Saturday, June 30, 2012

Margaret Mazzantini in New York

An Interview with Margaret Mazzantini on the Eve of Her Arrival in New York

BENEDETTA GRASSO (April 14, 2011)
The Italian writer represents Italy at the PEN World Voices Festival with her latest novel "Twice Born". i-Italy had a chance to sit down with her

Writers of the world, unite! ThePEN World Voices Festival is just around the corner (April 25-May 11). It is a cultural event, founded by the world’s oldest international literary and human rights organization in which New York brings together voices from Israel to Nicaragua, from Russia to Korea.
The only Italian flag in this diverse group of more than a hundred writers, is carried by Margaret Mazzantini, an immensely popular writer in her home-country who has sold millions of copies and won the most important literary awards (Premio StregaPremio Grinzane Cavour). Her latest works have become International bestsellers: Don’t Move was turned into a feature film starring Penelope Cruz by her husband Sergio Castellitto, a prominent Italian actor and director.

Artistic genes are in her blood: her father was writer Carlo Mazzantini, her mother the Irish painter Anne Donnelly. Born in Dublin, Margaret moved to Italy as a child and now embodies Italy and represents it abroad in its truest form.
Twice Born
Margaret Mazzantini
Margaret Mazzantini
and Sergio Castellitto
Sergio Castellitto
Penelope Cruz
PEN Festival

At the PEN Festival, Mrs Mazzantini is presenting her novel Twice Born (published in Italy in 2008 with the original title Venuto al Mondo). Twice Born is a compelling novel, one of those that keep you awake at night turning the pages and holding your breath. It’s moving and intimate but it also takes you on a historical and political journey in the war-torn world of ex-Jugoslavia during the early 1990s.

The story moves back and forth between the present and the past: a mother, Gemma takes her 16-year-old son to Sarajevo for the first time where he was born and his father Diego died.
We slowly start to grasp the love story between Gemma and Diego that changes as the city changes over ten years and when the siege of Sarajevo begins things don’t look as rosy and hopeful as they did at first, as Gemma discovers she can’t have children.
To discover Pietro’s story, how he came to life and the constant twists and turns, you have to read the book…

Margaret Mazzantini gave us an interview.

You have always been a multi-faceted artist, an actress, a writer, and a dramatist. It seems like in your personal and professional life cinema and literature always overlap. When you sit down to write, what inspires your creativity more? Do these different experiences help?

Well, first and foremost I’m a writer and a writer has to be in sync with his or her times, with contemporary art. Obviously all these experiences converge and definitely my years in the theater, not only acting, but analyzing different texts, have helped me.
More importantly, though, I observe. I’m an observer. There are writers who turn all their attention within, while I’m a writer who sits in front of an open window.
I like how writing always manages to make you visualize things even if you’re not familiar with them. I don’t know if I would define my writing visual - possibly visual and visionary at the same time - but at the end of the day the greatness of an author is measured by the hidden intensity. It doesn’t simply make you imagine new things, but it unties the most intimate nods and it becomes cathartic.
We need to be moved by books that tear down walls of incommunicability a lot of us have built today.
A book becomes a secret map and the story is a gift that a writer gives to the writers, you give them the themes you care more about.
A writer is a vision of the world.

How was Twice Born conceived?

The book had a long gestation period. It’s always like that when you have a story that buzzes in your head for years and it’s made of images you are not really conscious of.
I’ve never written something just to sell or have it published.
The inspiration for this book started in 1991, when my first child, Pietro was born. It’s not a coincidence, in fact, that I’ve called the character of the son in the book Pietro.
He was a little newborn baby that required all my attention and I would spend my days inside breastfeeding and on the TV there were the images of the war in Sarajevo. I can remember that mixture of feelings: a world that was falling apart, horrible images of refugees, war, corpses across the sea, a few miles from my house and that powerful hope of having given life.
You know, the war in Ex-Yugoslavia was one of the first wars that was televised almost live and we could follow it very closely, it had a real emotional impact on us.
After several years I thought back on that time and told a story of a woman that defies every odd to have a child. She’s slowly stripped of her previous ways of life to immerse herself in a love story that crumbles along with the Soviet Union, the Berlin Wall and ultimately the siege of Sarajevo becomes the siege of all the characters in the story.

What makes this story International and in which ways does it represent Europe?

