Alberto Albertini : THE ISLAND

A L B E R T O   A L B E R T I N I

THE ISLAND

The island of the dead that our imagination is incapable of figuring out. Alberto found his island in photographs he took of a nineteenth century cemetery lost in the Lombardy woods, and in those of the small cemetery of Besano, the village where he grew up, which was also my nest. 

The first imaginary steps of Alberto and myself towards a painted Island are  In A Scent of Afterlife, another text  published in this blog, in which Alberto wonders about his attraction to a painting by Arnold Böcklin’s, The Isle of the Dead, an image he had seen reproduced in a certain unidentified book, one undetermined year of his ninety-three years of life. I wish him more. RA

 https://albertini2014.wordpress.com/2019/02/18/alberto-albertini-a-scent-of-afterlife/

All the photographs are by Alberto Albertini

 The island of the dead comes back. I wanted to go there, but they have closed the borders. The image comes back often, I can’t remember where this story began. I was convinced it was in an art book I mentioned to you, but there are no traces of it. Now I am thinking I could find something, maybe, in the old encyclopedia I believe is still at the family house, in Besano. They are five or six volumes … I won’t do it!

I was moving foreword in a gigantic and thick pinewood. The light dimmed, and silence was blocking the rustling of my steps. In a little while I would be lost among trunks impossible to distinguish from one another. I was seeing the island of the dead very far away, some shadows were moving, I thought they were real, over there, down there. It’s dark now, I can’t see space, space can be infinite, everything or nothing could be in that space, can’t see, I can only imagine but I don’t, why? I’m there and around me there is  everything I would like to define, to want  and desire, but I can’t grasp it … as well as the wondering shadows … a sensation inside my body, that’s the big mystery! The brain’s magnetic force fails, no transmission anymore. I can’t complain. Energy around me is the same that leaves me. Maybe I enter infinity. 

In the end, does it matter? Thinking of death is not what worries those who for some reason —often their age— are afraid they must begin the landing … no, it’s rather the unreal pause of sensations before the journey begins. It’s a world of its own that remains undefined, whose origine stems from childhood’s anxieties caused sometimes by legends, as the Valkyries’ legend, first sign of erotic buds: they were riding horses naked, says the legend. Or else the anxiety was produced by grisly stories of the afterlife, not to mention my withdrawn character. With hindsight, those stories were not that terrifying, at least in fragments preserved by the collective memory. In their narrative the dead, after all, were slightly human, lively and familiar. I find them touching because of their hard work finding the right solution in a context that will reach us as a story. 

Only late in the night a woman has the time to wash the sheets at the public washhouse. It’s dark and she doesn’t see that someone else is there, also washing … After rinsing, the woman must wring out the sheets to get rid of the water and asks the other person for help: one person is necessary at each end of the sheet. While the woman wrings, she realizes the other cannot do the same twisting in the opposite direction: where is the strength of your hands? She asks. Approaching to see better who the person is, she becomes aware the other is a skeleton!

Bored by the old people’s talk, mostly gossipy, the girls stayed aloof from participating. They didn’t always want to talk about boys, or impossible stories. After a few years of elementary school, parents liked better to take them away from the classrooms; they were more useful hoeing potatoes or putting the kitchen in order. Church and cemetery were their only possibility to go out. The cemetery, after all, was open air; cleaning the graves with eccessive zeal they were allowed to chat outdoors avoiding the smoke from the fireplace. Having spent the day at the cemetery, that evening they exchanged ideas.  

We usually go there during the day, but who would be brave enough to go there in the night? 

What’s the difference? The dead don’t get up to come out of the graves!

Then, why don’t you go? 

It’s that none of you would come and see.

True, you could tell us that you went, because you too are afraid!

No, I am not afraid.

Well, let’s do this: you go and plant this stick we are giving to you on my grandmother’s grave. The following day we will come and control.

Andreina, the following day, took the stick and went to the cemetery without a shadow of fear, looked for the grave, bent over it and slipped the stick into the ground.

The morning after her friends told to each other:

Let’s go and see whether she put the stick in the soil.

I believe she didn’t do it, she died of fear…

At the cemetery they found Andreina lying on grandmother’s grave: indeed she had stuck the stick into the grave, but her skirt was long, as women used to wear them, so the stick had passed through the skirt. When Andreina tried to rise she felt herself violently pushed back to the ground and the fright got her!

