Modernarium #2 – Spring 2021

Just over three months have passed since the portal, was launched on 21 December 2020. In this time, the contributions published have triggered, explored and tested the potential, but also challenged the limitations and faced the problematic nature, of the screen-based materials and experiences transmitted by the screens of our computers, mobiles and communication and connection devices… Giulio Paolini, Mierle Laderman UkelesDavid Soin Tappeser & Himali Singh Soin, Jimmie Durham, Elena Mazzi, Simone Fattal, Maria Thereza Alves, Mathilde Rosier, Tai Shani with Lucia Pietroiusti, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg with Rebecca Lewin, Tabita Rezaire with Oulimata Gueye, Goshka Macuga, Lara Favaretto, Charlemagne Palestine & Lionel Hubert and Prem Krishnamurthy: we’d like to start by thanking all the artists, curators and writers who contributed to the first season of Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological Matters.

We would also like to thank the first institutions to partner with the project: TBA21-Thyssen Bornemisza Art Contemporary, the 13th Shanghai Biennale, the Architecture Department of the Federico II University of Naples (DiARC) and the Serpentine Galleries.

Furthermore, our deepest thanks go to all the professionals at the Archaeological Park of Pompeii who have shared their daily work of discovery, study, restoration, programming and preservation with the artists and partner institutions they’ve worked alongside, as well as with the readers of the portal: Pierpaolo Forte, Francesca Leolini, Anna Onesti, Silvia Bertesago, Valeria Amoretti.

And, last but not least, thanks to Studio Amaranto and Silvana Editoriale, co-authors of this editorial project. And to Stella Bottai and Laura Mariano who, whilst curating and organising the project inspired by the principles of Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s manifesto, “maintain” all the relationships that led to the various contributions.

Ranging from analogical to digital matter, we have travelled from Giulio Paolini’s manual collages to Prem Krishnamurthy’s pdfs. The digital episteme on which this project relies has taken unpredictable directions, highlighting the need for a critical reliance on it: from the device used by Maria Thereza Alves to reveal the mechanisms of repression, exclusion, marginalisation of historical memory to the animation with which Goshka Macuga (using the My Talking Pet programme, which makes fixed images three-dimensional, giving them movement and the ability to speak) describes the artificiality underlying the construction of collective memory… Their contributions have led us to discover how History, and thus every archaeological artefact, is not merely a totality of objective data but, rather, the story we tell of them, subjected to our interpretation, to the point where they become possible instruments of inequality and injustice. A story and risk that can only be magnified by the hypothetical nature of every digital achievement.

Some contributions, like those by Elena Mazzi and Lara Favaretto (we published her first Episode, reconstructing the genesis and expression of a project called Digging-Up, 2012-present), were made up of an in-depth study of pre-existing projects, attesting to how each and every work is a continuous and revisable construct, the same moment in a thought in progress also analysed by conversations with Tai Shani and Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg. The special event consisting in the week-long showing of Tabita Rezaire’s video Mamelles ancestrales was accompanied by a new essay specifically commissioned to promote a rereading and further interpretations of a previously made work.

Simone Fattal and Mathilde Rosier drew us into the private dimension of their studio work, the isolation and concentration of which were intensified by the ongoing global pandemic. At the same time, the artists represented a vector for new projects that also help depict our portal as a space-time of work in progress. Last but not least, acts of production of a new knowledge were carried out in the performative action by David Soin Tappeser & Himali Singh Soin, in the previously unpublished poem by Jimmie Durham and in the audiovisual symphony by Charlemagne Palestine & Lionel Hubert.

The kaleidoscope formed by these contributions and the ensuing stimuli allowed to be recognised as a proper centre of research rather than the umpteenth website for the publication of simple digital content. Thus, its function seems to also be that of responsibly supporting the artists’ planning skills in a historical moment of digital hyperproduction – that is, receiving options that can replace the instrumental and commonly used ones, or the ones predefined by algorithmic diaries, in an attempt to blend together the exercise of the episteme (from the Greek word ἐπιστήμη, which denotes proven, shared knowledge in its historical and methodological ramifications) and personal or collective freedom of opinion (identified by the Greeks with the term δόξα).

This gave us the opportunity to follow a multiple and expanded temporality, allowing us on the one hand to analyse and realise the proposals received and, on the other, to continue publishing projects based on research and, therefore, on the analysis of the manifold data and on the systematic application of the disciplines practiced at the Archaeological Park of Pompeii. Indeed, on the occasion of Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological Matters, the Park cemented its profile as Research Centre (Fabulae), Museum spread amongst its sites and warehouses (Inventario), Library – partially already written (Historiae) and partially still to be written or collected in a more dynamic disciplinary and hermeneutic coalition (Archaeology and Futurology Library).

These reflections led to two consequences: one instant, and the other looming in the immediate future.

