A Land Art Installation Project by Burningmax
Apelle is a site-specific land art installation project designed by Burningmax for the 14th edition of Land Art Campi Flegrei, a land art festival designed by art curator Davide Carnevale, held in the Campi Flegrei area near Naples, Italy, and supported by Fondazione Pistoletto.
Campi Flegrei is the famous ancient area of Phlegraean Fields, a popular spa destination in ancient roman times. The location for the 2018 land art festival is the Quarantine Park (Parco della Quarantena), a park that up to the ’70s was used as a quarantine zone for all wildlife exotic animals arriving in Italy through the port of Naples, before proceeding to their final destination, mostly zoos all across Europe.
The project has been developed during the months of March and April 2018, after receiving an invitation to participate to the festival. During the two months of work the project has taken different turns and evolutions, and has received the support of a project team of several friends and volunteers, the Correttivo Noname, who contributed in different ways to the artwork production. The majority of the production work for Apelle has been developed at the Villaggio Globale in Rome, who has offered the project an art residency at their spaces in Testaccio.
Each edition of Land Art Campi Flegrei has a theme, the one for 2018 being “art as a social agent to denounce the degradation, negligence and abandonment of cultural heritage”. Among the requirements for participation, also the use of biodegradable an non toxic materials, since the artwork is meant to be installed in a permanent way in the hosting Parco della Quarantena.
The first production step has been to do some deep research. It all started with a Google search for “Campi Flegrei degradation” that showed a scenario of environmental degradation impacting several prestigious local cultural assets, starting from the Temple of Apollo on Lake Averno, right next to the festival location. The environmental issues in Campi Flegrei also extend to the marine biosphere, with water pollution and coast degradation problems.
The Temple of Apollo has become the focus of the art work, in a project that reference the ancient archeological site as an example of the overall state of degradation and abandonment of both environment and cultural heritage sites – in Campi Flegrei as in the rest of Italy.
The reference to the ancient Roman god of the Arts (among other few things), warrior and promiscuous lover has been taken to extremes with an ironic conceptual twist between the mythological and the contemporary, the solemn and the populist. In the art project Apollo is celebrated through a process of parody, desacralization, and transfiguration of the mythological hero/god figure in favour of a more contemporary, populist and goliardic idea of hero: Apelle, son of Apollo, the “hero” of a popular Italian tongue twister that every kid in Italy learns at a young age and knows by heart.
Apelle figlio di Apollo fece una palla di pelle di pollo.
Tutti i pesci vennero a galla per vedere la palla di pelle di pollo, fatta da Apelle figlio di Apollo.
Apelle son of Apollo made a ball of chicken skin.
All the fish came to the surface to see the chicken skin ball made by Apelle son of Apollo.
First version of the project: Apelle’s ball
In its first “incarnation” the Apelle project would have consisted in the installation of a 3 meters tall leather ball placed on a red area and surrounded by real fish, meant to turn into fishbones after a rotting process – as in the mock-up pictures below. Apelle’s famous ball of chicken skin and the fish coming to the surface become metaphors of degradation and pollution caused by wild and unregulated waste in the landscape and in the marine environment, which is also one of the key environmental problems in the Naples area.
At the sensorial level, the smell of rotten fish was meant to generate a sense of “epidermic” repulsion and rejection that leaves the public in the balance between curiosity / surprise and disgust / rejection, a feeling equal to that which can be felt in the face of degradation of Italian cultural and environmental heritage – also, in Italian Apelle can be read as “a pelle“, that means “to skin”, in the sense of goose bumps sensations.
One of the final versions of the project would have involved also some of the project team members in a opening performance, with a few female team members acting as Apollo’s Muses coming out of the wood to place the rotting fish around the main installation piece.
Some might find interesting to know that the early brainstorming process brought other potential artwork production scenarios that ranged from staging the Apollo fake moon landing to some crazy ideas (and dangerous) alternative ideas related to the nature of supervolcano of the Campi Flegrei area. Good thing the project didn’t go that way.
Tried. Failed. No probs. New plan, new production
While Apelle’s ball was under construction at Villaggio Globale, it was clear that, even with the occasional support from the many friends who collaborated to the project, the ball would have never be ready in time for the festival opening date.
