• like-horror
  • plantguilds_A4
  • Roma ristorante
  • 232 (3)
  • By Tomás Fano (New York. Little Italy) 
[CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
  • cropped-italia-riciclata-1.jpg

Latest

Iconic Images in Modern Italy: Politics, Culture and Society.

The 2013 conference of the Association for the Study of Modern Italy, which took place on 22 and 23 November at the Institute of Modern Languages Research, London, put in sharp focus a gap in the literature that Pieri had highlighted during her paper at the SIS (Durham) conference in the summer: the study of visual culture and the field of visual cultural studies. It is fair to say that Italianists in UK universities, whilst they have come to embrace cultural studies and particularly the study of cinema, now embedded in the curriculum in many departments around the country, showed less enthusiasm for the study of visual culture, which after the departure of art history from the pages of the journal Italian Studies, seemed to occupy a very marginal place in both research and teaching in Italian Studies. This two day conference, organized by two specialists in photography and visual culture, Alessandra Antola and Martina Caruso, showcased an array of very exciting research on images as vehicles for cultural and political identity in modern Italy. As the President of ASMI, Prof. Stephen Gundle, noted in his address, a conference with a focus on images would have been unthinkable when ASMI was first founded in the 1980s by scholars with research interests in political science and history. The cultural shift was accompanied by a visual one; both are testament to the significant changes in research and teaching within the field of Italian Studies and the role of visual and cultural material in the research and teaching practices of social scientists and historians. We now have a more complex and nuanced conception of history and politics in which cultural production sits more comfortably alongside other social, anthropological and economic factors. This shift does however call for interdisciplinary perspectives and a renewed dialogue between the social and economic sciences and the humanities.

Of the many iconic images that filled two very busy days, one seemed to be particularly significant in the context of an interdisciplinary dialogue: Michelangelo Pistoletto, Venus of the Rags [Venere degli stracci], 1967, 1974 (Tate Modern) which formed part of the analysis by Prof. Robert Lumley (UCL) of the role of monuments and anti-monuments in Italian art as central vehicles for national identity and its critique in modern Italy. Pistoletto’s Venus, facing a mountain of rags, is in the words of Lumley ‘gently mocking’ the grandiosity of the monument. The choice of medium is significant: Venus is not a precious marble statue reminiscent of the grand narrative of classical art but she is made of cement a material with very modern connotations. The rags are the tangible representation of the ephemeral and the everyday celebrated in Arte Povera. Politics, art practice, economic and social history and theory are some of the disciplines which could make this work their own by looking at the role of counterculture and social and political unrest in Italy in the late 1960s and 1970s.

What are your iconic image(s) of Italy?

New interdisciplinary project on photographer Luigi Ghirri

The interest in taking interdisciplinary and interartistic approaches to Italian cultural figures continues, as a new project is announced on Luigi Ghirri:  ‘Viewing and writing Italian Landscape: Luigi Ghirri and his legacy in photography and literature’, funded by Leverhulme and the British Academy. Marina Spunta (University of Leicester) and Jacopo Benci (The British School at Rome) are the principal and co-investigators. The project runs from now until August 2015 and its inaugural event is a conference at the British School in Rome, on Wednesday 9th October 2013. Marina has joined our own Advisory Board. Its objectives are to widen the study of the works of the Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri (1943-1992), and to explore his legacy in photography, literature and other disciplines (such as geography and aesthetics) and contemporary practices (such as art, the moving image, architecture) and to examine the intersections between photography, narrative writing on space/place and landscape.  

The first event is next week: “Come pensare per immagini?’ Luigi Ghirri e la fotografia / How to think in images? Luigi Ghirri and photography”,  at The British School at Rome, mercoledì 9 ottobre 2013, dalle 9.30 alle 19.30. The event is free and open to all. See the project website for details: http://www.le.ac.uk/ghirri and the blog http://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/luigighirri/

‘ITALIAN TRANSMEDIA CULTURE’: STORIES AND STORYTELLING ACROSS MEDIA by Emanuela Patti

On the occasion of the last SIS Biennial Conference (Durham, 7-11 July), I organized a panel entitled ‘Italian transmedia culture: stories and storytelling across media’ which included papers presented by Marco Amici (Cork), Emanuela Piga (Cagliari), Marina Guglielmi (Cagliari), Giulio Iacoli (Parma), Ilaria Masenga (Exeter) and myself. The panel aimed to investigate Italian storytelling across media, with a special focus on how new media technologies have fundamentally changed our methods of story constructions and modes of reception. One of the most remarkable experiences emerging from the convergence of old and new media is indeed ‘transmedia storytelling’ (Jenkins 2007).  As a result, this new medial hybridity has challenged the classical concepts of adaptation and intertextuality usually employed in literary and film studies. It has also reinforced the need for a rethinking of the boundaries of fictionality, genre, authorship and identity in relation to new technologies. The main topics addressed were new narrative practices across media and how older forms were extended (narrative interaction, multimodality, remediation of genres across media), authorship (dispersed authorship, co-creation, fan fiction, collective authorship), reception/participation of audiences (from traditional audiences to social networks, cultural production and communities). Papers looked at forms of cross-fertilisation between textual, pictorial, graphic and audio-visual mediality Italian literature, cinema, audio-visual and performative arts have responded to transmediality and how digital imaginaries shape and relate to our way of narrating ourselves and our creative practices.

