The other side of the studio

Visiting artist Judith Geichman has been here for the last two weeks and I offered her a wall in my space for an informal open studio this afternoon, before she leaves Rome tomorrow morning. And after dinner several of us came back upstairs to continue the art party. The 28 scene-shapes she’s created on paper are like a gorgeous alphabet of roman colors and associations, and I was lucky to spend time with her (and her work).


Nero Magazine

If I could make a magazine right now it would be this one. Download PDF of #25 (including among many wonderful things @AmAcadRome fellow Fritz Haeg’s mid-life-crisis wiki-diary). And check out the artists’ lists, page 113.


Peter’s chains

Each one is a study, a map, a region. A folio of regions: rioni. Like a rebus, emerging puzzle pieces. I don’t know the complete story yet, but I’m starting to see the shapes. Language too.


Roman Fever


“Useful Hints” from Rambles in Rome, S. Russell Forbes, 1895

  • Avoid bad odours.
  • Do not ride in an open carriage at night.
  • Take lunch in the middle of the day. This is essential. It is better to take a light breakfast and lunch, than a heavy breakfast and no lunch.
  • No city in the world is so well supplied with good drinking water as Rome. The best is the Trevi water. Do not drink Aqua Marcia; it is too cold.
  • If out about sunset, throw an extra wrap or coat on, to avoid sudden change in the atmosphere. There is no danger beyond being apt to take a cold. Colds are the root of all evil at Rome.
  • Do not sit about the ruins at night. It may be very romantic, but it is very unwise. There is no harm in walking.
  • Close your windows at night.
  • If you get into a heat, do not go into the shade or into a building till you have cooled down.
  • Do not over-fatigue yourself.
  • Follow these hints, and you will avoid that great bugbear, Roman fever.

“A hint on the spot is worth a cart-load of recollections.” — Gray


Loose focus

Working in Rome is difficult. Two weeks in: I’m enjoying it immensely but it’s a kind of challenge that I barely get to experience back home. That’s a very good thing: it’s the reason I’m here. It’s about directing a path, and being open to how the path directs me. It requires a kind of “loose focus.” Does that make sense? It’s about understanding what’s not important, and remaining completely open within a limited zone of attention.

So I’m trying to listen to cues and clues that reveal themselves to me as I explore the city. One experience leads to another, and I’m reacting with thoughts, images and posts here. Artifacts. I guess these posts are becoming the work, really.

The geometry of the Pantheon (security of place) brought me to St Peter’s bones (impossibility of place), and then to his chains and Freud’s cinematic musings, and now I find myself staring at these. Symbols representing the 22 Rioni (regions) of Rome (14, under Augustus).

In 1744 “Count Bernardino Bernardini was given the task of regularizing the neighborhood borders by Pope Benedict XIV Lambertini.” (Good analysis here. The symbols are actually keyed into the borders of the Nolli plan.) Bernardini ordered 220 plaques placed along the borders or the districts. The locations of the marble plaques are documented in a plan produced by Nolli’s son, Carlo, right here in the Academy’s library, as well as the twelve folded leaves of plates that comprise the 1748 “Nuova typografia di Roma.” Thrilling to think that these historic artifacts are across the street, available to me 24/7.

Districts defined by borders, borders marked by names and symbols. Semiotic traces that inscribe deep into the history of this place: dragon, pine cone, moon, sword, lion, bridge, griffin, amphorae, angel, wheel, hill, column, etc. Time to go look for these plaques.


Freud’s Moses

Study at San Pietro in Vincoli



Basilica studies

I returned to St. Peter’s today. My third visit. I’m struggling with the idea of the hidden tombs below the floor, buried within Vatican Hill, exposed (but not) to the east (the Niche of the Pallia), centuries of other shrines and altars burying it, encasing it. Rising floor levels. The paradox that the thing that is there (Peter’s bone fragments, body, faith) can’t be seen or experienced. The thing that is there, both there and not there.

Like the “scavi” images from yesterday, I’m seeing these studies as maps. Graphic images to document the place. Because I took the necropolis tour on Monday, I know the relative position of the hidden tombs, where they’re located beneath the floor inside the basilica, and in elevation as one approaches up the Vatican slope. This is my documentation.

I went up into the dome today too, to look down on it.

But I can’t photograph “it.” The story is written: burning curiosity, discovery, mistakes, Popes, holes, inscriptions, the red wall, the missing feet, the coins, the mouse. I was determined to find the surface or the object that would allow me to fix on the place but I’m coming up with nothing.

Then I saw the people. Moving all around me — blocking, gesturing, approaching. “Do this in memory of me” — bodies still activate the puzzle. Desire lines. The perfect paradox. The stand-in for the unknowably sacred: complete obstruction. Film stills from a film that can’t be seen. Title: Anamnesis (here and here).



Pantheon studies.