When the book came out in Italy I received lots of emails and letter of readers, psychologists, historians, volunteers, young people who thanked me for depicting a side of history that they either took part in and touched them deeply, or knew very little about and discovered for the first time. There are aspects of our European history that for the old continent are still very relevant and I’m not sure how well those are known in the States.
That being said, this is a story about a war, that could be any war; it’s universal and the setting could even be defined a “metaphysical” one. War brings out the best and the worst of people because it’s an extreme situation were all the masks fall down. There are “bad guys” and “heroes” but I chose to focus on the silent heroes.
Twice Born tells a story that could have happened anywhere, but at the same time captures twenty years of European history.

What are the aspects of this book that will resonate the most in America?
Once again I feel like a good novel has to be universal and great writers such as Dostoyevsky talk among themselves and to the audience despite the language barrier. Somehow even the stories are always the same: the struggle of being human, our temporary lives…these are all universal themes that will touch an American audience as well as any other audience.

i-Italy’s readers all have a double passport, real or imaginary. You can relate to this having different national identities among your own family, and your book focuses on Italians in another land. Pietro learns more and more things about Sarajevo, a new world, and absorbs them. How do you think this theme plays out in your book?

It is absolutely true. It’s a book about us and “the others”, about different cultures and it’s particularly relevant today given our global and multi-ethnic world to see how even one own’s son can come from a different world. I think there is a focus on a cosmopolitan reality in the book on discovering who our “fathers” are.

Sarajevo changed a lot through the years and serves as a background to the love story. Do you have a special connection to that city?
I’ve been there and met truly amazing people that have showed me how strong they had to be during the war. In 1984 the Olympic torch was lit in Sarajevo starting an era of hope and struggles and the torch passes on and on from generation to generation, from the different “fathers” you will meet in the book, that Pietro will meet…and yet it still symbolizes that hope and a child born under the most terrible circumstances can still turn out to be a normal sweet teenager filled with ingenuity and a surprising innocence like any other teenager around the world.

What are your expectations for the PEN World Voices? Are you excited?
I’m definitely curious and excited. I have a lot of readers in Italy and an audience that I know really well so it’s always different to be abroad. In America, translations and foreign writers occupy a smaller percentage of the literary market, but it will be an interesting and positive experience. I have great expectations about the book because I know that it’s a story that is both universal and specific, a fable and a tranche de vie.
I‘m also excited to meet other writers, and to embark on a small journey, although a writer only needs imagination to travel around the world…

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Gustave Courbet / The Origin of the World

by Gustave Courbet

L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World) is an oil-on-canvas painted by French artist Gustave Courbet in 1866. It is a close-up view of the genitals and abdomen of a naked woman, lying on a bed with legs spread. The framing of the nude body, with head, arms and lower legs outside of view, emphasizes the eroticism of the work.

Joanna Hiffernan
by James Whistler
Identity of the model

At the time Courbet was working on the painting his favourite model was a young woman,Joanna Hiffernan, also known as Jo. Her lover at the time was James Whistler, the American painter and friend of Courbet.
Courbet did another painting in 1866, La belle Irlandaise (Portrait of Jo), whose model was Joanna Hiffernan. During his whole career, Courbet did four portraits of Hiffernan. She was probably the model for L’Origine du monde, which might explain Courbet’s and Whistler's brutal separation a short while later. Whistler then returned to London. In spite of Hiffernan’s red hair contrasting with the darker pubic hair of L’Origine du monde, the hypothesis that Hiffernan was the model for it prevails.

File:La belle Irlandaise (Portrait of Jo).JPG
La belle irlandaise
Portrait of Jo
by Gustave Courbet

L’Origine du monde in the Musée d'Orsay.

