Thursday, April 15, 2010

April 15th, week of the opening!

April 15th, 2010
Recovering from many trips and install about to open tomorrow, ooops today!
Tuesday long bus ride to Palestrina and then Benedictine monastry. In Palestrina best thing was triangular tower house part of the Barberini estate, built at sharp angles like the Aurelian walls here by Villa Sciarra---so that they could fire from two directions. Here the walls are folded upon themselves. Very sharply so the building is a triangle, the inside a hexagonal with three points. Extremely beautiful in decay—a party house for the wealthy in the 16th century, by an architect who shared model makers with architect and sculptor Francesco Borromini. We met the extant Barberini, Elena, who lives next door; it is a working farm, albeit small. Then up the hill to Palestrina, a Renaissance Palace built onto of a Christian church built on top of a Roman mystical site built on to earlier ruins. It commands the valley from the sea east and north to Rome. It was a site commanding travel for centuries and the valley saw the march of the Americans in June 1945 coming up the valley near the close of World War II. Some spectacular Etruscan finds (but mostly they are in Villa Giula back in Rome).

We toured, we climbed a bit, we ate lunch, got caught in the rain and back in bus
to Benedictine Monastery near Subiaco. The area was conquered by the Romans in 304 BC who built four aqueducts to bring the water of the Anio River to Rome. Later, Nero had the river dammed to form three artificial lakes and built a villa for himself next to them. [I have to look at the cheap Hollywood version entitled “Nero”!] The area was named Sublacus ("below the lakes"), which later became Subiaco.

St. Benedict has a largish back story. We were told anecdotes of his life, where fellows tried to poison him and he was saved—thus, a miracle! He was born near Spoleta in 480 AD and went to university in Rome, but was horrified by the immorality in the big city(!). He left for solitude on the forested slopes near Subiaco where a monastery was already established, but Benedict chose to live alone in a cave (the Sacro Speco) for three years, sustained by scraps of food lowered in a basket by his friend Romanus. He frequently fought temptation, famously casting himself naked into thorn bushes to combat lust. What they don’t tell you is he went into the cave with a servant! Ahhh those monks.

Benedict was eventually discovered in his cave and invited to become the superior of the nearby monastery of Vicovaro. However, the monks soon found his rule so unpleasantly strict (!) that they tried to poison him, hence the miracle. Benedict returned to his cave, but by then had attracted so many followers that he could no longer pursue the solitary life, and thus organized his first monastic community at Subiaco, housed in part of Nero's old imperial villa. Benedict lived there for 20 years, during which time he founded 12 daughter monasteries and wrote his famous Rule that would become the standard guideline for western monasticism. I don't know this 'rule'?

The place is magnificent. Built into hills of stone with beautiful 12th century frescos. There is a fantasy about the place, winding up to it (getting nauseous along route), seeing hills form walls and coves of place, the extant drawings and small intimate scale. Beautiful sudden descents and ascents, steep magnificence, all limestone vistas covered in pale spring leaves.

The next day the Foro Italico, a group of buildings to the north founded by Mussolini, masterpieces of 1930s architecture. A sport center, a private gymnasium, a college.
All quite disturbing: the past not erased with its slogans “more enemies, more honor”. And the wonderful question brought up by Adrian, ooops Darian, a fellow, re: do you destroy disturbing historical monuments or save and surround with criticality. There is an article about this that uses as an example the Taliban destroying Buddhist statuary—which places the issue in an interesting light. Myself, I would save and create critical commentary around them (as in my films!). Here at Foro Italico, there are empty marble slabs which were to further fascist historical exploits but could look at other empires: roman, Etruscan, garibaldian, communist etc. The elegant fascist piazza is by Luigi Moretti who also did Mussolini’s private gymnasium. The obelisk of solid marble shouts il duce duce il duce and no attempt has been made to erase this. The piazza has mosaics that map the foro and sloganeering and imitate the crowds screaming as well il duce il duce and have fish and lobster circling the beautiful, non functioning spherical marble fountain. Large impressive perspectival and odd actually. A swimming pool is Olympic sized, a stadium rebuilt for more seats for soccer which happens weekly has lost much of its Travertine while the private gymnasium has spared no expense: bookended marble, high ceilings, originally a hanging set of moveable barbells and gymnastic rings. Gorgeous. Also an outdoor stadium type space ringed in gigantic futuristic brutalist statues of athletes—perhaps for marches and dances a la Korean spectacles of more current histories?

Do all dictators go for large? Today there was a visit to Shelley’s grave in the protestant cemetery but I could n’t be up for another morning trip no matter how relevant (i will go next week with my sister visiting) as I spent the night late re-working a loop for the seventh screen of my show. The show, mostra, exhibition opens tonight!
Wish me luck. Un abbraccio
a mi amici

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