2005 the Rubicon is not an option | Rome

the Rubicon is not an option
 a proposal for the American Academy in Rome


Each proposal I have submitted to you over previous years has been different; it seemed wise to not recycle a proposal in vying for your attention as much as to not waste my time with repetition.  Nor have I arbitrarily jump from idea to idea, thus risking doing both myself and my intellectual purpose a disservice by seeming unfocused.  There have been common threads weaving together the three previous submissions to you which, once again, now serve as groundwork for this current proposal.  And, I know from previous residencies that the actuality of my work if chosen would be inevitably defined by the experience on the ground—thus making the initial proposal something of a formality, one that must be put forward to be considered, but which would inevitably become seconded to the experience of work as it develops in real time. I am well aware from previous experience that the synergy within an interdisciplinary intellectual community, such as the Academy is modeled after, is exactly the place for predetermined plans to take abrupt and radical turns.  For an artist this can prove to be a time when everything gets put up to question and has the potential to ungracefully fall apart.

I am making these points as I consider them important. I continue to want to spend time in Rome. The desire is repetitious and constant.  I wish to again be under the indeterminate influence of an unfamiliar intellectual community, of a new city, of a different culture.  From previous years as a Bunting Fellow at Radcliffe and later as a fellow on the Humanities Council at Princeton I understand it is vital for me, for my work, to be from time to time uprooted and challenged intellectually by the unfamiliar.  The unbalancing phenomena of displacement, the cognitive development necessary when faced with the unfamiliar is well known to me—in fact these are subject matters repeatedly subject within my work.  Cultural, as defined by the economic and social, migration has become the experiential norm for large portions of the world’s population— although rarely from such a position of privilege as the Rome Prize.

So why Rome?  One can feel or experience displacement anywhere.  In my work, as within my life experience (one cannot separate the two), it seems that when there is a state of flux, or a displacement, it usually comes from or is imposed by external factors—at least initially until which time it becomes internalized.  And that imposition usually contains within it a narrative about power, or some dominant force at play.

And so I am interested in power, in history, but more pointedly in a de-construction of narratives on power and not coincidently of history. Rome is so often referenced as the primary source—the originating narrative on power, at least in the narrative of the Occident.  Look at all of the Hollywood movies that point to this perceptual fact. When one considers Rome from the outside, from the perspective of history it seems like a stage.  A stage wherein things of mythical proportion take shape; the source of parable, of the Socratic model and philosophy of Plato. So powerful is the influence of this mythical theatre that it’s shadow penetrates our core. Just yesterday I heard a commentator in discussing the war in Iraq refer to the Rubicon as a justifiable model, the reason for not being able to turn back.

I was in Rome once, when I was 10.  I remember the coliseum (of course); followed by the years of slides in art history and the accompanying text outlining tales of glamour, debauchery and cultural conquest. Always I might add from the perspective of the West.  A stereotyped internalization of place, of culture, so common to our cultural mis-understandings propped up by vague memory of repetitive and stylized images that understandably under the circumstances take on the disproportion of the mythic.

None of this is real, or rather it is has become the simulated version of what is real. In fact an Italian philosopher friend of mine, Angelica Nuzzo, maintains that my work reminds her of the narrative of Plato’s cave—so deep is that mythical narrative.  De-construction must be based structurally on real experience, otherwise it runs the risk of misleading appearance, simply a shadow on a darkened wall, which if an attempt is made to lift to look beneath it will disappear. It holds no truth, other than it’s reality as a shadow.   The project in Rome will be to define the objects that have projected those shadows—to finally deconstruct the narrative that makes crossing the Rubicon seem the only option. My project will seek to de-construct the ideology of such mythic and romantic imagination.  I will use the reality of experience within the contemporary city as my starting point.