Monday, November 23, 2009

Sunday Nov 22, 09

Sunday November 22nd.

Highlight of the week was our night walk along the Tiber Thursday evening. LA artist Doug Aiken’s install was spectacular in its way but raised issues of: what did it mean? A kind of superficial, ad-like portrayal of Ed Ruscha as arch-typical white Western guy wandering the desert landscape dotted with neon and at one point walking on white marble steps of the EUR here in Europe (the fascist city built by Mussolini). The music was overpowering, uncredited (of course) and seemed a mélange of sounds, at one point breaking into a polka? There were rectangles cut through with fancy glass so that the interior image was smooth(er). I thought initially it was to imitate a blank billboard that appeared in one of the more interesting images, but no, I believe it was to let the light and image out to the audiences up on the bridge above and on the shores—so they could see something: a glowing sharp edged light.

So— spectacular but meaningless, or if meaning-full, with a meaning that simply put a poignant sentimentality onto the West (dying) and heroic white men (rich famous and indifferent—no expression as befits the western hero?).
I guess I could be pleased he chose to focus on an artist but somehow—all the black men, or perhaps only one, shot from different angles? were street musicians! Yikes.

Particularly compelling issue to me since I am to do an install here and have not settled on what….but knowing I want meaning and spectacle. I want to make my audience conscious, not merely ‘feed’ their desire for spectacle, and to relate definitively to Rome itself. Thinking of the gladiators and the way the Empire utilized spectacle to keep the masses in place. Of course this is the origin of popular movies too: once considered only working class entertainments, movies were intended to keep the workers ‘happy.’ Or “Happy happy dogs” as the poet Bruce Andrews would say.

The rest of the trip more startling as we came up to a 2000 year old bridge still in use and one of the architects here Kiel Moe described how it was built with travertine (the white stone) that was stronger than the black (pepe-tine? Something with pepper in it as that is what it looks like indeed. Pepe=pepper in Italian). He talked about the open arches in the middle to let the waters run through when they flood and floods were/are common in Rome. Last fall, the water came up to within a couple of feet of the arches of the bridge which would be a good 15-20 feet higher than last night! We walked on the island in the middle—isola—the only island in the Tiber and saw how the island is built up like a ship. Kiel had the poetic comment that they conceived the island as moving (a ship) within the river, when it is the river which is moving and the boat=island still. There was also a carved caduceus, serpent around a sword in the 2000 year old stones, symbolizing how the island has been a hospital for these years. The island was suitable because it served as a natural quarantine for plagues et al. Then onto the “broken bridge”, as old as the other but ruined. It lasted 1500 years (only); a flood destroyed it. Kiel explained why it went and not the other: in part, it is situated where the island ends and the two sections of the river come together. Since the river is narrower there, it runs faster (higher too I presume) and the bridge itself was made of smaller pieces, thus weaker. Now I want to see how the bridge is built: Kiel said it is originally wood and then stone put on and the wood removed. Fascinating and a bit inconceivable when you are standing under this Piranesi structure.

Friday the political returned with Rachel Donadio, Italian correspondent from the NY Times visiting us and giving an informal talk on Berlusconi and the Papacy. I enjoyed the informality though others wanted more startling news. For me the interest was the book—literally a large quarter inch thick magazine (like a design magazine a bit) —that B. sent out to EVERY Italian before his first election. It’s a gigantic advertisement: B with family, son, workers, soccer teams et al. A lot like Bloomberg is what many of us New Yorkers were thinking! Such is the power of money. The questions at end included a Hungarian woman speaking of this time as post-ideology which has become imag-ology (Kundera coined word) which of course I agree with being completely conscious of meaning and image, and how much this is unconscious in the public mind. Again why the Aiken and much video art is disturbing to me: what is it really saying to its audiences? And why are audiences so taken with spectacle that they become passive automatons? Or at least unquestioning uncritical minds? The question of freedom vs pleasure, or really, how is pleasure defined: as soporific sleep? Or conscious thinking? We need a Karl Krauss to analyze public structure and reaction, in Italia the USA art world.

Wed night another kind of politics with Edmund White reading from his latest CITY BOY. A quick glance told me this was a gossip book, each chapter another person. And indeed he read the chapter on Sontag. I was interested, he was witty, skewering her at every point. By the end he spoke of his own “impulse towards treachery” and that seemed to sum up his ethics nicely. He mentioned Robert Gluck for all you writers reading this and told me later I should tell Robert he mentioned him! So much for fame in the city of light.

