Modernarium #1 – Winter 2020/2021

Pompeii, 79 AD (it was probably October): a column of ash and lapilli rises from Vesuvius. It’s like the end of the world. Everything shivers and transforms: a multiverse opens up and history stalls, allowing testimony to flow, soon to become legend: Pompeii no longer exists.

1748: little by little, and almost accidentally, the ancient city is unearthed, one excavation at a time, and return to our universe as the greatest discovery in modern archaeology: it’s the Grand Tour!

In 2020, more than two and a half centuries later, Pompeii has not yet been completely excavated, but once again there’s talk of the end (of the human era), as multitudes of people start to move, temperatures rise, species decline and some vanish; A.I. is a reality and increasingly frequent pandemics run rife.

We ask ourselves whether contemporary archaeologists and art historians might wonder together: “but how have… a vast number of fragments of soil, stone and metal, little piles of colored dust, fossilized and semi-carbonated trees, solidified lumps of liquids and gases, bones and cavities in the shape of humans and animals… managed to overturn the order of beginning and end, turn destruction into regeneration, change reality, by imagining and embodying a new one?”. And might they still do so today?

Indeed, we want to try and understand what happened, but also what might still happen. And perhaps to do that we can return with you to Pompeii and explore it together…

21 December 2020: a new date in Pompeii’s long, painful and compelling calendar: the day when Pompeii Archaeological Park launches Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological Matters.

The project – conceived by the Park with a Partners Committee set up for the purpose by the Fundraising Office – begins on the day that marks the transition from fall to winter 2020, and will continue in the years to come. Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological Matters is in a way a momentous step for Pompeii, because it is the institution’s first long-term project dedicated to the contemporary arts. It is based on the investigation and enhancement of the “archeological matters” preserved in the Park’s excavation areas and storage facilities, and envisages Pompeii as a kind of knowledge-in-progress, and therefore not solely as a fixed legacy to be guarded. For this reason, the aim of the project is to create and share the Episteme  which may arise from the collaboration between archaeologists and contemporary artists, through which we seek gradually to explore the very premises for establishing a collection of contemporary art for the Pompeii Archeological Park.

Conceived in 2017 during the preparation of the exhibition Pompei@Madre. Archaeological Matters, which we curated with Luigi Gallo, the project will be maintained together with Stella Bottai and Laura Mariano. We prefer to use the term “maintain” rather than “curate” because we are aware that to define the tasks of those who will take care of this project, this work needs to be connoted as a daily responsibility and commitment, not only to imagine, but also, specifically, to maintain and preserve the results obtained. Exactly as archaeologists do with the finds they unearth, study, preserve and display. Additionally, our joint efforts seek to support an experience which is longer and simultaneously more intimate than a physical visit to the archaeological site or a consultation of its digital platforms, asserting a feeling of gradual discovery that reflects the permanent excavation, research and maintenance taking place every day at Pompeii.

For these reasons, the project is structured in two phases.

Phase one (Winter 2020 to Winter 2021) consists of the creation of a web portal. In the past year, many programs and activities have been developed and rapidly shifted onto digital platforms, particularly since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and we have discussed extensively what it would mean to create an online site at this historic time:, therefore, was conceived not as a functional or supportive tool, but rather as access to an actual research center which will publish and distribute ongoing projects, articles in written or visual format, podcasts, audio and video files by authors invited to outline — as a collective process — the very episteme of the project, as mentioned above. Their contributions (Commitments) will be brought together in a final scientific publication. The portal will also tell the story of how Pompeii became a means to understand modernity, initially Western and later global (Historiae), accumulating a constantly evolving transdisciplinary knowledge, consisting of countless stories about the ending and the beginning of worlds, both real and imaginary (Library of Archaeology and Futurology). For this reason, many professional experts of the Archaeological Park — archaeologists, historians, archivists, anthropologists, archaeozoologists, archaeobotanists, agronomists, geologists, chemists, architects, engineers, IT experts, restorers, maintenance staff — are invited to explore and share with the wider public their unique knowledge through a series of new texts and interviews that shed light and celebrate their unique work methodology (Fabulae). Lastly, the portal lays the foundations for a typological classification of Pompeii’s “archeological matter” in the form of a museum — as yet hypothetical — dedicated to it (Inventario).

