Contemporary art in the park. Notenere in Rome
Cristiana Scoppa / Italy
Cristiana Scoppa / Italy
A saturday afternoon in sun baded Rome, a park in the southern periphery of the city and an original approach to invite the public to discover the capital’s green treasures, three young artists and their vision of art and public spaces. All this is Notenere, at its second appointment, curated by MatriPictoska, a female collective of young art historians
It all started with an invitation, shyly delivered by a smiling girl with long red hair: a black sealed envelope, no sign of a sender, logo or anything that could give a clue as to what this was about. Mystery.
Inside the envelope there was a printed card, also black, with very few indications: three names – S. Gore, ICS, Jerico; a title written in intriguing print – Notenere II; a date: May 21/22, from 3 to 7 pm; and an address – entrance to the Tor Marancia park in Via dei Numisi, 165. In Rome, which seems obvious because the card was delivered by hand to selected guests, at more or less public events in the Capital. And a request: send confirmation of participation at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tor Marancia park is part of the huge green belt on the outer edge Rome between the Ardeatine and the Appian ways, with freshly cut wheat fields, high trees and shrubs, soft hills: a typical landscape of the Roman countryside that, in the past, has been the joy of artists like Poussin and Corot, and still survives in the midst of the cement jungle.
Red ribbons hang from branches of the trees that line the path leading through the park from Via Numisi 2 indicating the way: straight ahead, a bit further, turn left, up a small path through the vegetation that is slowly drying after the downpour that flooded half of Rome in the morning.
A group of kids linger under a big oak tree: dressed mostly in black, combat boots, t-shirts with vibrant designs, fishnet stockings. Generally dark. The title Notenere (Blacknotes) fits, even though in brutal contrast with the serene calm of the wind-swept countryside.
We ask them: “Is Notenere here?”. A smiling girl comes forward, barefoot, wearing jeans and a white t-shirt, holding a chart: “You are? Do you have a reservation?”. She writes our names on the schedule. “You can go with the next group!” Every attempt to find out more about what awaits us is gently dismissed.
We start off in a small group, following one of the organizers. Arianna Esposito leads us through the fields towards an abandoned country house on top of the hill. She and her colleagues Tayisiya Liborkhorska and Maria Aria Stadirani study Art History at the University of Roma 3. They founded Matri-Pictoska, an evocatively named team of curators whose symbol is a decorated matrioska doll.
They created the event together with Samuele Gore, Andrea X and Jerico – three young Roman artists who are quite well-known in the city, not only for their paintings on buildings and walls. They are used to collective work – designer and photographer Mattia Del Giudice, Martina Soriani, Giuliano Tocilj and Livia Fabiani collaborated on the project and their photographs are printed in the catalogue “where you will find all the information, you can see it later”, says Arianna.
We are about to visit an unusual art exhibition that faces two challenges. The first: help discover a park – the Tor Marancia park – unknown to many Romans because most of us think that Tor Marancia is just one of the fringe neighbourhoods of Rome next to the Garbatella where people living in the centre fled to when the fascists tore down many neighbourhoods to modernize the ancient city. One of the participants notes: “We have to get to know these beautiful spaces if we want to save them from speculation”.
The second: Bring the public closer to contemporary art, people who do not normally visit galleries and museums, who feel that art is something far and strange, who are usually suspicious of most public art. Street art is very present in Rome with many masterpieces, including the murals on the popular housing buildings of Tor Marancia, not far away from the park, created for the project Big City Life in 2015 funded by Roma Capitale.
The unusual system of personal invitations stimulates curiosity, gives us the sensation of taking part in an adventure, in a new way of looking at art, not as something “to look at but something to feel, an experience.” Delivering the invitations by hand as if it were a gala dinner makes the public feel important, makes them aware of the particular relationship between the artist and the viewer, one cannot exist without the other.
“We discovered the house by chance”, says Samuele Gore, “during a walk in the park. It is over a hundred years old, the shepherd down there told us. It was abandoned a long time ago. Last year we did a project here. This time we wanted to organize it more effectively”. He smiles, with a proud look in his eyes. His are the first works we encounter, after bending down to enter the house through a narrow and low opening making our way through rubble, pieces of wood, bricks and thick layers of dust.
