Wallpaper MARCH 11, 2008 - by Sara Manuelli


We caught up with the Italian artist on the eve of the unveiling of his new installation at the Ara Pacis museum in Rome.

Why a collaboration with Brian Eno in Rome?

Brian Eno and I worked together in 1999 with an ambient, site-specific installation at the Round House in Chalk Farm, London. The exhibition featured drawings and terracotta sculptures - about thirty reclining figures and twenty attendant crocodiles called I Dormienti, accompanied by Eno's sound production. We've been wanting to work together ever since. Eno initially was thinking of creating something in the Forum, but we eventually decided for the Ara Pacis.

Your connection to the Ara Pacis is well documented by the six-metre high glittering mosaic that you were commissioned to make in 2000. But why choose the Ara Pacis, rather than a contemporary art museum in Rome such as Macro for an installation?

Richard Meier's building is a prestigious architectural monument that has a special synergy with our work.

It's the only place in the centre of Rome that I find truly speaks the modern language. Since the opening of the Ara Pacis two years ago, it's become incredibly popular attracting large numbers of visitors. Now the area where the installation is placed is set to become a contemporary art space to be used for other exhibitions. Initially it was conceived as an area for archaeological remains, but I think that its function as a new centre for contemporary art will grow.

Is there a running theme in the installation?

The monumentality of Ara Pacis is picked up by the large circular sculpture upstairs, the only piece located next to the Augustus Mausoleum. The circle recalls the geometric shapes that the artist Paolo Uccello employed on some of the warriors helmets in the battle of San Romano on display at the Uffizi in Florence. On the lower ground is a continuous installation of one hundred and fifty casts of shoes, a cast of metal branches with a conjuror's top hat balanced on top as if performing a balance trick and a thirty-five metre long metal train, made of grids and cages in which I placed sleeping bodies and terracotta urns. The white walls carry essential, geometric red patterns as well as some signs made with coal. In a niche metal branches resonate with vibration when touched. They are all punctuations and visual elements of a musical score and lighting that makes it closer to theatre than art.

The connection between historical past and spaces and contemporary art seems to be becoming a recurrent theme of your commissions.

More and more I'm asked to create work within historical contexts or within strong nature settings. Recently I created a twenty thousand square metre scaffolding decoration for the renovation of Modena's famous monument La Ghirlandina. I think it's the first time they've asked an artist to cover up a restoration site rather than resort to an advertising campaign. In Solopaca (near Benevento) I created a blue-grey installation inside the side of a mountain next to a newly built aqueduct. It's part of a process exploring the relationship between architecture, nature and function. With this Ara Pacis installation, the sound and the light creates a point of contact between the ancient Roman sculptures and my work.