I introduced the panel and the first session, Literature across borders, with the paper Dalla Galassia Gutenberg alla Galassia Internet: storie e narrazioni transmediali attraverso i media which mapped the development of media transmedia narratives in XXI century Italian fiction from Wu Ming to Scrittura Industriale Collettiva. In the next paper, Transmedia and Genre Narrative: Some Observations on United We Stand by Simone Sarasso and Daniele Rudoni, Marco Amici focused on a specific case study to investigate the new digital genre of net graphic novel and how this enacts a multimodal representation between fiction and history. In the third paper, La comunità convergente: memorie condivise e narrazioni in rete, Emanuela Piga examined the transmedial extension of the novel Manituana by Wu Ming and the role of communities around the collective’s blog Giap, looking at the conceptual relationship between ‘open work’ and ‘open source’. The second session, Rethinking Adaptation and Reception in the Era of Convergence Culture, started with Marina Guglielmi’s paper on the reception of classics in Walt Disney comics and fan-fictions. In the second paper, Mariposas in volo: analisi spaziale di un adattamento, da Sergio Atzeni a Salvatore Mereu, Giulio Iacoli examined practices of intermediality between Sergio Atzeni’s novel and Salvatore Mereu’s film, focusing on the visual translation of space and the narrator. Finally, Ilaria Masenga’s paper, Coming of Age in the Social Media Era: Literature, Readership and Fandom in Contemporary Italy, explored readers’ response and fandom in Pier Vittorio Tondelli’s Facebook fan page. The following debate was lively and stimulating addressing questions like power and representation, new media and ideologies, communities and collective identity.

Panel on Interdisciplinarity in Teaching by Giuliana Pieri – Society for Italian Studies Biennial Conference, Durham, 8th July 2013

Giuliana Pieri, in her paper on ‘Vision and Visuality in Italian Studies’, explored a surprising blind spot in the current field of Italian studies: the interdisciplinary field of Visual Studies. In 2010 the SIS journal Italian Studies moved to three issues per year, with a third issue dedicate to Cultural Studies (under the editorship of Prof. Derek Duncan). Since the publication of the volume Italian Cultural Studies: an Introduction, edited by D. Forcags and R. Lumley (1996) the field of Italian studies in the UK has witnessed a marked change in the direction of scholarly research and teaching. Cultural Studies responded to a broader conception of the boundaries of the disciplinary field, especially through the introduction of the study of Italian cinema, now an almost ubiquitous choice in the UG curriculum. Yet the cognate disciplinary area of Visual Cultural Studies, which also developed in the 1990s as a response to the theoretical changes that challenged the boundaries of Art History, has not been fully embraced by scholars in Italian Studies. Whilst we consider the theoretical and institutional challenges of interdisciplinary research in the UK in the 21st century, Pieri’s paper invited us to think about what is a discipline, what forces help to shape its boundaries, how can such boundaries be challenged and redefined, and, ultimatelly, what does the resistance to new disciplinary boundaries say about the state and future directions of a discipline.

Interdisciplinarity in the Secondary Modern Languages Curriculum, failed experiment or way forward? by Peter Langdale – Society for Italian Studies Biennial Conference, Durham, 8th July 2013

 

Before the radical changes to the languages curriculum that began in the late 1980s, the study of literature and the language required to read it were the unique focus of languages study in secondary schools. By comparison, the modern (Italian) A level contains very little study of literature, if any, and the syllabus is designed around a defined list of culturally non-specific ‘General Topics’  chosen, it would seem, according to a politically correct agenda.  In practice, of course, many teachers introduce a great deal of up to date and specifically Italian content, often by redefining or adapting topic headings to include aspects of Italian history, economics, politics and so forth, especially at A2.  It is true that in the second year of the course, students are expected to study one more specific (historical, geographic, social or cultural) topic but it is only assessed by a brief essay. The fact remains that very little of A Level is assessed for a candidate’s knowledge or understanding of Italy or Italian society. A new equivalent examination (Pre-U) attempts  to introduce a more interdisciplinary approach, allowing for the study of a cultural topic studied through the prism of a minimum of two plays, films or books as well as a specified work of literature, though the vast majority of schools will undoubtedly continue to offer A level. With A level reform underway, it is incumbent on all, including universities who have been promised ‘ownership’ of A level by the Secretary of State, to contribute to the design of the new ‘more rigorous’ examinations which are due to be introduced in the next 2 or 3 years. Here is an opportunity to encourage (through the design of the new examinations) the study of a range of culturally specific, interdisciplinary topics to promote student interest in the culture of the language being studied,  to eliminate ‘study’ of such topics as climate change and drug abuse and so make the study of Italian (or French, or German or Spanish), in sixth forms at least, more distinctive and stimulating for the student.

Panel on Interdisciplinarity in Teaching by Clodagh Brook – Society for Italian Studies Biennial Conference, Durham, 8th July 2013

Interdisciplinarity is everywhere seen as normative, necessary, and part of what we do, and need to do, as academics.  It’s good, isn’t it, to bring in documentaries when we teach history? It makes our courses more alive, surely, if we bring in paintings when we teach Renaissance literature? One can argue too that literature and film, the mainstays of our Italian Studies programmes, are also per se interdisciplinary – containing within them economics, psychology, philosophy, cultural studies and so on.  However, despite the omnipresence of interdisciplinarity, as Alan Liu puts it (1989), interdisciplinary study is the most seriously underthought critical, pedagogical and institutional concept in the modern academy.

In the paper, the first question posed by Dr Brook was whether interdisciplinary practice could strengthen the position of the discipline. She discussed what happens when Italian Studies lecturers work across campus to create networks (for a formalisation of this process, see Columbia University’s The Italian Academy founded 1991), or how working with those in other fields outside of academia facilitates impact cases and helps the discipline grow its public engagement profile, thus strengthening its position nationally.