Even now, through the magnetic whirlwind of dust in my brain, I don’t see fragile skeletons whose bones are about to separate one from the other, only white skulls with big black holes, wrapped in cloaks that merge with imagination’s inability to work. It’s an atmosphere, a lazy world dominated by a lack of exactness, and as such it has to remain. Appealing to the unconscious —in my opinion— belongs to our search for a refuge, a sort of waiting room of the dentist; things we are not able to diligently place in our rational storage, end up there. 

I found a fascinating contribution in Arnold Shoenberg’s Gurre Lieder. This lieder is based on a Gothic legend from Denmark. I don’t follow the story: the voices, soprano, tenor, are a dramatic presence cutting through the orchestra. The orchestra is creating the atmosphere that enchants me: sounds, scattered sounds, wandering, a space whose borders escape me and yet is wrapped around me. Resonances chasing each other, getting dispersed, coming back, like my white beings with dark holes … a world towards which navigates the ship headed to the island of dead.  

Alberto, the man who tries to look beyond the island

 

A L B E R T O   A L B E R T I N I

L’ISOLA

L’isola dei morti che nemmeno l’immaginazione riesce a figurarsi. Alberto trova la sua isola nelle immagini di un cimitero dell’ottocento perso nei boschi della Lombardia, e in quelle del piccolo cimitero di Besano, il paesino dove e cresciuto, era anche il mio nido. Le premesse sono in un altro scritto di Alberto pubblicato in questo blog : A Scent of Afterlife, osservazioni su un quadro di Arnold Böcklin’s, L’isola dei morti, che Alberto aveva visto in immagine riprodotta in un libro sperduto nella memoria, uno chissà quale dei suoi novantatré anni di vita. Gliene auguro molti ancora

  https://albertini2014.wordpress.com/2019/02/18/alberto-albertini-a-scent-of-afterlife/

Tutte le foto sono di Alberto Albertini

 

 

L’isola dei morti ritorna, volevo andarci ma hanno chiuso le frontiere. Ritorna spesso ma non riesco a ricordare dove inizia questa storia. Ero convinto che l’origine fosse in quel libro di cui ti ho parlato ma lì non ho trovato tracce. Ora penso che potrei trovare qualcosa, forse, nella vecchia enciclopedia che credo sia ancora nella casa di famiglia, a Besano. Sono cinque o sei volumi … non lo farò!

Mi inoltravo in una gigantesca e folta pineta. La luce diminuiva, il silenzio bloccava il fruscio dei miei passi e di lì a poco mi sarei sperduto tra i tronchi tutti uguali. L’isola dei morti la vedevo lontana, laggiù si muovevano ombre che forse credevo vere, laggiù, laggiù. Ora c’ è il buio, non vedo spazio, lo spazio può essere infinito, in quello spazio ci può essere tutto o nulla, non posso vedere, solo immaginare ma non immagino, perché? sono lì e intorno a me c’è tutto quello che vorrei poter definire volere desiderare ma non lo afferro…come le ombre che vagano… una sensazione interiore, questo è il grande mistero! La forza magnetica del cervello viene a mancare, non c’è più trasmissione. Non posso dolermene. L’energia che mi circonda è la stessa che mi abbandona. Forse entro nell’infinito.

Infine che importa? Non è il pensiero della morte che tormenta coloro che per qualche motivo, spesso anagrafici, temono di dover iniziare la procedura di atterraggio … no, è l’intervallo irreale delle sensazioni prima che il viaggio sia cominciato, un mondo a sé stante che rimane nell’indefinito, con tracce di origine sia nell’infanzia turbata in parte da leggende fantasiose come quelle delle valchirie, segno dei primi germogli erotici: la leggenda voleva che cavalcassero nude! Oppure il turbamento veniva da truci storie di oltretomba, nonché dal mio carattere introverso. Riflettendoci, quelle storie tanto terrificanti non lo erano, almeno nei residui che ne sono rimasti. I morti che vi apparivano in fondo, erano un po’ umani, erano vivi e familiari. Facevano tenerezza per la loro intrinseca difficoltà a trovare il comportamento giusto nelle vicende trasformate in racconti. 

Una donna ha tempo solo a notte inoltrata per lavare le lenzuola al lavatoio, ovviamente quello comunale. Al buio vede che c’è un’altra persona li a lavare… La donna, dopo il risciacquo, deve torcere le lenzuola per far uscire l’acqua e chiede aiuto all’altra persona: ne occorre una per ogni capo del lenzuolo. Mentre la donna torce, constata che l’altra non riesce a fare altrettanto in senso inverso: ma non avete forza nelle mani? Si avvicina per vedere meglio chi è e si accorge che è uno scheletro!