The commission for L’Origine du monde is believed to have come from Khalil Bey, an Ottoman diplomat, former ambassador of the Ottoman Empire in Athens and Saint Petersburg who had just moved to Paris.Sainte-Beuve introduced him to Courbet and he ordered a painting to add to his personal collection of erotic pictures, which already included Le Bain turc (The Turkish Bath) from Ingres and another painting by Courbet, Les Dormeuses (The Sleepers), for which it is supposed that Hiffernan was one of the models.
After Khalil-Bey’s finances were ruined by gambling, the painting subsequently passed through a series of private collections. It was first bought during the sale of the Khalil-Bey collection in 1868, by antique dealer Antoine de la Narde. Edmond de Goncourt hit upon it in an antique shop in 1889, hidden behind a wooden pane decorated with the painting of a castle or a church in a snowy landscape. According to Robert Fernier, Hungarian collector BaronFerenc Hatvany bought it at the Bernheim-Jeune gallery in 1910 and took it with him to Budapest. Towards the end of the Second World War the painting was looted by Soviet troops but ransomed by Hatvany who, when he emigrated, was allowed to take only one art work with him, and he tookL'Origine to Paris.
In 1955 L’Origine du monde was sold at auction for 1.5 million francs. Its new owner was the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Together with his wife, actress Sylvia Bataille, he installed it in their country house in Guitrancourt. Lacan asked André Masson, his stepbrother, to build a double bottom frame and draw another picture thereon. Masson painted a surrealist, allusive version of L’Origine du monde. The New York public had the opportunity to viewL’Origine du monde in 1988 during the Courbet Reconsidered show at the Brooklyn Museum; the painting was also included in the exhibition Gustave Courbet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2008. After Lacan died in 1981, the French Minister of Economy and Finances agreed to settle the family’s inheritance tax bill through the transfer of the work (dation en lieu in French law) to the Musée d'Orsay, an act which was finalized in 1995.

Provocative work

During the 19th century, the display of the nude body underwent a revolution whose main activists were Courbet and Manet. Courbet rejected academic painting and its smooth, idealised nudes, but he also directly recriminated the hypocritical social conventions of the Second Empire, where eroticismand even pornography were acceptable in mythological or oneiric paintings.
Courbet later insisted he never lied in his paintings, and his realism pushed the limits of what was considered presentable. With L'Origine du monde he has made even more explicit the eroticism of Manet's Olympia. Maxime Du Camp, in a harsh tirade, reported his visit to the work’s purchaser, and his sight of a painting “giving realism’s last word”.
By the very nature of its realistic, graphic eroticism, the painting still has the power to shock and triggers censorship.


The explicitness of the picture may have served as an inspiration, albeit with a satirical twist, for Marcel Duchamp's last major work, Étant donnés (1946–1966), a construction also featuring the image of a woman lying on her back, legs spread apart.

L’Origine du monde in the Musée d'Orsay.

In February 1994, the novel Adorations perpétuelles (Perpetual Adorations) by Jacques Henric reproduced L’Origine du monde on its cover. Police visited several French bookshops to have them withdraw the book from their windows. A few proprietors, such as the Rome bookshop in Clermont-Ferrand, maintained the book, but others, such as Les Sandales d’Empédocle in Besançon, complied, and some voluntarily removed it. The author was saddened by these events: “A few years ago, bookshops were anti-establishment. When the Ministry of the Interior, in 1970, banned Pierre Guyotat’s book, Eden, Eden, Eden, bookshops had been places of resistance. Today, they anticipate censorship....”[citation needed]
On February 23, 2009, a similar situation happened in Braga, Portugal, when the police confiscated the book "Pornocratie" by Catherine Breillat, displayed in bookshops using L’Origine du monde as its cover. A great deal of controversy was sparked by the police action. The reason given was the need to maintain public order. Also, the book title incorrectly hinted at pornographic content. Portuguese law forbids public displays of pornography.
In February 2011, Facebook censored L'Origine du monde after it was posted by Copenhagen-based artist Frode Steinicke, to illustrate his comments about a television program aired on DR2. Following the incident, many other Facebook users defiantly changed their profile pictures to the Courbet painting in an act of solidarity with Steinicke. Facebook which originally disabled Steinicke's profile finally re-enabled it without the L'Origine du monde picture. As the case won media attention, Facebook deleted other pages about the painting.
In October 2011, again, a complaint was lodged against Facebook with the "tribunal de grande instance de Paris" (Paris court of general jurisdiction) by a French Facebook user after his profile was disabled for showing a picture of L'Origine du monde. The picture was a link to a television program aired on Arte about the history of the painting. As he got no answer to his emails to Facebook, he decided to lodge a complaint for "infringement of freedom of expression" and against the legality of Facebook's terms which define the courts located in Santa Clara County, California, as the exclusive place of jurisdiction for all litigating claims.
Although moral standards and resulting taboos regarding the artistic display of nudity have changed since Courbet, owing especially to photography and cinema, the painting remained provocative. Its arrival at the Musée d'Orsay caused high excitement.
The Serbian performance artist Tanja Ostojić parodied the work in her so-called "EU Panties" poster in 2005.
According to postcard sales L’Origine du monde is the second most popular painting in the Musée d’Orsay, after Renoir’s Bal du moulin de la Galette.
The image is also referenced as inspiring Catherine Breillat's filming of the female genitalia in her 2004 film Anatomie de l'enfer (Anatomy of Hell).
In 2010, British composer Tony Hymas composed "De l'origine du monde" a musical suite dedicated to the picture as well as relations between Courbet and La Commune de Paris, and based on texts by Courbet himself, Charles Baudelaire, Pierre Dupont and Christian Tarting. Illustrators such as Daniel Cacouault, Simon Goinard Phélipot, Rocco, Stéphane Courvoisier, Zou, Eloi valat, Jeanne Puchol, Benjamin Bouchet, Sylvie Fontaine, Chloé Cruchaudet, Stéphane Levallois, Nathalie Ferlut took part to this project published by nato record.