However, she also addressed the threat of disaggregration. In his book, The University in Ruins, Bill Readings challenges some of the ambitious claims made for interdisciplinarity, suggesting that the term is malleable, and can be easily appropriated  in pursuit of the market-orientated university’s aims. In other words, interdisciplinarity has as much to do with Universities managing budgets and being flexible to the demands of the marketplace as it does with the admirable aims of intellectual dialogue and co-operation, since merging departments into interdisciplinary programmes can be a form of downsizing and cost-cutting (Readings, 191). This is not to say that interdisciplinarity is bad, per se, but that we need to be careful of how it is used. The second danger that needs to be faced is that of losing a sense of an overarching shape or sense to the disciplines. It is by means of disciplines that thinking traditions take shape and they have contributed immensely to the production of knowledge (Mills in the HEA’s Interdisciplinarity: A Literature Review, 2007), and to its curation and defence.  They promote rigour and depth, which provides a good foil to the breadth of interdisciplinarity.  If the discipline changes rapidly and in different ways from University to University it is hard to defend the need to have anything specific at all within its borders. While interdisciplinary brings benefits, these potential threats need to be taken on board.

In the paper, Dr Brook also explored a second question: how can we use interdisciplinarity (and pluridisciplinarity) to make teaching more interesting and worthwhile for students. She explored various possibilities, including clarifying student pathways with students, rethinking our introductory courses so that they also pose questions about the discipline and what questions get asked within it and who its players are (and are not),  asking students to co-write essays with fellow students from other Departments, like History of Art or Architecture, inviting  guest lecturers from other Departments to give classes on our courses, and using the Year Abroad better as a living laboratory for art, architecture, cinema, music. Here too, there are, of course, potential obstacles, such as the time-consuming organisation of team teaching and pedagogical issues around replacing depth of understanding with breadth.

Italian Studies is already an interdisciplinary, or probably more exactly, a pluridisciplinary discipline. We have film and literature in our Departments in a pluridisciplinary way, but how often do we bring them together and ask, for example, how has cinema affected writing in Italy?  Dr Brook ended the presentation by suggesting that we think more about where the gaps in our interdisciplinary/pluridisciplinary practice lie. Who are we not working with and why? Why are we working so little with Education, with Psychology, with Music, even English and IT, and into the hard sciences?  Our discipline, if not looked at with due reflexivity, loses sight of the amount of knowledge not accessible to it by the limits of its boundaries. We need too to be more aware of our interdisciplinary practice and to communicate this to students and to find the right balance in our courses between breadth and depth in our courses.

This is a time of change and challenge for Italian Studies. The relation of this discipline to others is crucial to navigating the threats of disaggregation and strengthening our hand.

 

Interdisciplinary Postmodernism: Re-thinking the Sixties by Pierpaolo Antonello (Cambridge)

Experiment/Experience

Pierpaolo Antonello’s contribution to the third Interdisciplinary Italy Workshop held at University College London,  Saturday, 11th May 2013, can be accessed here:

experimentexperience powerpoint

ExperimentExperience paper

roundtable

Interdisciplinary Postmodernism: Re-thinking the Sixties by Martina Caruso (Courtauld)

Fotografia circa 1968

I focus on the chiasmus that occurred between art, and photography in particular, around 1968 in Italy. By then artists had begun to creatively use photographic documents, rendering the medium an accepted art form. Photographers, conversely, started to experiment with the conceptual and self-reflexive potential of the medium beyond its perceived documentary straightjacket.

1968 represents a recognised locus for political and social fermentation and unrest as well as a heightened moment for neo-Dada and conceptual art experimentation. It was a time when photographers began to mix socially and professionally with artists. Nevertheless these ‘categories’ (art and photography) still tend to be examined separately in an art history subsumed by the arte povera movement promoted by Germano Celant.

At the time, Benedetto Croce’s 1902 idea that “photography is not quite art” still prevailed. Even current research that tries to draw links between art and photography maintains an inevitable separation that does not allow for the thematic and political cross-cuttings that began to occur between both practices in the late 1960s.

My investigation is the first to develop conceptual connections between the work of photographers and artists. Photographers like Mario Cresci, Ugo Mulas and Franco Vaccari began their careers in the 1950s and early 1960s making socially-engaged humanist documentary photographs. Their neorealist imagery shows a post-war Italy of folklore, behaviour and habits that were rapidly disappearing. In the late 1960s they began to look towards the world of art and experiment with installation, abstraction and seriality, influenced by Marcel Duchamp’s ultimate refusal to create. Around the same time, following the use of photographic imagery in pop art, conceptual artists like Alighiero Boetti, Giulio Paolini, Michelangelo Pistoletto and Emilio Prini began to use photography to play with ideas of perception.

Cresci, Mulas and Vaccari’s early photographs reveal a very distant world, while their later photographs can now be seen to occupy the realm of conceptual art. While a perceived divide that still exists between ‘artists’ and ‘photographers’, this presentation focuses on the social, conceptual and political ways in which their work is connected.

