Art History FSP participates in local Roman art project

by Elise Higgins | 5/12/16 5:59pm

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The art history FSP students were able to help advertise the Roman exhibit.
Source: Courtesy of Nicola Camerlenghi

This spring, Dartmouth students on the art history foreign study program collaborated with renowned artist William Kentridge on one of the largest public projects in Rome since the Sistine Chapel. The art piece, which premiered on April 21, is a gigantic frieze, 500 meters long and 10 meters tall, along the wall of the banks of the Tiber River. Titled “Triumphs and Laments: A Project for Rome,”it was created through the method of selective cleaning of patina, a thin layer of grime, that was growing on the wall of the bank.

Art history professor Nicola Camerlenghi, who is leading the program, was put in touch with organizers of the project through mutual friends. He said the organizers were very eager to have students help out in any way possible. In fact, Camerlenghi said that in addition to Dartmouth students, many other students, especially local ones, were involved, in some cases to a larger degree because they had spent more time in Rome.

Because the art history program involves so much traveling, it was somewhat difficult for the students to take an extremely active role in the project, Camerlenghi said. However, they were able to promote the project through social media.

Camerlenghi said that each student chose a particular scene from the frieze, all of which depicted either triumphs or laments throughout Rome’s history. Then, the students described, analyzed and posted about it online to advertise for Kentridge’s project.

Gina Campanelli ’18, a student on the program, said she was grateful for the learning opportunities her involvement provided her.

“I felt that researching specific images from the frieze really helped me connect both historically and artistically with the work,” Campanelli said.

Due to the medium of the frieze, it will not last forever as moss and plants will eventually grow back on the wall. However, Camerlenghi said that in some ways the temporary nature of the project makes it more special.

“I think there’s something magical about that,” Camerlenghi said. “We know it’s short term and that makes it meaningful.”

John Ling ’17, another student on the program, decided to take an even larger role with Kentridge’s project and volunteer to help organize the logistics for the premier of the frieze.

The frieze’s public opening involved various activities ranging from theatrical and musical performances to silhouette displays on the mural.

Campanelli truly enjoyed the added experiences that the premier offered.

“Seeing the event itself with the play of shadows across the surface and the rhythmic chanting in the background really lent an animated dynamism to the work and created a truly beautiful experience,” Campanelli said.

Ling enjoyed the additional activities at the premier as well. He was very appreciative of simply being able to see the work of art in person because he believes one can learn more by viewing it that way.

Ling said that in previous art history courses his classes went to the Hood Museum to view artworks discussed in class. He valued that experience, so he looked forward to the excitement of being in Rome where he would be able to see other famous works of art. He found working on project like Kentridge’s to be a great opportunity for art history students.

“You get out of it what you put into it,” Ling said of the opportunities that Rome has to offer.

The ephemerality of the project means that another artist can do something new with space in a few years when it turns back into a blank canvas.

The hope is that art projects like Kentridge’s will spur more activity around the Tiber river. Ling noted that there is not as much happening around the Tiber compared to rivers in some other cities.

“Rome’s river has been a silent presence in the city, so this is a most welcome invitation to view the Tiber for what it has always been — the city’s lifeline,” Camerlenghi said. “This art has brought back to life a part of the city that had been forgotten for so long.”

Both Camerlenghi and the students on the program were excited about and proud of the work they did while in Rome.

“Though we are only temporarily in Rome, if we have the opportunity to make this a better place, make it more exciting place, then we should do that,” Camerlenghi said.

Camerlenghi is hopeful that this class has set a precedent that future art history programs will follow.

Ling appreciated the experience and hoped that other students would be able to have similar ones in the future.

“I definitely see this becoming a very meaningful partnership,” Ling said.