Le ragazze si annoiavano a sentire i discorsi dei vecchi, pettegolezzi per la maggior parte, stavano in disparte. Non sempre avevano voglia di parlare di ragazzi, di storie impossibili. Dopo qualche anno di scuola elementare, i genitori le avevano tolte dalle loro classi perché erano più utili a zappar patate o rassettare la cucina. Per loro le uscite erano soltanto la chiesa e il cimitero. Tutto sommato il cimitero era un luogo all’aperto; con qualche eccessiva attenzione alla pulizia delle tombe, potevano chiacchierare all’aria libera anziché davanti al fumo del camino.

Avendo passato la giornata al cimitero, quella sera ne parlarono.

Ci andiamo sempre di giorno, ma chi avrebbe il coraggio di andarci di notte?

Bè, che differenza fa? I morti mica si alzano ed escono dalle tombe!

E allora perché non ci vai tu?

Tanto voi non ci verreste a vedere.

È vero, potresti dirci di esserci stata perché hai paura anche tu!

No, io non ho paura!

Bene, facciamo così: tu ci vai e pianti questo piolo che ti diamo sulla tomba di mia nonna. Il giorno seguente andremo a controllare.

Il giorno dopo Andreina prese il piolo convenuto e attese la notte. A notte fonda si recò al cimitero senza ombra di paura, cercò la tomba, vi si chinò sopra e infilò il piolo nel terreno.

La mattina seguente le amiche si dissero:

Andiamo a vedere se ha messo il piolo!

Per me non l’ha fatto, è morta di paura…

Al cimitero trovarono Andreina stesa sulla tomba della nonna: aveva sì conficcato il piolo sulla tomba, ma, portando le gonne lunghe, come era d’obbligo, il piolo era passato attraverso la gonna e quando Andreina fece per alzarsi, si sentì violentemente strappare a terra e lo spavento ebbe il sopravvento!

Anche ora, nel pulviscolo che turbina nel mio cervello scosso da un vento magnetico, non vedo fragili scheletri le cui ossa stanno per staccarsi l’una dall’altra, ma solo dei bianchi teschi dalle grandi cavità nere, avvolti in manti che si confondono con l’incapacità dell’immaginazione. È un’atmosfera, un mondo comodamente impreciso e che tale deve rimanere. Questo ricorrere nell’inconscio, mi pare, fa parte del rifugio di ciascuno di noi, una specie di sala d’aspetto del dentista, sicché tutto ciò che non riusciamo a collocare diligentemente nel razionale, è lì che va a finire.

 Un affascinante contributo lo trovo nei Gurre Lieder di Schoenberg. Il Lieder è costruito su una leggenda gotica danese. La storia non la seguo: le voci narranti, soprano, tenore, qui sono una presenza drammatica che fende tagliente l’orchestra ed è l’orchestra a creare l’atmosfera che mi incanta: suoni, suoni sparsi, vaganti, spazio i cui confini mi sfuggono ma mi avvolge. Sonorità che si rincorrono, disperdono, ritornano: come i miei bianchi esseri dalle cavità oscure … un mondo incontro al quale va la nave che porta all’isola dei morti.

KEATON MACON : THE FEELING OF THAT DAY

KEATON MACON : the feeling of that day

by Rosanna Albertini

 

KEATON MACON, Mary Tyler Moore/Women’s March [1979-1970]
Conte, Graphite and pencil on paper, black walnut, 18″ x 12 1/4″  2019. Courtesy of the artist.

It is typical of the artist Macon – a constant challenge to the flowing of life. His effort is endless like Allan Kaprows’s story of Pick Up Shadow: you are on the sidewalk on a sunny day, see your shadow that follows or precedes, never gives up with you. You turn to her with a zest of competition, and slowly start sending your hand down to pick it up wishing to take her by surprise, then quickly stick it into the pocket of your jeans. The shadow is still there and you continue, to the end of your breath. In 2015 Macon had imprisoned in audio cassettes the voice of each day of the year. The exhibition included the complete library of cassettes, each one with the date on the back, and drawings on the walls in which the tapes had escaped the cassette and made visible —through the graphite pressure—  the artist’s feeling of that day. 

In a new series of drawings the black walnut frames fill the role of the cassettes, containing and protecting. The idea of the frames came first, the content was still a void.  And the frames were the flash of a black walnut tree who died in 2016. The slab from this tree was purchased in a lumber yard. The  tree was gone, his presence though was preserved in the artist mind, inside his skull, one more container. I’m wondering whether the artist feels, secretly, he is  not different from the tree: a witness. As an artist he can shape one moment for the people to see, one image isolated from a much larger story. He puts it down on paper with care for it is a newborn, reproduced words or faces, like the tree puts his leaves down, one different from the other. Mother nature’s  art: visible foliage, and hidden volume of rings. 

