vrijdag 8 juni 2018

Views & Reviews Voyage to Italy Viaggio in Italia Carlo Fratacci Ingrid Bergman Roberto Rossellini Victor Burgin Artists Book Photography

Voyage to Italy began with a commission from the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal, to make a work in response to a photograph from their archives. I chose an image from a nineteenth-century album of photographs of Pompeii by Carlo Fratacci. In the foreground a wide flight of stone steps leads to a rectangular space flanked by colonnades of broken columns. In this space stands a woman. Her voluminous dress forms a broad-based cone, at the summit of which her face is shaded by the brim of a light hat with a dark ribbon. The photograph is captioned ‘Basilica’. No doubt the woman was included only to give scale to the architecture, and this is why the caption does not recognise her. But I am haunted by another explanation: the woman is a ‘mid-day ghost’, she is not named because she is not seen. I decided to make my own images of the place where the photograph was taken. As I worked in Pompeii, the couple formed by Fratacci and his model became associated in my memory with another couple photographed at Pompeii – in Roberto Rossellini’s 1953 film Viaggio in Italia. The voice-over text to my video is based on my description of the first and last sequences of this film.

Victor Burgin: Voyage to Italy
Exhibition, Octagonal gallery, 7 December 2006 to 25 March 2007

Victor Burgin: Voyage to Italy_. Installation view, 2006

British conceptual artist Victor Burgin has been influential both as an artist and as a theorist of the still and moving image. Commissioned by the CCA, Voyage to Italy comprises two series of black and white photographs and an evocative video that engage the timeless beauty and lasting resonance of a nineteenth-century Carlo Fratacci photograph of Pompeii in the CCA collection.

Victor Burgin: Voyage to Italy is the third of four exhibitions in the Tangent series, which brings contemporary artists into dialogue with the CCA Collection and results in newly commissioned works. The Fratacci image selected by Burgin derives from an album of 26 albumen silver prints entitled Principales Vues de Pompéi par Charles Fratacci, Naples 1864. The photograph depicts a wide flight of stone steps in the foreground leading to a rectangular space flanked by broken colonnades. Standing in this space is a woman whose placement among the columns and her field of view are Burgin’s point of departure for a reflection on the architectural space as well as the emotional impact of a lonely figure among the ruins.

Curator: Hubertus von Amelunxen, CCA visiting curator.

Selected objects

Carlo Fratacci, active Naples ca. 1860s. Basilica. 1864. Albumen silver print, 17.4 x 18.1 cm (image, rounded corners). Unnumbered plate from an album entitled Principales Vues de Pompeii par Charles Fratacci, Naples 1864, comprising 26 photographs by Fratacci. PH1983_0504_007

Revisiting a Rossellini Classic to Find Resonances of Today
Rossellini’s ‘Voyage to Italy,’ With Ingrid Bergman
VIAGGIO IN ITALIA  NYT Critic’s Pick  Directed by Roberto Rossellini  Drama, Romance  Not Rated  1h 37m
By A. O. SCOTTAPRIL 30, 2013

George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman in "Voyage to Italy," directed by Roberto Rossellini. Credit Janus Films

The 1950s are full of movies that were initially greeted, by critics and audiences, with indifference or derision, only to be hailed as masterpieces in hindsight. “Vertigo,” “The Searchers” and “The Sweet Smell of Success” are among the best-known examples of this kind of revisionism. Another, only slightly less famous, is Roberto Rossellini’s “Viaggio in Italia,” a film so maligned and neglected in 1955, the year of its American release, that it did not receive a review in The New York Times.

Better late than never. A restored digital version of “Voyage to Italy” (one of several English titles that have been used over the years) begins a nine-day run at Film Forum on Wednesday, which seems as good an occasion as any to update the critical record. As it happens, the treachery of time — the unwelcome intrusion of the past, the empty languor of the present, the terrifying uncertainty of the future — is one of Rossellini’s themes, and part of what makes this film, for all its charming glimpses of a bygone era, feel so unnervingly contemporary.

Its failure no doubt had something to do with the scandal that embroiled the movie’s director and its star, Ingrid Bergman, and also with the ideological volatility of Italian cultural life. In 1948, after seeing “Paisan” and “Rome: Open City,” Bergman wrote Rossellini a letter offering her services if he should “need a Swedish actress who speaks English very well.” While making “Stromboli,” they began an affair that ended both of their marriages and provoked the highly selective moral outrage of the American press. In his own country, Rossellini was attacked less for marital infidelity than for betraying the cause of neorealism, allowing his camera to stray from local social problems to Hollywood stars.

And yet the reality of postwar Italy is very much visible in “Voyage,” as is a strong intimation of the direction of Italian cinema in the coming years. The film follows Katherine and Alex Joyce (Bergman and George Sanders), a British couple who arrive in Naples to sell a piece of property belonging to a recently deceased and highly enigmatic relative known as Uncle Homer. That business transaction is never concluded, and is in any case a distraction from the luxurious stasis that envelops Alex and Katherine, a state that might be described as a blend of ennui and la dolce farniente.

The two languish for a while at a hotel and at Uncle Homer’s villa, where the frosty state of their relations fails to melt in the Mediterranean sun. Katherine spends her days sightseeing in the Museum of Archaeology and experiencing a tremor of anxiety at the Cave of the Cumaean Sibyl. Alexander takes an excursion to Capri, where he flirts and socializes.

