Palatine Maps and Abstract Ruin-ness

The Palatine is one of the seven hills of Rome. It is the central-most hill in Rome, rich with history, and one of the oldest parts of the city. The origins of the city began on the Palatine and artifacts that predate the founding of Rome have been excavated there. Its importance cannot be overestimated and yet I came to find a large selection of historical Roman maps rendered the Palatine hill in a vague, ambiguous manner up until the 1600s. The poor rendering of the Palatine hill struck me as metaphorical. The poetics of its poor rendition seemed hold multiple meanings and somehow felt like it connected to my work.

A bit about my recent work: my paintings move between representation and abstraction and depict folded, stacked, and stored blankets intermixed with architectural structural forms such as arches, scaffolds and semi-domes. The forms are rendered ambiguously -- shifting between landscapes, still-lifes, and figurative painting. Within this language of form, I am interested in hidden spaces and dominant spaces. Currently, I conflate the Palatine hill and its palaces with systems of power such as patriarchy.

Looking over the many inaccurate renderings of the Palatine hill, I felt like I was unfolding a hidden place….though what is hidden, I am not sure. Map after map, the hill was never rendered the same way twice. Was this due to the fact that the palaces of the Palatine hill were in ruin? Was it that each draftsperson chose to not look but rather to imagine the ruins? Was it that these ruins were so non-descript that they lead to such vague rendering? I see this as an analogy about how difficult it is to render something that is large and nondescript, with no beginning and no end. A thing that seems to exist yet has no form or shape. It is indefinable and seems infinite. I see a correlation between this and what I think of and render in my work.

While I looked at the maps, I also became interested in this hill as a site for forgetting. Due to their ruined condition and ambiguous forms, the artist had to handle these remnants as abstractions. What to do but to invent what it is? When accuracy is the impetus for the action of map making, what does one create when certainty is an impossibility? From actual form, the map makers render blobs, lumps, and vague wall forms with a few arches, a window-like hole, and even scratchy marks. Instead of looking, they looked to their imagination to make a hint instead of render. It is an act of looking and looking away. Sometimes we go to abstraction to explain the unexplainable or vast.

The act of looking away has its own power and history with this hill. The Flavian Palace, aka Domus Flavia, was built by Emperor Domitian, who, after a long and authoritarian reign was assassinated by his own senate. They quickly decreed that “his inscriptions should everywhere be erased, and all record of him obliterated”. This order is known as a “damnatio memoriae”. With this thought in mind, the fog that surrounds the hill is somehow fitting.  I see similarities between the “damnatio memoriae” decree and my use of the Flavian ruins for my own meaning. I am erasing what was before to make a new association that will mingle with some remnant of the original.

As a way into expressing this idea, I colored and cut up the maps, thus highlighting the ruins’ shapes. Highlighting in a pinkish purple, the resultant ambiguous forms seem hard to fathom, hard to define and hard to control. Forms that were intended to display power and divinity of an absolute ruler are now funny blobs in a cheery pink.

I also made a separate page in which I highlighted the Colosseum in the same color for contrast.  You can see that which is recognizable -- such as the Colosseum with its similarities to a wheel on its side -- is something that is easily remembered and recorded. It is graspable.

As I worked on this image in Photoshop, what I found intriguing is that the ruins of the palace became abstractions of “ruin-ness”, an ideal of that which is a ruin by each artist.  To render a thing that is ambiguous leads to abstracted form. My takeaway from this is that like many things that are ambiguous, the need to avoid a clear rendering (because it is unknowable) is a logical path taken. Your mind becomes a stand in for the real; this stand in is idealized and abstracted. Something about this reminds me of larger ambiguous forms such as patriarchy or systems that seem to shift out of reach and are difficult to know or navigate, let alone to change or eradicate. The history of this ambiguity of rendering the Palatine hill is a precedent that I continue in my work.

References

The Presence of “Damnatio Memoriae” in Roman Art, Lauren Hackworth Petersen, Notes in the History of Art. Vol. 30, No. 2 (Winter 2011), pp. 1-8

Le Piante Di Roma I, II Amato Pietro Frutas, Istituto Di Studi Romani, Proprietà Leteraria E Artista Riservata 1962

Ancient Rome in the light of Recent Discoveries, Rodolfo Lanciani, Benjamin Bloom NY, 1888, 1867

Scotopic Vision and the Hidden Things

The all 6th grade camping trip added a new element to my work. At dusk on a night hike, my youngest child 9 other 6th grades and I sat down with the camp councilor and listen as she talked us though observing our night vision. She had us observe the slowly fading light and to listen to the sounds as these changes happened before our eyes. As the night grew dimmer, our vision changed. What occurred was that our eyes rods began to take over instead of the cones. The eye uses the 3 different cones to see colors, and the one kind of rod that see shades of grey. As the light fades color fades away and is replaced with shades of grey. Details become shapes with a higher contrast than previously seen in the daylight, your eye shifts to pick up on shape and your peripheral vision is heightened. It was fascinating. The councilor had us stair at someone’s face and as we stared at their features they began to faded into a non-descript blob of middle grey tone. Seeing in grey tones after dusk and before pitch black is when this occurs. This is called the Purkyně Effect, and the vision is called Scotopic vision from Greek skotos meaning darkness and -opia meaning a condition of sight.