Interdisciplinary Postmodernism: Re-thinking the Sixties by Steve Halfyard (Birmingham Conservatoire)

Music/ theatre/ virtuosity: Berio, Berberian and Eco at the Studio di Fonologia

Dr Steve Halfyard examined the work Luciano Berio did involving language with Umberto Eco and Cathy Berberian at the studio di fonologia in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the profound impact on his subsequent compositions outside the studio as he sought to translate musical ideas he had explored electronically to live situations, the result being a new virtuosity in his instrumental writing as a key element in the way that he brought ideas of music and theatre together, especially in the series of pieces entitled Sequenza. Read more in the slide show with commentary here: Berio

Luciano Berio: Sequenza III for woman’s voice (1965) Performed by Steve Halfyard (Birmingham Conservatoire)

Luciano Berio: Sequenza III for woman’s voice (1965) Performed by Steve Halfyard (Birmingham Conservatoire)

Interdisciplinary Postmodernism: Re-thinking the Sixties by Catharine Rossi (Kingston)

Experimentation Through/With/Against the Past: The Role of Craft in Italian Design

The 1960s represent a moment of transition in post-war Italian design.  The earlier part of the decade was defined by its dominance in the international design marketplace, thanks to the desirable luxuries conceived by architects such as Gio Ponti and Vico Magistretti who were able to turn their modernizing, glamorizing hand to everything from the vernacular materials of Italy’s historic craft traditions to the newer realm of plastics.

The progressing decade saw a critical voice emerge amongst designers concerned at design’s market orientation.  This was evident in the Radical Design movement whose designs ironically embraced kitsch and bad taste.  Radical Design’s anti-modernist stance would become more transgressive and less-object based in the early 1970s before the advent of full-blown postmodernism with Studio Alchymia and Memphis by the 1980s.

Although well known in their own right, the links between these sixties and eighties in Italian design has received little critical examination. An interdisciplinary approach could provide the way to examine this; architects such as Ettore Sottsass, central figure to both Radical Design and Italian postmodernism, expressed their critical position through a conscious engagement with a discipline close to, but distinct from, design; craft, a realm with its own distinct, but largely unwritten, history.  This is a realm described by the craft historian Glenn Adamson as a “horizon” or a “conceptual limit” in artistic modernity, I argue that it occupies the same position in relation to design.[1]

There are three main ways that design could be seen to have productively played at this border with craft – first, through craft; the turn to artisanal makers for the physical realization of ideas, as in Sottsass’s reliance on the artisans behind the production of his Superboxes for Poltronova.  Designed in 1966, the Superboxes’ Pop art references expressed his rejection of Italian design’s elitism and attempt to connect with contemporary consumer culture.

Second, with craft; the embrace of historic Italian craft traditions such as ceramics and enamelware for surface experimentation and the exploration of alternative values in our relationship with material culture by way of craft concepts such as the vernacular.  This is seen in Sottsass’ Ceramiche delle Tenebre and Ceramiche di Shiva, made in the early 1960s in response to the architects’ illness and which spoke of his travels to both North America and India in this period.

Third, against craft; the active and visible negation of craft concepts – such as luxury and workmanship.  This was evident in the use of plastic laminates in objects such as the Superboxes, a material that would become the mainstay of Memphis designs such as Sottsass’s Casablanca  sideboard from 1981, and a casual approach that informed Sottsass’s enthusiasm for the particular workmanship of Renzo Brugola, the furniture maker who would oversee the production of Memphis objects.

As this brief summary has attempted to demonstrate, examining this interdisciplinary activity has implications for our understanding of Italian design, both in terms of its interdisciplinary and postmodern qualities.  Ultimately it shows that interdisciplinarity can be a useful way to think through design practice just as Sottsass actively used another discipline – craft – to think through his own.

References and Further Reading

 Adamson, Glenn, Thinking Through Craft (Oxford: Berg, 2007)

Adamson, Glenn and Jane Pavitt (eds.) Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970 – 1990 (London: V&A Museum, 2011)

Branzi, The Hot House: Italian New Wave Design, trans. by C.H. Evans (London: Thames and Hudson, 1984)

Radice, Barbara, Memphis: Research, Experiences, Results, Failures and Successes of New Design, trans. by Paul Blanchard (London: Thames & Hudson, 1985)

 Sparke, Penny, Italian Design 1870 to the Present (London: Thames & Hudson, 1988)


[1] Glenn Adamson, Thinking Through Craft (Oxford: Berg, 2007), p. 2.

Interdisciplinary Postmodernism: Re-thinking the Sixties by Robert Lumley (UCL)

Robert Lumley’s report of his contribution to the third Interdisciplinary Italy Workshop held at University College London,  Saturday, 11th May 2013, can be accessed here:

Sit in- Art Design and Politics in Italy in the 1960s

Discussion panel, Università degli Studi di Roma 3: How do metaphors of borders enable us to understand interdisciplinarity better? What does interdisciplinarity tell us about concepts of facilitating, policing, transgressing? How does the border crossing relate to fragmentation? How do ideas of emancipation and freedom fit in?

By Clodagh Brook

Our group were exploring metaphors of borders and their ability to enable us to understand interdisciplinarity better, and also looking at concepts of facilitating, policing and transgression.

Our discussion began with the strong imperative, voiced and seconded by members of the group, to map the contemporary period: its thought, the origin of that thought, the significant players, across the range of the arts, who now produce work though the Internet. Unlike the periods of modernism and the neoavantguardia/post-modernism, which we explored in the New York and London workshops, the contemporary period is so close to us that it disappears into a thousand fragments, rather like Antonioni’s hyper-enlarged pictures of the crime scene in Blow up. It is fluid and only partially and temporarily canonised. While a great deal has been written in media studies, sociology and so on about the changes wrought by the Internet, very little work is done specifically on the cultural shift within Italy.

