Roman Utopias

Interview with artist Baldassarre Ruspoli


Where About Now Where are you right now reading these questions?

Baldassarre Ruspoli I am reading these questions in the countryside, where I'm working at the moment, in Italy.

WAN Where would you like to be while reading these questions?

BR I think it does not get better than this, I just had a walk in the fields and, cigarette in hand, I'm reading your questions.

WAN You grew up in the UK to an Italian family. How has that cultural background influenced your work?

BR I actually was only born in London, at the mature age of two I moved to Florence where my family house still is today. Growing up in such a culturally rich context has influenced my work greatly, and still does today. I think Italy does that, once you become attached to the land, there is little you can do to overcome its charms.

WAN Can you tell us about your reasons for choosing Berlin as your base today?

BR Berlin is a great city, it provides me with the space to work with, and its slow paced in comparison to other major European cities. I don't like to be rushed, most of my work is based on research, and this city makes that possible.

WAN In your recent series La mer est plus belle que les cathédrales, you reinterpret 18th century etchings of Roman cityscapes by Giuseppe Vasi to leave vast blank spaces where buildings had been depicted. Where did the idea come from and how can we understand the absence?

La mer est plus belle que les cathédrales, 2019, Baldassarre Ruspoli
Giuseppe Vasi etching, 18th century

BR I collect a lot of different things. These prints were given to me from a friend while I was visiting him in Tehran. He's an artist and his house is overloaded of the most interesting objects, from Persian mosaic pieces to 15th century anatomy drawings. The collection was of circa 25 prints, and I had them lying around my studio for some time, trying to make sense of what I was seeing.

The absence can be understood as an inevitable process of time. A lot of the buildings depicted had been demolished or had fallen into ruin for one reason or another, and that started the idea.

WAN You’ve described the series as a collage of fragments taken from the collection of prints. Please walk us through your process as to how you have reconstructed and reconstituted the works.

BR An aspect of the work I want to emphasize is the change in landscape that occurs with urban expansion. So I compare the views Giuseppe Vasi depicted, with what could be related to today. A theme I had been interested in is the 'utopic', and how this realm can exist through fictional landscapes and narratives. Therefore I went through a process of reconstruction, where I included certain aspects of the prints to make them become “new landscapes”, new realities where these structures can exist within their own boundary.

La mer est plus belle que les cathédrales, 2019, Baldassarre Ruspoli

WAN Through altering the etchings, you redirect the viewer’s attention to the surroundings of the absent buildings: trees, plants and sky. Can you elaborate on nature’s role in our urban landscape and how does it influence your work?

BR The subject in the original prints is the constructed, the main focus goes towards the building, while the natural landscape is placed as a background. Only by this association we can understand that the landscape was there to embellish, more than to raise questions. In an absurd way, I feel that by removing the subject, the two equalize themselves, and the natural acquires a role in the reading of the work. I think today it is important to give relevance to the natural spectrum, as something that constitutes the beautiful and the underrepresented. Natural history has almost passed unnoticed, to the point where, today, we are asking ourselves again if that was a mistake. I often find myself contemplating what constitutes the natural, not only in the sense of trees and oceans but also in the urban landscape, where the contrast actually makes this subject more approachable.

WAN Can you tell us more about the history of the etchings? Is the original one an early form of a travel guidebook and how would you define your recreation of it?

Giuseppe Vasi etching, 18th century
Giuseppe Vasi etching, 18th century

BR The folder holding the 25 or so prints has this inscription on it “Ville e Giardini di Roma”, and it was published by the ministry of tourism at the time, as some kind of guide to the Main Villas and Gardens of the city. In the original prints, there is also no series number, that makes me think it was an open-end production for public use.

WAN Vasi’s series of etchings could be compared with a Baroque version of Google Maps Street View. Have you visited any of these buildings in person or online?

Etching of Porta Pinciana of the Villa Ludovisi
Villa Ludovisi, photograph and map view

BR Hahaha yes, I guess you're right! Some of the places I have actually visited on Google Maps, and unfortunately, once you find the exact location, you're confronted with a building block. But we could organise a guided tour of Rome following the collection of prints, that would actually be interesting, some of the ones represented are still standing, like Palazzo Farnese or Villa Lante al Giannicolo.

WAN What is the next project you’re immersing yourself into and where can we see your work next?

BR I'm working on a video project set in rural Sicily, that is why I'm here at the moment. It's a collaboration and we're trying to finalize it before March, so hopefully, that will be the next project to present!


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