I am taking a class called Contemporary Rome with Professor Shara Wasserman. This class, like many Cornell in Rome classes, isn’t a traditional lecture. Instead, it consists of “site visits” to places in Rome that relate to a contemporary city, and specifically to the contemporary art scene, including galleries, museums, artist studios, and collectors’ offices. These make up the entire cycle of contemporary art, from the moment of its creation to the moment of sale and exhibition. Shara is so involved in the local art scene that she seems to know everyone in the places we visit. She also knows of interesting events and art opportunities in the city. Recently our class participated in an art exhibit with students from Temple University, where Shara also teaches, and Rhode Island School of Design.
The art exhibit lasted for one night and was held in a club called Circolo degli Artisti. Students from the other participating universities were doing so as part of their studio art classes, so they had a fairly rigid and traditional format to their artwork. Our class, on the other hand, was not a technical drawing class, and in fact we weren’t showing our work for class credit. This meant the each student could explore whatever concept they wanted. Our work included photography, painting, drawing, collage, and mixed media. Naturally, this wide variety was unplanned but it made for a fun exhibit, both to set up and to show.
I did a pen drawing on two wood boards of two ways to explore and navigate an unfamiliar city. Both boards were different representations of Rome. The first was a drawing of the “conceptual city”, which is completely rational and has straight streets connecting the important monuments. The second was the “perceptual city”, which is composed of seemingly disorganized streets and winding alleys. Navigating the conceptual city is easy: all it takes is following the main streets and staying in sight of landmarks. Navigating the perceptual city has to be based on inexact memories and instinct.
The idea for these drawings came from my experiences traveling this summer and fall, and from a general fascination with cities. The terminology of the “conceptual” and the “perceptual” came from my studio professor Jerry who used it to describe Venice during our visit there, saying that it is almost entirely perceptual with the exception of Piazza San Marco. On the other end of the spectrum is St. Petersburg, which I visited this summer. It is completely planned out, monumental, and transparent. Rome lies somewhere between the two extremes. Its “conceptual” structure is overlaid with a “perceptual” fabric, and the two endlessly compete for attention and dominance.