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Articles by: Benedetta Grasso

  • Facts & Stories

    The Yellow Revolution of Italian Immigrants

    Yellow: a warm, happy, primary color, visible from afar, beyond the colors of race. Yellow is the color chosen by the Italian immigrants as a symbol of a revolutionary strike, a demonstration held on March 1st all over Italy.
     

    “We are not criminals, we are not clandestine, we are citizens” was one of the main slogans shouted out in Rome as well as in Milan, Perugia, and Caserta, to name a few places. The immigrants in Italy, from all walks of life and from different countries, wanted to address the issue of racism, and reflect on the social and economic role of immigration today.
     

    The strike consisted of 24 hours without any of the immigrants showing up to their jobs in order to signify the importance of those “foreigners” who live and work illegally in Italy and to prove how the country should better deal with the issue of integration.

    The Director of the Chamber of Craftmanship, Lorenzo Tagliavanti told the daily Corriere della Sera that “we should reflect on the relationship between economy and immigration, since 9.5% of our Pil is directly or indirectly linked to immigration”. There are, in fact, almost 5 million citizens who were born in another country and now live in Italy.
     
    This is why March 1st, 2010 might be remembered as a day centered on sustaining the importance of immigration on the socio-economic asset of the country in 60 Italian cities with thousands of people taking part in it and more than 50,000 joining the related Facebook Page. Immigration is a relatively new issue for Italy and the government has yet to find an effective way or a decisive plan with which to deal with racial controversies and to create a clearer set of rights and procedures on this matter. It looks as if, even when we are dealing with immigrants who successfully integrated, it issn't easy at all for them to enjoy their full legal status free of racist prejudices.
     

    As recently as December 2009, a gunman entered a factory shooting two farm-workers in Rosarno, heavily injuring one of them, an immigrant from the Ivory Coast. This act was followed by a peaceful demonstration to demand a better treatment of immigrants at workplaces. In January 2010, a riot broke out still in Rosarno after another racist attack on immigrant workers. Cars and windows were broken, and people who wanted to kick the immigrants out of the town appeared on the scene with weapons. About 2000 immigrants, who tried to demonstrate but were partially blocked by the police, carried signs that defined Italians as racist and demanded a more humane society.
     

    The Italian media have been filled in the past few years with stories concerning immigration and racism:  the illegal arrivals on the Southern shores and the related sea-tragedies, the often sub-human conditions in the Immigration Centers, youth groups embracing racist slogans or symbols, the difficulties of getting a residence permit, and so on. The conservative, anti-immigrant Northern League Party declared that these tensions are a result of “too much tolerance towards clandestine immigration”.
     

    The March 1st strike has been launched in Italy as well as in France, Spain and Greece. The participants to the demonstration were numerous (20,000 in Naples, for example) and marched together to oppose racism and to support the immigrants.
     

    There were some significant demonstrative acts. In Rome, some university students placed a provocative banner in front of the Ministry of Education’s Building saying: “No access to white, rich, Italian students”. In Trieste, an initiative was promoted to cancel all the racist tags and writings on the walls of the city.
     

    As some immigrants protested in Rome to have their own social security and retirement funds secured with better rights, others in Milan were ironically shouting: “No more Racism, we are the new citizens. We are the ones paying for your retirement”.
     

    In Caserta, a video was shown by young activists where some bus drivers refused to stop or pretended to ignore certain bus stops if there were immigrants waiting.  

    Paradoxically, Italy has always been seen by many American and African-Americans as a place where race didn’t count as much as in the United States. In WWII, for instance, even if at that time Italians  weren’t used to see many colored people, they distinguished themselves as being able to look beyond race. Nowadays, Italy is at a crossroad in dealing with immigration and the presence of foreigners at workplaces and in everyday life.  

    The growth of immigrants has brought the Italian society to a point where the need to foster a better understanding of the forces at play cannot be postponed. This is the goal of the “yellow revolution”, the strike on March 1st, when the demonstrators symbolically released tons of yellow balloons in the air, calling for racism and tensions to fly away with them.  

  • Life & People

    A Revolutionary Record Player & the Man Behind it

    I was attending the presentation of the province of Macerata at the New York headquarters of the Italian Government Tourism Board when I first saw this unique object.
    I couldn’t figure out what it was. A small piano? A work of art? A complex musical instrument?

    Luigi Pasqualini’s tunable turntable is all of these things. It’s a record player made out of expensive and carefully selected materials derived from various musical instruments. Its defining feature lies in that it can be adjusted and approaches the way we would normally play a conventional musical instrument. It encompasses the technology behind turntables and transforms listening from a passive experience into an active one.

    Luigi Pasqualini, an enthusiastic man with long black hair and vintage clothes, has always been passionate about collecting records. As soon as he arrived in New York, he immediately went to the city’s record shops – mostly located in Greenwich Village, tight spaces, crammed with records, album covers, and memorabilia that few people recognize.

    For the interview, we decided to surround ourselves with the actual materials that our conversation covered. During one the worst snowstorms in years, we went to stores like Bleecker Bob’s or Rebel Rebel, chatting while handling the vinyl, exploring the jazz section, and discussing the philosophy of music, the story behind this invention, and the power of jazz.

    What was your approach to building this unique record player?

    I have always modified the record players I’ve owned because I was fascinated by the fact that I could improve what was already there, adding different accessories, modifying the motor, and the belt drive. Then, while going through a difficult period in my life, I had this idea. I could take the completely opposite approach to the engineering behind the way these objects are built. I used to hang out a lot with musicians and I was very familiar with musical instruments and my idea was to use the same techniques in building musical instruments to build a record player instead. It was a way of reproducing music in the best possible way. I’ve always thought that there was a connection between the vibration that makes the sound that comes out of a violin chord better and the vibration of the tone arm on the turntable.

    Had you built instruments before this?

    Not really. The first thing I ever constructed was a platter made of various materials. I could insert different layers to see what the best combination would be and what produced the best sound. 

    How long did it take to build it?

    I started around 2000 and finished in 2009. I was helped out a great deal by Floriano Nofri, an exceptional man who told me everything he knew, and even if he couldn’t figure out exactly what I was going to do, he respected my idea and never told me to give up. The atmosphere in his small workshop, crammed with parts and instruments, was fascinating. One day I brought him one of his violin bows that I had modified so that it could become the tone arm. He looked at it and said: “This is an invention. It needs to be patented and copyrighted!” He was in complete awe and I was flattered. So I went on to patent my invention. After that, Nofri gave me every single bow or part I needed and I had the opportunity to pick the ones that would sound best.  

    Did you have an extensive musical background before embarking on this enterprise?

    I didn’t actually study music in school but I’ve always loved it and practiced it. For me the experience of music comes before the medium. The medium, though, the stereophonic gramophone is what enhances the musical experience. I want to be able to play the records I love and improve them without having to buy special records for record lovers. It’s a completely new philosophy.