Phase two, scheduled to begin in 2021, will consist of a program for the commissioning, production and presentation of artworks which little by little will build a collection of contemporary art (Collectio) of Pompeii’s Archaeological Park. The collection will include artifacts, curated projects, publishing and research activities, documents, experiences and reflection on the multifaceted significance of Pompeii’s “archaeological matter”. This second phase is informed by the guidelines for the Italian Council program promoted by the MiBACT — Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Activities and Tourism.

Our intention is that the project will give rise to a wide-ranging museum which, in addition to Pompeii, will feature the sites of Oplontis, Boscoreale and Longola, the Polverificio Borbonico of Scafati, the Reggia di Quisisana and the Stabian Villas, linking the archaeological dimension with the less obvious and less visible ecosystem of nature and urban space, integral elements in all these sites. Partly for this reason, the production of contributions to be published on the portal requires ongoing collaboration between all the contributors and a comparison of their respective research methods, as well as of the digital sphere and the physical sphere of the material, which we do not intend to forgo.

The Modernarium you are reading is a vade mecum, an antiquarium whose viewpoint has switched so that it looks to the future instead of the past. It will be updated and published for each new season, to take account of the progress of the project and the need for review, implementation or — why not? — the correction of errors committed in the meantime, as occurs in all research work.

Evoked by the four portals imagined by Giulio Paolini and maintained in accordance with the methodological recommendations of Mierle Laderman Ukeles, authors of the first two contributions named Commitments, over the coming months the web portal will showcase contributions from other contemporary artists, curators, writers and activists, who make up the research team to whom, from now on, Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological Matters is entrusted. The author of the first of the Fabulae is Professor Pierpaolo Forte, who conceived the project with us back in 2017, and who is now one of the members of the Board of Directors of Pompeii Archaeological Park.

Furthermore, the project will also develop a series of matrix projects that began already in 2019 and 2020.

Firstly, Lara Favaretto’s digital publication which – supplementing the research carried out by the portal, whose methodology it contributed to inspire – will be published in several stages over 2021, in which the artist will document the 2012 project Momentary Monument (The Core) and its development in further depth, Indagare il sottosuolo. Atlante delle storie omesse / Digging Up. Atlas of the Blank Histories. A version of the latter was donated to Pompeii Archaeological Park as the awarded work of the Italian Council 2017 competition promoted by MiBACT – General Directorate of Contemporary Creativity, presented by the Donnaregina Foundation for Contemporary Art in Naples and the Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation in Turin.

Elena Mazzi’s contribution will be dedicated to the Park’s research activities and the stories of its researchers: her Commitment is a new special version for the online portal based on her work The School of Pompeii (2019), which won the competition Artists in Architecture-Re-activating Modern European Houses and has been exhibited prominently at the Palais des Beaux Arts-BOZAR, Brussels, the DiARC — Department of Architecture, Federico II University in Naples and the Fundació Mies van der Rohe, Barcelona.

Furthermore, this Spring 2021 will see the presentation of the monograph Gianni Pettena: 1966-2021 (Mousse Publishing, Milan, 2020, co-produced with MAXXI — National Museum of 21st Century Arts, Rome; the Luigi Pecci Contemporary Art Center in Prato and Kunst Meran/Merano Arte) and Invernomuto’s work Black Med-POMPEI (2020-2021, winner of the Italian Council 2019 competition promoted by the MiBACT’s General Directorship of Contemporary Creativity, presented by the Morra Greco Foundation, Naples and donated to the Pompeii Archaeological Park).

We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to all the contributors to this portal for responding to our invitation and rising to the challenge, embodying the “commitment” and the very meaning of this project.

A project which — thanks to them, and also thanks to you who will read their words and join them in action — can now begin.