Sunday, May 20, 2012

How to Turn a Map into a Fable. Disorientation, Arbitrary Framing, Monochrome and Trees.

Yesterday I got fabulously disoriented at Villa Arconati, just by the town of Bollate, some 12km north-west of Milano. It happened with a map in hand, in part, thanks to the map and in part as a reaction to it.

The spatial context is not the cause, but certainly an aspect of this little travel. Considering that there is still no Wiki page about it available in English, I will write down some basic information about the Villa. It was built in the 17th century around a village nucleus and a church. Its primary author was Count Galeazzo Arconati, an illustrious art collector at the period. How Villa looks like at present day is a result of modifications and expansions implemented by Count Antonio Arconati, through works starting from year 1742. In this renewal process, the Villa got its late-Baroque façades, and its grandiose garden was remodelled from an Italian style one into a French garden of purest sort. The splendour of Villa is beyond description, even though it is in a state of relative abandon for some time, and only occasionally is open to the public. Thanks to this neglect, the charm of well conserved frescoes, combined with dusty pavements and curtains is irresistible. But, the Villa's most outstanding feature is its state-of-art garden, boasting numerous fountains, berceaux, an orangerie, an aviary, statues, disposed along three principal axis: a west-east one stretching from the east façade of the Villa, and two parallel north-south axis.

Having in mind this brief description, it is not difficult to imagine the Villa as a wondrous backdrop for a contemporary art event combined with a performative art festival, Festival UP_nea’12– Suburbian Fabula. The poetic title suited the event well, as both visual and performing artists tried to imbue fabulous atmospheres. Visual art works were created as in situ works, so all of them engage in some sort of dialogue with the Villa, mostly with its interiors, where the majority of works was exposed. Some of the works managed to blend or even to camouflage with the stately, but decaying, interiors, becoming, thus, parts of an imaginary collection from the 17th century, slightly avant-gardish for the period but still not entirely impossible. Other works were scattered around the garden, though in rather obvious places, in the middle of piazzas, around a fountain, at the very beginning of a principal lawn. On the other hand, performers, too, mostly used villa's interiors, but also the grand fountain and a handful of other, more remote from the villa, garden places. One of the pieces ingeniously nested itself in the middle of a grove using it as a womb-like architecture. At the same moment, around the central area of the garden diverse strange creatures could be noticed crawling among the bushes or appearing along the alleys. Apart from this, my overall feeling was that art works and performers could have tried to enter in closer contact with the majestic garden.

Still, there was this other object that did that kind of work. At the entrance, the spectators were given maps of the event. The function of the map was to inform the visitors about the times and to indicate the places of the performances, as well as the sites of visual art pieces. This primary scope this piece of paper performed rather well, but, it did something more subtle and subterranean, too.

Drawing based on Up_nea'12 map.
At this point I shall return to the beginning. In order to plan my voyage to the Villa, as it is well beyond Milan's urban circle, I resorted to Google Maps. As I could reach Bollate by train, I printed a map how to get from the train station to the Villa, which is a two kilometre walk mostly through open fields. Eventually, I caught up with friends and we went there by car, naturally directed by a smoothly talking GPS device. Anyway, I bore in mind quite well the disposition, or better said, the orientation, of the Villa on the map I printed, or, at least, I thought so. When we arrived, the access drive, with its two lines of trees ending at the foot of the principle west façade of the Villa, had such a strong geometric and visual impact on my perception that I assumed that this axis must be south-north line. The sheer power of Baroque geometries can really be deceiving. I interpreted the ingress in Villa as oriented south. Instead, it faces west, so I already rotated my compass for 90 degrees clockwise. At the entrance, when I was given the event's map, which you can see above and find here, it disoriented me still further. For unknown reasons, most probably merely for the sake of print layout, the vertical axis of the map is disposed in south up-north bottom direction, basically upside down, so the front façade looks eastward. Therefore, this 180 degrees declination for me happened in two steps of 90 degrees, but the result was the same. I did not consciously perceive any of these two axis displacements, but I felt subtly but decisively bewildered gazing at Up_nea map.

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