Arshake is pleased to present Mariagrazia Pontorno’s I Cieli di Roma. Work in Progress, Special Project #4, accompanied by a critique by Christian Caliandro. This time the banner becomes a window to the artist’s studio or, in other words, it looks directly upon the creative process that will result in I Cieli di Roma (The Skies of Rome), a 3-D work inspired by the Pope’s helicopter ride away from Rome the day he resigned. That flight has become a symbol of our times. Pontorno intends to reinterpret it through a technological filter which – as in all of her works – reallocates it between fiction and reality. The banner gives us a glimpse of and leads us to a space in which the artist shares her reflections, thoughts and images of this work in progress. (Arshake)
The flight of Benedict XVI, right after his resignation, has immediately penetrated the collective imaginary as a kind of classic. The white helicopter flying over Rome has now become a sacred vehicle in and of itself, reconfigured for the occasion and used as the mobile pivot of a tradition invented specifically for an original and unprecedented event.
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The scene does have a precise premise and even the filming style anticipates it: the opening scene of Federico Fellini’s La dolce vita (1960).In the scene, a helicopter is transporting a statue of Jesus; it arrives over the Eternal City, flying above the working-class suburbs where people wave to it from the rooftops of their homes and – in the case of the scene with the bricklayers – from the streets (exactly the way the faithful believers would act 53 years later with their resigning pope). This is a vision that superimposes the two levels of a tradition that is thousands of years old and modernity: with Marcello Rubini, the alter ego of Fellini himself, who – in his very first appearance on film – asks for the phone number of one of the bikini-clad girls taking a sunbath on a rooftop. The movements from 1960 and 2013 are opposite and symmetrical: in Fellini’s world, the statue of Jesus and the helicopter are heading to Saint Peter and the Vatican («But where are you taking him?». «To the Pope!»); in the second trip, the helicopter is transporting the Pope from the Vatican to an outer area of the city and away from his function.
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Mariagrazia Pontorno has isolated and eroded the elements of this journey. The white helicopter becomes an object that is even more metaphysical than the original, an authentic means of spiritual transportation that draws aerial lines over the city’s zones. Rome is not only a physical place but (above all) a psychic and cultural one. In this work, the helicopter and the city undergo two operations of a divergent sign which do not cancel one another out but strengthen one another instead: on the one hand, the dematerializing strength of the digital sign; on the other hand, the viewpoint of the unmanned aerial vehicle that hooks our glance to the city’s landscape and representational places. What we are looking at becomes a carrier, a presence in motion that gives us a glimpse of the fertile nature of the present moment – hooked onto the future as well as onto the past.
What emerges is a panorama that is usually obliterated from common experience and ordinary perception: that of art, in which some of the major institutions are encountering a stage of extreme weakness and fragility. Alongside this system we see another, generally invisible, Rome that is yet woven with reminders and references: suburban Rome of the former outskirts, once so typical to Pasolini and to Rossellini before him. That Rome which no longer has its cultural voice as it waits to be narrated and imagined again – described by Walter Siti as the “Italy which Pasolini sung of in his poem Gramsci’s Ashes only devitalized and deprived of its identity. Between one bordello and another, the Tiburtina district at night with its disembowelment, its demented and corrupt building industry, the shattered glass of shops which had gone adrift and factories no longer in use” (Roma Las Vegas, «la Repubblica», 31 March 2013).