We spent some time discussing the possible metaphors which might be used to approach interdisciplinarity. We looked particularly at relevant theoretical work: from Umberto Eco’s Opera aperta to Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of the rhizome (developed in their Capitalism and Schizophrenia  project) which allows for proliferation, the multiple, and the non-hierarchical; from the writings of Derrida, Nancy, Foucault, Maurice Blanchot,  to the new understandings of subjectivity, identity, and freedom expressed in so-called post-humanist thought (Katherine Hayles (Writing and Machines), Donna Haraway (A Cyborg Manifesto), Rosi Braidotti (the nomadic subject).  There was also discussion of the importance of the ‘secondo oralità’ in the Internet age, and the possible outcomes of this. There was some discussion too of the works bringing together literature and technology by George Landow and Katherine Hayles, and mentions of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Alvin I. Goldman and Renato Barile, alongside arte povera and arte concettuale. Conversation turned inevitably to Wu Ming, and especially to an example of a piece of graffiti by Blu on a wall of an occupied building, the Xm24 in Bologna, which Wu Ming commented on and of which they told the story story http://radio.rcdc.it/archives/occupymordor-wu-ming-racconta-blu-116698/ . In it Tolkien’s narrative becomes part of Blu’s political graffiti, and it then narrated by Wu Ming; the story migrates and changes through different mediums. The discussion therefore threw up a variety of possible metaphors and practices.

Power and the surveillance of borders was then discussed.  Who polices the huge, and ever growing number of new genres and virtual artistic de-formations? We discussed how in the literary world it is editors who police text, but the Internet is of course bypassing this by publishing material directly on line. The ideology of participation is clearly important here, and needs more research to be done on it.  While it’s clear that old forms of power and authority are being removed or shifted, no one in our group had a definitive answer for where new forms of power were collecting.  There were some possible directions indicated: new global powers (including new global languages like English), hackers, the continuing social power of the Premio Strega, blogs creating an on-line territoriality competing with the off-line one and especially the powerful personalities of some of these bloggers.

Emanuela Piga thought that it would be interesting to contrast the reactions to texts on the web to reactions within the institutions – looking at blogs competing with off-line work.

We agreed that a collective bibliography would be a good next step.

This group still lacks people working on contemporary design and on music and we should endeavour to get representatives from these fields involved in the project.

like-horror

Advertising campaign for the 31st edition of the Oporto International Film Festival, Fantasporto 2011, realised by DraftFCB (http://www.draftfcb.com/) in Jornal de Notícias, Lisbon, 24 February 2011. http://reface.me/humor/bloody-like-button/

Discussion panel, Università degli Studi di Roma 3: How do metaphors of borders enable us to understand interdisciplinarity better? What does interdisciplinarity tell us about concepts of facilitating, policing, transgressing? How does the border crossing relate to fragmentation? How do ideas of emancipation and freedom fit in?

By Emanuela Patti

Our group focused on borders and border crossing in relation to interdisciplinarity in the Internet age. The first part of our discussion covered issues like the relationship between academic journal and blogs in interdisciplinary intellectual discourse, as well as forms of transmedia storytelling from narrative texts to narrative landscape. Following our stimulating discussion, one of the first questions to answer is the following: does our Internet ‘brainframe’ (De Kerckhove) influence the way we approach the disciplines and their relation to each other? I have gathered a few thoughts on this issue. In a media ecological perspective, the answer would be positive. The assumption would be that the socio-technological environment we live in has an impact on the way we conceive knowledge and interact with the world. In this sense, representation and cultural practice are strictly related to the technologies that, respectively, produce and facilitate them. As Neil Postman said, ‘Our languages are our media. Our media are our metaphors. Our metaphors create the content of our culture’. Drawing on Postman, we could then reformulate the questions above in the following terms: what does the border crossing of the Internet tell us about interdisciplinarity? And, more precisely, how does the rhizomatic structure of the Internet contribute to interdisciplinary thinking? How is this competing with the other media through which we develop and communicate knowledge, especially the book? In The Gutenberg Galaxy, McLuhan emphasizes that the way we have conceived knowledge up to the electronic age has been influenced by the linear narrative structure of the printed book and the predominance of the sight on all other senses. The so-called ‘book mentality’ has significantly contributed to giving a sense of an ending to our narratives and creating our ‘point of view’ on the world. Also, it has encouraged disciplinary specialisation and the fragmentation of knowledge. If we consider academia as the place in which specialised knowledge is developed to its highest levels, we could further explore how virtual interconnectedness is challenging the compartmentalisation of physical and disciplinary areas in our universities, how new narrative forms of knowledge can co-exist with traditional ones and what consequences the former and the latter would have on knowledge development in our networked culture.

Discussion panel on the causes of contemporary interdisciplinarity, Università degli Studi di Roma 3: Where do the roots of contemporary interdisciplinarity lie? Why has it taken place in Italy during this period and what contributed to these developments? What is the place of technology in the development of cross-fertilisation?

By Florian Mussgnug

Rome, 22April 2013: For some participants of our second workshop, “Italian Interdisciplinarity in the Internet Age”, the afternoon ended with an intensive and illuminating discussion about the causes of contemporary interdisciplinarity, and about the specific influence of new communication networks. Our debate acknowledged the importance of technological progress, and distinguished between three significant elements: the physical dimension (new hardware), the digital dimension (new ways of creating and storing information), and the semantic dimension (cyberspace). We agreed that the existence of the last two depends crucially on the first, but decided that, for reasons of competence as well as time constraints, we would focus on the second and third domain. This allowed us to adopt a less technically specific definition of “internet”: a network of communications that grants a computer anywhere in the world rapid access to any other computer’s information.

