A year has passed since the birth of Ō, a project conceived and directed by Cristiano Leone, promoted by the National Roman Museum and produced by Electa. To enhance the Baths of Diocletian (Terme di Diocleziano) and to make art, as well as an ideal, a tangible pole of sharing, communion and dialogue. Dialogue between ancient and contemporary, wonders already created and to be preserved on the one hand - new children to look after, to support on the other. It is time for art to be father and son - this is what Cristiano Leone, artistic director of the Festival seems to suggest. Yes, because Ō is a project but it is also and above all a Festival (a party) where many artists do not compete but flank, play and communicate - every week and until June 24, 2020, in a schedule that has thirty-two appointments.
This year, the Festival has come to its second edition. "The strong mark of dance and electronic music remains, but new genres and disciplines come in, so that contemporaneity shows itself in all its porosity. Theatre enters, reflection on design takes on a central role, and photography and cinema appear, even if in a lesser extent than in other disciplines", he says. Ō is therefore an open space, a constant comparison between audience and artist, performance and place. The disciplines and expressions are different, but the cause is common. Because places and artists are art, and people also. And our time, today's time - has come to its right day.
"There is a need to realize that we had the great fortune (...)" to "live and be raised in the place with the world’s richest cultural heritage". To do so, he suggests, you don't need to do comparisons, or battles - you don't need to dust the old at the expense of the new or, vice versa, to boycott the contemporary. We need dialogue, interaction, monitoring. Cristiano Leone is the spokesperson and perfect example, since as a novel philologist to a specialist in cultural management he is today - as well as a Teacher (in the past also Director of cultural programming and communication of the Academy of France in Rome - Villa Medici) - an undeterred creator, a set designer; an eclectic and generous personality that, until now, was really missing in the Italian cultural panorama. The panorama of Ō is, after all, its panorama: places that have animated his studies, colours and textures that he knows, artists that he esteems and defines "his favourites", dialogues which are "teamwork" and creates "embraces".
Because moved by a spirit of absolute generosity, the songs, the staging, the dances and the shows of Ō become, in his hands, more than they are. They become, in a "line of continuity of reflection", bearers of a strong message, of a necessary message: "We need Design, Dance, Music, Theatre, Cinema and Photography. We need people. It's time for - all this."
Ō is a locution, a Latin interjection, but not only. Can you explain it to us?
With Ō, an almost primordial graphic gesture borrowed from Roman antiquity, I wanted to indicate the urgency of the dialogue between contemporaneity and history, right from the title. Last year, Electa and the National Roman Museum asked me to imagine an inclusive project to enhance the Baths of Diocletian (Terme di Diocleziano). Any contemporary project for me had to take into account the ritual’s power of the ancient baths: a moment of sharing, oxygenation and reflection. Rite and metaphor, for me, of what the arts should trigger: a constant dialogue with time.
The Festival, of which you are the Artistic Director, is now in its second edition. What distinguishes this year's edition from the previous one? Why "Tempo di" (Time of)?
First of all, the rhythm, which takes on a weekly basis, precisely just like a ritual, from November to the end of June. All the projects are made specifically to celebrate the historical and artistic heritage of the collections and architecture, not only of the Baths of Diocletian (Terme di Diocleziano), but also of the wonderful Palazzo Altemps. The strong mark of dance and electronic music remains, but new genres and disciplines come in, so that contemporaneity shows itself in all its porosity. Theatre enters, reflection on design takes on a central role, and photography and cinema appear, even if in a lesser extent than in other disciplines. The expression "Tempo di" (Time of) also indicates a cultural policy’s affirmation: the time has come for design, music, dance, theatre, cinema and photography to be welcomed in large Italian heritage institutions on structured basis. These disciplines, suitably introduced, interact with heritage without juxtaposing it. This is why all “Tempo di” projects are built together with the artists, who immerse themselves in places’ historical context, celebrating and illuminating them with their own vision.
What, of your path, led you to believe that culture does not need to be a battle, but an embrace?
Culture must federate, not separate. Humanism, of which we are distracted children, has taught us to put the human being at the centre of the world, exploring its roots. He taught us that we must reconnect with history to allow us to understand, transmit and expand the legacy of the fathers. I don't like noise and provocation: my vision of culture is meditative, peaceful and human. The semantic field of aesthetics and ethics of culture does not include the word battle. Effort, yes. Work. But teamwork, because we are not alone in this world and alone we cannot interpret it. I therefore never embrace battle.
The spaces that host the new edition of this Festival are places full of history. How difficult was it to combine, in theory but above all in practice, the historical element with the actuality of the proposed events?
The protagonists of this project saw in Ō - Tempo di (Time for) an opportunity to draw a parallel between the individual and collective dimension of history. From the moment that these artists accepted this proposal, the dialogue between current events and the layers of history took place in a natural, joyful way, even when the emotions that these creations arouse passed through the prism of suffering. Because every truth is composite, and every sincere creation conveys a wide range of emotions. But the construction of these projects passes through the pleasure of sharing with the public: it is an act of love, as Massimiliano Fuksas said in the first meeting dedicated to design.
Which filters, today, block the dialogue between ancient and contemporary? Is there anything we can do to speed up its dissolution?
Concerning curators, specializations. In the past, it was customary to arrive at the study of contemporary after having assimilated the lesson of ancient and modern. Today, the contemporary approach often overlooks the acquisition of the past. Many artists then lost the tradition of "workshops", the confrontation-clash with the masters, the imitatio-aemulatio of tradition. Thus, the comparison with the past is lost.
