Visualizing Change at “Cinque Mostre 2020: Convergence”

Installation view of Matthew Brennan and Eugenia Morpurgo’s “2100” at AAR in February 2020 (photograph by Giorgio Benni/American Academy in Rome, Institutional Archives)

By Claudia Trezza

Roman columns next to cartoonish clouds embossed on velvet cloth, a Greek tragedy reinterpreted with ancient and modern language, fragmented conversations projected on speakers. Hundreds of people filled the Academy’s courtyard, cryptoporticus, library, and gallery spaces for the opening of this year’s annual exhibition, Cinque Mostre 2020: Convergence.

Curated by Ilaria Gianni and Andrew Heiskell Arts Director Elizabeth Rodini, the exhibition once again proved to be a highlight of the academic and artistic season for Rome, drawing prominent guests like the Vice Mayor of Rome, Luca Bergamo, and established actors and personalities from the Italian and American art scenes. (Read the review.) As the Academy celebrates 125 years and its cultural, artistic, and intellectual contributions in Rome and beyond, current Rome Prize Fellows, Italian Fellows, and invited artists worked across a wide array of disciplines to offer their take on the significance of Convergence, meant as the coalescence of ideas that can produce “fresh possibilities” and “reframe our perspectives.”

In line with this year’s theme of “Encounters,” the exhibition was a testament to the interdisciplinary exchanges that take place between artists and scholars at the Academy. A video installation, created and produced by the preservationist and 2020 Rome Prize Fellow Matthew Brennan and the designer and 2020 Italian Fellow Eugenia Morpurgo, featured a condensed version of their vision of a landscape undergoing climate change. During a six-minute video featuring a fresco of the Academy’s grounds and surrounding area, initially lush and idyllic, it becomes increasingly arid and desolate as time passes and temperatures rise.

Artists’ Statement on “2100” (2020)

Reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are clear, and they have been clear for quite some time. To avoid tipping points in the climate system, biodiversity loss, and the risk of social and ecological collapse, or to at least cope with these changes, action is urgently needed. But action is also alarmingly slow to come. Researchers locate the root of this challenge in the inability of human beings to empathize with their future selves. We understand the scientific data, but we struggle to find emotional resonance with how climate change will affect us or others.

Through the speculative animation of a fresco that represents the green spaces of the American Academy in Rome, Brennan and Morpurgo visualize the predictions of climate change in the coming eighty years, following the five-degree temperature increase model. For every increase of one degree, notable changes in fauna and flora are anticipated, together with droughts, floods, and extreme weather activities. By applying these predictions to a familiar place, the place in which viewers now find themselves, the artists demand we confront an expected, if hypothetical, future in order to create a new, more empathetic level of understanding that is in sync with the scientific data on climate change.

The fresco, painted in 2013 and located in a passage to the Academy’s rear gardens, represents an idyllic version of nature and the city that never actually existed. Nor does that vision belong only to this representation: it overtakes widespread expectations of the Roman landscape. Can we imagine Rome without its pines? What are we willing to do to preserve our idealized image of its gardens? And how hard, or how important, is it to envision a different future—one that is bound to arrive?


About the Artists

Matthew Brennan is a PhD candidate in the Indiana University School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering. His work involves the application of technologies, particularly virtual reality, in humanities fields such as art and architectural history, and the design and investigation of virtual experiences. Brennan is the 2019–20 recipient of the Booth Family Rome Prize.

Eugenia Morpurgo is an Italian designer, currently based in Venice. With her work she researches the environmental, economic, cultural, and social impact of production processes, investigating and prototyping alternative scenarios and products. Morpurgo is the 2019–20 Tiffany & Co. Italian Fellow in Design.


The exhibition Cinque Mostre 2020: Convergence was made possible by the Adele Chatfield-Taylor and John Guare Fund for the Arts.

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