    Going back to my musical background, I organized a lot of concerts, especially jazz concerts and most of my friends are very talented musician. This allowed me to have direct access, direct contact with the actual sound of a piano, a trumpet, a double bass. They would come to play at my house and compare the sound of the trumpet with the sound that was coming out of the stereo.

    How does the experience of music change with your turntable?

    The greatest satisfaction was to see that my intuition was right. The more I experimented, the better the results would get and I would always be impressed by my progress. I basically realized that within the different grooves, so concrete and physical, I could find the smallest and most fascinating bits of information – minimal, unthinkable details. I could “taste” music better, feel its individual touch. It’s important to understand the variations in touch. When the same chords were played, after listening to them twice on my turntable you could hear the difference in terms of touch, push, and other dynamics. I realized that a record I used to listen to over and over, one that I thought sounded just fine, now sounded wonderfully better and that’s why everyone who experienced music in this way started to encourage me and support me.

    How many of these record players have you built?

    Well, each record player is composed of a belt drive, a platter, and an arm. I’ve built over thirty platters that my lathe turner helped me build. I’ve always pushed him to try hundreds of variations and I have to thank him because he stood by me, trial after trial. I have five or six belt drives and fifteen to twenty arms. I’ve always compared my instrument with what was already out there on the market, even those that are high end and very expensive, some costing over 100,000 Euros. I always felt optimistic when I compared the quality of my sound with theirs.

    How did your invention get to Andrea Bocelli?

    I was incredibly lucky. I believe that music “loves” me in a way, and it therefore opens doors for me. I got in touch with Bocelli because one of my relatives is a friend of his manager and I thought he might be interested. His manager was actually the one who told him about it. Bocelli was very curious and he said he wanted to try it. The interesting thing, for me, was that something else happened that day which proves how music has opened doors for me. In Macerata there was an exhibit of work by Luca Bellandi, whose paintings hung in my music room at home. At the exhibit I was blown away by his paintings and I contacted him through the event’s organizer but he never called me back. While I was on my way to Bocelli’s house he finally called to tell me how excited he was about my record player. So, during one single day I got the double satisfaction of interacting with two great artists I admired who were also interested in what I created.

    How was your meeting with Bocelli?

    I will never forget the day I spent with him. At first I thought he would just give me a few minutes of his time but I found out that he was waiting for me and despite his physical condition, he helped me construct and fix the turntable, piece by piece. He is a nice, open-minded man. I was very lucky because he liked the instrument so much that he bought it and I installed it. Not only did he allow me to use photos from our meeting to promote my invention, but he also wrote his personal thoughts about it as a kind of endorsement. I’m incredibly proud that his house will have a room solely dedicated to my record player.

    Are there any other personal reasons why you built this?

    I’m often asked that question, even by my closest friends. One of them, Carlo Rossi, an expert in the field of music and hi-fi stereos, asked me this same question while we were listening to a record. I didn’t know what to answer at first, but then I remembered that while I was building it I was listening to Bill Evans, my favorite artist in the whole world. I realized that I built it to pay homage to Evans, to find something of mine that I could almost put in between his art and my ears; I saw it as a way of contributing to his music, in my own way, to the beauty of it, through something that could enhance it. It’s not a coincidence that the name of the instrument is Horo WJE168: William John Evans and his date of birth. Everyone told me that it wasn’t the best marketing choice in terms of names but I’ll never change it.

    How did you discover Bill Evans?

    I was in my early 20s and I received some records for my birthday that I really didn’t like. When I went back to the shop to exchange them, I was told to check out some jazz records. I wasn’t that familiar with jazz but I bought two records and one of them was Bill Evans’ Autumn Leaves. There was an explosion in me and I progressed in my personal evolution. Up until then I listened to popular music like Pink Floyd and Genesis, but it’s when I discovered jazz that I truly understood music and started collecting records.

    During the most difficult time in my life, I also discovered a Bill Evan’s song I had never really paid attention to before and it gave me incredible strength. I made everyone I cared about it listen to it, always explaining to them how it made me feel. At that moment, I thought that when we receive the best news of our life, we won’t laugh but we’ll cry. It’s a liberating outburst, that climax of happiness. And Bill Evans reminds me of the possibility of receiving amazing news.

    We walk around the record store and he picks up a vinyl record by Benny Carter.

    You see this object, how beautiful it is? This is not a practical thing, it will eventually get ruined and die….but that’s not always the case if you take care of it. The point is that as inconvenient as this object is, it has an intrinsic beauty simply because it needs care. You have to “look after” it and love it, but with CDs or “liquid music” (digital files, i-Pods, MP3s, etc.) this doesn’t happen – you’re just a consumer. I don’t have anything against i-Pods; I appreciate the fact that music can circulate so fast, but it’s still part of a consuming cycle and not affection or collection. With records you have to make a concerted effort. You have to think about a record, you have to go and find it, take it out of its paper case, clean it, and place it on the record player. In order to do all these things you need a clear intention, a desire, but with an i-Pod you’re just moving your finger and your mind is absent – it receives everything that’s thrown at it quite randomly. There’s something physical about this record. Looking at the print I can see when it was made and it takes me back to that time in history or reminds me of personal memories.

    How does this physicality translate when you’re listening to it?

    With my record player music it becomes tri-dimensional. There’s a depth of sound; you can hear some sounds right next to you and you don’t need four speakers for a stereophonic effect. There’s a Bill Evans’ record in which at one point the bass materializes on your left, distant from everything else, and the piano is on your right – especially if you’re listening to music in complete concentration, maybe in the dark, the auditory experience is even more heightened.

    Are you thinking of selling your invention all over the world?

    Well, of course I hope to sell it. I’m selling it to certain buyers. My plan for the future is this: I want to find a distributor who is more than a retailer. He has to be a music expert, a connoisseur. My invention is for a particular niche; it’s not comparable to other brands. My client is someone who wants to stand out from the crowd, a self-confident person who follows his or her intuition to the end. The bottom line, obviously, is that it has to be someone who really appreciates it, someone sensitive. I would then personally install it in my client’s home and explain how to tune it. The string is made by an artisan in Naples who also makes harps, and just like a violin, the tension determines the final effect. It’s really not that hard and once you get the hang of it, it’s just fun. Nothing is going to break, you’ll just enjoy yourself trying and trying. If a record is kind of dark, you can lighten it up or vice-versa, but it’s more than changing the “settings.” It’s as if you were to change the instrument or the speaker completely.

    Basically, it’s an instrument that celebrates the idea of doing things on your own, having that satisfaction, changing the music to your liking and having fun trying.

    It’s similar to how I define jazz. You know how Beethoven composed his sonata? In a way he improvised at first. He started by unconsciously changing the last note a billon times (da-da-da, da-da-do- da-da-dan) but then the sonata was composed by making a rational, conscious decision by  choosing one out of the many notes. Well, if you see all the various efforts, all of these trials and glimpses of ideas before the conscious decision…that’s Jazz….

