"From here you shall not pass!" selected paintings from the series "DI QUI NON SI PASSA!" (From Here You Shall Not Pass) are on view by appointment in the display cases in the Great Hall at the Duke House in Manhattan. Till March 29th 2016
For the past 2 years I have been working in the Italian Dolomites (Trentino and Veneto) on a series of works studying the topography and natural transformation of infamous World War 1 battle sites.
Ruins and urban rubble have been a reoccurring theme in my work for some time. I have always found a ruin created by man through warfare or urban neglect bizarrely intriguing. Eerie and romantic, these sites often have historical significance, and feel as if at any moment they could be at the tipping point from destruction to reconstruction. Maybe this is what I find so alluring, and what draws me to them. At current and former urban battle sites charred and disfigured by detonations and fires, the remaining ruins expose structural elements and intimat interiors. Missing roofs and walls bring stage light to dark rooms and a glimpse into rows of neighboring homes, where it’s possible to begin to imagine the lives of those who came before. Historically, during reconstruction some ruins have been preserved serving as warning memorials and political monuments. Left untouched, nature does its best to heal its marred skin, but all too often visible scars remain. Where former battle grounds are more accessible, for example on the French Belgian World War 1 border, Gettysburg or Waterloo, the fields are meticulously manicured and memorialized with museums cemeteries, and perhaps even a gruesomegift shop. In fact, today it is hard to believe they were the sites of such apocalyptic warfare. The words “battle” and “field, a seeming oxymoron. I chose one of the most implacable of these landscapes to begin my current series of works because of this stark contradiction.
Between 1915-1918, one of the most suggestive landscapes in Europe, The Dolomites on the Italian-Austrian borders, were the stage to some of the most horrendous conflicts of Word War 1. But, today you have to hike up high above the idyllic alpine ski and pastoral tracking tourism infrastructure to discover the scared battle fields. From a distance, it is even difficult to distinguish the natural geologic rock formations from the manmade gaps and rock slides caused by the detonations used during war time. But, upon closer inspection, the stress cracks in the rock, the deterioration of the stone, as well as the abnormal convex crater shapes, become visible and are clearly the after effects of war. Shredded metal from shell casings can still be found everywhere. Even today as the glaciers recede, they uncover corpses and intact telegraph and munitions barracks frozen in time. When enemy fire was not the cause of death, the steep terrain, freezing temperatures and avalanches where the largest cause of casualties. Trenches were dug into glaciers and rocks. Provisions, machinery, artillery and munitions were all carried by men and donkeys up thousands of feet into this savage and unsparing climate, that culminated into trench warfare that came to a complete stand still. A brutal and futile mission, fueled by manaical patrotism, with little to no military significance. In this landscape, deep tunnels were dug for shelter and storage. The narrow paths in such high altitude put opposing trenches only a few feet from each other. In order for one side to gain territory, or the highest amount of enemy casualties, tunnels were carved underneath enemy lines to create large chambers, and then filled with explosives. Sometimes thirty thousand kilograms of explosives. More than once, these detonations would manage to blow an entire mountain peak off, and the resulting shockwave would force the collapse or detonation of an adjacent mine chamber, burying hundreds of soldiers alive, those who were still digging or rigging fuses.
The knowledge of what took place in this setting, that in fact you are climbing up what is essentially a breathtakingly beautiful graveyard, was not lost on me. Evident is also the artifice of a state border and how muchblood had to be shed to draw it on a map. Even the physical limitations of having to travel with very little material and provisions, coupled with the difficult weather conditions, only made me feel more empathetic to those foot soldiers, affecting my depiction and interpretation of the sites in a way that I could never have imagined by sitting in my warm and comfortable studio in NY. Back in NY, I am continuing to work on larger versions of the numerous small paintings and drawings I had created on site.
I visited these sites in childhood, and now, at the 100th anniversary of the WW1, coupled with the current discontent in Europe, all came together to inspire me to walk those same paths again on borderlines that have been untouched, at least on paper, since World War II.