MURMURATIONS (ROME) [2017]

10:50 | Australia | Italian (w/ English and French subtitles) | Colour | Stereo | Single-channel video

Murmurations (Rome) is a video that comments on history's ghostly spectre in the everyday. The video employs footage shot at two sites in Rome, Italy. The first is the Foro Italico, an extensive sports complex inspired by the Roman forums of the imperial age and lauded as a preeminent example of Italian Fascist architecture. The site is paved with large-scale mosaics celebrating Mussolini’s Fascist regime. The second site is the Fosse Ardeatine, an ancient Roman catacomb where, during World War II, 330 Italian civilians were massacred and mass-buried by German occupation troops as a reprisal for a partisan attack conducted against the SS Police. The historical events that defined these two sites have long since passed. They remain in an odd form of stasis, and only a lingering murmur exists of them in the contemporary world. Murmurations (Rome) documents the act of walking through these historical sites, focusing on the direct and experiential engagement of moving through these spaces as a means of potentially reanimating their political and ideological significance today. Additionally, documentation of the intricately morphing formation of starlings in flight—called murmurations— that descend upon Rome each evening, is presented along with excerpts from a poem by Pier Paolo Pasolini, 'Le Cenere di Gramsci' (1954).

 

 

"John Di Stefano’s essayistic and lyrical video MURMURATIONS (ROME) is a meditation on fascism through Di Stefano’s encounter with two historical sites in Rome: Foro Italico (formerly Foro Mussolini), a sports complex, example of the Italian fascist architecture instituted by Mussolini and built between 1928 and 1938; and Fosse Ardeatine, a cave where a mass killing of innocent Italian civilians was carried on 24 March 1944 by the German occupation troops as a reprisal for a partisan attack conducted against the SS Police.

Di Stefano’s work interweaves three elements with poetic subjectivity and affective perception. It opens with footage of flocks of starlings flying in the sky —which gives the film’s title, Murmurations —the name given to the congregation of these birds flying in patterns. This true wonder of wildlife populates the sky of Rome during the birds migrating season in the fall and winter months. We hear the evocative voice of Pier Paolo Pasolini reading fragments of his poem "Le Cenere di Gramsci” (‘The Ashes of Gramsci’). This epic revolutionary poem, written in 1954, is an homage to Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist and co-founder of Italy’s Communist party who died in 1937 after ten years in fascist jails. His reading is interwoven with footage of Di Stefano’s bodily encounter of the two historical sites in Rome. The sites are shot as Di Stefano walks through them, creating an action-image that is also strongly tactile and within which the trace of the filmmaker is portrayed by his shadow.

The film’s allegorical references are multiple: murmurations evoke the notion of collective power, both vital and generative, but also potentially fatal and destructive; the sky (a recurrent theme in Di Stefano’s work) symbolizes a lifting freedom and hope against the backdrop of massacre and death, and so on. Once Pasolini denounced the vanishing of fireflies from the Italian countryside as genocide. Di Stefano might also be pointing to the vanishing of the murmurations from the Roman skies due to climate change, suggesting that the destiny of life’s diversity, of birds and people, is at the mercy of mankind, and ultimately our responsibility.

Pasolini’s voice reading in Italian resonates intellectually, emotionally and viscerally, even for the non-Italian viewer who silently reads the English subtitles; the co-existence of languages is a reminder of the filmmaker’s intercultural condition. As a ‘civic poet’ who embraced art and activism, Pasolini reiteratively condemns silence and indifference in these verses; indeed, his poem ends with his struggle to live with a conscious heart (cuore cosciente). Perhaps Di Stefano aims to create an image that has the power to revive memory; in Deleuzian terms, a ‘fossil’ image. Recognising that memory works multi-sensorially, Di Stefano recreates a cinematic embodied experience. His insistent walking (walking, which in turn stimulates thinking) urges the awakening of the memories of Italy’s fascist past, ever more resonant and pressing today under the rise of fascist ideologies in Europe and the world."

Mercedes Vicente, from the essay 'Thick Cinema' (2017)

Commissioned by 'CIRCUIT Artist Film & Video Aotearoa New Zealand' with the assistance of 'Creative New Zealand' for the 'Thick Cinema' project curated by Mercedes Vicente

This work is related to the installation FORO/FOSSE [2015]

SHOWN

Oodaaq - Festival d’images nomades et poétiques Rennes and St. Malo, France (2019)

31th Festival Les Instants Vidéo. .Box Gallery, Milan, Italy (2018)

Thick Cinema, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London UK. Curator: Mercedes Vicente (2018)

Oberhausen Short Film Festival - CURCUIT programme (2018)

Thick Cinema, Adam Art Gallery / Embassy Theatre, Wellington, New Zealand. Curator: Mercedes Vicente (2018)

Thick Cinema, Te Uru Contemporary Gallery / The Theatre – Lopdell House, Auckland, New Zealand. Curator: Mercedes Vicente (2018)

Thick Cinema, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, New Zealand. Curator: Mercedes Vicente (2018)

Thick Cinema, Christchurch Art Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand. Curator: Mercedes Vicente (2017)

[version française]