     (Edited by Giulia Prestia

  • Art & Culture

    Omaggio a De Chirico: Artists Inspired by the Master of Surrealism and Metaphysics

     The genius, the philosophical intuitions, the enigmatic style of Giorgio De Chirico have influenced entire generations of painters and sculptors, determining currents like Magritte’s surrealism or touching the lives of friends and artists, from Guttuso to Seward Johnson, who were close to him. These latter have then created their own works, re-interpreting their “master”, either imitating, or paying homage to a painting, or portraying or adapting his most important teachings and concepts.
    Curators Gloria and Antonio Porcella have collected the works of 67 artists to set up an exhibit that was brought to the United States for the first time with the collaboration of Claudio Angelini, President of the Dante Alighieri Society who, just like his father, had Giorgio De Chirico as his best-man at his wedding.  Besides New York, the work will also be displayed in Miami and Los Angeles.

    Some of De Chirico’s masterpieces are permanently displayed in some of NY's major museums, including the MOMA. The artist himself had a particular bond with this city that resulted from a combination of his philosophical ideas and his artistic mission.

    When De Chirico came to the Big Apple for the first time he wrote some personal notes, collected in various books: “While walking on the streets of New York, I felt like I was lifted up and I could fly, as it normally happens only in dreams up until a certain age; I was carried up to balconies or skyscrapers that were both vertiginous and romantic” (…) “In this city metaphysics are displayed in the architecture”. “The skyscrapers that surround me stand as the houses in The Enigma of An Autumn Afternoon”. He also cleverly noted that in English what in Italian is called “natura morta” (dead nature) is translated as “still life”.

    These feelings somehow enlighted  his Art. That is why his portraits and the works inspired by him - sometimes very similar to his actual paintings - feel somehow at home when brought to the "other side of the pond", in the somewhat decadent and yet statuary buildings of the Greenwich Village, at Casa Italiana,Zerilli-Marimò, the center for Italian Studies and Culture at New York University.
    At the opening of the exhibit in New York, at the “Casa”, on February 17, the curators were present as well as Mr Angiolini, together with interested guests and some of the artists themselves, such as Francesca Leone (daughter of director Sergio Leone).
    The night of the inauguration the beautiful hallways of the Casa, where the exhibit was displayed, were crowded with poeple admiring the works while sipping some excellent wine.  On the walls, pieces of art of Enrico Prampolini, Renato Guttuso, Ruggero Savinio, Gino Marotta, Ennio Calabria, Sergio Vacchi, Mario Ceroli, Alberto Sughi, Bruno Ceccobelli, Piero Pizzi Cannella, Bruno Grassi, Marco Nereo Rotelli, Jean Pierre Duriez, Alfredo Rapetti, Erika Calesini, Angelo Colagrossi, Stefano Branca, Irem Inceday, Flavia Mantovan, Camilla Ancilotto, Isabella Orsini, Francesca Leone, Cristiano Cascelli, Pino Settanni, Tiziano Lucci and Fabiana Roscioli.

    All kind of techniques and styles are used in order to pay homage to De Chirico: from traditional oil portraits and sculptures to holographic projections.

    We spent some time with curator Gloria Porcelli who told us about the story of the exhibit: “My father first set it at the Ca D’Oro gallery in Rome in 1975, when De Chirico was still alive. The second edition of the exhibit was held in 2008, 120 years after the artist's birth and 30 after his death. This “American tour”,  was finally presented by Gianni Alemanno, mayor of Rome, at the Capitoline Hill.”

    “De Chirico has influenced a variety of artists from all over the world. Some of the art displayed here was sold in auctions, other pieces are part of the private collection of friends of ours, and another fiew were created just for the occasion. Pieces by some oh his "historical disciples", among which Prampolini, Guttuso or Clerici, are thus displayed besides those by  young, less known artists.

    Works by Savinio and Gino Marotta, who were very close to De Chirico, fartherly enrich the exhibit, that also features excerpts of the Letter on Metaphysics as well as a video projection of a documentary on De Chirico produced by RAI, the Italian National Broadcasting System.

    Imitation is inspiration but also re-interpretation. The main characteristic of these works is that they keep alive and fairly represent the philosophical undertones and messages of De Chirico’s art. In all of them there is the idea of Metaphysics that explains the “non-meaning” of things, and portraits the need to capture what is beyond the rational illusions of a flowing mind.

     De Chirico believed that memory is made of fragments, quotes, objects that are placed next to one another with apparently no connection. While walking around the beautiful rooms of Casa Italiana one feels as if these fragments have been put together and now form a more coherent train of thought, while maintaining the fascination of something complex and beautifully inexplicable.
     

  • Events: Reports

    Leather, Visionary Threads of Colors and Trends for the Future

    Fabrics, leather, colored threads and patterns intertwine in most of our clothes; they are the basic element that determine how we look and dress but we often don’t notice them.

    It takes the craftsmen, the experts and the entrepreneurs in the textile industry and the trendsetters to look at fashion in a more creative way, searching for aesthetic canons and treating clothes as forms of visual expression.

    On February 17, on a bright winter morning at the Midtown Loft, sophisticated buyers, curious fashionistas, classy young women and men took a tour around "Arts&Tannery", a captivating  showcase of Italian leather by some of the most exclusive brands of the country (Ausonia Conceria, Bcn Concerie, MB3 Conceria, Pellegrini International, Primorpelli, Prodotti Alfa, Sanlorenzo, Tuscania Industria Conciaria, Valvibrata Ornaments).

    In an explosion of colors between rainbow-like pieces of clothing, jewelry, small and big accessories and floating umbrellas, the exhibitors displayed their material over hangers or shelves in stands facing white sofas. There they could chat with interested people, share thoughts, and touch and cut pieces of material while exchanging contacts and opinions.

    The 2010 edition of Arts&Tannery, organized by the Italian Trade Commission and the Italian Leather System (Sistema Consorzio Pelle Italiana), aims to aknowledge American consumers on the latest trands in the Italian leather sector  and to introduce the US market to the greatest brands and designers operating in the field.
     

    If to an inexperienced eye it might seem just a fascinating display, a giant extravagant and eccentric wardrobe in the heart of Midtown, Arts&Tannery has become a true tradition aiming to estabilish a relationship between important producers and the Italian Trade Commission. It can also inspire possible investors and designers for the upcoming Spring/Summer 2011 season...

    As a stern-looking man feels with his hand the texture of the fabric, a few feet further an enthusiastic young woman eats a delicious piece of cheese, served at the elegant buffet, while a group of people stare at a video.
     