The semantic dimension (“cyberspace”), it was felt, has a particular relevance for the production of new works of art, but also for new forms of social organization and collective action. In this context, our discussion focused on hypertexts and the specific status of genre literature. Over the past decade, we agreed, the direct impact of the internet had been most conspicuous in relation to clearly codified literary genres and sub-genres, such as epistolary writing. At the same time, internet literature had encouraged new forms of reader involvement, i.e. movement and interactivity rather than self-distancing and passive absorption. For some members of our group these dynamics and textual possibilities were anticipated in interesting ways by the non-linear fictions and “open” narratives of the mid-Twentieth Century. For others, the emergence of collective and hypertextual narratives appeared more specifically linked to global communication technologies, and therefore unique to the internet age. We agreed that the dynamics of literary readership and reception were still underexplored, and that there was a substantial need for further enquiry, not only from a theoretical-philosophical perspective but also at the level of quantitative, sociolinguistic and socio-cultural analysis.

Our appreciation of the digital domain was largely undisputed. We acknowledged the importance of the internet as an archive for works originally published under “old” technologies. In this context, we emphasized the crucial role of digitalization, not only for the scholarly presentation of archival material, but also for the rapid and widespread divulgation of texts. The members of our group saw increased ease of access as a fundamental precondition for contemporary scholarly research, and a prerequisite for teaching and widening access. But basic “internet literacy” was a source of concern, in this context. It was felt that the digitalization of archival material and free and instant access to information were most beneficial to a highly educated minority, many of whom had been trained in more “traditional” learning environments. New readers without appropriate training, by contrast, were, in our opinion, likely to be disoriented by the millions of blogs, bulletin boards, and websites available online, and would probably struggle to recognize more authoritative sources. We further established that a genuine understanding of the physical domain (hardware), and of programming was the privilege of a small number of specialists, and that this had potentially worrying consequences. Finally, we expressed our concern about the fragility of digital information storage, which contrasts greatly with the solidity and durability of the book.

Finally, we made an attempt to relate the contemporary interest in interdiscplinarity to what we perceived as a profound crisis of traditional institutions of learning and research, in higher education. In this context, we referred to some recent attacks against “overspecialization” and the widespread view that scholarship in the humanities is self-limiting and self-referential. We established that this view is problematic. But we also expressed concern about the difficult and lengthy process of acquiring credentials in academia, especially for scholars working in the arts and humanities, where disciplinary boundaries are particularly open to re-interpretation.  In conclusion, we agreed that disciplinary knowledge and interdisciplinary curiosity were equally necessary for the wellbeing of the arts and humanities, and that the “internet age”, despite its evident challenges, had enhanced our ability to think critically, to understand and criticize authority and tradition, to sympathize with the marginalized and different.

plantguildsA3-Urbaniahoeve-thumbnail

Plant Guilds http://jaromil.dyne.org/artworks
Permaculture urban laboratory http://urbaniahoeve.nl

Discussion panel on policy implications, Università degli Studi di Roma 3: How can interdisciplinarity inspire new patterns of research and teaching?

By Giuliana Pieri

Panel: M. Gargiulo (Bergen), Joanna Kostylo (The British School at Rome), (Università Statale, Milano), G. Pieri (RHUL).

Marco Gargiulo’s observation on the interdisciplinary nature of many job adverts in Italian Studies in UK universities (asking for instance teaching and/or research expertise in 20th-century literature AND cinema) was the starting point for our discussion on the interdisciplinary thrust of Italian Studies in the UK. Departmental structures, with Italian as part of larger groupings which include alternatively European Languages and Cultures and European Studies, were viewed by the panel as a sign of the de facto interdisciplinary context in which we currently operate.

Our discussion moved onto to three levels at which interdisciplinary research and teaching operate in academic institutions:

  1. The research interests of the individual scholar. This area was further broken down into:
    1. The need for scholars to establish their reputation by building a portfolio of publications in specific areas in order to respond to the academic job market.
    2. The book market and its disciplinary boundaries which respond to marketing needs/strategies.
    3. The research and publication model which is prevalent in the humanities which does not favour multiple authors.
    4. Departmental interests and structures which may foster or hinder those of the individual. Examples which we briefly touched upon were research clusters within departments; the artificial grouping of modern foreign languages which fosters comparative approaches within certain areas (ex. Linguistics and literary studies) but not others (English, history, music are very seldom linked at departmental level with modern European languages).
    5. Wider institutional interests. For example, the launch by many UK universities of research themes which could be seen as either a means to foster interdisciplinary research OR to curb intellectual freedom. Or the impact of research assessment in the UK—Italian Studies will be assessed by a Modern Languages panel for the first time.

As the previous discussion panel at NYU noted, financial factors seems to have an impact on interdisciplinary research. The drive towards interdisciplinarity can help institutions to frame more positively departmental cuts and restructuring, but it is also linked to the policies of national and European funding bodies to which universities and individuals need to respond. This was seen by some members of our panel as a threat to the individual scholar and the high quality research which in the Humanities is still often the preserve of the lone scholar.

A different model of fostering interdisciplinarity could be seen within non-academic institutions. We talked about the British School at Rome in which for instance scholars with a shared interest in Italian culture, literature, art, archaeology and artists share the same physical and metaphorical roof.

Our final thought was that discussing interdisciplinary research and teaching in Italian Studies was a means to open up discussion on the identity of Italian Studies and the place and status of the discipline in different national and institutional contexts.

Roma ristorante

Post on Philosophical and ideological underpinnings of Interdisciplinary modernism.

How do metaphors of borders enable us to understand interdisciplinarity better? What does interdisciplinarity tell us about concepts of facilitating, policing, transgressing? How does the border crossing relate to fragmentation? How do ideas of emancipation and freedom fit in?

