This project, a frieze on the walls of the Lungotevere between Ponte Sisto and Ponte Mazzini, a distance of some 500 metres, was many years in the making. It was promoted, pushed and brought to fruition by Kristin Jones, who long had the idea and a wish for the bank of the Tiber river to be a space for public art. The work really started out of a sense of my own ignorance. I knew on the one hand, as we all do, of the glories of Rome – the Basilica of St Peter on the Trastevere side of the river – and I was also aware much later, maybe in my twenties, of the existence of the ghetto – the enclosed section for Jews on the other side of the river, about a kilometre down from St Peter’s. I had never thought of them as connected and I suppose it was a gap in my knowledge the that the establishment of the ghetto and the growth of St Peter’s had happened at the same time. What I had known of Rome was the great cathedrals, the glories of the Baroque and the starting shock of the project was that realization that the ghetto was actually a project of modernity. If you were to take a straight line from St Peter’s to the ghetto, it would more or less run straight through the section of the Tiber on which the work was done.
500 m frieze on the walls of the Tiber River, Rome
Artistic director Kristin Jones
Technical director Gianfranco Lucchino STEP S.r.l.
Scenic designer Tiziano Fario
Sound design David Monacchi
Theatrical event featuring live shadow play and two processional marching bands performing against the backdrop of the frieze. April 21, 2016
Executive producer THE OFFICE performing arts + film
Presented by TEVERETERNO Onlus and Roma Capital
Triumphs and Laments
500 metre frieze on the walls of the Tiber River in Rome
From the mass of reference material, postcards, photostats of images in books, computer files sent from researchers in Rome, I would choose an image to draw. First there were charcoal drawings – drawn on the pages of an old cash book – the lines and margins over which the drawing was made approximating the lines of travertine blocks of the wall. I then remade the drawing in Indian ink. The smudge and grey of the charcoal had to be resolved into the sharp ‘yes’ or ‘no’ of the white of the paper and the black of the ink. This ink drawing was then traced into a computer and turned into a mathematical file, that could be enlarged or reduced as needed. This file was sent off to a factory outside Rome where the computer file was used to make a full-scale plastic stencil of the figure. The 40 cm drawing became a 10 m plastic stencil.
The plastic stencil was placed against the wall – suspended from the parapet at the top of the wall and pressed against the wall by people on ladders holding large brooms. Water from the river was pumped out, heated up and sprayed at pressure onto the stone and around the stencil, cleaning off the bacteria and pollution. The temperature, the pressure, the type of nozzle all controlled by the monuments commission and river authorities. Nothing was added to the wall. This was done in the knowledge that over a few years the images would fade away. The wall would darken again, through natural ageing, pollutants, graffiti; leaving a ghost of an image and a fading memory.
Live shadow procession with music by Philip Miller and Thuthuka Sibisi, to mark the public launch of the frieze, 21 April 2016
Frieze, rehearsals and opening night performance, Rome, April 2016