    The main multimedia presentation of the event, the video has been produced and ideated  by Lorenzo Cotrozzi of the Italian Leather System. It’s a collection of conceptual images and ideas created to inspire artists working in the textile field.

    Mr. Cotrozzi explained that the results of his study “show the selection of those surfaces that in our opinion are better than others.” They are chosen to “stimulate creativity” and lead to “new horizons of fashion.”

    If we consider for a second the general taste in other fields, we can see that this past year has seen a proliferation of works that focus on the most visionary, surreal and escapist aspects of life both in the movie industry and in the one of visual arts . After movies like “Up” (Pixar), “Avatar”, “Coraline” or Tim Burton's upcoming “Alice in Wonderland”, viewers expect to be taken into a 3D world, filled with special effects and a much more vivid experience, safe but psychedelic, cheerful but at the same time gothic, more digital and virtual, yet more physical. The experience is something that digs deeper in our dream-like sense of reality and in a fantastical dimension, that is traditional and mythical but also very modern.
     

    Also, one of the most important topics of this day and age is “going green”, understanding the power of 'organic' and make the most of it.

    How do these things relate to the Arts&Tannery Presentation in New York? It’s simple. As Mr.Cotrozzi pointed out, the trends in fashion are linked to these concepts.

    He focused on the four major trends of 2011:  Dry Appeal, Flag Energy, Hybrid Sense, Blade Touch.
     

    Hybrid Sense, for example, is inspired by this visionary tendency. There are hundreds of ways for a stylist to combine “the natural and the synthetic, the primordial and the futuristic, the animate and the inanimate. In this Pandora-like world made of enchanted forests, imaginary creatures, visions of nature.” Things are in a continuous metamorphosis. This can translate to eccentric plumage, drawings on the leather that follow the oneiric logic, not the rational one, textures and colors that remind us of mythical animals like dragons, or as suggested by Mr. Cotrozzi, “watery visions, smudged patterns, hybrid proliferations.”
     

    Dry Appeal instead enhances those surfaces that are dry, dessicated, dehydrated, as if they were handcrafted and irregular, organic in a way.

    Blade Touch has something very Tim Burtonesque in it. It’s gothic, but not depressing, nor is it decadent. It’s exciting and a representation of the youngest generation’s tastes that romanticizes the darkest elements and makes them sensuous and warm.

    Finally, Flag Energy, as Mr.Cotrozzi explains, is linked to a need of return to order and discipline; to the lack of evident male role models that has led fashion into looking to old uniforms and military clothes as a new starting point: the search for something virile that also makes strong statements. Using primary colors, like most flags do, this trend inspires clothes that are geometric and bold. 

    As we are moving more and more towards a world focused on virtual life, thanks to what Mr.Cotrozzi calls the “avatar syndrom”, the new generation will look at clothes as something contaminated and hybridized, which can bring together the basics of nature and the most conceptual and technological input.

    The event will continue for another day (Feb 18) and will give the exhibitors a farther chance to promote their materials.

  • Life & People

    Casa Belvedere. A Vision into Reality in a Cultural Center in Staten Island

    The borough of Staten Island has always been associated with Italian American culture and its inhabitants often look for stronger bonds with their roots in order to create meaningful connections within the community.
     

    In fact, Staten Island’s population is 37.7% of Italian-American, more than any other county in New York City and the 27th largest Italian-American community in the United States in terms of people. 

    In this particular area of New York, a mansion with a 2.75 acre estate will become the beacon for this community and will expand beyond it. A non-profit organization, full of potential and resources was inaugurated on February 11, 2010 thanks to two prominent residents and philanthropists, Gina Biancardi-Rammairone and Luciano Rammairone.  
     

    Casa Belvedere, an imposing mansion in the Italianate style, has become the new Italian Arts and Culture Center that seeks to preserve and promote an appreciation of Italian language, art, literature, history, fashion, cuisine, and commerce while also celebrating the Italian heritage and the contributions that Italians and Italian-Americans have made to the fabric of the United States. 
     

    Surrounded by wonderful views of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and the city’s harbor, endorsed by various business leaders, approved by the NYC government, and supported by all those interested in taking part in new and exciting cultural activities, the Center is ready to launch a series of programs and events that will influence and inspire the Staten Island community.  
     

    John Profaci, founder of Colavita USA and Casa Belvedere’s new chairman of the board of directors, spoke at the inauguration.

    “The purpose of the reception was to establish a working board of directors as well as advisory committees to help the foundation sustain its mission and bring its vision into reality. We hope that many who attended plan to participate in this extraordinary opportunity,” said Mr. Profaci.   
     

    President and Founder of Casa Belvedere Gina Biancardi-Rammairone greeted the guests and the audience and emphasized the importance of her mission and in securing the necessary funds to renovate the charming mansion and offer a state-of-the-art center.  

    Gina is a young businesswoman and mother of three who bought the estate on Howard Avenue for $3.6 million, preventing the construction of townhouses on the lot while finding the perfect site for Casa Belvedere, a project she had in mind for a long time. 
     

    The mansion will be completely restored by architects Leonard and Philip Rampulla, from its exterior façade to its interior facilities complete with handicapped-accessible rooms dedicated to exhibits, screenings, and lectures. This plan was finally approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, allowing this vision to become a concrete, realistic project. Casa Belvedere will be completed and will officially open its doors in 2011.
     

    The center’s purpose is to celebrate Italian-Americans through their heritage, contributions, culture, traditions, language, holidays, and family values.
     

    As Louis Calvelli, the organization’s executive director said, “Casa Belvedere hopes to be much more than a cultural and community center. Today we are sitting in a building and with your help we will be able to convert it into a home, ‘una vera casa, un incontro’, for all of us – Italian-Americans and Italophiles to meet, learn, celebrate, and enjoy.”

    More info on http://www.casa-belvedere.org/

  • Art & Culture

    Macerata: a Journey You Can't Miss

    The limpid blue water of the Adriatic sea crashes on the shore, and on a beautiful summer day, the beaches are crowded with families and young people having fun, while sail boats disappear in the horizon.  Meanwhile, inland a man walks alone on a solitary hill, remembering the words of the poet Giacomo Leopardi, "sempre caro mi fu quest'ermo colle". The music flourishes accompanying a colorful choir of dancers in an ancient theatre, while in a small village in the mountains two old men enjoy some liquor and bread with olive oil and cheese.

    These idyllic images are some of the many experiences that the region of Le Marche offers and what makes people call this place "the whole of Italy in one region", or in this case in one province, that of Macerata.

    Le Marche is one of the 20 regions of Italy and gets its name from marca (march), the most important of which is the medieval March of Ancona.

