By Mr. TWS
Sweeney and I consider many aspects of our recent trip to Emilia-Romagna especially memorable, including ancient hillside villages rich in history and local culture, and the beautiful, diverse scenery. With an immersion into everyday life, our visit was very much an experience of hidden Italy, far from the more touristy areas of the country. Above all though, it was the people, particularly characterized by the Cameli family, who we felt had adopted us as part of the family in Portico di Romagna.
Portico in Arte (Village of the Artists)
During our stay in Portico di Romagna, we also felt as though we were included as part of the village, one of the primary objectives of “albergo diffuso”. This was particularly apparent during the festival to celebrate both Portico in Arte, a program created by Massimiliano Cameli, and the completion of one of the Portico in Arte projects, Here – Elsewhere, an art exhibition, curated by Matteo Lucca, the project’s artistic director. From June to October, guest artists will be coming from all over Europe to learn about and be inspired by the area’s beauty, history and culture. Portico in Arte’s goal is expanding local art and using it to increase awareness of the village, thus enabling others to enjoy unique aspects of Portico di Romagna about which Massimiliano, his family at Al Vecchio Convento, and village residents are appreciative and impassioned.
Festivities began at 4:00 with a mass at Chiesa della Compangnia, the church directly across Via Roma from the building where Sweeney and I stayed. The small church was filled with locals, some dressed formally and others casually, much as in the U.S.
After the mass, we headed up the nearby stairway to the upper level of the village in the piazza before the Chiesa di Santa Maria in Girone, which was opened in honor of the occasion. The festival continued with kickoff speeches by Massimiliano Cameli, Mirko Betti (Mayor of Portico di Romagna), Here-Elsewhere curator Matteo Lucca, and others in front of of the church and adjacent building that included the Academy Olmo, the Italian language school which also brought people from abroad to Portico di Romagna, and the remodeled apartments where Portico in Art artists-in-residence would be staying and creating their works.
I discovered that I was the only one capturing video of the remarks. Here is a link to the first short video. Massimiliano Cameli Opening Remarks 1 (Italian) You’ll find all six videos on Sweeney’s YouTube Channel.
We knew the festival would be on our last day in Portico, but with the many activities beforehand we didn’t get a chance to really grasp what was coming. Our first hint occurred on the previous day, during our next to last night in Portico, when we were treated to a surprise preview of one of the art installations. We had just finished our dinner in the restaurant at about 11:30pm when Massimiliano and his mother, Marisa, rushed to our table and said: “Come! Follow us! It’s a surprise!” Somewhat bewildered, we hopped up and followed them, nearly running down the steep, narrow street next to the hotel. We came to the river and headed across the Ponte della Maestà (Majesty Bridge), an old stone, steeply-inclined bridge over the Montone River. As we reached the peak, we saw the bright blue neon lights atop the tiny chapel at the foot of the bridge, the site of artist Luca Freschi’s Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet. We met the artist there and he exuberantly explained his work, mostly in Italian, so we were happy that Alessandra Catania, our Italian blogger host, was there to translate. It was an exciting and very special way to kickoff the events to come.
Here-Elsewhere is a Portico in Arte exhibition of five artists whose works were created in various key locations of the village. Instead of trying to interpret the art or put the descriptions in our own words, I thought it best to mostly quote the program and the words of Matteo Lucca, the curator of the exhibition, to better convey his and the artists’ intents as we show you the installations in the photos below. (There may have been a bit lost in the translated program we were provided).
From the program: “Here and elsewhere are meant to be a condition of being. Here is being in the present, in the places of everyday routines in Portico. Elsewhere is the way out of that condition; it is the world to which the art brings you.”
Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet by Luca Freschi
“Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” is a song by a London tramp which inspired a piece by Garvin Bryars. The lyrics go on: “there’s one thing I know, “cause He loves me so”. The shelter is in the heart, in the spirit of a man who has nothing anymore and finds his home in faith. Luca Freschi celebrates and exalts it, with a kitsch, extravagant, baroque splendour. A small church called ‘Oratorio delle Visitazioni’ is decorated and prepared for a celebration. It is livened up by a subtle, catchy fanaticism. It highlights and stresses the popular dynamics, uses and habits through excess, but we are fooled by the appearance: a common loneliness in disguise dwells underneath that splendour. Inside the chapel contains the work itself: a collection of objects filled with meaning that tell, as a journal of memories, the sad story of a forgotten existence. Yet, as stated by Gavin Bryars, that song remains “eloquent even though little proof of his spirit and optimism”.