On the shabby peeling walls of a room lit by small pink led lights we see a large sex scene and seductive twisted headless female bodies epitomizing the universal power of the impulse at The origin of the World, as in the title of Courbet's painting reproduced in a corner. As we contemplate our relationship to sex in the Porn Hub era, we find ourselves part of the painting thanks to a small mirror that captures our disoriented gaze.
The viewer is also destabilized in the other rooms by Samuel Gore: on one wall, a disquieting triptych of chubby and sad newborn whose skeleton and bowels can be seen through the transparent skin. A stack of corpses appear on the opposite wall, reminding us that Eros and Tanathos are inseparable. In the last room, Samuele gives way to the unconscious, the dreams in which our conscience comes to terms with the impulse of life and the impulse of death.
“I have a slightly restless soul”, he confesses as he sees us walk outside to take a breath of fresh air.
We have to climb up a stepladder through what was once a window to get to the spaces that Andrea X worked in. The two rooms are completely covered in canvas, from floor to ceiling: the first room is all black with a stylized pink vulva and the word Crea (Create). The second room is pink with a black smiling skull and the words Life is beautiful. The images and words are repeated all over the canvas, creating an obsessive pattern, as insistent as advertisements or branding can be in this mass consuming society. A voluptuous breeze enters and weaves its way under the rippled canvas, the only sign of nature that is slowly annihilated by the market.
The chosen symbols are not accidental: vulva and skull. The curators wrote about Andrea X's work: “According to Freud, Eros and Tanathos are primary impulses contained in the Es, the subconscious. The artist ponders on the dualism: Life and Death are the two extremes of a constant equilibrium, one cannot exist without the other.”
Nature reappears in Jerico's impressionist brushstrokes. A short text cleverly posted at the entrance explains his thoughts on the circularity of the conscious relationship between humans and the environment, our being aware that we are but insignificant specks of dust in the immense life cycle in which plants, apparently fragile and conditioned by seasons, are the most immediate signal.
The frescoed walls of the first room are covered with a self-portrait of the artist emerging from the green and brown walls that evoke the nature outside. The second room is dedicated to the soul with two small portraits simply entitled She, surrounded by red, orange and yellow brushstrokes as symbols of flames, of passion of the searching soul. The cycle comes to an end in the third room: Jerico spread earth on the floor and planted nettles, clovers, mallow and other herbs. Next to the open window, a mannequin is dressed in his clothes, hood over the eyes, just like the painted self-portrait in the first room, as if to say: we become human when we contemplate nature.
On our way out, Livia Fabiani – who gave me the invitation – told us about the logistics of the project. No public money, no sponsors, nothing official, on the contrary. This event was totally illegal, in the traditional independent street art tradition that wants to draw attention to the neglected and abandoned state of many public structures in Rome, like the house in this park. “These places could have a new life, through the involvement of young artists”, she notes.
The project stemmed from the friendship that binds the young people involved. “The title Notenere comes from the black notebooks that Samuele Gore, Andrea X and Jerico had when they first met to discuss the project”. Other friends joined in and “helped in many different ways”, and their names can be found in the acknowledgements at the end of the catalogue, together with “pollen, patience and love of Art”.
This project stemmed from “the desire to curate the creation of an event in a different way”, explains Arianna. “It is a spontaneous event in an abandoned space, but there is a real catalogue as for a gallery show”, because “even what is created on the walls of abandoned or closed spaces in order to give them a new significance is art in the full sense of the term”.
When we got back to the starting point, there was a small colourful and impatient crowd waiting under the big tree. It is not easy to organize the groups for the visit but all in all, looking at the faces of the organizers and the artists, it all seems positive.
The day after, Matri-Pictoska's social network pages fill up with photos and videos documenting the two days of the show. In the end, Jerico's conclusion on Facebook was: “There wasn't much to do, or to move, because it was perfect the way it was. In a space that had been frozen in time for 30 years, we gave it all we had, respecting the house in its entirety. Time will pass and things will disappear but it will all remain in place, not the stones, not the walls not the works but the experience that we and you lived together. I will wait for the house to die for the pleasure of clearly remembering everything, because real things can only be seen well when they are too far away. Go back when you wish, when you need to, leave a part or yourselves in that house because a place is eternal only when memories lie within it”.
Pictures by Mattia Del Giudice and others are taken from the Facebook page of Matri-Pictoska. Original video by Davide Stadirani.