    Somewhat secluded and divided by its mountainous regions, Le Marche occupies a central place in the country, combining at once the specialties of a very unique region with the best of the Italian qualities of life. Macerata, the biggest city in the province is an ancient and fascinating town, home of interesting historical figures such as Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit priest who lived for years in China while the Ming dynasty was in power; he developed the study of geometry as well as cartography and brought precious objects from the Far East that can still be seen nowadays. Macerata also gave birth to famous modern celebrities such as Dante Ferretti, who worked with Fellini, Tim Burton and prominent Hollywood directors as a visionary set designer.

    The most famous monument is the Sferisterio, a place you cannot miss if you are a true opera fan. It's one of the most prominent architectural structures of the late European Neoclassical Style; built in 1820, it is an enormous arena with an incredible view and perfect acoustics.

    To honor this charming spot in New York,  the director of the Italian Government Tourist Board/North America Riccardo Strano hosted an event on February 9 that presented the Province of Macerata in its best features, qualities, strengths, and culinary and artistic gifts. The videos and slideshows offered a summary of the topic, whether linked to food or music or nature, through pictures and short clips.

    The most effective clip is a widely famous advertisement, sponsored by Le Marche region, featuring the actor Dustin Hoffman reading and rehearsing the lines of the poem "Infinito" by Giacomo Leopardi, playfully stumbling over the words while declaring them with his loud voice and gestures, accompanied by powerful music and the sweeping landscapes in the background, the beauty, the depth and wonder of this land.

    This ad was at first criticized, when it first premiered on the web and TV, by many people who didn’t want a “foreigner” reading a national linguistic treasure. It must be said, though, that ironically, the true power of this ad can actually be seen in an event like this, in which the choice of the actor, the creative set up of the commercial and the images have a much stronger impact on the viewer.

    Italians might be jealous of their own poets and own performers, or they might laugh when Hoffman butchers some words, or feel betrayed by their more famous counterparts in the USA, but the real message of the commercial all comes down to this: can you appreciate these “treasures” as much as the Italians already do? Can you make those words your own, feel them in your head and on your tongue without translating them, but still re-interpret them as a tourist?

    It makes perfect sense to sell Italy abroad through one of the most important International actors and it was a success in New York City where the audience awed in admiration.

    At the Rockfeller Center many journalists, members of important Italian and tourism-related associations and the delegation from the Province of Macerata convened for a press conference, while also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first delegation of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina here in New York.

    The director of the Italian Government Tourism Board/North America Riccardo Strano, who has a particular connection with the region, praised his homeland and introduced the guests: Franco Capponi, Maurizio Lombardi, Giovanni Ballarini, Francesca Baldeschi Balleani as well as the famous chef Lucio Pompili and various representatives of enterprises, cratfs and products from the region.

    Consul General Talo' enthusiastically announced the event by saying: "the more I learn about this Province, the more I want to explore it."

    Mr. Franco Capponi, President of the Province of Macerata, gave a detailed account of his region made up of 57 townships, all of which are historical. "We want to open up to new tourists” he added “And we feel strongly that we can offer to the Americans exciting itineraries and great emotions". Mr.Capponi pointed out how his province has among the longest life expectancy in the world, due to the high quality of life and the safety of the area. This is, in fact one of the safest places in Italy, with the lowest crime rate. Macerata’s area is also a very green and environmentally friendly zone, getting the highest ratings for its beaches (Bandiera Blu) and its mountains. Famous for its vibrant cultural life, it also shines in terms of hospitality. Naturalistic and enogastronomic tourism are expanding the region's economy and attracting more and more people.

    The CEO of the famous Sferisterio Opera festival  and of Mirrus, Agenzia di Promozione Arena Sferisterio, Maurizio Lombardi, followed the presentation of a short montage of the best moments of the opera season. The festival this year will open on July 29 and its theme is "To the Greater Glory of God" to celebrate the fourth centenary of Matteo Ricci's death and the program spans from Gounod's "Faust" to Verdi's "La Forza del Destino" .

    Mr. Lombardi said: " Opera is an inimitable form of art, and as well as Marche becomes a container of excellence and magic. It's the magic of an Italy off the beaten path, far from the highway and the more mainstream attractions."

    Francesca Baldeschi Balleani, director of the NY delegation of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, was accompanied by the President of the this cultural institution of the Republic of Italy Giovanni Ballarini, who told the audience how important it is to preserve "ephemeral arts such as music and cuisine" and how crucial the role of gastronomic culture is in a place like Marche. "The realm of gastronomy is recognized by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities (Ministero dei Beni Culturali) not by the Ministry of Agriculture; gastronomy is culture, an expression of the conscious and unconscious aspects of our people.”

    The Accademia started in Milan in 1953 and immediately expanded abroad, placing its first flag in New York fifty years ago. There are over 200 delegations in Italy and 40 abroad, especially in the Americas. He added: “The Italian cuisine has many advantages, it’s healthy and it has very strong cultural background. Also, it’s simple, but not easy. It’s very difficult to be simple but our chefs manage to do so.”

    Chef Lucio Pompili took us from the more general ideas about Italian cuisine to the specifics of Adriatic cuisine, that of the Marche region, filled with lots of fish specialties, vegetables and farm animals from the country-side.
    “The goal of chefs is to stimulate the growth and production, to build a bridge towards the future. A cuisine is like a language, a way of expression: it’s always evolving”, he concluded.

    Some of the local enterprises talked about their products and a quite unique object was shown: a wooden record player made up of actual musical instruments. The arm is made from a violin bow, for example, and the music is enhanced, almost as if it were live music playing.
    This instrument worked in a similar way like this promotional event…bringing us closer to this Italian treasure.

  • Life & People

    An Authentic Voice from the Roman Jewish Ghetto

    The Primo Levi Center, the most important institution for Italian Jewish Studies in New York, and the Jewish Community Center, the “hotspot” for the uptown Jewish intelligentia of Manhattan to bring their kids to Hebrew classes, relax in the fitness center or follow lectures and cultural debates, co-sponsored together for the first time a screening of the 50 minutes documentary “Una Storia Romana” (by Pupa Garibba Aned).

    This screening was a great opportunity for Centro Primo Levi to branch out to a broader audience, composed mostly by American Jews that filled the auditorium and passionately participated in the Q&A that followed.
     

    The movie focuses on a never before told account: Enrica Sermoneta, in fact had never narrated her story from beginning to end before, at least publicly. Her personal choices and destiny were in fact determined by October 16th 1943, Black Saturday, a date that might not be very well known abroad, but in Italy and particularly in the Jewish ghetto of Rome, is a scar in national history. On that day many Jews were deported from Rome, taken from their houses, from their relatives, rounded up by the Nazis. It was actually in the aftermath though when most of the families were broken up and deported, through lists and basing the arrests on “on-field” connections that only the Italian fascists could have had.  
    As it is also narrated in the famous book “16 Ottobre 1943” (De Benedetti), the Jewish community thought that they made a deal with the Nazis by giving them more than 40 kilos of gold, but that was just the beginning.
     
