A Crisis of Identity, a Crisis of Faith
Today we went to the EUR, the business financial district of Rome, and also the most “modern” and car-based culture in Rome. It stands for Esposizione Universale di Roma, which was slated to happen in 1942 to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Fascism in Italy, but never did because of the second World War. Although the buildings in EUR were commissioned to a variety of architects, they ended up looking very much the same. Get ready for a lesson in Fascist Architecture 101.
Continuing the discussion on day 5, modernism in Italy did not completely adopt the style of flat roofs and long horizontal windows. Instead, it tried to avoid historical reference while still respecting the context of a strong history by keeping forms like columns and arches but eliminating any sort of ornamentation from them. Where there is a break
aesthetic – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – meaning
between aesthetic and meaning. The result is a lost-looking concrete and steel architecture that, when blown out of scale in order to proportion itself to the power of Fascism, was not only void of reference, but of feeling. See Italian surrealist/pittura metafisica artist Giorgio de Chirico for art historical adjacency.
trans·mi·grate (trns-mgrt, trnz-)intr.v. trans·mi·grat·ed, trans·mi·grat·ing, trans·mi·grates1. To migrate.2. To pass into another body after death. Used of the soul.
The EUR deals with scale in a different way than in Vatican City. While both are completely at an un-human scale, the EUR not only does it with it’s buildings but with it’s approaches. We were warned that walking from one point to the other would appear near but actually be far, but we also experienced this in an accidental way by walking 7 km to the wrong church on a highway. That aside, tiredness, six lane highways, sedans and suits, square columns, and a reading presented by Rosa on memory made me feel more than a bit empty inside.
I had a bit of a crisis of faith and identity today. And for this reason, I think this was one of the most interesting days in Rome, because usually people talk about spatial affect only when it refers to beauty: the joy you feel when you walk in an elaborately decorated church or your childhood home. That the EUR can make you feel uncomfortable to the point where you question your own existence is even more powerful. I wasn’t left with a lot of conclusions after today: mostly questions.
Why did modernism fail, on an international level and specific to Rome?
Why did it result in the cars and suburbs and keyholes that we see today?
Why do we keep a record of our family histories, do they matter, what what does it mean that I do not exist in my written history?
What happens then to people that have never existed in any?
Why do we build objects that fail to bring us joy?
What use is it to strive together for something beautiful in a world where one terrifying power can end it?
What of individual creativity in a world where we are constantly asked to give to others?
I took an unopened pinecone from the EUR. It sits on my mantle reminding me that even when all you can see for miles and miles makes you want to shake your head, you look down. There is new life waiting to spring forth, with the scent of gin and the vitality of a hundred year old tree.
A Poem for the EUR:
Distance of scales, Scales of empathy of distrophy weighing.
Third Rome, a Fourth.
A secular god to a Fascist religion.
Where is the Temple to Human Spirit now?
That is to stand when we are forgotten.
Non-descript among the leaves of our families’ trees.
This is why we remember.
I will find meaning in everything I do.
The song I listen to when I have days like this: