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AROUND NAPOLI
Installation Art 2004/5
It has been ten years since the city of Naples started adorning the vast Piazza Plebiscito with examples of "Installation Art"--exhibits of various kinds put in place in mid-December and then taken down after the holiday season. Some of these works have evoked bewilderment in the eye of the beholder. Or hostility. Or admiration. That of, course, is what such art is meant to do: spin a web of extended discourse around itself, made up of people's reactions, which themselves become part of the answer to that nagging question: "What in the world is that supposed to be?" Such works in the last decade in Naples have included Mimmo Paladino's "Salt Mountain" (second photo from top), Anish Kapoor's "Taratantara" (third photo), and Rebecca Horn's exhibit of bronze skulls, "Spirits of Mother of Pearl," embedded in the pavement itself. (There are some other separate entries in the Naples Encyclopedia on various episodes of Installation Art in Naples; you will find them in the encyclopedia index under "Art, modern" and "Installation art".

This year's work (top photo and the photo on the initial page) is Luciano Fabro's "Italia all'asta". "Asta" means auction in Italian; thus, "Italy for sale" or "Italy to the highest bidder" captures the spirit of the title. The work consists of a 30-meter tower wrapped round by a convoluted map of the "Two Italies"--North and South--one part of which is inverted. The halves touch and, thus, are united.The sculpture is marked in places with the names of various sections of the nation that have been sold off for one reason or another over the years--Nice and Savoy, for example, ceded to the French in 1859 in return for French help in the Italian wars of independence against Austria. The tower is also marked by the names of private corporations that have been allowed to buy "what belongs to the Italian people" (to cite the explanatory notes given out at Piazza Plebiscito); that is, fundamental resources in the areas of communication, energy, and the chemical and automobile industries, most of which have now been "privatised". The exhibit does not bill itself as a protest, but it doesn't have to. Anyone who has been keeping up with recent government attempts to sell off historical monuments in Italy will understand what the exhibit is all about. ("Welcome to Rome. See the Nike Colosseum!" Am I kidding? So far, yes.)

First of all, the division of the gigantic representation of Italy into the Two Italies recalls that split in the national psyche, something that might not occur to foreigners, but which is ever- present in the minds of all Italians, even a century and a half after unification. Second, in spite of the metal construction, the tower is probably best called by the religious or Baroque term, "spire," since, one, it is set up in the middle of a large square; two, recalls two other large, permanent spires in Naples (at Piazza del Ges Nuovo and Piazza San Domenico Maggiore); and, three, is in fact a tribute to the importance of the "piazza" in Italian history--the public gathering place, where people talked, danced, bought and sold; where revolutions started, proclamations were read and even executions carried out. "The city is born from the square, not vice versa," says Fabro, in an original poem that accompanies the explanatory notes. It is the perfect site in Naples to generate questions about the modern identity of Italians, a people that are among the great bearers of European culture over the centuries.

The exhibit has some interesting sidelights. One is the presence of various mathematical and musical symbols affixed to the colonnade of the church of San Francesco di Paola, the building on the west side of the giant square. (These are, I suppose, tributes to the Greek origins of Naples and Italian scientists and musicians of the past. It also reminds me that one year, the entire exhibit consisted of a single Fibonacci sequence arrayed above the columns around the semicircular facade of the church; 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34... . They stopped when they ran out of columns or when Fibonnaci died--I forget which, but I am still engaging in my own internal "extended discourse" about that one. Stay tuned.) Also, Fabro has put together a sound track that will be heard around the square for as long as the exhibit lasts, repeating 25 segments; they range from an ancient Greek chorus to an Ambrosian chant to the classical music of Cimarosa and Pergolesi to, finally, a recording of Marconi's first radio message.

Jeff Matthews
22/12/2004