Day Seven: A Summation

This post brings together some of the note fragments and images that have accumulated during my first week at Art Arcadia.

September 28th

The scale of Dante’s Comedy makes any approach somewhat tricky. Any view, any representation will be partial and incomplete. Rather than attempt some distillation of the primary text, what interests me more, is the translation of this work to other media, primarily cinema. One of the remarkable details of the Comedy is that it shapes a new language – it positions Tuscan as the Italian language, and words are formed around the topology of hell, purgatory and heaven. What follows are translations. Translations from the new Italian language and the deeply personal images of retributive justice Dante inflicted on those he viewed as morally compromised.

About a year ago, I got a copy of the 1911 film L’Inferno and took an interest primarily in the landscape and location it was filmed: the Grigne mountain group that flanks Lake Como. I’ll return to this another time; however, I’ve been watching Antonioni’s Red Desert (Il Deserto Rosso) more recently. The location he used was Ravenna, where Dante wrote the Comedy and would spend the remainder of his life after exile from Florence. Dante and the Comedy appear in this film not so much as a translation but a trace. Antonioni visually acknowledges the great poet, but other dimensions of this film suggest passages from the Comedy.

Angela Dalle Vacche, in her book Cinema and Painting, wonders whether Antonioni is an architect, a painter or a filmmaker in a chapter devoted to Red Desert: “From whose standpoint is Antonioni, therefore, speaking? […] does he define himself as a filmmaker, or as a painter, or as an architect? I feel that Antonioni purposefully speaks in an ambiguous manner that interlaces architecture with painting, thus inadvertently evoking a comparable overlap at the heart of the International Style, an experience marked by Le Corbusier (who worked both as a painter and as an architect) and by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (who, as an architect, was especially sensitive to modern abstract painting).”

September 29th

A priority within my practice has been to ask how installation space is extended, reinterpreted and affected by images of space, and in this context, cinematic space. How do I come to know any space, physical or simulated, and what role do digital images play in these readings? Further, what part do other images (painting and photographs) play in interpreting space and context? There are several scenes within Red Desert that I’ve been watching and rewatching. At this moment, I’m not sure why they have caught my attention. One way to get to know these spaces might be to draw them. Another way would be to model them. Each of these scenes carries a specific meaning and context within the film. I’ve been wondering how these meanings might be multiplied, intervened in and recast  – much in the way that fragments of Dante’s poem are reinterpreted by this film – then set against the context of this former schoolhouse.

Much of today has been spent painting, looking at and attempting to interpret folds in reflective cloth. I’ve spent the evening with my boys, making dinner, watching Hey Duggee, playing in the garden and counting leaves.

Angela Dalle Vacche, in her book Cinema and Painting, suggests that in Red Desert, Antonioni stages the clash of old and new through the interplay of history and spatiality and through his use of objects and decors. “One could argue that Antonioni has found the iconography of this staging in the paintings of Giorgio De Chirico,” she argues.

September 30th

I’ve set aside all things visual today to give some consideration to the non-diegetic sound Giovanni Fusco employs in Red Desert. I’m not sure this will be of any use. Still, I’ve enjoyed listening in to the film’s scenes and trying to hear the layers of noise and analogue synthesis Fusco used. I’m not sure of the machinery he would have used in 1963/4?

In his book Film Sound in Italy, Antonella Sisto says that “from playing traditional piano music to accompany silent film, and specifically, as Antonioni put it, performing music to cover the noise of the projector, Fusco arrived at the creation of soundtracks mostly focused on sounds and noise, poetic musical noise. He gave “light” to the films of Antonioni and gave him, as he wanted, music that was not created for the spectator-to induce a given response to the images and craft a relationship between the spectator and the film but music that had, or was in, a relationship with the film: music that was inside the image and not outside of it as booster or commentary to facilitate the audience’s understanding.”

Regarding the film and its landscapes, Antonioni said that “in the countryside around Ravenna, the horizon is dominated by factories, smokestacks and refineries. The beauty of that view is much more striking than the anonymous mass of pine trees which you see from afar, all lined up in a row, the same colour.” (From Landscapes of Deliquescence in Antonioni’s “Red Desert,” by M. Gandy.)

October 1st

At the beginning of Red Desert, there’s a scene where Giuliana is looking out over a blackened industrial waste ground. As with some of the other locations in the film, Antonioni has this painted (black) to appear as it does. I’ve been watching this scene today. The film focuses on the sense of anxiety experienced by Giuliana as she wanders between different locations in Ravenna. Antonioni’s vision of Ravenna departs radically from any idea inspired by a literary classic. It is a dehumanized port synonymous with the desert of the title. Victoria Kirkham has said that “Antonioni used filters to drain objects of what colour they had. He painted grey the sooty industrial waste littering the ground around Ugo’s factory, the fruit on a street vendor’s cart, and the pine trees growing on Ravenna’s sandy coastal land, its well-known pineta.”

In the morning, I spent too long stretching a painting.

October 2nd

Smoke, a pine and oak grove, lights. I’ve been reading Victoria Kirkham’s essay on how specific themes and images from the Divine Comedy resonate within Antonioni’s Red Desert. As well as the digital colour video, I shot some analogue stills in black and white tonight, using a 1964 Voightlander Vito C and a Kodak Vest-Pocket Camera from 1921. Depending on how the black and white stills develop, I may try this kind of shoot again, but using an interior – with heating preferably.