Historic preservation is often a dry topic, with a large focus on regulations and conservation. Here, we take an experimental approach towards preservation, investigating architectural memory through travel, documentation, and speculative drawings.
The Art of Memory was a collaboration with Yichen Jia, made possible by the 2018-2019 Robert James Eidlitz Travel Fellowship. It was exhibited in NYC and MIT, and published in book form.
Sited in four Italian towns that have been indelibly changed by natural disasters, this project explores the notion of architectural memory. Across Pompeii, Catania, Poggioreale, and Gibellina, each town embodies a unique approach towards destruction and preservation. The ‘perfectly’ preserved ruins of Pompeii are set against the bustling capital of Catania, the ghost town of Poggioreale, and the crumbling modernist art installations of Gibellina.
The Art of Memory was exhibited at the Cornell AAP NYC Studio from September 9 - 15, 2019, with an opening reception held on September 9. It was subsequently exhibited at MIT's Rotch Library from January 27 - March 31, 2020, with a public tour on February 20, 2020.
“A locus is a place easily grasped by the memory, such as a house, an intercolumnar space, a corner, an arch, or the like. Images are forms, marks or simulacra (formae, notae, simulacra) of what we wish to remember.” — Frances Yates, The Art of Memory
Pompeii and Catania have been dramatically destroyed by the volcanic eruptions of Mount Vesuvius and Mount Etna respectively: while Pompeii was buried and frozen in time by volcanic ash, Catania was rebuilt time and time again with lava stone.
On the other hand, Poggioreale and Gibellina were smaller hilltowns destroyed by the same 1968 earthquake through the Valle del Belice. While Poggioreale was abandoned as a ghost town, Gibellina was transformed into a major art installation and its occupants relocated to a newly-built modernist dream town, Gibellina Nuova.
Six digital models are displayed in front of the six speculative posters in augmented reality (AR), and can be viewed through the two iPads available in the gallery.
The Art of Memory is sited in four Italian towns, all of which have been indelibly changed by natural disasters: Pompeii, Catania, Poggioreale, and Gibellina. Twelve selected sites distill the experience of a twelve-day trip across these towns, presenting documentation, analysis, and interpretation through visual, textual, and digital artifacts.
As a way of documenting our twelve-day trip, we each produced twelve drawings and twelve corresponding haikus, one for each day. These twenty-four haikus and drawings capture the immediacy of our travel experience. Short, provocative, and whimsical, these visual and textual reflections are both artifacts from the trip and starting points for further exploration. They have been revised and updated since our return, and are accompanied by twelve maps tracing our daily travel route.
In the tradition of gravestone rubbing and surrealist frottage, our thirty rubbings of sites from Sicily to Naples form a catalog of textures, lifted from their context and flattened into the mark-making of drawing.
A form of automatic production, archaeological fragments, and reverse printmaking, these patterns record a physical and geographical displacement from their original sites. They are accompanied by on-site photos and descriptions.
Drawn after our trip, these six sets of architectural illustrations speculate upon six sites, each representative of a possible future scenario of preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, or reconstruction. How might these complex, historical places age; might they experience a rebirth, or perhaps an afterlife?
"Preservation focuses on the maintenance and repair of existing historic materials and retention of a property’s form as it has evolved over time. Rehabilitation acknowledges the need to alter or add to a historic property to meet continuing or changing uses while retaining the property’s historic character. Restoration depicts a property at a particular period of time in its history, while removing evidence of other periods. Reconstruction re-creates vanished or non-surviving portions of a property for interpretive purposes."
— U.S. Department of the Interior, Four Approaches to the Treatment of Historic Properties
A compilation of our project is available in book form on Blurb. The 330-page book contains extended write-ups on our twelve selected sites, as well as unpublished sketches from our trip, in addition to everything else displayed in the exhibition. We are selling this book at cost price, and it can be ordered directly here.
Two posters were printed as postcards for the exhibition.
We would like to thank Cornell AAP for the privilege of the Eidlitz Travel Fellowship, Jeffrey Blanchard and Annalisa Maione from Cornell in Rome for their help with trip planning, as well as Bob Balder and Brooke Moyse at AAP NYC and Kai Alexis Smith at MIT for their indispensable help with our exhibitions. Endless thanks to Onam for plotting for us, and to Inez, Hanxi, Judy, Joyce, and Sam for helping with setting up. A big thank you to Joyce for photographing our opening reception. We extend our heartfelt appreciation to Passage to Sicily, the Poggioreale Antica Association, and our Airbnb hosts, Roberta, Franco, and Carmine, for showing us around their beautiful part of the world. A special thank you to DBOX for supporting Charisse’s extended time off for the trip. We deeply thank our family and friends for their invisible, emotional labor, and for their unending support.