The project invites artists to respond to the archeological site, which is subject to preservation orders and supervisions. Interventions such as hammering a nail in the wall do not occur
«We wanted to work with artists from around the globe to provide a perspective on the site and on the city of Naples, and due to the specificities of the program, we chose to work with site-specific commissions», Alessandra Troncone retraces the genesis of Underneath the Arches. It is an art program for art located in an aqueduct dating back to the Augustan age, which she co-directs with Chiara Pirozzi. It was Pirozzi who came across the Aqua Augusta, or Serino Aqueduct, as a tourist. On the occasion of the opening of the archeological site in 2015, she began to conceive it as a meeting place for archeology and art, and she thought of involving Troncone in the process. Troncone studied Art History in Naples and Rome, and completed her doctorate, working as a curator and developing her curatorial practice in Amsterdam, at De Appel’s course for curators. Pirozzi followed a course in Economia dei Beni Culturali in Naples, post which she moved to Bologna, where she obtained a Master’s degree and a doctorate, completing an additional Master’s degree at Rome’s La Sapienza focusing on contemporary art through her studies and work.
The Aqueduct dates back to the Roman period, when it extended from its spring to the port of Misenum, in the province of Naples, for 100 kilometers. Two stretches of the aqueduct – a succession of pillars and arcades in bricks and tuff – were discovered by Associazione VerginiSanità in 2011 in the basement of Peschici Maresca Palace, in the neighborhoods of Vergini and Sanità. Used as a bomb shelter during WWII and, in the following decades, as a cellar and a storage room, the site was reduced to a dump: the association was in charge of cleaning the Acquedotto from debris, rubble and garbage from 2011 to 2015. Associazione VerginiSanità manages the archeological site and its promotional activities. The project’s art program is included in the association’s tours. Visitors learn about the project and the process of the artist’s interpretation of the site. Troncone notes, «it constitutes a challenge, as we work in art-related spaces like galleries and museums. Conversations can develop from coming into contact with non-specialized audiences who did not come to see contemporary art. We involve them to gain from the experience». The project’s engagement with the public is tied to the works presented in each exhibition. In regard to the show held in 2020, Cuban artist Adrian Melis put together a performance-based act by involving a community from the neighborhoods of Vergini and Sanità. They were instructed to reproduce the sound of water through Foley Art techniques. «On the day of the performance, the participants’ families witnessed them enact the piece, allowing them to acknowledge the site of the Aqueduct for the first time. Getting in touch with residents takes place through these means», she tells us.
In 2018, when the project began, nobody knew of the Aqueduct. «Ten or fifteen years ago, Vergini-Sanità was an area occupied by residents. It is in proximity to institutions such as Museo Archeologico and MADRE. Due to the rise of gastronomic propositions, the area gained visibility and B&Bs started to proliferate. This collided with the rediscovery of the Aqueduct, which was uncovered by chance, along with the Ancient Greek hypogea, churches and catacombs. Gentrification started to take hold. Artists we have been working with found authenticity here», says Troncone. «After each exhibition opening, we work in contact with the territory. We see a willingness to learn about what is happening». The team collaborates with initiatives in the area, as Celanapoli, who manages the hypogea, and the Church of Santa Maria della Misericordia, which hosts SMMAVE, an arts center they coordinate with, and a foundry located in a tuff cave. Before embarking upon the development of Underneath the Arches, neither Pirozzi nor Troncone had a relationship with Vergini-Sanità. It was the artists they invited who gave them access to the neighborhood, through walks, research trips, visits to sites and exploration. «Artists’ interpretations let the area’s human side emerge», Pirozzi observes. «We select artists who are comfortable working with the site’s specificity. We have worked with artists that are known to us. Each production is a test for them as it is for us», says Troncone. Every project takes place over months. It is the outcome of a conversation that begins with Pirozzi, Troncone and the artist, which proceeds through the involvement of Associazione VerginiSanità. They are in charge of guaranteeing the feasibility of the projects, which are subject to an «editing process» during the installation. «The artists we invite are aware of the lives the archeological site has lived, and of the cleaning operation it underwent in order to become accessible to the community», Pirozzi remarks. «When Arturo Hernández Alcázar and Adrian Melis stepped into the space, they used sound to ensure the art did not prevail over the site’s archeology. The artists we chose focused on keeping this balance».
In Troncone’s practice, she looks for a synergy between the artist and the space. «When I work on group shows, as was the case with the Kaunas Biennial I curated, I commission works that respond to the context. In Naples, creating a link between contemporary artists and the region is the path we take. We establish a shared plan with the artist». The choice to integrate residencies into the program comes from the duo’s dedication to researching the territory, as these give artists the opportunity to come in contact with the context of production. Theirs isn’t a residency program that results in production, it is a production program that requires residencies to function. Underneath the Arches collaborates with Fondazione Morra, which helps them host artists on their premises. Curatorial in nature, and due to the specificity of the project, the work isn’t sellable. The duo puts together a budget for each exhibition according to the artist they invite, his or her nationality, open calls and sponsors, activating forms of funding. The site is subject to preservation orders and supervisions. Interventions such as hammering a nail in the wall do not occur. A restraint to exhibition display is posed by humidity. Materials such as paper, or technological equipment, are likely to be damaged by the site’s air if not monitored or transported at ground level outside the show’s opening times. These boundaries, as Pirozzi explains, are a limit and a test for the artist.
Being connected to the Aqueduct’s function, water appears as a theme in the program – without representing a narrative constraint or a direction. In the work of Alcázar, exhibited in 2018, water paved the way to an inquiry on the transformation of the landscape, linking the Aqueduct’s construction to the city of Naples and its stratifications. For Hera Büyüktaşçıyan, water became a way to play with what lies above and below us and to reflect on the observer’s point of view. Melis, whose show was presented in the Fall of 2020, explored the element in a way that defunctionalized its role in the site’s context by inviting people to narrate the theme through a labor-based performance. Speaking of recurrences among the exhibited works, «surrounded by memories and layering, artists prefer working with dematerialized substances, such as sound, as a sign of respect toward the site’s history. We realized this down the line. Recurrent elements, as the horizon in the case of Arturo’s and Hera’s work, are connected to the site’s morphology – of it not having a horizon nor belonging to a landscape. Bringing the horizon below ground level was a way for them to create an experience in a subterranean space», Pirozzi says. In terms of sustainability, Pirozzi and Troncone interact with the neighborhood by maintaining relations with the foundry, browsing through Vergini-Sanità’s markets, and for the supply of materials, as happened with the wood used in Büyüktaşçıyan’s show, which was produced by a local carpenter. When considering the position of contemporary art, they prioritize understanding their role in the area. «In territories that were no man’s land, projects like wall art flourish. These are destructive interventions», Pirozzi points. «We reject this. We offer these neighborhoods contemporary art that takes place without annihilation. For this to happen, it has to be accompanied by building awareness. A mural is immediate – our project is not. It has to be explained».IMAGE GALLERY
Underneath the Arches
Via Arena Sanità, 5