    Enrica tells how half of her family ended up in Fossoli and how she managed to survive in the streets of Rome, through poverty and hunger, unaware of the dangers surrounding her. Hidden by a Catholic woman in Vignanello, a small village in the area, eventually she had no choice but to go back to her home where she miraculously avoided deportation, got married and raised two kids without any experience or help.
    Natalia Indrimi, executive director of the Primo Levi Center introduced Pupa as “a writer and a journalist who has produced wonderful work and one of the main forces behind the House of Memory in Rome.”
     

    Pupa Garibba Aned explained the background of the documentary: “It all started with a meeting in Rome at the end of June 2008, between two persons who have never met together, a Milanese historian Marco Cavallarin was working on a book about Jewish resistance fighters and myself, a scholar and a researcher for the Shoah foundation in Los Angeles and for the National Association of ex deportees in Italy.”
    Through mutual connections they contacted Sermoneta’s husband, who introduced them to this woman and set up an interview. There was something special and almost “pre-determined” in the insistence on doing the meeting as soon as possible, as Pupa wanted. Enrica Sermoneta was then diagnosed with breast cancer and, although she’s luckily still alive, her disposition and her recounting of her life would have been very different.
     
    It was through editing, however, that the movie began to narrate a chronological story. The cameraman and editor, Luca Singer, explained how step by step he learned about Enrica’s life; and by trying to put the pieces together he discovered more and more about Italian history and his personal history.
    Last but not least, this movie wouldn’t have been possible without Umberto Gentiloni, responsible for the policies on Memory of Rome, along with Nicola Zingaretti, the President of the Province of Rome, who provided a film crew and unconditional support.  
     
    Gentiloni provided the context, which was somehow needed by some of the members of the audience, explaining the creative choice of excluding background information and actual location, and rather focus on the actual personal story. “The places around Rome are evoked by the drawings of Aldo Gay, There are no pictures or images of that day that have been found of Black Saturday and he was acting as a photographer without a camera, drawing something in his notebook and in the evening or the day after he would add details or do it better or put colors in it. We debated whether or not to include the modern ghetto, because frankly we were also a bit fed up with going back and forth with past and present. It’s a bit touristy and not so respectful.”
     
    After the discussion Gentiloni shared with me some brief considerations. He said he was satisfied with the event. “I think this went really well, in terms of participation, and we are always curious and eager to see different reactions and point of views. I think the way the audience debated after the screening is a testimony of this success. I would also want to add that it was a quite unique testimony to contextualize since her language, her dialect (specific of the Jewish ghetto in Rome) doesn’t translate well with the subtitles.”
    Gentiloni pointed out that “contextualizing means knowing the history of Rome really well” and recounted his involvement with the movie: “We started from the things she was saying and that we recorded and we began to build a track, a path. We chose to privilege what was faithful to the narrative, the authenticity of this person.”
     

  • Life & People

    Vecchia Cucina: Perfecting Recipes on the Two Sides of the Pond

    I sat down with Riccardo Costa, a young writer and filmmaker whose knowledge of food and Italian culture have influenced his career abroad and whose passion for cooking and his accomplishments as a chef have lead him to be the finalist on a Food Network Show and ultimately to publish a book “Vecchia Cucina”, a collection of recipes from the Bologna’s area.

    Riccardo is in his thirties, has an amiable expression and speaks enthusiastically of all his enterprises, interests and ideas. He quickly jokes about things and presents himself in a very down-to-earth way; he’s genuinely passionate about what he does and he has found ways to link together the different fields that fascinate him.

    He has always been incredibly busy, teaching classes as well as assisting famous directors and actors in their projects (in the past for example he worked with Spike Lee). His vibrant social life connects him with the most exciting social circles in New York, a city where he has lived for thirteen years and that he loves and knows deeply.

    Sipping a coffee at a Starbucks in Chelsea, we amiably conversed about his book, reflecting on the geographical context, his experience as an Italian on an American TV show and eating as a cultural phenomenon.

    Tell me something about your new book…

    It’s about 145 pages long and there are more or less 300 recipes inside, divided in appetizers, main courses, desserts, etc.

    This is a book I’ve been working on for five or six years, but I was never satisfied with it. It required a lot of personal research, studying my family recipes; the hard part was that my family is incredibly jealous of those recipes – they basically don’t know I’ve written this book. This is one of the reasons why I decide to write it in English and publishing it here.

    So if you wrote it in English, did you keep in mind that your readers would be Americans? Did that change or influenced your writing?

    Yes, obviously I did, since it would have made less sense for me to write about Bologna’s cuisine explaining to the people from that area in Italy and yet for Americans I have to contextualize the dishes more.

    My writing process went like this: I copied my grandma’s recipes along with the most important and famous recipes from Emilia Romagna and when I went back home for the holidays or during the summer I would spend my days at the culinary library of the University of Bologna – one of the most famous in the world – and my goal was to find stories linked to the dishes, to explain the origins of some particular food. Like, for example, eggplant, which was brought in Italy, in Parma by the Arabs.

    How did you go from writing the book to publishing it here in the US?

    I decided to self-publish the book. Through my experience on Food Network, on the show “Ultimate Recipe Showdown”, I learnt that cooking books have to be sponsored by celebrity cooks or celebrities in general and I can’t do that; so for me the first step has to be to sell a thousand copies and then publishers will come to you. Luckily things are looking good and I will meet with Barnes and Nobles and Borders. As far as I’m concerned, now though, I’m already happy since the book is doing well on Amazon

    Did you ever feel “lost in translation”? Did you have to change the culinary terms adapting them to English? How did you balance the two cultures?

    It was hard especially in regards to measures. It’s almost impossible to get the exact conversion of measures when you go from kilos to ounces; you always have to choose, to readjust the numbers. At first I tried to guess, by intuition but then I decided to prepare all the dishes in my own kitchen here in New York, using the American measure system and by doing that I could evaluate what was better, what tasted better. Sometimes it just depends on the dish.

    Can you find all the ingredients, for example, here in New York?

    I believe that you can find 99% of them. There are places like Chelsea Market or services such as Freshdirect that have plenty of variety and the quality of the food is exemplary. Also there are many Italian food stores.

    Did the book sell particularly in New York where more “foodies” live?

    It definitely sold a lot in New York but in Chicago as well. Now I’m expecting to reach a broader audience through my appearance in the show “Ultimate recipe Showdown” on Food Network. I filmed the episodes six months ago and on March 14, 2010 they will be aired. At that point there will be more exposure. I’m also building a website and shooting web cooking videos that you can also download on your Ipod.

    Is cooking an integral part of your daily life in New York?

    Yes. I always prepare elaborated dinners and lunches and it’s a priority in my social life.

    Did this influence your relationship with the city, your experience here?