The main areas we discussed were border crossing and transgressing. We looked at the fact that the literary rhetorical load of the great work of art in Italy made it more difficult for Italians to transgress. We also looked at how much the establishment recognized the transgression, especially in relation to the time lag between the border crossings in the arts and its recognition in Universities and other parts of the establishment. Croce’s influence on early 20th society was of particular importance, as effectively policed the boundaries of art to exclude, for example, fashion (an attitude that postmodernism, with its fusing of high and low art, changed).

However, conversely, the use of the avant-garde by the fascist establishment means that there is a utility to saying ‘no’, i.e. when border-crossing is taken on by particular powers within the establishment. Boundaries may then need to be reinstated. As Eco tells us, of course, the revolutions of the past become the conventions of the present.

In other words, there is  a “multispeed” aspect to porosity which needs to be taken into account.  In early twentieth century, there was a porosity between the high arts, but not really between high and low. We thought it interesting to explore further which boundaries were, and were not, porous.

We brought in the architectural term of ‘refunctioning’ in relation to traditional arts and the idea of ‘disorderly return’ which springs up at the borders between the reactionary and the progressive.

We also touched on policy in relation to transgression:  in the current teaching of Italian Studies, there is a sidelining of literature in favour of an interdisciplinary approach. To go against the dominant ideology of interdisciplinarity is in this context revolutionary.

In relation to creativity, the group generally felt that boundary crossing between the arts in Modernism was not necessarily a magic formula for creativity. Being constrained can increase creativity.

 

Discussion panel on policy implications, New York University, Casa Italiana: how can interdisciplinarity inspire new patterns of research and teaching?

Panel: R. Ben-Ghiat (NYU),  J. Champagne (PennState), G. Pieri (RHUL), L. Somigli (Toronto University).

Our discussion group benefited from multiple national perspectives (US, Canada, UK). We focused on a number of interrelated issues and took as our starting point the morning sessions which raised the issue of the kind of disciplinary training that makes interdisciplinary connections possible.

The first point we discussed was related to funding and resources in institutions and how they may be linked to the current drive towards interdisciplinarity as a means to group together cognate disciplines which have traditionally occupied separate spaces. Is this a money saving exercise? Is this the future of smaller subject and/or disciplinary areas in the face of current funding cuts in the arts and humanities sectors?

We also discussed the effect of the need to offer courses in English (with all material in English translation) and how that may affect the teaching of Italian content courses. It is fair to say that we were less preoccupied with this issue since we saw language learning as often separate from the teaching of content. Tighter links between language and content in Italian Studies may or may not be desirable, since the come with their own sets of advantages and disadvantages.

Our discussion then moved onto another central issue: what is the difference between a mono-disciplinary and an interdisciplinary approach from a pedagogical point of view? We spent a lot of time over the thorny issue of transmission of knowledge and the relative merits of different approaches to disciplinary boundaries.

This led us also to discuss the idea of the canon and the shifts in the Italian curriculum. J. Champagne offered the perspective of English in which the canon, as he put it, is simply ‘too large to cover it all’. We noted the similarity with the situation in Italian Studies in which a once traditional curriculum, dominated by the study of Italian literature, now includes a variety of other areas of study, especially cinema, history, and the visual arts. We thought that the expanding boundaries of the curriculum could/should be seen as a liberating force which allows a much more flexible approach to curriculum design and delivery. We also wondered whether the fact that we still think of the boundaries of the specific disciplines may be linked to longstanding 19th-century notions of academic disciplines.

We also noted the difference of US Honours programmes and their relative flexibility since the 1980s. This institutional shift has not taken place in the UK. However, we noted that, if one takes the example of Italian Studies in the UK, the growth of Italian Cultural Studies since the 1990s has altered the curriculum and has led some departments to develop a more interdisciplinary offer.

 

Italian Interdisciplinary Modernism (Part III)

Italian Interdisciplinary Modernism (Part III)

The final set of papers in the morning session of our New York workshop shows the potential for fostering interdisciplinary thinking when one brings together scholars with expertise in multiple areas. In 2007 our two speakers, Giuliana Pieri (RHUL) and Jacqueline Reich (Stony Brook) met at a workshop co-hosted by Reading and Royal Holloway in which scholars from a wide variety of disciplinary contexts (history of the Church, French and German history, cinema etc) came together to provide a much needed wider context to the main project, the study of the personality cult of Italy’s Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. The research project, funded by the AHRC, was lead by Stephen Gundle (Warwick), Christopher Duggan (Reading), and Giuliana Pieri (RHUL).

Giuliana Pieri presented briefly the project (which run between 2006-2010) by highlighting how the coming together of three distinct disciplines—cinema and media (Gundle), history (Duggan) and art history (Pieri)—resulted in a much needed wider contextualization of the cult of the Italian dictator. By placing Mussolini in the context of the age of mass media and celebrity culture, and by looking at the ways in which the cult reverberated in Italian culture in the post war period, the project aimed to understand the creation and development over time of the extraordinary cult of personality which surrounded the Italian dictator.

Jacqueline Reich’s paper on Maciste, the Italian strongman who was the protagonist of a phenomenally successful series of films both in Italy and abroad, showed the effect that an interdisciplinary approach can have on research. Drawing from a wide variety of disciplines and discourses—cinema, the press, race, celebrity and mass culture—Jacqueline’s study of the impact of the Maciste franchise in North America showed how one can build a complex and multifaceted picture of a cultural and cinematic phenomenon.