Sanders later complained that “the story of the film was never understood at any time, by anyone, least of all the audience when the picture was released.” And he had a point, even though he may have missed Rossellini’s. “Voyage” is not driven by the usual machinery of plot and exposition, but rather by a succession of moods, an emotional logic alternately reflected and obscured by the picturesque surroundings. The rich symbolism of the Italian landscape — the volcanic pools at Vesuvius, the ruins of Pompeii, the vistas that have stirred the imagination of artists at least since Virgil — makes the emptiness of the Joyces’ marriage all the more palpable and painful. Their emotional and spiritual sterility contrasts with the fertility signified by the baby carriages and pregnant women Katherine encounters every time she ventures into Naples, and also by the religious procession of the film’s devastating final scene.

Rossellini’s way of dissolving narrative into atmosphere, of locating drama in the unspoken inner lives of his characters, anticipates some of what Michelangelo Antonioni would do a few years later in “L’Avventura.” “Voyage to Italy” is thus in the vanguard of what Pauline Kael would disparagingly call “come-dressed-as-the-sick-soul-of-Europe parties.” Some of us will never tire of those soirees, with their black-tied gloom and elegant suffering, and will therefore relish the beauty and melancholy of this voyage, along with its touristic snapshots and heart-tugging Neapolitan songs.

The Joyces, though their manners and modes of dress mark them as creatures of another, perhaps more refined age, are immediately recognizable in their loneliness, their cynicism and their thwarted desire to connect and to feel. It may be too late. “Voyage to Italy” takes place in a series of simultaneous aftermaths — of World War II, of a glorious ancient civilization, of Uncle Homer’s wild life, of whatever passion once united Katherine and Alex. And yet amid all this exhaustion it finds signs of vitality. In its time, this film represented the arrival of something new, and even now it can feel like a bulletin from the future.

Burgin ontleedt vastgeroeste denkpatronen
Lucette ter Borg
5 juni 2014

Hij is het minder bekende broertje van conceptuele mastodonten als Joseph Kosuth of Dan Graham. Toch is hij niet minder belangrijk geweest. Victor Burgin werd in 1941 geboren in een Brits arbeidersgezin, vertrok naar Londen om aan de tamelijk bedaagde Royal Academy schilderkunst te studeren, maar hing al snel zijn kwast in de wilgen. Schilderen was volgens Burgin niet meer dan ‘het anachronistisch bekladden van geweven materiaal met gekleurde modder’. Daarom greep hij begin jaren zeventig naar de fotocamera en wendde zich tot de conceptuele kunst. Die kunst had alles in zich waartoe hij zich aangetrokken voelde en nog steeds voelt, zo is te zien op zijn eerste Europese overzicht in het Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Siegen.

Burgin excelleerde in de meest ongerijmde combinaties die er te maken zijn tussen beeld en tekst. Ook greep hij al vroeg naar het meetlint. Het vroegste werk dat van hem in Siegen is te zien, 25 Feet Two Hours (1969), is een soort gefotografeerde choreografie met een schattig archiefkastje en archiefkaarten die 25 keer steeds met een voetlengte worden verschoven op de grond en sec gefotografeerd.

Een jaar later verbluft hij zijn toeschouwers met een aan Monty Pythons beste sketches herinnerende, kurkdroge handleiding op 18 getikte velletjes papier over de wijze waarop de bezoeker van een kamer zichzelf en zijn omgeving moet bekijken (Room).

Toch is deze hogere vorm van waarnemingskunst uiteindelijk niet waar Burgins arbeidershart werkelijk ligt. Dat ligt bij de ontleding van ideologische structuren, vastgeroeste denkpatronen en vrouwvijandige stereotypes. In zwart-wit foto’s op groot formaat, met soms poëtische, soms theoretische teksten half door het beeld gedrukt, ontleedt hij de betekenissen van beelden of geeft ze juist een verrassend nieuwe betekenis.

In zijn beroemdste series Lei Feng (1973) en US 77 (1977) toont hij de achterkant van Mao’s arbeidersparadijs en de leugenachtigheid van de Amerikaanse reclame-industrie. Waar de teksten naar verwijzen, is niet in een oogopslag te begrijpen, maar dat er een hele hoop wringt, is duidelijk.

In de jaren tachtig komt Burgin verder in de ban van neo-Marxistische theorieën, het deconstructivisme van Foucault en Derrida, de psychoanalytische ideeën van Lacan en Kristeva. Hij wordt een van de meest vooraanstaande professoren op het gebied van tekenleer en fotografiekritiek.

Die intellectuele bagage, zo blijkt in Siegen, komt Burgins visuele werk niet ten goede. Recente filmwerken als A Place to Read (2010) en Dovedale (2010) zijn behoorlijk saaie, efemere video’s, waarin de kunstenaar inzoomt op een schijnbaar willekeurig detail en waarin vertelstemmen consequent een ander verhaal vertellen dan de beelden suggereren. Dat zweemt naar diepgang. Dat zweemt naar betekenis. Maar het is het net niet. Wat dat betreft is Burgin ingehaald door de tijd en door jongere kunstenaars die vanuit gelijksoortige motieven tot veel revolutionairder werk komen.

Beeldende kunst

Victor Burgin – retrospectief

Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Siegen, t/m 15/6. Inl www.mgk-siegen.de

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