On this end, shot the rowboat scenes with Mary and Percy Shelley in the pond at the Villa Borghese—beautiful, elegant autumnal colors and motions, and went back yesterday to get the sound for my Puchinella show. But we came a bit later (he had said he started at one but it was noon!) and then somewhere on the way back it seemed I lost my wallet with cards and id, not much money and it has not shown up yet. Wish for me all you non-anonymous readers that someone has found it and will return!

And indeed since I could not post till this morning, a gardener found it this morning! Our wishes are granted.

an amazing night of contemporary music from 4pm to 11pm at the Villa Aurelia this weekend; a great Morricone MULTIPLY in which 12 or more musicians were scattered throughout the first two floors, in hallways, underwindows—haunting and wonderful. Another great complicated piece with voice by a Coen family: father violinist, son clarinetist, mother the poet and much later at 9pm our Fellow Don Byron improved on his clarinet, singing the last verse of a popular blues tune. Glory and play. Magnifico.

un abbraccio

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

November 17th Rome.

Tuesday nite November 17th.

Russell gave his talk tonight. Very fine letter and book designer: funny and classic in his way.

Tomorrow we go to Villa Borghese to film at the pond with the Shelleys. The sunny mild weather has held (some people are still wearing sandals...) and we will be on the water. Last weekend on Saturday the 14th we shot at the carousel by the Castel San Angelo. Very beautiful. Unfortunately (purtroppo) the photos I’ve included were taken by an intern and she didn’t switch from electric light (!) so they are bluer than the real.

The other fotos are from today when I went and got fingerprinted (!) at the police station for my permesso de giorno, i.e. my visa to stay the year at the Academy. Jason, another fellow was at the same time so we walked out with ‘black hands’ (from the ink prints) and had a coffee and decided to visit a local church. The statue is a late Bernini and in the back was a “secret” room, a "camera" in Italian which I now understand since my bedroom has become a kind of clock with the light moving through it, across walls, armoir, now back wall, above the bed, circling. Our guide didn’t know how to operate the machinery of the secret doors so we saw some fine medieval paintings of St. Francis who presumably slept there waiting for the pope to give him his permesso! Ahhh the round.

Now backwards for all you followers (please do comment; it lets me know who all is reading this)

Thursday night November 12th
Before the dire Friday the 13th which turns out to be lucky ( I am sure) this has been a week of hard work on my China film: new title: RIDING THE TIGER: Letters from Capitalist China incorporating new recording Monday morning from my collaborator Danica M. in NYC via web—aiff (sound files to you) via usendit. Lovely and it works! Happiness. Then hours of cutting and pasting and then Wednesday spending most of the day rendering…so that I could play pool after dinner and watch (even) the first show of Mad Men…while my computer grinds away. Felt bad that I missed Maxxi invite Tuesday night, the new architecture marvel by the Iranian that opened with a dance performance by Sasha Waltz, (another great name) a German Fellow at their academy. Ahhh even gave up a walk this morning to Syrian vault in nearby Via Dandolo, a curvy S of a road right round us. But got a version of the film to send to Berlin. So cross your fingers for me. It needs more work but good to get this far.

I did take a break and walk down Dandolo to pool which I am to join—Friday I hope and swim regularly 2x a week say for the next 8 months. It’s down a wonderful flock of stairs. This neighborhood percolates with stairs coming and going in all directions and it makes the trip that otherwise would be 45 minutes only 25 min. door to door, and far more fun. I had to have a doctor examine me but we practiced our mutual broken languages. His English better than my Italian (but of course) and I was declared healthy with 120 over 70 blood pressure— lower than in New York I believe.

But sadly folks no fotos for this week’s report. Unless maybe I put in fotos of my new stairs in Nova Scotia that just got rebuilt and re-sanded to match the 150 year old ones? In a city of 2000+ year old bronze green doors, 150 years seems very young indeed. It’s amazing the relativity of time and also how impressive the empire was— its shared knowledge and civic reach.

We continue to eat well, crepes tonight with cherries and amazing lunches and many interns coming and going . I am beginning to think of the installation I am to do in the basement in March. How to make it match the marvel of the space, with its arched skylights circling the cortile, its sound potential and Rome itself circling in our brains. An old aqueduct runs under the floor—could it be incorporated? Must think and muse deeply here. The space and perhaps films previously shot in Rome will determine what to do.