Source: Wikipedia

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Anna Emilia / From Finland

Anna Emilia

"In 1983 I was born in Leppävirta, a small town in Finland with strawberry fields, lakes and pine forests. There I built huts out of branches with friends and my brother, listened to stories from tapes and drew, cut and glued paper. One summer we found Melancholy thistle flowers which we used as painting brushes. I moved to Iceland in 2004. In a tiny town of Dalvík I followed the year passing in the valley, mountains and the sea. I worked in a kindergarten painting and drawing with the children. There were no trees but an open sky and the sea amazed me. I went back to Finland to continue my studies in graphic design focusing on illustration. The summers I kept spending in Reykjavík. Now I live in Finland, still marveling at all the trees growing here. The weather gives the color to my paintings. When I paint I think of all the faraway places the wind reaches and hope to hear from them. I enjoy finding connections between nature and the ones living in it, collecting them as memories on a soft cotton paper."

Anna Emilia

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Lauren Simonutti / A Tribute

Lauren E. Simonutti (1968-2012)A TRIBUTE

Lauren E. Simonutti, 1968, USA, passed away last week due to complications from her illness. On March 28th, 2006 she started hearing voices and was diagnosed with "rapid cycling, mixed state bipolar with schizoaffective disorder". She felt she was going mad and spent her last years almost in isolation. She turned the camera on herself and the space she was living in. She has left us with an impressive, honest and strong body of work. With her photographs she gave a voice to those that suffer in isolation.
"Over (five) years I have spent alone amidst these 8 rooms, 7 mirrors, 6 clocks, 2 minds and 199 panes of glass. And this is what I saw here. This is what I learned. I figure it could go one of two ways - I will either capture my ascension from madness to as much a level of sanity for which one of my composition could hope, or I will leave a document of it all, in the case that I should lose." - Lauren E. Simonutti


The following images come from the series The Devil's Alphabet and 8 Rooms, 7 Mirrors, 6 Clocks, 2 Minds & 199 Panes of Glass

Website: &

Monday, June 25, 2012

Nicol Vizioli / Interview

Nicol Vizioli
by Giovanni Cervi

So, here we go with an uprising young photographer. Nicol lives in London, born in Rome.

Who is Nicol Vizioli?

I’m constantly looking for something, inside and outside me. I often meet incredible creatures and together we listen and tell stories. I am all of them.

Where is your fav place to shoot?

For long time it has been outside, the forest, the countryside, the small wood close to the place I grew up. But my work is changing and I am changing with it. I lately discovered a more intimate dimension, shooting in an empty space, it could be a room or anything I would call a studio. It doesn’t really matter: an empty space, a bare stage, is for me all the choices together, that is so inspiring.

When did you shoot your first photo? How was it?

My father is a photographer, so I guess I have always been familiar with pictures, somehow. But at some point he gave me an old reflex, I was 18. I remember a series of bw films, long days with a friend of mine in her darkroom. And I clearly remember that one day, a specific image appeared on the paper: it was a portrait of a child, smiling and showing a couple of missing teeth. There was something strong in it, something new, the imperfection, the messy hair, I can’t really say. I just felt very close to it, excited. For those reasons I guess that was the first real picture I took.

What is your main instinct?


Why animals, nature and animistic – life principles in your photos?

The natural world has always had a certain influence on me, it is where I feel close to my inner voice, where I feel I can start again, where all the secrets seem to be revealed. My dreams are full of animals; they bring new secrets and I love them.

Maddona by Nicol Vizioli


Olivier Ruuger by Nicol Vizioli

Olivier Ruuger by Nicol Vizioli