By Claudia Trezza
On June 6 the American Academy in Rome opened its doors for its yearly Open Studios event. Hundreds of people filled the studios, gardens, and terraces to view and listen to visual, musical, and literary works created by Rome Prize Fellows, Italian Fellows, and invited artists during their time at the Academy.
Karyn Olivier, a Fellow in visual arts, has been exploring the similarities in spaces lived by nuns and prisoners by focusing on Le Murate, a former Florence convent that later became a prison. In her studio. a loudspeaker played a voice of a woman reading a letter by Martin Luther King Jr. translated into Italian. Hung on her studio walls were pictures of the convent alongside quotes and photographs—of a cathedral, bits of frescoes, paintings, Church ceilings, and floors—that Olivier took during her time in Rome.
Across from Olivier’s studio, Helen O’Leary presented disassembled wooden structures lay on large tables, some covered in fabric or painted in vivid blues and yellows, others cut up like puzzles forming frames propped up by wooden rods. The poet Vona Groake has described work by O’Leary, another Rome Prize Fellow in visual arts, as “the shadow remnants of ploughed fields and scrubbed wooden tables, of the straight lines of rural conversation and tidy timetables.”
On the other side of the front garden, pictures and videos of Amy Franceschini’s wooden windmills were on display. An actual windmill turned in the wind on the grass right outside her studio. Music by the artists Simone Trabucchi and Simone Bertuzzi from Invernomuto, the Italian Fellows who shared the studio with design Fellow Franceschini, played on two small stereos in the background.
Upstairs, visual arts Fellow Sze Tsung Nicolás Leong displayed photographs of interiors from Rome’s churches, sports venues, and other buildings in the studio he shares with his wife Judy Chang. Text written by Fellows, scholars, and other members of the Academy accompanied each image. The conversation between words and images proves a testament to the partnerships and collaborations formed between Fellows over the past ten months.
Down the hall, colorful full-scale cartoon models of columns stood in the studio of Erin Besler, a Fellow in architecture who was taking on the so-called corner problem, created by walls and courtyards lined by columns, that architects have grappled with for centuries.
A few studios down the hall Dylan Fracareta, a Fellow in design, stacked hundreds of photographs of Rome on tables and hung them on walls. The images are a catalogue-in-progress of the artist’s walks in and around the city. Fracareta drew concentric pathways on the map of the city, which he followed as methodically as possible to photograph Rome. “The structure,” he said, gives him a roadmap upon which he could let his eye wander more freely. It “allows me to be instinctive.”
The studio of Basil Twist, a puppeteer and a Fellow in visual arts, displayed several marionettes featured during the Cinque Mostreexhibition in February—including the beheaded puppet of Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music. On the same floor, the studio of Zaneta Hong, Fellow in landscape architecture, and Joanie Bottkol, Fellow in historic preservation, offered photos of mountain views and other landscapes. On a table lay a mound of soil, stucco, and other materials, as well as unguentaria—perfume bottles that Bottkol helped to make for each Fellow and Fellow Traveler.
Other studios included those of Ila Bêka (Italian Fellow in architecture), Marcel Sanchez Prieto (Fellow in architecture), Lori Wong (Fellow in historic preservation and conservation), Francesco Zorzi (Italian Fellow in design), and Michael James Saltarella (Fellow in landscape architecture).
Live performances were featured in the evening. Michelle Lou, a Fellow in musical composition, processed live sounds and design through a computer program as part of the sound:light performance. Two Rome Prize Fellows in literature, Kristin Valdez Quade and Bennett Sims, and the writer Virginia Virilli, an Italian Fellow, read excerpts of their work in the internal courtyard of the Academy.
The Academy was bursting with energy and excitement as visitors were pulled from one open studio to another, and from one performance to another, proving once again its vibrancy in Rome’s cultural landscape.
In the outdoor studio, Jessie Marino presented her three-part musical composition. In the final part Marino, accompanied by two violinists who mostly used hand gestures and facial expressions to express the score, told a playful tale of Mozart’s bird that delighted the packed room with its wordplay (starling sounds like East Earling), and references to the CIA using cats as spies in Iran. “Operation acoustic kitty,” the performers exclaimed at the piece’s finale.