    It definitely made it more personal. New York is a city where you meet a lot of people very fast and sometimes just superficially. It’ hard to maintain friendships and relationships and if you decide to open the doors of your house to someone and you offer him or her what you prepared and made with your hands, not something you just got from a take-out or a deli, then you build stronger bounds with people and communicate something more real.

    We all know Italian cuisine is well represented here in New York. Do you feel that specifically Bolognese cuisine is represented as well?

    Actually, probably not that much. There are one or two restaurants that have dishes from that area but I don’t find them to be that great. You see, I’m a purist and I feel – although we are moving in that direction with places like Otto for example – that even the best Italian restaurants in the USA prepare their food mixing different traditions or changing, even slightly, some dishes to make them more appreciable by Americans. It’s understandable, since you want to have people coming in, but I believe sometimes you have to take a risk, and if you open a restaurant you should be, as I was saying, a “purist” and educate your public, not talk down to them

    Being a “purist” and a perfectionist did you enjoy taking part to an American cooking show, Ultimate recipe Showdown?

    Yes, a lot. My plan is to audition for more shows and culinary contests, one for Fox and the other still on Food Network. I’m excited about them and my friends support me and give me ideas.

    Do you believe these kind of shows are well done? Or, maybe even because of your nationality, did you sometimes feel like you were “better”? 

    I actually strongly believe that they are very well done. I was much more of a snob before or when I just started, but then on the Food Network show I really admired how professional everyone was and the people I worked with knew what they were talking about and in terms of food were really prepared and educated.

    Did you notice a big difference in your approach towards food between you and the other contestants?

    I’m one of the four finalists and well…yes there is a difference in the approach. I guess I went for the more sophisticated dishes preparing a “crostino rinascimentale” while the other contestant prepared a pizza with aragosta…but they are just different approaches; that’s all.

    By the way, since we are talking about shows on TV, are you familiar with the MTV show Jersey Shore and the debate it has stirred regarding the representation of Italian Americans and in a way Italians in general on TV?

    Yes, I am.

    Being the only Italian on an American cooking show, did you ever feel like you were forced into a stereotype by the marketing campaign of the show either as a selling point (The Italian cook) or an exaggeration of certain aspects?

     I guess we will see now with how they edit the trailers, teasers and so on and I don’t really know what they added to the actual footage to make it more entertaining. As far as I’m concerned they were very professional: they just wanted pictures of me as a baby, a child, pictures of my family and of Italy, but not aimed at a “stereotype”, just focusing on how to tell my life story.

    In any case this is a cooking show and people assume that there is a whole deal of respect for Italian cuisine. It’s hard to make fun of it.

    Great. Have you ever perceived to be treated differently than the others, even in a positive way?

    No, not necessarily. The only thing is that I’m wondering if they will add subtitles or not when I talk, because they do that when people have even just an accent. I’m curious, since I’ve lived in New York for thirteen years and my English should be fine.

    Going back to the book, what did you like the most about writing it?

    It was a way to bring up many memories, things you just take for granted. You grow up with your grandma in the kitchen, tasting and smelling certain foods and then these feelings and flashbacks come back to you years later.

    In Italy food is more than just “eating” is part of the culture, it’s in itself culture. What you eat is important, you don’t eat just because you’re hungry but to fully appreciate the taste. Behind every little gesture in a recipe there is a story, a tale, a lot of hard work. It was very emotional to relive some of these moments by writing the book.

     
    Do you think this is just an Italian privilege to have so many memories, family rituals around the table and traditions shaped by the food culture or do American families have a similar experience?

    I think they do. I think they obviously have something similar and they are actually more open to go in that direction nowadays. It’s not a food culture that is as developed as in Italy but, for example, even because of the financial crisis, more and more people want to cook at home. Also, if you look at the Food Network you’ll see how their audience has radically changed in the past years. Ten years ago nobody but a lonely housewife would watch them and now the spectrum of people is much bigger . Eating is becoming a cultural phenomenon.

    What’s the dish that is most connected to you particularly, to your personal life and culture?

    Tortellini in brodo (in broth). Made with my family’s original’s recipes, handmade dough and filling. For me it’s a dish linked to the idea of perfecting yourself. See, we have this book in my house on which my family has written every Christmas for the last fifty years, adding comments, ideas and notes to the tortellini’s recipe. You have to look through the previous comment to make something better the next year, generation after generation.

  • Art & Culture

    De-Portees: an Artistic & Conceptual Look at the Holocaust

    The first time tourists go to the Jewish Museum in Berlin or to Yad Vashem in Israel, many of them walk out shocked. They are not shocked simply by the content of the rooms, or by the subject of the Holocaust, with its loss of lives and racial ideologies, they are shocked because they don’t find what they expect from a traditional museum: they don’t just find papers behind a window case or preserved objects. Visitors walk around and all of a sudden they are in a dark corridor, with nothing but a sense of void, or they are stepping on ten thousand iron faces (Fallen Leaves, Jewish Museum of Berlin). Signs do not guide them. Instead, the museum zigzags, the hallways go in circles. Visitors are basically led to feel lost.

    At Yad Vashem, the progression of the rooms is psychological, not necessarily only chronological. The visual projections, bare concrete walls, and interpretive works of art lead up to The Hall of Names: the ceiling of the Hall is composed of a ten-meter high cone reaching skywards, displaying 600 photographs, a small percentage of the murdered six million men, but a big enough number to make the visitor feel completely overwhelmed by being surrounded by all those faces.

    Both museums display a lot of contemporary and post-modern artists who understand that the Holocaust is not just about memory, it is a dividing line in modern thought and psychology, and it’s an existential experience.
     

    Jack Sal, an artist who displayed his work in an exhibit called De/Portees at the Italian Cultural Institute on January 27 2010, at exactly the same time of the reading of the names of the Italian Jews at the Italian Consulate, can be placed in this line of thought. The inauguration of his multi screen projection, combined with the sound of the people on Park Avenue reading aloud thousands of names, managed to recreate that same feeling of displacement and loss recreated for example by Yad Vashem.
     

    Jack Sal is a minimalist and conceptual artist whose many installations have been seen at the MoMA, the Museum Ludwig in Koln, Museum Moderner Kunst in Vienna and many others. This specific exhibit will remain at the Italian Institute until February 26th and in Rome from April 7 to April 30 at the Casa della Memoria e della Storia. In 1993 he declared that, “The goal of the artist is to produce Aart that creates a context. Without context neither knowledge nor understanding can be reached”.
     

    In De/Portees Jack Sal does exactly this: he recreates the context, the geographical confusion of all the places involved in the Italian Shoah. On two different screens we can see the names of those cities, towns and villages where the deportees lived and of the camps, which are not just the most infamous places like Fossoli, but little towns where camps were sometimes created and dismantled overnight.  