Keaton can capture the surface of a trunk, the skin of the wall that replaced his favorite palm tree in Korea Town, the linear features of three presidents’ faces. The thickness of time escapes his pencil. That is in the frame. The trunk, in pieces, showed him the physical trace of aging in the rings. Counting backwards from the last one, Keaton saw an image of time produced by nature, as mysterious and alien as our shadow. Humans did not participate in it’s making. Instead, they danced their crazy history in the span of each ring. The wood was cut by the artist following specific groups of rings, and gave him a few black walnut frames: time itself, materialized.  

1979 -1970   The frame embraces the years of Mary Tyler Moore’s successful career as an unconventional, funny working woman on TV. Like the characters that have multiple lives in family stories way beyond the real time of their performances, (I had Buster Keaton and Ridolini in my family mythology),  Mary Tyler Moore was familiar to Keaton through his mother’s words. His own direct experience was of Mary’s departure from life the 25th of January, a few days after the Women’s March in Washington DC, January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration of president Donald Trump. One of the largest protests in U.S. history. Prophetic. 

KEATON MACON, Burnt Palms Revisited [1992-1984]
Graphite and Pencil on paper, black walnut frame, 15″ x 20 3/4″ 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

1992-1984 “I used to live in Korea Town. Periodically riots exploded, some palm trees were on fire. I took photographs after the fire. As if following the cyclical nature of social movements, I kept going back, doing little journeys in my old neighborhood. New buildings had replaced the trees. In front of a church a girl gave me a flyer.” Keaton Macon  

KEATON MACON, The G.O.A.T. and the Southern Strategy [1968-1963]
Graphite on paper, black walnut, 15 1/4″ x 9 1/4″ 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

 1968-1963 The Greatest of All Time and The Southern Strategy. Contrasting feelings quiver with these words: sarcasm for sure, respect for a great basketball player, along with horror in front of political attacks on his people, and to himself as an African American artist. To bring LeBron James onto the same page as Nixon, Regan and Trump shrunk into only one face, is a kick into history’s waves, a tiny boat navigating hard times toward the shore of surviving. I love this piece. At the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, the Republican Convention nominated Donald Trump in 2016. Same year, same arena, James won the championship. In the meantime, the “Southern Strategy” enforced by Nixon since 1968 has not disappeared.  

Today, March 11, 2020, I look at Macon’s drawing with a special emotion. The “South,” Southern people, especially African Americans, have voted for a white Democratic candidate in unprecedented numbers. They have enforced the process —I wish— to change the Head of this country. As if the South had become a human vessel of hope. Many vessels, included the small and fragile by Keaton. It’s worth reading a Wikipedia text about Nixon’s strategy, because history has twisted teeth.

Although the phrase “Southern Strategy is often attributed to Nixon’s political strategist Kevin Phillips, he did not originate it but popularized it. In an Interview included in a 1970 New York Times article, Phillips stated his analysis based on studies of ethnic voting: 

From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that…but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Right Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the white will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.

KEATON MACON, Under God [1959-1954]
Graphite on paper, black walnut, 12 1/4″ x 6 1/2″ 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

1959-54 So it happened under the eye of god, might he/she/it have only one eye? that good and bad things became titles and words on the newspapers’ first page. The artist passed them through the filter of his soul, the ones hooked to his life.

The ‘wetbacks,’ (the online dictionary defines them immigrants from Mexico, mostly illegal), workers whose backs are wet, are brothers to him. 

KEATON MACON, That’s the way of the world/Do Ya Thing (Remix) [2016-2008]
Conte and Pencil on paper, black walnut frame, 20 1/2″ x 26 1/2″ 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

2016-2008 “That’s the way of the world/Do Ya Thing (Remix)”  here the artist goes back to the life cycle, life playing numbers and days, life the slave of time, the strange entity that god kicked down from his domain over the clouds, as he was mumbling: time is for my children not for me. 

The drawing is a portrait of musician Maurice White, who stopped breathing the very day of  Cam’ron’s birthday, waiving from afar to the Harlem rapper. As in a card game, chance is the power. 

T.S. Eliot, from Four Quartets

We die with the dying:

See, they depart, and we go with them.

We are born with the dead:

See, they return, and bring us with them.

The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree

Are of equal duration. A people without history

Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern

Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails

On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel

History is now….

Bibliography

T.S. Eliot, The Complete Poems and Plays  1909 – 1950, Harcourt Brace & Company, New York – San Diego – London  Printed in the U.S.