What a grand way to be introduced to an ancient (and modern) epicenter of ideas – the city of Rome. Navigating the basalt cobblestone streets I drifted to thinking about a quote from a lecture by IDSVA Visiting Faculty Ewa Ziarek where she says, “artist-philosophers are militants of the impossible.” Conflict of possibility can be felt in Rome and as such, it is a most appropriate gateway to the IDSVA Topological Studies Italy Residency of 2015.
First, one must acknowledge the great privilege of going on walkabout through Rome with IDSVA’s Director, Dr. Simonetta Moro, whose deep knowledge of the city and its history of ideas is shared with a profound sensitivity – mapping the overlap of ancient and modern arts. I recall asking, what are blast-looking divots on the walls of the Coliseum? (Suggesting that the logical answer was that they were the result of any number of invasions). Nope, the whole thing was jeweled. Jeweled? Sì, replied Simonetta. As it turns out, most of the arches in Rome as well as the entire Coliseum were originally encrusted in the decadent treasures of war. Jeweled! This quick lesson was my introduction to the invisible archive.
When topological studies are at their best, the world around us illuminates becoming a timeless text revealing one’s previously unknown questions. Famously, Sigmund Freud when viewing the walls of Rome in the late 1800’s, asked, what if the human mind were built like these walls, each concealing the remnant structure of a psychic apparatus? I’d love to tell you that walking through the Pantheon and observing columns selectively rebuilt into fragmented monoliths, that I was struck with an equally great Freudian impression. Perhaps not, but experiencing the impossible conflict of Rome begins to ignite the seed of such a fire.
We rightfully pause at the invention of mortar and concrete, but how can we observe these walls with a sublime-struck gaze that we overlook the very nature of their construction?
Jacques Derrida shows where one might plant such a question in his work Archive Fever, by saying, “there is no archive without a place of consignation, without a technique of repetition, and without a certain exteriority. No archive without outside.” Is what remains the repetition of monolith or of the microlith? The Brick, an unconcealed remnant, can be seen propping up the great remains of being.
This Brick, this Roman brick, is the building block of the Roman Arch(e) – a curved construction that is repetition’s gateless gateway – bound in the strength of balance between the history of invention, domination, and is the visible footprint of a centuries-weathered soldier’s (or slave’s) path. What of the mountains of terra cotta bricks we look past? This ceramic scale is an awesome wonder that, like the Roman solider, has no historical rival. The sheer magnitude and volume of clay, life, and labor is an ever-present fire within these walls of Rome.
The Brick is the dormant ceramic superstructure of the arch(e) and as an archive, it warrants further investigation and maybe-just-maybe a post-IDSVA book or long paper while on return to the great city of Rome during a Rome Prize Fellowship.