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

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