This saying is familiar to everybody. For ancient Romans, the Imperial Roads were a pure engineering marvel, and the foundation of a logistical network that allowed efficient transit and communication throughout the Empire (although paradoxically, the roads eventually became a nail in the Empire’s coffin, because eventually, the Barbarians used them to reach the Capital of Rome quickly and easily). For a while, I wondered whether the old saying still reflects reality; certain quasi-scientific web portals eagerly search for proof to confirm that – in a physical sense – the situation has not changed much. They publish satellite images of road networks as evidence. The darkest roads in these images are the busiest ones. Funny as it may seem, these roads still feature Rome as the final destination.
Did you know that there are a few cities in the US also called Rome? They were named when the first Europeans settled on the east coast. If we look at satellite maps, we will see that their road infrastructure layout is quite similar to that of ‘Roman’ Rome, with roads radiating from these cities in all directions. Maybe this is just fake news, but have you noticed that recently, the US has been compared to the Roman Empire in the media, with increasing regularity? Quite often we happen to stumble upon headings like “Is America New Rome?” (implying “Is America going to follow in the footsteps of the Roman Empire, which famously collapsed?”). No matter whether the old saying is true or not, in late January I followed certain roads on the ‘Old Continent’ which led me… exactly, to Rome.
I spent only four days in the Eternal City and my schedule was really packed, but I am very happy I spent my time so productively and managed to see so much.
1. La Strada (07 December 2018 – 28 April 2019)
One of the roads I followed led me to “the Street”… What I have in mind is not the usual kind of street, but the exhibition “THE STREET. Where the World Is Made”. This exhibition served as an attempt to analyse and define the role of public spaces, and the potential it has in stimulating the process of creating culture and expressing opinions. The revolutionary force which streets have and its importance through the ages was also presented. The events which have recently been unfolding in front of our eyes on social media and the television, directly touching daily and political life, and those people who have been critical of our ‘systems’ since long before, constantly challenge the existing order, applicable laws, and the dynamics of interpersonal relations. The way we respond, for example, to seeing homeless people and immigrants sleeping in front of shop windows, by bank doors, or directly on air vents to keep warm on freezing winter nights, thanks to the hot air being ventilated out from underground stations or car parks… How we respond is changing, and we cannot deny it. This changing perspective leads to an increasing number of spontaneous manifestations by various social groups. Is there anyone who recently has not been a participant of massive protests or manifestations..? This exhibition makes us realize that art is a barometer for such events, as well as our needs, beliefs, opinions, fears and phenomena that shape our surroundings, and us as people and individuals. As Magdalena Abakanowicz once said: “Art does not solve problems but makes us aware of their existence. It opens our eyes to see and our brain to imagine”. Like philosophy, art is a channel through which we are asked questions that are very often uncomfortable and provocative. Even more uncomfortable may be the fact, that those questions are presented to us “at the wrong” moment, in a place where we do not expect to be asked such things at all. Art draws us into a conversation, but it is not we who set the rules. The ubiquitous street is the artistic space most sensitive to all “uncomfortable” phenomena. At the same time, it is totally unforgiving. In the streets, artists present their messages in the most direct way possible, and engage in a dialogue with passers-by – every one of us – without asking for permission.
We should also remember that streets and cityscapes provide a lot of input, and at the same time, are a perfect venue to create and present futuristic visions of human beings, society, and cities of the future. The creators of this exhibition focused also on this aspect. Artists, architects (not to mention filmmakers) strive to create the vision of ‘the city’ which would suit the needs of a rapidly changing world, and incorporate the latest technological advances. All these aspects were presented with painstaking attention to detail in this captivating exhibition, which was, in fact, a journey through the streets of our reality.
