Fogli e Parole d'Arte – Rosa Gísladóttir ai Mercati di Traiano

Andrea Bonavoglia,
Art Writer

What would an archaeologist of the future say? If in 2000 years a researcher would start investigating our epoch through our daily artefacts, what would his judgment be about our world of plastic, cellophane and concrete?

Plexiglass, Jesmonite, plastic and aluminum are the modern materials used by Rósa Gísladóttir to create the objects which animate the exhibition Like Water Like Gold..., curated by Sabine Frantellizzi in collaboration with the Embassy of Iceland in Italy.

The Embassy aims to promote Icelandic culture and art beyond its borders, as well as to strengthen ties between Iceland and Italy, two worlds at the antipodes of the European continent. The exhibition is being held in the Museum of Trajan's Markets, from June 22 to September 23, in the spaces of the Great Hall and the ancient Via Biberatica.

Rosa Gísladóttir is inspired by an interest in the common or everyday objects that have always been associated with human civilization and evolution. This passion has led her towards a more respectful approach to nature, even when nature is merged with art. Born in Iceland in 1957, Gísladóttir lives and works on her island. Prior to her studies in Manchester from 2000 to 2002, where she completed a Master's degree in Environmental Art, Gísladóttir graduated (1986) from the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, under the supervision of Eduardo Paolozzi, a pioneer of Pop Art sculpture.

Twelve works are presented, in the impressive setting of the geometric forms and symmetries of the architectural antiquities of Trajan's Market The visitor is prompted to reflect on the contrast between the glories of the past and the consumerism of the present, while also considering the continued and cumbersome presence of humans in nature over the succession of the eras:  a challenge to the Present Day, comparing two separate but related worlds.

This reflection begins already with the title that the artist has given to the show:    Like Water Like Gold --- quoting a verse from the Greek poet Pindar (518-438 a. C), which is etched on one of the exhibited works, the Icosahedron:  "Water is best, but gold shines." The phrase reminds us that while gold is beautiful and precious, water is even more so. We could very well live and exist without the first, so dear and sought after, but not without the second. We human beings do not take great care of our water; we obstinately pollute our environment and our water through the use - and abuse - of materials that are toxic for "Mother Earth." 

The Icelandic artist also wishes to address the idea of representing human beings through the types of utensils, both ancient and contemporary, which have always surrounded us, commonly used items such as bottles, vases and lamps. Spotlights are trained on the inattention of people to the environment. First consuming what they really need, they then going on to consume whatever they simply feel like having.   

According to the vision of Gísladóttir, this approach will see archaeologists of the future discovering large masses of plastic objects, clothing and high technology devices - all needing to be catalogued and interpreted. We inhabitants of our planet do not seem to realize that we are what we consume, produce, use and destroy.

When we enter the Great Hall and we find ourselves face to face with objects that represent, in a concrete way, at least part of Gísladóttir's concept. We are first struck by the enormous Kantharos in Jesmonite (Fig. 1). A modern type of stucco, Jesmonite is a pliant and reinforce-able material, very well-suited for simulating other materials. The Kantharos was created in early 2012, inspired by the Kantharos depicted on a bas-relief of 113 AD from the Temple of Venus Genetrix.  The Kantharos is next to the Calix, again in Jesmonite (Fig. 2), which reproduces a detail of the frieze, with griffins and candelabra, of the Exedra of Trajan's Forum of 112 AD.

One of the main compositions in the internal sector of the Museum of the Imperial Forums is the Fossilium, a work composed of a multitude of smaller sculptures made of plaster and aluminum (Fig. 3). With mastery, Gísladóttir arranges them on shelves inside one of the "tabernae" - or taverns - of the ancient Via Biberatica. More specifically, we see the "casts" of ordinary objects of the type we find in our modern-day lives, to be discovered in the archeological excavations of the future.  A visitor taking a closer look will recognize containers of familiar modern products such as iced tea and yogurt, pastry moulds and plastic cups, all of the kind produced in England in 2002 and Iceland in 2012. 

Again in the inside areas, we are witness to a change of materials. The Columna is made entirely of plastic bottles filled with colored water and illuminated with artificial light. The arrangement of the bottles reminds us of the grooves typical of a classical Doric column, with the angles of the drum expressed here in "chiaroscuro", in a way "created" by means of careful lighting. Similar to this, for a second time composed of plastic bottles, is the Ampulla (Fig. 4). Here Gísladóttir proposes a contemporary and larger version of an Alabastron (a small vase for ointments and perfumed oils much in vogue in ancient Rome) conserved in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.  

If we move to the external sector of the exhibition, on the Via Biberatica we are transfixed by three imposing objects in Jesmonite: the first of which is the Scutum, which reflects the type of shields borne by the Dacian soldiers depicted on the bas-reliefs of Trajan's Column (13 A.D.). The second is the Glans, which represents a detail of the patera (ritual plate) supported by one of the caryatids on the portico of the Forum of Augustus (2 B.C.). Last but not least (it must be said) we have the Forma Dulcis, again in Jesmonite and reminiscent of bronze pastry forms discovered in Pompeii.

The culmination of all is the Speculum Temporis (Fig. 4). The artist points out in her description of the work that this is not only a work of art, but also a starting point for thinking about the world around us and our relationship with it. Here is a place where we can lay aside our pride and convictions, come to terms with ourselves and search within. From the high point where the Speculum is placed, we can penetrate the surrounding panorama - the Via dei Fori Imperiali, ancient Rome - and linger over the past. Only after analyzing our actions can we look around again, assume our responsibilities and project ourselves into the future.

The exhibition translates into an imaginary scene, a hypothetical scenario. An archaeologist of the future is faced with excavations that, alongside the impressive remains of the past, bring forth masses of plastic waste, non-degradable, incompatible with nature. The Icelandic sculptress creates objects that are reminiscent of old forms, while using modern materials. With sad irony on the one hand and a witty and lively desire to investigate the future on the other, she rests them on the ground gently, as if they had returned home from a long ideal journey. By re-evoking the forms and utility of everyday objects, the objects are first transformed into anonymously designed monuments and ultimately into bearers of light, coming with the purpose of clarifying our personal vision of the world - past, present and future - constantly in dialogue with each other.

English translation: Madeleine Wulffson