Reading Holmes from FOOTSTEPS: his: “falling upwards into someone’s arms.”
Or on an adder: “It was small and handsomely zigged, glossy black on soft beige, and moved aside with perfect diginity.” On love and this is Robert Louis Stevenson whom Holmes is following (in his footsteps) a backpack trip through France:

“How the world gives and takes away, and brings sweethearts near only to separate them again into distant and strange lands; but to love is the great amulet which makes the world a garden; and ‘hope, which comes to all’, outwears the accidents of life…”

lovely lovely: RLS again to a friend: “I want—I want…I want to be happy. I want the moon or the sun or something. I want the object of my affections badly anyway and a big forest: fine breathing sweating sunny walks and the trees crying aloud in the summer wind and a camp under the stars.”

On that:
un abbraccio e buona notte.

later that same Sunday November 8th, 3pm my time (no idea how the blog names the time of my uploads—perhaps google California time? Since they are approximately 9 hours off….):
The day has been melodramatic: sun rain then a brief rainbow, now torrents of rain, lovely sound as if we are under a waterfall on a summer day, about to dive in. Exciting rain, trembling rain, rain of details and promises. Here you hear it as if thousands of years of ears have heard it over years. —Okay that was awkward but you get the idea.

I have taken out my video camera at least twice today, as insecure as the weather (whether) trying to catch the last golden leaves before the rains destroy them. Have I missed this time?

Fierce and powerful and I am told there was a storm last night. I can’t remember if I heard it since there have been a number of thundering storms in the early mornings. Now a plopping sound; the storm passed in 4 minutes. My trusty heater purrs. I bought a large electric one mid week last for the hours the heat is NOT on—presumably the city of Rome allows only a certain amount of total hours—[this is not New England nor Minnesota!]—thus, from 11:30am to 6pm and after 10pm there is no heat.
Toasty though with heater at feet and sun burning through again even as I watch grey clouds roll in in my heroic arched windows. What did the painters do? Skylights for the brightness of diffuse light? Likely.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

sun November 8th 2009

Sun Nov 8th

The Indian films Thursday night convinced me once again that form is politic. A “TV style” frames reality in a particular way that governs, freezes, your response. A Dutch artist Roma Pas (great name) at the Academy said to me she doesn’t believe art is political. It strikes me (again) how small a definition of the political we have–our very denial a kind of politic and definitely an ideology—i.e. that art has no public relevance, that politics is government, that art is private space. So many assumptions here whereas it seems to me art is about the bringing of life to the overlooked, restoring energy and attention to all parts of existence, making it come alive.

I read in a wonderful book that Catherine Payling director of the Keats-Shelley house loans me: “while the names of the dead are carved on gravestones and gradually wear away, the names of loved ones are also carved in living materials and slowly bite deeper into our lives.” It is Richard Holmes talking about Nerval in FOOTSTEPS, his memoir of writing biographies of writers. Wonderful and especially relevant to me when he discusses Mary Wollstonecraft who experienced Paris during the Revolution and the Terror. It was there she has her first lover and gives birth—wonderful detail and poignant sleuthing on Holmes’ part. My characters become not only richer and denser to me, but their lives begin to entwine with mine, their obsessions and mysteries reaching into hauntings, below fallen leaves, into the bark—

It is fall now, the rains have come shot with sun. Many mornings I find my familiar sun-shade staccato on the wall above me, and then it disappears into the day’s clouds. Saturday the sun is strong, full, present. We shoot at the carousel opposite Castel. S Angelo in the morning. It is glorious: the carousel an early 19th c. copy, gilded with half-clothed nymphs on painted ceilings, horses going up and down, spinning tea cups for lovers and hopefully hid from view: cars! Nick (who plays Shelley) brought his daughter who will be (perhaps) a stand-in for William or “Will-mouse”, the son of Shelley. I called to “Mary” with no response since I was addressing Eileen who plays Mary S–so, the real and the hauntings entwine in the present—as well.

On the way back we pass a Punch and Judy show that I hope to film upcoming. One of the wonders of this project is whatever delights I see, I can record. Re –cord from the heart, a re-reading of heart. At its most satisfying that is what the camera can do—re –member, re-embody if not replace nor replant. All these repetitions in language and in my films. The students last Tuesday grew either confused by the fact that things repeat with different conjunctions or delighted in it. Of course I mean both, or rather find pleasure in the messes, in the messy, in the conjunctions, ever shifting, shifty shafts of emotional and physical embodiments that change and swirl and resonate. How to be calm midst instability, or rather how to embody instability to its fullest ration? Complications and ambiguities, intricacies---the mess. The way chance and fortuity provoke happy conclusions.