Unfortunately, the issue became clear only after more than a week of work on the ball’s inner metal structure, that included the creation of two half spheres using chicken wire. The two half spheres have been built in modular way, so to be able to transport the pieces to Naples for the final onsite installation.
Building the two half spheres has been relatively fast, with the most of the production time being spent on covering the metal structure with the first thick layers of papier-mache. But, among the fact that many more layers were needed before adding the final leather layer, and the fact that the drying process between each layer pose was taking too long we figuring out that it would have been impossible to have Apelle’s ball ready in time for the exhibition.
A further problem that got in the way was the proposal to add rotting fish to the installation. The curator Davide Carnevali didn’t agree with the idea at first, but then he changed his mind and gave us his blessing. Nevertheless, the festival jury who selected the 20 final land art pieces (out of 86 submissions) prohibited the use of rotting organic substances for health and safety issues, because the hosting park is open to the general public, and will host a number of summer cultural events (concerts, music performances) during the next months.
Thanks to the support of the festival curator, the rotting fish managed to be accepted at the end, but only if it was temporary placed for the opening, with the commitment of removing the fish from the park within a couple of days from the exhibition site. Which was OK, and brought to the idea of having an opening performance with “Apollo’s Muses” placing the fish by the structure, with the aid of the volunteer team.
The final version of the project: ropes, fishbones and balls. Lots of them.
By removing the rotting fish, the ball alone wouldn’t have expressed well the Apelle concept, so we started a side production of a dozen wooden fishbones that would have been hung to trees surrounding the installation. We were pretty lucky in discovering that among the laboratories of Villaggio Globale there is a fully geared carpentry workshop, and the guys working there gladly helped us and shared their space and tools.
After dropping the production of the ball, Apelle’s work moved straight into the creation of wooden fishbones, and the following colouring stage using a bright red biodegradable water tempera colour, also for the few hundred meters of natural rope needed to hang them from the trees. We also dropped the idea of the performance, because the real objets trouvés intended to be added to the installation were the fishbones, after the rotting process. Plus, we couldn’t find the availability of all the performers needed on opening day.
Dogs’ chewing balls: endangered items
The big Apelle ball has been then replaced by many balls, one per rope/fish – and it was the new objet trouvé. The balls used in the installation are actually dog’s chewing balls made of sturdy dried buffalo skin, and packed with a “granola” of dog treats that looks like the sawdust we have at the carpentry shop. Those are the same balls used in the mock-up images, that inspired the original creation of a large scale version of the same ball.
Funny story about the dried skin balls is that, while there are many different types in commerce, there is only one type that really fits the artwork, the ones made out of dried buffalo skin, and they are running out of catalogue and out of commerce. All other dog’s chewing balls either are made with less sturdier materials (dried pig skin or compressed ground cow’s bones) that are not suitable for our scope – since the balls need to get drilled to make a hole for the rope, and the less thick ones break easily – or they come in a version that is too small for the installation needs (4.5 cms diameter instead of the 8 cms ones we have used with the first batch of fishbones.
To find the chewing balls we had to call a couple of the companies producing them, who said they had no more in stock, to finally find the last ones in circulation at three different wholesale shops, buying all the remaining stock from each of them. Basically, we have been using a product that is close to extinction, pretty much like many of the endangered wildlife animals that has been historically hosted at the Quarantine Park. It all connects.
Delayed opening = more production
Just a couple of days before the official opening of April 28, the festival curator communicated a delay in the festival opening, that has been moved to May 20 3018 to sort out some additional needed bureaucratic paperwork. Which is another incredible coincidence, as my latest big scale land art installation, Homenaje a Los Monegros, an installation piece dedicated to George Orwell and located in the Monegros region in Spain, in the trenches of the Spanish civil war where George Orwell fought 80 years ago, opened exactly 1 year before, on May 20, 2017.