After having operated as a magazine or a newsletter in its first season, with new content published weekly, will publish contributions with variable deadlines from this season on, thus granting the artists even more freedom in carrying out their research, assisted by the many Park professionals.

Furthermore, in its nature as a research and production project, Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological Matters is going to become one of the catalysts of the institutional functions whose natural goal lies within the new Research Centre and Library that will be housed in the San Paolino Complex, where restoration work is already underway. In the near future, the complex might also host the projects, networks and works that will make up the Archaeological Park of Pompeii (Collectio).

Within this scenario, Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological Matters summons a future community made up of artists, archaeologists, scientists and citizens, simultaneously facing forwards and backwards, towards the past but especially towards the future: a design community awaiting their chance to return – when the current pandemic crisis will allow it – to the physical nature of relationship and of matters, mindful of all that digital intermediation represents in the remoulding of those very relationships and matters. Perhaps this is why the editorial you are reading at this moment is both a reader of what has happened and a programmatic statement of intent.

Thus, thanks to the allure and force of attraction of the Pompeiian archaeological matters, we can already summon this future community as an ideal and highly imaginative new Grand Tour where today’s artists join all the authors who, together, began defining the cultural and emotional reasons behind the historic Gran Tour – the ideal journey that led scores of intellectuals to Pompeii between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. We would like to quote some of them here, recognising their enduring inspiration of our work in progress and, indeed, of the project of the portal… From Neoclassicism theorist Johann Joachim Winckelmann to Sir William Hamilton, author of the 1777 Account of the Discoveries at Pompeii. From writers and poets like Johann Wolfgang Goethe (who, with ludicrous frankness, wrote: “Many disasters have befallen the world, but few have brought as much joy to posterity as that which buried these Vesuvian cities”) to Madame de Staël, from François-René de Chateaubriand (who on visiting Pompeii in 1804 spoke of “a Roman city preserved in its entirety, as if its inhabitants had left but a quarter of an hour before”) to Stendhal, Gustave Flaubert and Théophile Gautier (“In Pompeii, a few steps separate ancient and modern life”), from Alexander Dumas to Hippolyte Taine, from Wilhelm Jenson to Jean Cocteau, from Edward Bulwer-Lytton to Susan Sontag. And with them artists like Antonio Canova or Pablo Picasso or Andy Warhol, architects like Le Corbusier, musicians, choreographers and dancers like Sergei Diaghilev, Léonide Massine and Érik Satie, all the way down to Pink Floyd. But also the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, or botanist-naturalists and engineers like François de Paule Latapie and Karl Jakob Weber (authors of the first depiction of the Pompeii excavations and of the maps of Pompeii and Herculaneum), all the way down to the many intellectuals who have defended and shared the reasons for protecting and, at the same time, constantly reinventing the archaeological site. From Jean-Claude Richard de Saint-Non to Charles-François Mazois and William Gell (author of one of the first journals with watercolour illustrations and notes of the excavations), from Francesco Piranesi and Luigi Rossini to Fausto and Felice Niccolini, from Carlo Bonucci to Jean Marie Le Riche, from Pietro Bianchi, Domenico Spinelli to Giuseppe Fiorelli… All directors of the excavations, whilst the latter also wrote Pompeianarum Antiquitatum Historia (1860–64) and Guida di Pompei (1897), as well as promoting, in 1858, the division between regiones (neighbourhoods) and insulae (blocks) aimed, with its numbering system, at a more scientific excavation process. Last but not least, he also invented the practice of creating casts of the eruption victims by pouring liquid plaster into the empty space left by their bodies. We must also remember Teodoro Duclère, Antonio Coppola and Luigi Bazzani, Ernest Breton and Gustavo Luzzati, Jules Gourdault, Johann Friedrich Overbeck and August Mau, Pierre Gusman, Vittorio Spinazzola and Amedeo Maiuri, the superintendent who witnessed the bombing and war destruction which took place on 24 August 1943 and who, in 1954, appeared as an extra in Roberto Rossellini’s film Viaggio in Italia. To say nothing of Sir Mortimer Wheeler, Malcolm Lowry and Friedrich Furchheim, Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli and Andrea Carandini, Annamaria Ciarallo and Wilhelmina Feemster Jashemski, Philip Barker and Edward C. Harris, the Alinari brothers and photographers such as Giacomo Brogi and Giorgio Sommer, all the way down to Mimmo Jodice and beyond, to contemporary times…

Also in their names, we’re ready to welcome all the authors due to be published this spring and who, thanks to their personal “commitment”, are set to join this story and the community that will continue to tell it in the future.

And finally, with great esteem and wishing him all possible success, we welcome Gabriel Zuchtriegel – the new director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii and formerly the director of the Museum and Archaeological Park of Paestum – to this group of authors, as a point of reference for this project… The warmest of welcome to you, dear Gabriel. We’re so happy to have you amongst us, as part of this story and its community…