2. Low Forms (20 October 2018 – 24 March 2019)
Part of this journey took place at the separate “Low Forms” exhibition. This particular part took me through visions of the future, familiarised me with avatars, and humans perceived as tools steered and controlled by the newest technology. To put it in words which would describe this eerie vision in a more visitor-friendly way, this exhibition presented a tale about this new form of lifestyle, tangled up as it is, in a technological web. Humans and technology are interconnected to an increasing extent, and this gives rise to a new human, a cyber-human, or an avatar living in between the world which we perceive with our senses and virtual reality which human beings are just starting to explore. All of us are witnesses to the process of cyber human creation.
“Low Forms” is a surrealist journey through the imagination of young artists, who use new technology to visualise what they picture in their minds. They create futurist, visionary worlds, most of them virtual. These worlds expand our abilities to observe reality and give us tools to assess it differently.
Artists: Zach Blas & Jemima Wyman, Carola Bonfili, Ian Cheng, Cécile B. Evans, Pakui Hardware, Jamian Juliano-Villani, Nathaniel Mellors & Erkka Nissinen, Trevor Paglen, Agnieszka Polska, Jon Rafman, Lorenzo Senni, Avery K Singer, Cheyney Thompson, Luca Trevisani, Anna Uddenberg, Emilio Vavarella
The concept behind this exhibition is really simple; a one-day event attracting art enthusiasts, to admire the presented artworks in outstanding and breathtaking surroundings – the famous Villa Medici. Invited artists presented their works in the most riveting historical surroundings that the Villa Medici could offer. Their presentations, although formally constituting parts of a group exhibition, were truly individual displays bound into a coherent whole thanks to aesthetic taste of curator Pier Paolo Pancotto, who has been organising this unforgettable event for many years. We don’t need to add theory to this; Art is what counts most and the event focuses on the universal impact art has on our senses and aesthetic tastes. Moreover, it is not important how many centuries have passed since the creation of particular works, if their quality can be felt through intuition and emotions. To see this presentation with my own eyes was a must.
Artists: Giulia Cenci, Nidhal Chamekh, Mateusz Choróbski, Enzo Cucchi, Alberto Di Fabio, Rä Di Martino, Mohamed Namou, Marinella Senatore, Namsal Siedlecki, Achraf Touloub, Nico Vascellari
The exhibition by Piotr Makowski is worth seeing by art enthusiasts during their journey through Rome. Abstract paintings emphasise pure form and colours. Composition and flickering colours are crucial. Their arrangement and selection evoke strong emotions in the viewers standing in front of huge canvases. The huge scale requires us to confront the quests of a true painter who, in their pure form, are very rare in a world dominated by fascinating technologies, video recordings and performances. Here we have the time for contemplation.
When you are in Rome in January and travel between numerous museums and galleries, you will go inside an underground station and be captivated by the work by Liu Qingyuan. It shows the artists’ most important activities in the city space, and activities relating to architectural projects connected with the street which took place in the 20th century. All this is accompanied by a commentary, and the entire work was prepared in the style of a comic book. There are over 100 activities depicted there, some of which are by VALIE EXPORT, Daniel Buren, Gordon Matta-Clark, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Andre Cadere, Claes Oldenburg and Pipilotti Rist.
Pay close attention to what surrounds you during your walks in the streets. Maybe you will notice works of art here and there… Invader is surely waiting for you just around the corner 😉
PS: If you are dreaming of a journey through the roads of the ancient Roman Empire, you should go to Ostia Antica, which is the famous Roman port that used to compete with Pompeii. Arte di Memoria festival is currently held there, which is, in fact, a part of the celebrations related to Remembrance Day on January 27th,- the occasion is when European states commemorate the day Auschwitz Concentration Camp was liberated after World War II. Invited artists create works for this particular occasion in the synagogue and surrounding areas. What they create are not monuments, but rather objects and artistic installations which will last through the years. There had been 46 works in this space and this year we already got a few new ones by Ruth Beraha, Norbert Hinterberger, Zbigniew Libera and Karyn Olivier.
In Rome, history and the present moment intertwine everywhere you look, and artists are like makers of ruins.
Written by Dobromiła Błaszczyk
Translated by Joanna Pietrak
Edited by Aleksander Cellmer