I really could not believe that I am only now paying attention to this! Everything about this felt relevant to my work. I am interested in this cloak of grey in my work because it is both showing something that is hidden and hiding something that is normally visible. I am adding this effect it my paintings as a new visual element. I am also interested in how it creates a binary between dark and light, it reduces what is before you and heightens the periphery. 

How I found Domitian and the Falvian Palace

First by little blurb from my artist statement: The arch in my work is based on the semi-domes that proliferate the Flavian Palace on the Palatine Hill. These semi-domes were added by Rabirius, the architect for the Emperor Domitian, to project divinity onto the ruler as well as sealing off the space behind him. Here the arched space functioned as a speculative insular and isolating form and was meant to project the ruler’s future divinity. Arches, vaults and domes are in conflict with the folded forms as they represent systems that the forms navigate.

I came across this palace while looking into arches as a form. I became interested in the arch form oddly enough by looking at Florine Stettheimer paintings and her renditions of curtains. It was a coincidence that I came across them on a trip to new York at the Met in the fall of 2016 and they sort of stayed with me. Once my paintings moved up in scale and they became landscape like, the curtains of Stettheimer’s paintings became important to my work. They acted like a screen, a protective covering, a stage facade, a barrier between the view and the viewer and it points to the edge of the canvas.

I began to research the arch in general and came across this lecture by Yale University Professor Diana E. E. Kleiner, who is the Dunham Professor of History of Art and Classics at Yale University, Founding Project Director and Principal Investigator of Open Yale Courses, and former Deputy Provost at Yale, and she is amazing! The lecture series is here.  

 

From this lecture I learned of the Flavian Palace aka Domus Flavia the sits on the Palatine hill in Rome. In her lectures Kleiner explained the operation of the palace semi-domes as forms that were meant to project Domitian's divinity and power. The semi-domes of the Falvian palace became to root of this forms introduction into my work as a stand in for power, protection, patriarchal systems that warp both femininity and masculinity and as forms to project one's will into the future.

 

Below are a few fascinating excerpts from The Architecture of the Roman Empire:

An Introductory, Study by William Lloyd MacDonald.  

 

" ...his policies, though despotic, had a far reaching influence upon architecture, The imperator, once an honored general, was now possessor of ultimate authority, using the ancient title as praenomen. His rank and presumably sacrosanct person required as architecture that broadcast impressions of the majesty he wished to impose upon the world. Splendor, great size, and luxury, though important, were insufficient Novelty alone would not do. It was necessary that the imperial architecture lead, as the imperator presumably lead, that allow him to be seen and thought of in dwelling both unique and pertinent, The was the challenge that Rabirius met.”1

“Within the palace the visual instruments of the new style served those (Domitian’s) claims. Curving surfaces were the key to the matter. The vaulted imitations of the heavenly arc invited­ unbroken continuity of imperial authority was implied, for the embracing surface, free from angles and curving around his person at a consistent distance, suggested his surveillance of the realm from its center.” Apses also firmly directed attention to the seat of power, an effect quickened by the iterated meter of the columns and spur walls that lined the sides of the great halls of state and closed toward the presence framed beneath an arch in the distance. An Apsidal vault over the imperial figure completed this geometry of sovereignty"

I mean, there is so much here for me to use! 

Thinking about these arches, semi-domes and alcoves of the Flavian Palace as forms of Projection for my own uses. 

 

Plein Air Norway and Heaviness

These images are from a week and a half trip to Norway in the early springtime. I was able to bring on the trip a stack of watercolor paper and a large watercolor kit.  I had several days to explore the mountains in Lillehammer and spent the day climbing and painting. Out of this experience,  I found some new visual forms that expressed weight like nothing I have done before. I had also never seen such steep mountains. Everywhere I looked there were waterfalls and these worked away at the rocks, except for when the waterfall was so long that the water simple dissipated into the air before it ever hit the ground.

One mountain trail lied along a waterfall that winded continuously down the mountain, It was this location I painted the waterfalls.

While paintings these works, it became clear that leaving the water blank and unpainted was what needed to be explored. The rendered rock and the absent water.  I saw the water as slowly wearing away at the rock and felt it was a condition that connected to my practice regarding things that are and were, things that are erased. Aside from heaviness, these forms remind me of that which is  unbearable, wild, unrefined, unmanageable, and unstable. 

The scale of this image is deceiving,  look closely at and you will see a  bridge at the center right. Now that is massive. 

The scale of this image is deceiving,  look closely at and you will see a  bridge at the center right. Now that is massive.