by Edgar Honetschläger and Rosanna Albertini
Conversation between an Austrian wanderer from Vienna and an Italian native who lives in Los Angeles
PHOTOS OF ITALY by Edgar Honetschläger
EH This is my Italy. You might see it like a dream world, but this is the Italy my eyes see. Japan was dreamland too for me: Tokyo, or the breathtaking countryside, never appeared real to me. Ghosts and spirits everywhere, and people who believed in them. I guess the two cultures are strong enough to allow it.
The beauty I encountered was almost unfathomable: the intact landscape, the colors. Flowers blooming all over, butterflies, birds everywhere. At Bolsena lake the water played all the blues of the scale, then the rain came and the isola Bisentina vanished within minutes. For a while the lake looked like the sea, with no end to it.
RA Not the usual images of Italy. They are thick and secret, a texture of vegetable history intertwined with ruins, fountains, grottos that are for ghosts, figments of our mind. Impenetrable walls of plants: one can play with them in a reversed metamorphosis: unraveling our body through branches and leaves that are as hungry as the three-headed dog the Romans called Cerberus. Lost in Central Italy’s greenness, I was never able to separate mythological images, or the Etruscan smile, from valleys looking as if time hadn’t passed and ancient eyes could look at me from open caves pierced into the mountains.
But, it’s real landscape, not a dream.
EH To me it is a dreamland: I’ve always seen Italy exactly as in these photos since 1999; I went down to Italy regularly. I guess I make it that way as I do not like reality. I am simply not willing to live in a purely empiric, rational, only driven-by-science world. That’s my privilege as an artist. I embrace all things that cannot be seen: the birds that twitter their hearts out, the spirits in trees, the ANIMA, the animistic that is only to be felt, the alchemia of a seemingly untouched landscape that mankind has formed over milleniums with respect for all creatures so desperately needed to keep a natural equilibrum.
People I met there are outstanding individuals, the landscapes pure and virgin like churches and medieval houses positioned as if Leonardo da Vinci was looking at them, no change. People more courteous than in most European countries: for me Italy is the last refuge in Europe, Italians are simply more humane.
Therefore your reaction shows me that one only gets to see and experience what one wants to see…
RA I’m so distant from you: old stones and medieval churches are paradoxical sites to me: elegant, calm and harmonious, often shiny with gold and painted decorations. I’m only grateful that the rain of time washed away all the blood spread by centuries of violence. Italy has been invaded more than any country in the world. Clearly, I try to justify our misfortunes. That’s why we are kind, but with sparkles under the ashes. Your images, therefore, are true to the place more than you believe. They are the wild, secret face of Italy. My Italy for sure.
My dear friend, this is morning rumbling of my brain. Tell me please: how do you think in German language? Is it visual thinking?
See, when I think in Italian, Americans say it’s poetic language, and I laugh, for I do know we think and speak in a strange Italian way: animistic, metaphors are instinctive, idiomatic. It’s a primitive manner to feel like an ant among ants, a tree among trees, human animals among all the animals of the world. Think of Francesco’s Cantico delle creature, sister moon and the stars, brother wind and the air. And, if you can, follow me through idiomatic expressions in which I see the deep irony of an agricultural country forgotten and abandoned in these days. Yet, it is stuck in our words and sculpted in our minds.
Piove sul bagnato
Ha mangiato la foglia!
Che cosa aspetta / Forse di candire?
Ci resto di sasso
Ammazzo il tempo
Cercando il pelo nell’uovo
It rains on the wet
She ate the leaf!
What is she waiting for / To dry up like a candy?
I react like a stone
And I kill time
Looking for a hair in the egg
EH Oh, German is a philosophical language and a very political one. No other language I know can pin down a fact so well.
Japanese is fuzzy, it is like the food. There is no center in Asian food many small dishes, no climax, like their stories: you have space to think and make up your mind.
German language is not very visual.
There is quite a difference whether you grew up with HÄNSCHEN KLEIN or HUMPTY DUMPTY, the surreal element is missing. I grew up with the latter.
For German speakers Italy is the land of dreams: Goethe [Johann Wolfgang von Goethe] gave us something to look for: while doing research in Sicily for my movie Il mare e la torta, [The Sea and the Cake] I realized that Goethe had visited Taormina and had painted the Greek theater in a watercolor (the same theater is in one of Woody Allen’s movies). Looking into tourism catalogues from the German speaking world, it’s impossible not to notice that the photos taken are exactly the same angle —more or less replicas of Goethe.
In other cultures, promotion about Taormina looks different. Leoluca Orlando [ Mayor of Palermo] once told me: “Goethe did good and bad for us at the same time; he brings us tourists still today, but they come with a preconception.”
RA But Goethe*, humane as he was, understood the modern world in its early beginnings and still enlarges our perception of it. Look at this, he could have joined John Cage: (please forgive my lack of chronological faith, I learned it in the eighteenth century.)
“We find that in observing objects our attention takes on a definite direction, that scattered data can be learned and retained more easily by comparison, and that in art we can in the end rival nature only when we have learned, at least in part, her method of procedure in the creation of her works.”
John Cage used to call it “her manner of operation.” And his own manner was not far at all from some of Goethe’s wishes:
“Everything is subject to constant change, and when things cannot coexist, they thrust each other aside. The same goes for knowledge, for practical training, for modes of representation and for precepts. Man’s objectives always remain very much the same; men still wish, as they always did, to be good artists and good poets. But the means by which these objectives are to be attained are not apparent at all, and there is no denying that nothing could be more agreeable than achieving something important without really trying.”
Isn’t it what you did with your photos?
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Introduction to the Propyläen, 1798 in Goethe on Art, edited by John Gage, University of California Press, 1980