ARTIST ROOMS meets Giuseppe Ungaretti

4 Jun 2015

Photographs from ARTIST ROOMS collection included in new edition of poems by Giuseppe Ungaretti. 

If you have never heard about the Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti, Like Leaves in Autumn, edited by Carlo Pirozzi and Katherine Lockton and published by Luath Press, will allow you to approach his works in a rather unique way. The publication features twenty-one poems by Ungaretti selected from the 1931 collection L’Allegria [The Joy], a memorialisation of World War I, alongside as many responses from contemporary Scottish poets, creating an original dialogue across different times and spaces.

ARTIST ROOMS plays a significant role in the book as well. In the readers’ mind, Ungaretti’s poems have the ability to generate a continuous stream of visual representations. Therefore, by choosing twenty-one images of works from the ARTIST ROOMS collection we wanted to make visible these unconscious associations. Such a curatorial approach always implies the risk of being too arbitrary. This is the reason why we decided to follow a couple of rules, for example, limiting our choice to black and white photographs. Some combinations establish a sort of physical correspondence between the image and the poem, such as Robert Mapplethorpe’s portrait of Iggy Pop associated with Ungaretti’s Italy or David Hockney’s yawn (by Mapplethorpe) partnered with Ennui.

Others are meant to be more shocking, puzzling the reader’s expectations: this is the case with Damien Hirst’s With Dead Head associated with Vigil and Charles Ray’s Plank Piece I-II which, when paired with Soldiers, evokes a sort of ‘postmodern’ crucifixion. Some of Anselm Kiefer’s works (Heroische Sinnbilder [Heroic Symbols] and Johannis Nacht gefallene Bilder [The Secret Life of Plants]) have been chosen for their political entanglement with World War II and for their pursuit of an ‘aesthetics of decay’, suggesting visual and historical references.

Francesca Woodman is a key figure in this publication. Her representation of the human being goes hand in hand with Ungaretti’s depiction of a transient humanity. Also, her photographs, such as Untitled (1975-1980) or Eel Series, Roma, May 1977 - August 1978, manifest in a striking way the anxiety of the war and the ‘sensuality’ of memory, pregnant in Ungaretti. The book also features evocative works by August Sander, Douglas Gordon and Bill Viola.

The present publication is part of the project, ‘The Ungaretti Multi-Media War Project’ (UM-MW), led by Carlo Pirozzi (University of St. Andrews), that merges together different artistic practices in response to poems written during the Great War by Giuseppe Ungaretti, one of Europe’s greatest modernist poets. The UM-MW, intended both to commemorate the centenary of World War One and to celebrate the fifty years since Edinburgh and Florence were first twinned, is in partnership with the Italian Cultural Institute and the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh and has the endorsement of Edinburgh City Council and Florence City Council.

Like Leaves in Autumn, having been launched in Edinburgh at both the Talbot Rice Gallery and theHidden Door Arts Festival, will be presented on the 23rd June in Florence at the Basilica di Santa Croce, in collaboration with Florence Unesco Office and Florence City Council.