Italian Interdisciplinary Modernism (Part II)

The Guggenheim Museum in New York is currently working on a major exhibition on Futurism which will open in February 2014. Dr Vivien Green, curator of 19th and early 20th century art and chief curator of the show, gave us a fascinating insight into the planning of the event in her talk entitled ‘Exhibiting Italian Futurism in 2014: l’opera d’arte totale’. She literally took us on a virtual guided tour of the forthcoming exhibition, showing us how the architectural space of the museum is guiding, challenging and inspiring the way in which Italian Futurism will be presented to the American and international public in 2014. The show promises to be a major rethinking of the entire Futurist moment from its inception in 1909 to its development in the interwar years and will include some lesser known figures such as Gerardo Dottori, an excellent example of the regional reach of Futurism and the dynamic relationship within later Futurism between the periphery (Umbria and the city of Perugia in particular) and the centre which by the late 1920 and 1930 for the Futurists had shifted from Milan to Rome.

The question of the often difficult integration of music into traditional exhibition formats will be addressed by the show and forms part of the strong commitment to a truly interdisciplinary display of the Italian Futurist movement. This is especially interesting to our project since it relates to one of the specific questions which we wanted to raise during our first workshop: how does our understanding of Italian Modernism affect trends in museum display and curatorial choices? The reverse is of course also true: physical and financial constraints, curatorial choices and display trends have the potential to affect and/or obstruct our understanding of artistic movements especially when they have at their core an interdisciplinary and multimedia agenda.

I was also struck by another challenge which Dr Greene faced and raised with us: how to build layers of knowledge and information which can at once challenge and engage the general public, who may come to the show with very little previous knowledge of Italian Futurism, and those who may already possess a strong interest in the Italian avant-garde movement.

The current exhibition at the Guggenheim, Gutai: Splendid Playground, which presents Japan’s most influential avant-garde collective of the postwar era which had interesting links with the Italian neo-avanguardia, puts in sharp relief the idea of disciplinary boundaries in the postwar period which we are going to explore in the forthcoming workshops. The amazing space of the Guggenheim rotunda is now filled with a work by Motonaga Sadamasa, Water. The Guggenheim commissioned the artist ‘to recreate this work for the rotunda, where he hangs common, polyethylene tubes of varying widths filled with brightly-colored water between the rotunda levels, making giant brushstrokes out of catenaries in the open air that catch the sunlight (Work [Water], 1956/2011)’.

232 (3)

Italian Interdisciplinary Modernism

By Tomás Fano (New York. Little Italy) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsOur first workshop took place at the Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò on Friday 22 February. The morning session had three position papers which addressed in different ways the potential and challenges of interdisciplinary approaches in the study of some discreet aspects of Italian modernism.

Since the lectures were recorded on video and will be available soon, the following summary of the day’s events constitutes a personal response rather than a more formal record of the proceedings. Let’s start with Prof. David Forgacs’s talk ‘Disciplines, Arts, Industries, Technologies, Spaces’.

David gave us a very thought provoking presentation, which echoed what some of the members of our advisory board said in our November 2012 meeting by reminding us that interdisciplinary is not always a good thing. The relationship between the arts (which many of us see as one of the fundamental contributions to the artistic debate and art practices of Italian modernism) looks different if one looks at it from the point of the view of the academic researcher or from that of the educator. David stressed the importance of well trained people in different disciplines coming together as opposed to the absence of disciplinary boundaries per se, and shifted the emphasis on the type of disciplinary training that is needed in order to make interdisciplinary connections. The existing disciplinary boundaries were indeed a real concern for some of the Italian Futurists, especially if we think about the Futurist critique of academic artistic training which is where interdisciplinary work truly happened. David also addressed the issue of the Italian (but probably not peculiarly Italian) anxiety about backwardness which is the backdrop against which ideas of modernity were projected. I was very interested in the point he made about the way Italian modernism was fashioned and its complex links with tradition, since tradition was of course mostly excluded but also at times reinstated as part of the idiom of Italian modernity.

Technological changes (the literally and metaphorically wireless—senza fili—technology embraced by the Futurists), new art forms (especially cinema as the eminently inter-artistic medium of the time) and the role of the cultural industries as mediators between artists and the public/political space reminded me of the need to address modernism from multiple perspectives and to place the art and the artist firmly within the new spaces created by modernity. The move away from the cafe society of interwar Italy and the world of the riviste (the literary and art journals which were so influential in shaping Italian intellectuals at the time) to one of radio, tv and mass motoring in the postwar period produced new Italian intellectuals who were not anymore self-contained outsiders but found their space within the cultural industries and academia.

It seems fitting to mention a final point raised by David’s lecture to conclude this first posting. A great part of the period under examination (we set the years 1900-1940 as our chronological focus) witnessed strict cultural control raising the issue of the scope of interdisciplinarity under Fascism.

In the next posting you will find a more on the other papers in the morning session and further ideas and points for discussion which came out of the small working groups in the afternoon session. We hope you will keep reading and contributing to our blog.

Welcome to Interdisciplinary Italy, a network that brings together musicians, academics, museum curators, artists and teachers interested in 20th and 21st century culture in Italy. We are exploring the relations between the arts in modern and contemporary Italy and how this influences the teaching of Italian in Universities and schools…

Michelangelo Pistoletto, L’Italia Riciclata. Padiglione Italia alla 13. Mostra Internazionale di Architettura della Biennale di Venezia. In the picture: Michelangelo Pistoletto, Luca Zevi, Maurizio Molini e Mario Pieroni. http://www.pistoletto.it and http://www.cittadellarte.it

.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.