Perhaps it should be assumed that our great fortune is to live and be raised in the place with the greatest concentration of cultural heritage in the world. Instead of trying to always produce apparent novelties, perhaps we should make our artists more aware of promoting our heritage. Classicism and tradition are not absolute values, but radically relative. It is only in the dialectic between past and present that today's creation becomes tomorrow's heritage. The historical heritage is constantly evolving: we have the duty to preserve and enhance what has been handed down to us, but we have even more the duty to direct the current towards new destinations. And we are all responsible.
Design, dance, music, theatre, cinema and photography. You have assisted, as a Curator, the conjunction of all these Arts within the same project, yours. How do they reconcile with each other? Is there, or not, a difference in language, some obstacle, or do they all communicate with each other easily?
For me these are just labels, more useful to simplify than to describe. The design is located between architecture, contemporary art and craftsmanship. And today more than ever it is intimately linked to many other arts: fashion, music, dance. Visual artists are very often also performers, always embracing new means of expression, which include video art, installation forms, and augmented reality. Musicians are increasingly resorting to electronic modules, contaminating classical musical forms with other more baroque or contemporary ones. The visual matrix is undeniable, increasingly linked to this discipline. But even dance is inseparable from music, fashion, visual arts, and so on. Today art is not monolithic; therefore it must be accepted in its eclectic dimension. In Ō - Tempo di (Time of) this composite energy is also offered to the public with its apparent contradictions. To harmonize them, there is the common goal: comparison with history.
"Ō comes to life when the letter becomes a word, the cell a fabric, the point an infinite whole." The intention to lead the public to discover the artistic process seems to be a central point. What value do you attribute to the word “exploration”? Does exploring means understanding? And if exploration wants or can lead to an understanding of art, inversely does art require, or not, to be necessarily understood?
Everything is exploration and exploration is everything. We never stop exploring, and even at the end of our research we are only at the starting point. So no, understanding does not end with exploring, but it is only by exploring that we come closer to understanding. Furthermore, art has no needs, least of all being understood. It has, perhaps, only one urgency: freedom.
How important is it to you to teach at university? What do young people need today, what should they be made aware of? Does pedagogy have, or not, a responsibility also towards art?
Teaching is the best way to understand, in the etymological sense of taking together, of embracing ideas with the mind. I always try to reverse lessons and put students in the position of teaching. I want them to come together in small groups to analyse a topic from various points of view. I consider their participation in the classroom and their personal development essential. I don't care about a well-done task; I want to be surprised by their personalities. I give them a structure, but only so that they can move inside freely. This year, for example, a student of mine has freely chosen to present, instead of the classic final exam, a poetic documentary shot specifically to show his vision of arts. I think students need guiding ideas, examples, and a lot of trust. A good teacher is the one who stimulates curiosity and encourages thinking. I don't have certainties to convey, but when I teach I humbly hand over all my ideas to the students. Then they will discern them, select them, be inspired or reject them. Pedagogy must develop a critical sense, without which art is not useful.
What would you say to those who would like to contribute, in some way, to enhance the Italian cultural heritage, but do not know where to start?
I would tell them to study a lot, to be excellent in their field, because the enhancement of heritage needs multiple skills. To do research. Not to wait for someone to involve them, but to build their own role. I would also tell them to not be afraid to bother artists, curators and agents of culture: ask them to meet you, to open their ateliers, to teach you the trade and do not be afraid to say that you are there to overcome them.
As a novel philologist, what do you remember with greater joy about your academic career? Is there a day when you thought that yes, your studies would have taken you to where you are today, or did it happen along the way?
Philology has provided me a method, made of discipline and ethics. Returning traces of the past, sometimes faded or forgotten, to the world made me feel part of a constructive movement. However, we cannot limit ourselves to restoring the texts, we must understand their meanings. The arts are the most beautiful way of decoding the text of the world. Philology, therefore, brings to light. Art explains and unfolds. I would not be able to separate my teaching activity from that of the artistic director today: I see a natural continuity in it. The first book, the first lesson as a teacher, gave me the same joy of opening the doors of a festival and welcoming the thousands of people who came to attend the performances. Those who knew me during my previous life as a novel philologist are sometimes surprised that I later came to deal with electronic music, for example. I knew what I wanted to do and I proceeded on my path always wanting to have an impact on society. I have already lived a couple of lives, but there are a thousand others to live. I wonder if I will ever live them, but I know that in those that I have already lived I have always looked for consistency and intellectual honesty.
You have travelled a lot. Is there anything about the dimension of travel that serves to enrich, to reinforce the vision that we have of our own country? Did Italy call you to change things, or was it your choice to come back to try and do it?
A page of Pessoa comes to my mind: "I pass from day to day as from station to station, in the train of my body, or in my destiny, overlooking the streets and squares, gestures and faces". Traveling to Japan I understood the importance of the shadow, in Brazil I understood nature’s beauty, in Africa I understood that the pack leader guides and protects his group. France, then, shaped my aesthetic (as a young man). I therefore returned to Italy, but thanks to France. And since then I can no longer leave my country. I would like to have the opportunity to stay there all my life, but I must be put in a position to carry out my mission there.
Mallarmé said: "In a society without stability, without unity, there cannot be stable art, definitive art." Do you believe that art, like society, is unstable today?
Instability can feed creativity. Restlessness and doubt are lifeblood for action. The real problem is the absence of vision.