On that—I too conclude for today.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

wed November 5th, 2009-Halloween

Wed November 5th:

Saturday was Halloween and I include photos of the magnificent and ridiculous costumes we all wore. The march around the cortile was marvelous—mostly the hysteria of the sound of the children. Three of us went as paintings: john the Baptist (Stefano), Caravaggio’s Bacchus (Elena) and Domenichino’s Sibilla (yours truly). The other fantastic ones included our friend Barry the architect as an anarchist (?), parrot heads by Anna, and various witches and ghosts. We cooked at night together as the next evening we were off to lo Scarpone again as guests of Heather (lo scarpone was not as good that evening to our mild sorrow; the night was fine). I have made a new friend with Rosie, an aspiring and definitely–to-be art curator completing her doctorate.

At lunch this weekend I watch sparrows who have made grand groupings of their fellows circling in the wind on the Rome horizon. They are a forbidding form resembling oncoming locusts but at the same time, miraculous fast moving shivering clouds—an impermanent unexpected installation. I wished I had my camera but couldn’t move. Sometimes it seems too much—to film all this beauty. You want to breathe and let it pass by, through you, purely. But that word has its own problematic. All is impure. Unlegislated. So I let it go by and remember here.

Monday night we make off in the rain—that has begun the fall season —to go to the German Academy for Antonioni’s L’Eclisse. A taxi, then a walk up a line of Mediterranean junipers (?) cedars (?), magnificent entrance to a building completed round same time as ours: 1914, German Jewish industrialist funds for the arts. The Germans have 3 academies, this one for artists—only 8 or 9 in residence. Two other academies house respectively the art historians and the ethnographers. Here in a small room off the entrance the dvd is projected. It is wonderful, touching, a women’s film in a way---Monica Vitti bored by here older communist lover and repulsed by the gorgeous youthful wall street guy (played by a very young and pretty alain delon). Monica Vitti is amazing and the walking woman theme here playful: running after a lost poodle, stopping to hear the metal poles of the sport palace make music in the night winds. Chilling, childish, touching. The bourse (money market) scenes modeled after fra angelica’s war paintings—magnificent contrapuntal movement of shapes and faces and sound. References to neo-colonialism throughout: thrilling and jarring play by three women—without men—going wild, playing at being negro. Elegant, painful. We all sat there thinking of loves that could not be. The men as well as the women, the gay as well as the straight. Antonioni’s referencing of racism is pointed and subtle, his closure an avant movie, with sound peeled up and off, enlarged and reframed. No action , only emotion. Now there’s a recipe for a movie…..
Filled my nights’ dreams.

Tuesday I do a presentation for Cornell architecture students. Only 6 affiliated and one regular Fellow come along for the morning ride. It is fine. The films look quite good—elegant complicated—draw many questions and compliments. The students though have trouble with them, think they are “too fast”. I think as does Barry—did they never do drugs?
Strange but at same time, the students are open and hopefully I have shocked them from lethargy and habituation. How can films 20 years old still be ahead of their time? How? They are. That is the fact.

Then today the schedule does not stop. I am up early, direct my intern to Kodak and I head out to Keats/Shelley house to meet the director. She is tough honest Brit, allowing me to film there without “kits” and then bring on my characters a second day. She will vouch for me at the cemetery which required 4000E for the shoot! Mind you that’s a quarter of my year’s income this year so it’s a definite no go. We shall see. The place itself has a nice feel, smaller than I thought. The director gets the third floor apt. very very nice and there is really only one floor of the museum. It will work though to film the dust motes, have my characters walk through it. It is not authentic from the period anymore, however. After Keat’s death there, the entire furnishings needed to be destroyed by Italian law. Which is not such a bad thing as consumption is infectious—even if they did not know that then.

Speaking of which we will all have flu shots soon. I never do this back home but here I will. There is so much illness being passed back and forth forth and back.

We have begun once again our Italian lessons this week and plan a lunch table where we only speak in Italiano. It is so wonderful to try, to catch the lilt, speed, to learn they have a word specifically for “shopping for food”—fare spesa—different from shopping for anything else. And in the book we use here there are cultural pages every so often, which our teachers completely ignore but one popped out at me yesterday as I was studying—“the importance of wine in Italian culture” !! absolutely.

Last weekend, drinks after dinner at Carmela’s the director, in her fantastic craft style house with tile patterned floors and futurist wood planks across the thresholds. Beautiful and simple with a great garden!

Tomorrow the Asian festival and party after at one of the directors’ house. I am excited to see more film. It was very inspiring the Antonioni. We shall see if same can be said about contemporary Indian films for the morrow.

Buona notte
un abbraccio
a mis amici