The Hidden Columns

Piazza di Campo Marzio, 46, Roma
Piazza di Campo Marzio, 46, RomaPiazza di Trevi, 92, RomaVia del Banco di Santo Spirito, 61, RomaVia della Stelletta, 29, RomaVia dei Chiavari 4, RomaVia dei Polacchi, 42, 00187 RomaVia della Maschera d'Oro, 15, Roma Via dei Coronari, 221, Roma Via del Banco di Santo Spirito, 61, RomaVia della Pace, 10, RomaVicolo del Fico, 19, RomaVia del Teatro di Marcello, 2, Roma Vicolo della Luce, 2 00153 RomaDesolationDesolationDesolationDesolationDesolation
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The Hidden Columns of Rome

 

2018, ongoing

photography, black and white negative film

 

The huge cultural heritage which the Roman Empire left after its demise is being kept in archaeological sites all over Europe but is also scattered and displayed at countless strange and unexpected locations. For centuries on end the enduring structures and decorative elements of the ancient buildings have been transferred to be used and incorporated in later-time buildings. Many Roman columns in different sizes, styles and state of wear and tear can be seen in unspecified locations al over Italy, and in Rome in particular. The big columns were used in the construction of hundreds of Roman Catholic churches while the smaller ones were commonly incorporated in houses. These pieces from Antiquity, now resting in their final locations, are not marked with signs or inscriptions, and remain unnoticed by most of the people bypassing them. Their inconspicuousness in a city that is an open-air museum by itself puts them between road signs, posters, cars, mopeds, even garbage bags. In contrast to the intended appropriation of the ancient columns and obelisks characteristic of the Baroque syncretism, these artefacts are part and parcel of the natural and almost unregulated urban transformation and re-contextualization. The columns which mark out the permanent and the enduring in culture find themselves in the flow of fast-moving changes.

 

During my creative stay in Rome in 2018 I was intuitively attracted by these hidden artefacts. Their presence as anonymous, reticent, silent witnesses of history gives an urban expression of the way the past survives and imperceptibly infiltrates the modern world. The knowledge of the history of art makes the surprising visual context of these findings even more exciting. The columns have been a symbolically loaded object from Renaissance paintings up until the portrait photography of the late 19th century. The bizarre depiction and positioning of the columns in works of art such as Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple, ca. 1500 by Nicolas Dipre (one of the artists of the Avignon School of painting), of the broken remains of columns in Jean de Gourmont's Adoration of the Shepherds, ca. 1525 (Early Renaissance in France), are excellent examples in iconography. During my work on the project, I accidentally came across Desolation, the fifth painting in Thomas Cole's sequel The Course of Empire, 1836, depicting a large and desolate Roman column that survived the end of the Empire, a symbol of the irreversible past. It came to me that the small scattered columns in Rome are a stark contrast to this image and at the same time an equivalent contemporary metaphor of the devastation depicted by Thomas Cole. The hidden columns behind the corners that serve as support for buildings, create a metaphor of the modern human situation - that of the little anonymous person whose wasteland is the anonymous crowd of an endless urban human flow.

 

These columns create the impression of being a common remain scattered everywhere in Italy. In my purposeful search for recognizable in-built columns, which went on for several months in Rome, I found some sixty locations in the historical town enclosed by the Aurelian Walls, in the Jewish ghetto, and the Pigna, SantAngelo, Regola, Ponte, Sant Eustachio, Trastevere quarters.

 

I use a camera and a black-and-white film in order to present these anonymous stones as historical sites, to restore their "dignity" of veterans who have survived unknown overuse, and express my sympathy for their unassuming and discreet place in the modern city. In the complicated and intricate urban environment I have combined the techniques of a number of approaches characteristic of different stages in the history of photography but also such that have been clearly delineated and undergone changes in the course of time: from Eugène Atget and Brassaï to Lee Friedlander and Zoe Leonard.