    Also, the main installation is a video, where a hand slowly flips the pages of the list of the deportees (the same names that were being read outside) with a soundtrack of a Primo Levi quote. “‘The duty of hope and the duty of not forgetting are neither synonyms nor opposites. They can coexist. All the combinations are possible: remembering and hoping, remembering and despairing, forgetting and hoping, forgetting and not hoping. My position would be to remember and to hope’”.

    Both the dark room, and the repetition of the same quote over and over while the pages are turned, are very effective. The artist himself explains his exhibit: “This emphasis on physicality is important. It takes 25 minutes to turn all the pages, one by one, to go over all the names, he says, while outside, on Park Avenue, it’s taking seven hours, from 9AM to 4PM to read every single name.

    It’s a physical feeling; that of not even being able to count and finding yourself thinking: “Were there really so many people?”
     

    Jack Sal is the child of two Holocaust survivors. “My parents emigrated to the USA after they survived the war. My mom hid in the woods of Galizia”. He underlined how this for him is a personal, cultural and political experience.

    The reasons that lead him to choose that specific quote of Primo Levi can be found in the interviews to Levi (M. Belpoliti and R. Gordon, 2001, The Voice of Memory: Primo Levi, Cambridge: Polity) in which Jack Sal could see Levi’s direct reflection on the topic, as he was speaking and writing irrationally. Jack Sal explained that there are various kinds of memory for Levi, which are “anger, pain, and reprisal, but his idea was to focus on hope”.

    As pointed out before, the opening of this exhibit coincided with the gathering of different religious authorities (Rabbi Schneider, Cardinal Egan) the representatives of the Italian consulate, and of the most important Jewish Organizations in NYC (such as Centro Primo Levi) and prominent figures such as Mrs. Matilda Cuomo, who along with other people and school children, read the lists of the deportees.

    In introducing Jack Sal’s exhibit, General Consul Francesco Maria Talò said: “Art is a crucial way to pay homage, to remember”.
    Some curious people stopped by and caught a name or two, snapped quick pictures, grabbed their kids by the hands and whispered something into their ears. While the cameras of various TV stations all focused on the podium in front of the Italian Cultural Institute, Jack Sal’s exhibit simultaneously occurred. Hence many names were evoked, which is so powerful since a name sometimes is all we have left of a time, place, person.

  • Art & Culture

    De-Portees: an Artistic & Conceptual Look at the Holocaust

    The first time tourists go to the Jewish Museum in Berlin or to Yad Vashem in Israel, many of them walk out shocked. They are not shocked simply by the content of the rooms, or by the subject of the Holocaust, with its loss of lives and racial ideologies, they are shocked because they don’t find what they expect from a traditional museum: they don’t just find papers behind a window case or preserved objects. Visitors walk around and all of a sudden they are in a dark corridor, with nothing but a sense of void, or they are stepping on ten thousand iron faces (Fallen Leaves, Jewish Museum of Berlin). Signs do not guide them. Instead, the museum zigzags, the hallways go in circles. Visitors are basically led to feel lost.

    At Yad Vashem, the progression of the rooms is psychological, not necessarily only chronological. The visual projections, bare concrete walls, and interpretive works of art lead up to The Hall of Names: the ceiling of the Hall is composed of a ten-meter high cone reaching skywards, displaying 600 photographs, a small percentage of the murdered six million men, but a big enough number to make the visitor feel completely overwhelmed by being surrounded by all those faces.

    Both museums display a lot of contemporary and post-modern artists who understand that the Holocaust is not just about memory, it is a dividing line in modern thought and psychology, and it’s an existential experience.
     

    Jack Sal, an artist who displayed his work in an exhibit called De/Portees at the Italian Cultural Institute on January 27 2010, at exactly the same time of the reading of the names of the Italian Jews at the Italian Consulate, can be placed in this line of thought. The inauguration of his multi screen projection, combined with the sound of the people on Park Avenue reading aloud thousands of names, managed to recreate that same feeling of displacement and loss recreated for example by Yad Vashem.
     

    Jack Sal is a minimalist and conceptual artist whose many installations have been seen at the MoMA, the Museum Ludwig in Koln, Museum Moderner Kunst in Vienna and many others. This specific exhibit will remain at the Italian Institute until February 26th and in Rome from April 7 to April 30 at the Casa della Memoria e della Storia. In 1993 he declared that, “The goal of the artist is to produce Aart that creates a context. Without context neither knowledge nor understanding can be reached”.
     

    In De/Portees Jack Sal does exactly this: he recreates the context, the geographical confusion of all the places involved in the Italian Shoah. On two different screens we can see the names of those cities, towns and villages where the deportees lived and of the camps, which are not just the most infamous places like Fossoli, but little towns where camps were sometimes created and dismantled overnight.  

    Also, the main installation is a video, where a hand slowly flips the pages of the list of the deportees (the same names that were being read outside) with a soundtrack of a Primo Levi quote. “‘The duty of hope and the duty of not forgetting are neither synonyms nor opposites. They can coexist. All the combinations are possible: remembering and hoping, remembering and despairing, forgetting and hoping, forgetting and not hoping. My position would be to remember and to hope’”.

    Both the dark room, and the repetition of the same quote over and over while the pages are turned, are very effective. The artist himself explains his exhibit: “This emphasis on physicality is important. It takes 25 minutes to turn all the pages, one by one, to go over all the names, he says, while outside, on Park Avenue, it’s taking seven hours, from 9AM to 4PM to read every single name.

    It’s a physical feeling; that of not even being able to count and finding yourself thinking: “Were there really so many people?”
     

    Jack Sal is the child of two Holocaust survivors. “My parents emigrated to the USA after they survived the war. My mom hid in the woods of Galizia”. He underlined how this for him is a personal, cultural and political experience.

    The reasons that lead him to choose that specific quote of Primo Levi can be found in the interviews to Levi (M. Belpoliti and R. Gordon, 2001, The Voice of Memory: Primo Levi, Cambridge: Polity) in which Jack Sal could see Levi’s direct reflection on the topic, as he was speaking and writing irrationally. Jack Sal explained that there are various kinds of memory for Levi, which are “anger, pain, and reprisal, but his idea was to focus on hope”.

    As pointed out before, the opening of this exhibit coincided with the gathering of different religious authorities (Rabbi Schneider, Cardinal Egan) the representatives of the Italian consulate, and of the most important Jewish Organizations in NYC (such as Centro Primo Levi) and prominent figures such as Mrs. Matilda Cuomo, who along with other people and school children, read the lists of the deportees.

    In introducing Jack Sal’s exhibit, General Consul Francesco Maria Talò said: “Art is a crucial way to pay homage, to remember”.
    Some curious people stopped by and caught a name or two, snapped quick pictures, grabbed their kids by the hands and whispered something into their ears. While the cameras of various TV stations all focused on the podium in front of the Italian Cultural Institute, Jack Sal’s exhibit simultaneously occurred. Hence many names were evoked, which is so powerful since a name sometimes is all we have left of a time, place, person.

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