This was a blessing as the production of Apelle has been rushing against time and, with the wasted time dedicated to the big scale ball, the installation would have featured only 24 red ropes with attached ball and fish. Maybe enough to install the fish on one single tree, but certainly not enough to impact the landscape on a large scale. Thanks to the delay we definitely got back to produce more fishbones,
The delayed opening has allowed also for a site visit to the festival location, and a weekend hanging out with the curator Davide Carnevale who took us everywhere, including at the Temple of Apollo and out for lunch at the Lake Averno (the gateway to hell according to ancient Roman mythology), and let us pick up the perfect installation space for Apelle, whose installation will now include somewhere between 60 and 80 fishbones. We had with us a few sample fish and ropes, so we where able to take some real life mock-up pictures.
A story about big cats and astral coincidences
On the other side, the universe threw in a sad story in the project mix – and an incredible astral coincidence. This is something I have just discovered when we did the first site survey at Parco della Quarantena at the end of April. When I was a kid I used to live in Somalia, Africa, as my father was working as a university teacher for an international university cooperation program.
I have spent many years in Somalia, pretty much my entire puberty and part of the teen ages, mostly in the capital Mogadishu, but also in the nearby agricultural campus placed in the bush about 30 kms out of town. During my stay at the campus, I had many wild pets – monkeys, chameleons, huge turtles, even a couple of falcons at a point. I loved taking care and feed all those animals, and I even started studying insects and I was a pretty decent entomologist for my age.
One day – I think I was 11 or 12 years old, some kids of the nearby village, knowing that I was taking care of animals, brought me a baby cheetah, whose mother was killed by the villagers, as she was regularly raiding their sheep and cow herds. The baby cheetah probably just a couple of weeks old, was he as small as a 2-months old kitten, still needing to be fed with warm mil out of a feeding bootle. The cheetah, named Gattone (Big Cat), turned into my favorite pet ever.
I remember spending with him all the time I had free from school and schoolwork, playing and fighting and cuddling a lot – he was purring like 100 cats at ones! I was in charge for feeding him and, since the plan was to breed the animal and then have it sent to an university-run biopark in Italy, specialized in the reinsertion of captive animals in their natural habitats, I had to feed Gattone with live meat. I remember setting a huge net between two trees where there was a constant passage of birds, and going every day to get the live birds I caught (most times with broken wings) to feed them to the big cat. I know it sounds horrible, but this is how the food chain goes in the wildlife.
Gattone grew up fast – in about 6 months he was the size of a medium-size dog. Fighting games with him were also getting more and more dangerous. As a feline who grew up with me he loved me and considered me to be his mum or such, so he would have never hurt me on purpose, but I remember several hard scratches and teeth marks I got anyway during our wild games (I even used to bite his tail and his belly).
At the point the animal was fully bred, and the facility I arranged for him by closing a 4-cars parking lot, was starting being too small for Gattone. Cheetahs are the fastest animal on heart, and they really need to run. It was time to send the animal to the recovery center in Italy. I remember how hard it was for me to trick Gattone into the cage that would have been shipped to Italy with a cargo boat. But it was time to go separate ways, and to say goodbye.
I’m sure I have one picture of myself with Gattone, as i came across it jus a couple of years ago – but i cannot find it right now. I promise that, once I will find it, I will publish it here. In the meantime, here are a few pictures of cheetahs so you can see how cute they are when they are kittens, how playful they are when they are young (big) cats, and how majestic they turn to be since a very young age.
They didn’t tell me back then, but Gattone never made it to the wildlife facility in Pisa – my father told me the truth only years after, After being locked in the cage for days before departure, plus spending about 3-months still in the cage on board a cago ship, gattone reached the port of Naples where, as all other exotic animals, have been sent to quarantine before proceeding to final destination, the very same Parco della Quarantena where the art festival will take place.
Gattone, scared from the horrible travel experience and possibly also sad as I was for the sudden separation, was constantly showing a very aggressive behaviour (which he never showed with me), to the point that he had to be sedated several times to run medical checks and for feeding him – and apparently he died for a tranquilizer overdose.
Forty years later, I’m installing an art piece that is about human abuses on nature, and it’s placed just 200 meters away from where Gattone was segregated and killed. Fucking universe. RIP Gattone, this one is dedicated to you. You would have loved playing with all those hanging fish and balls.