Cloud by Ana Hillar
Located in a narrow alley, tunneled between the ancient buildings, is “Cloud”. From the program: “Ana Hillar’s nests draw on nature, reinventing it, as if to question if they are real or not. Nature is bizarre and creates possibilities which appear fantastic and impossible to us in order to survive… We are facing a cluster of suspended light, delicate cocoons, whose amalgam creates a ‘Cloud’… In the cocoon there is a sense of unexpressed power, which is getting ready to surface, looking at this potential we feel that sense of the sublime from the Romantic era, which both seduces and threatens.”
If You Want, I’ll Build Your House by Elena Hamerski
From the program: “Elena Hamerski relates to a world of affection and hidden intimacy, which is that of the bed sheets… Her obsessive research is one of being in ourselves. The nest becomes the symbol of a warm place for her, of the bedroom where she can find her privacy. Elena builds her nest…, she does so by tearing her sheets apart then putting them back together in order to give shape to something new. She does this by imitating birds and the way they build, as if she needs to escape by flying away. There is an obsessive research in her art, which seems unable to find release, It is as if, in her neurotic action, she was not allowed to stop and dwell. Those nests are uninhabited, they are clean sheets. The shelter is a condition which searches and creates, yet where the artist cannot stay.”
Synapse by Erich Rurroni
From the program: “The refuge within the self and spirit is projected outside. We need to identify and define ourselves with images, thanks to which we understand our nature. We need a ’mirror’ which allows us to project outside of ourselves an inside which we can merely perceive. Projecting our ’here’ in an ‘elsewhere’ in front of us. The dialogue with ourselves is through breath, whose exhale, in Synapse by Erich Turroni is like a line of smoke, drawing an expanding heart. The synapse is a structure that allows communication between nerve cells, with other similar cells, or which different kinds of cells. To understand the nature of our heart, we need to express it. We are in the garden dedicated to Dante’s Beatrice at the foot of the tower. It is inevitable to think that that exhale, which becomes the heart, is a declaration of love. In Erich, there is an ongoing debate between opposites: between inside and outside, between heavy and light, full and the void, the said and the unsaid.”
Sign by Oscar Dominguez
From the program: “If it were a riddle, Here-Elsewhere would result in the river. This path turns out to be the story of a river that tells the incessant becoming of life. “Do you hear?… listen carefully!…can you hear?” They are the words that Vasudeva speaks to Siddhartha across the river: ‘In that hour Siddhartha ceased fighting against his fate, at that time he suffered no longer. The serenity of knowledge, which no longer counteracts any will, bloomed on his face, the knowledge which understands perfection, which is in agreement with the river of becoming, with the current of life, a knowledge that is full of compassion and sympathy, docile to the flow of events, adhering to Unity.’ (Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse)”
“Oscar Dominguez gives us a sign, a cut suspended over the landscape, like an arrow which opens a gap and leads us to our shelter. Like the simple and shrewd words of Vasudeva, he puts us in a condition of hesitation, to observe and listen to the river. He makes something happen which opens a gash on reality.”
Local Arts and Crafts
Another key component of the Portico in Arte is the sponsorship of several local craftspeople to demonstrate and display their trades (and in some cases enable guests to experience and learn them). Along the streets of the village, shop owners, artists, craftspeople opened their doors to show their wares and talk to visitors.
Although limited by our knowledge of each other’s language, I enjoyed meeting the village blacksmith. Though his workshop was outside the village, he proudly displayed his art in this shop and was more than happy to show me around as he highlighted his favorite pieces. His art varied from pure display to functional pieces.
The chances to try various crafts and new activities were highlights of our trip. Sweeney got to try her hand at weaving using hand-built frames. It is a challenging craft, but under Guiliana’s instruction, Sweeney was able to produce a woven necklace; but more importantly, she gained appreciation for the difficulty and skill level of the craft.
Guiliana shared her shop with several artists whose works that cover the walls were diverse and intriguing.
Dinner and dancing
The Cameli’s moved their restaurant dining room to the main street of Via Roma for a special dinner in honor of Portico in Arte. The meal was elegantly-prepared and wonderfully presented, and the setting was magical as darkness fell and the lights made the street glow.
Then we made our way to Borgo Piano for live music and dancing, a perfect ending for this day of experiencing art and village life.
In other posts, we’ve noted special things about the Cameli family, including the many talents and varied duties of the brothers, Massimiliano and Matteo. So I wasn’t surprised to see Massimiliano join the band at about midnight with his guitar — he was great!
Another key aspect was the Cameli family’s boundless energy. So it also didn’t surprise me to see Marisa at midnight, after a long day of managing the inn and restaurant, participating in the festival, and her other many activities to be among the small group of people dancing in the street.
Our thanks to the Associazione Internazionale Alberghi Diffusi, the Cameli family and the people of Portico di Romagna for making our Portico in Arte experience so special.