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Marco Nereo Rotelli on the impetus behind his latest work, a light and sound presentation on the Field Museum

Marco Nereo Rotelli

Marco Nereo Rotelli

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Updated: July 9, 2013 10:33AM

I think you can recognize a city by its light. Chicago is a city of constantly shifting light, like a wonderful film. These qualities captured my attention while I was an artist-in-residence at Northwestern University this past fall, and were the reason why I immediately accepted the invitation from Silvio Marchetti, the director of the Italian Cultural Institute, to create an installation for the United States’ 2013 Year of Italian Culture.

I sought to create an installation that encompassed the physical properties and experience of light, along with the moral strength of a location, its history and the understanding that it can generate. All of these ideas will converge in the piece, Divina Natura, which will appear on the facade of the Field Museum in an ephemeral presentation of light and sound at 9:30 p.m. Monday. The presentation is free and open to the public, and will be visible from nearby streets, buildings, parks and aircrafts and on the northeast lawn.

To create this project, I availed myself of the cultural energy — both past and present — of this site and city. The architecture of the Field Museum, which faces Lake Michigan, expands on the horizon at the edge of the vertical city — an essential element of Chicago’s history. It may be because I was born in Venice, where the lagoon is part of the city, or it may be because water and light are the materials with which I work, but this place immediately appeared to me as a wave of rock, beautiful and alluring. I believe that place becomes a concept that can create wonder, and that through wonder, one can abandon oneself to emotions, allowing for a more poetic and luminous level of consciousness.

As a point of departure for celebrating Italian culture, I chose what I consider to be the most astounding text in the history of universal literature: Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century poem “The Divine Comedy.” The idea to create a project based on the “Inferno” came to me during a meeting with writer and poet Robert Pinsky in Capri, where we were discussing his well-known translation of this text. Something sparked in my mind. Thinking of the lights from the “Inferno,” and the inferno that we see every day on the television and in the newspapers, I turned to the great poets that live in Chicago — and I asked them to help me by crafting their own poems that related to this topic. I don’t think it’s by chance that Robert also gave me a small, extraordinary poem, called “Abc”, that speaks of life and death, so the reading of this poem will mark the opening of the presentation.

Monday, luminous verses of Dante’s “Inferno” will be projected onto the facade of the Field Museum, which houses the history of the earth within its halls. In contrast, poets from Chicago and beyond will read their own verses about their lives, the metamorphoses of their identities and the infernos that they left behind in their countries of origin. The poets taking part in this project include some of the best: Ana Castillo, Giuseppe Conte, Osama Esber, Reginald Gibbons, Arica Hilton, Elise Paschen, Lia Siomou and Chana Zelig. Divina Natura also will feature a performance by actor Thomas Simpson and music composed by Thomas Masers and Adrian Leverkhun, with vocal improvisation by soprano Karolina Dvorakova.

Reda, an Italian textile producer, will provide backdrops for the light projects that the Field Museum’s director of exhibitions, Jaap Hoogstraten, and his staff, were so kind to help facilitate, transforming the building into a page of poetry. The event also was organized with the assistance of Kate Zeller from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as Arica Hilton, whose gallery Hilton | Asmus Contemporary will be showcasing paintings I’ve created for the project beginning Friday.

It’s true that Divina Natura uses “Divine Comedy” as a reference, but my goal is to make it explode with the context of contemporary reality — and be brought to life through the words of poets of today.

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