen Moreno, and I am a postdoctoral researcher working at the British School at Rome. I am a specialist in Roman Archaeology and Landscape Archaeology, and as such, I am very familiar with the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). I believe the introduction of this tool in Archaeology has generated a bit of a “revolution” that is just starting to be acknowledged and incorporated into the discipline of Roman Archaeology, since it allows the user to manage and analyse vast amounts of data based on their distribution over the landscape. But every journey begins with a single step, and regarding GIS, that step consists of understanding what GIS is and its possibilities, and (then) getting hands-on with a computer to create a first map.

After several conversations with some residents at the British School at Rome, it became clear that tools of this kind generate interest and curiosity amongst scholars and artists alike, and so I thought of ways to showcase not only the possibilities of GIS, but also to demonstrate that, despite its complexity, GIS shouldn’t be considered a scary piece of software only understood by some, but as a very useful tool accessible to any person with an interest in this topic. I therefore decided to organise a workshop, entitled “Introduction to Geographic Information Systems in Humanities” at the British School at Rome for those interested in the topic.


The day came, and an audience of residents (both scholars and artists) and some colleagues from other institutions and international academies in Rome were introduced to many different topics. To name just a few, we explored the definition of GIS and advantages of its use not only in Humanities but in many other disciplines and areas of research, and the diverse ways into which the curved surface of the Earth has been organised and represented through coordinate systems, as well as the numerous possibilities of commercial and open-source software available nowadays. Lively exchanges of opinions developed throughout the morning and early afternoon, especially when we discussed the process of map design and the consequences of choosing one geographic projection over another (which may introduce diverse degrees of distortion on the length and area of regions, countries, and continents alike, as some assistants discovered then).


The site of Portus. Photo by Maria del Carmen Moreno.


The site of Isola Sacra. Photo by Maria del Carmen Moreno.

We also went into the computing side of GIS, where we could think of ways in which real phenomena are represented and stored as geographic digital data, thus establishing the differences between vector and raster formats and the possibilities they offer for GIS users. Most importantly, I introduced some ideas about metadata and strategies for digital archiving, a fundamental concern when dealing with digital data in order to allow its description and reuse by researchers in the future. Finally, a tutorial on the creation of maps in ArcGIS (developed specifically for this workshop) was distributed amongst the assistants, in order to enable them to create their own maps. And thus, the session finished.

As a little reflection, I believe it was a very interesting workshop where the diversity of approaches and perceptions of the geographic space held and discussed by the assistants become the very central point of the session, allowing all of us to think and reflect on space, territories and landscapes in more diverse and creative ways.

As a final note, I would like to thank the assistance and the collaboration of the British School at Rome in the organisation and celebration of this workshop. Without them, this initiative wouldn’t have been possible.

Maria del Carmen Moreno (Research Fellow, BSR)

Gary Deirmendjian’s interventions in Rome

Over the course of the past few months, visitors to the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna and Villa Borghese have been surprised by the interventions that have been appearing on the flights of steps that connect the two sites. The artist behind them is Gary Deirmendjian, this year’s National Art School, Sydney, Resident.


Gary Deirmendjian (National Art School, Sydney, Resident). Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

The first installation appeared mysteriously overnight in early April: at around 4 o’clock in the morning, Gary had gone out to the steps overlooking the Gallery to put together his first piece, roman stack. The result was an anonymous cube stack, made out of the available material of bitumen debris – what Gary calls ‘the city’s flaking skin’. The orientation of the work was aligned with the global axis, and not with the site’s urban geometry. Gary documented the changes to the work whenever he walked by, whilst resisting the temptation to make modifications himself.

Gary commented that during the installation, passers-by became intrigued and were compelled to take part: one helped by bringing over pieces of bitumen, another used his car’s headlights to provide Gary with some light.

roman stack soon evolved in the past has claws: making further use of the loose bitumen fragments and the debris from the former installation, this new piece was exhibited adjacent to the relic base of roman stack.

Gary was struck by the sensitivity with which the public responded to these interventions. Firstly, he was pleasantly surprised by how long the pieces had lasted: being left to mercy of the elements and the many passers-by, he had expected the installations to lose their structure fairly quickly, however he was pleased to see that they were treated with interest and respect. It was also wonderful to see the creative response to roman stack and the past has claws: a number of spectators developed the installations, either by adding bitumen fragments to the existing pieces, or by building their own nearby.

This marks a continuation of the theme of ‘shared space’, which is often a central element of Gary’s practice. On his website, he writes:

The major thrust of my practice in recent years has become to exist in shared space – by definition the public realm in its broadest meaning. I’m very interested in the notion of art in public, as opposed to public art, with the latter commonly understood as being a brief-driven proposition.

As an artist, it has become essential for me to find means to connect directly with a broader public, one-to-one and free of any obligation, mediation or justification. Hence the demonstrable tendency in the work towards more public or openly shared space.

We are very much looking forward to seeing what other interventions Gary has in store for Rome!

All photos by Gary Deirmendjian.

Ellie Johnson (Administrative Assistant — Communications and Events)