It was a great opening and continued into an animated and highly social evening. I am, of course, referring to the first night of Bagni di Lucca’s arts festival, now in its third year.
Around six o’clock with the streets of Ponte a Serraglio turned into a pedestrian “island” the artists gathered together around the blue and white flouncy ribbon.
Mayor Betti after a short speech in which he praised Jaqueline Varela and her band of volunteers in re-creating a great cultural event, giving our comune prestige and fame, with flair, determination and dedication, cut the ribbon.
Then it was the turn for us to visit the exhibitions in rooms all converted into exhibition space from long-closed shops. The amount of work in rendering these places again fit for artistic purposes was immense. Battles against dampness were won, walls were repainted, and everything was made fit for purpose in a remarkably short time, again through volunteers.
There was so much to see and so many truly interesting artists to meet that I can only concentrate on a couple of rooms which grabbed me on the first evening. I’ll try to let you see the other rooms in later posts.
The marine-coloured strip covering three sides of this room and covered with black spots almost haphazardly grown on them, like patches of moss, revealed itself as a tragic metaphor for the thousands of refugees who chance the highly uncertain sea voyage from war-stricken countries just across the Mediterranean from Italy and instead drown in the deep at the hands of unscrupulous human traffickers.
The painting by artist Anna Darlington of Cembroni will change for both better and worse. Worse, because each day further spots will be added to signify yet more deaths in that terrible sea-change just south of Italy, for better because it will make more and more people aware of the scale of the human disaster that is now occurring so frequently that reactions can almost change to a mere shrug of the shoulders.
The other exhibition room which fascinated me was entitled “Leftovers – Utopia revisited”. Austro-Russian photographer Chris Dematté captured haunting images of sculptures glorifying the progress of socialism into communism in Stalinist and post –Stalinist Russia. Many of these sculptures have either been destroyed or relegated to some obscure statue graveyard.
When in Kiev some years ago we remember the colossal features of Mother Russia which, apparently, has only been saved from the pick-axe not just because of its huge size but because it has become Mother Ukraine in the hearts of so many of its inhabitants when remembering that it was the Ukrainian forces who first marched into Berlin at the end of WWII. Otherwise, so many of these statues are just embarrassments to the cities they inhabit. Such is the price of totalitarianism.
It was interesting to note that an Italian fascist era war memorial statue on the opposite side of the street from the exhibition was spared this fate!
There was, of course, plenty more to see and make one think at the Arts festival. But for me, the great joy was being able to meet the artists and talk to them about their ideas, aspirations, dejections and hopes.
The utopia of a better life in Europe for star-struck refugees now being eaten by creatures of the deep, the utopia of a fully communist state where money would no longer exist, the utopia that a utopia can actually exist……..all vanished in our ever-more dystopic world!
What do we have left on this planet whose shortening life we can almost feel daily in our own blood and bones? Again, the film by Sergio Talenti with the most stunning visual images and deeply reflective commentary spoken by Debora Pioli brought these truly universal preoccupations to mind.
We are no longer strictly alone as a life-planet. 1,400 light years away there’s a place so similar to ours that we could almost intuitively see our other halves there. But 1,400 lights years is still a long time to travel and wait!
Art, the harbinger, the prophet of so many things to come, can travel faster than light, can bring us closer to each other, can make us think more deeply about things, many of which we’ve never really considered, can give us the energy to go forwards, may even give us the strength to save our planet.
These thoughts were rushing through my mind as the twilight closed into night and the beautiful fusion sounds of Mozait, the Italo-Mozambique band, started up in Ponte’s main square before a townscape changed magically into expectation, joy and increasing hope for the future on our own earth’s tortured, beloved, inimitable ambience.
Tonight, Sandra and I will give some readings in the camera oscura room (where Sergio’s film was projected) starting at 7.30 PM. You are all welcome to come along and even write more things on the wall, words which may have inspired you or even troubled you but certainly which have made you think. For the word and poetry have entered this year into the festival for the first time and we would be so happy for you to be there tonight and enter into the dialogue, which, although, largely in English will be explained to those whose first language is Italian. Further events in this room are planned, all of which will be advertised here.
On Monday, for a start there’s another reading with Jenny McIntosh at 7.00 PM.