THE IMMORTALS OF A CITY
‘The Immortals of a City’ is a photographic exhibition of 51 images of urban sculpture or street art in European Capitals of culture that document or capture varied subjects: heroes and personalities, equestrian statues, monumental buildings, war memorials, historic events: tragic or dramatic events, decorative fountains or figures as symbols that with time have become like immortal logos in collective memory. The caryatids of the Erechtheum in Athens is a characteristic example but more popular and less monumental are the ‘Little Mermaid’ in Copenhagen, the port city of Denmark and ‘Manneken Pis’ in the city of Brussels.
Since 1985, more than 50 cities have enjoyed the title of "European Capital of Culture" conferred by the European Union. Appointed as the Special Envoy Team, Italian photographers Michele Stanzione and Alessandra Combatti, and Chinese photographers Zeng Yi and Zhou Yinshuang, took over 10 thousand pictures, focusing on 10-15 representative sculptures from each city , to present the historical and humanistic atmosphere of "European Capitals of Culture" to the world.
Over a 3 month period, between August and November 2015, the two groups of photographers travelled to 13 European countries to take photographs in 15 cities which had been granted “European Capital of Culture” status between 1985 and 1999: Athens (Greece), Florence (Italy), Amsterdam (Holland), Berlin (Germany), Paris (France), Glasgow (UK), Dublin (Ireland), Madrid (Spain), Antwerp (Belgium), Lisbon (Portugal), Luxembourg City (Luxembourg), Copenhagen (Denmark), Salonika (Greece), Stockholm (Sweden), and Weimar (Germany). Much later as an after-thought to include Malta`s capital, Valletta, Kevin Casha, a well known local photographer was invited to take photographs of City sculptures to include them in the collection.
Equestrian statue of Frederik V. Jacques François Joseph Saly, Copenhagen
This selected collection has been exhibited in Beijing, Qingdao, Tianjin and other places in China, to create awareness and interest in the historical, cultural and exotic diversity of these street monuments among Chinese visitors to the exhibition especially those who have never travelled to Europe.
Some of the works exhibited are remarkable for their dramatic and dynamic quality, for their atmospheric texture and the overwhelming mood they instil in the viewer. Perhaps the most fascinating is ‘Silvius’ in Antwerp with the figure silhouetted against an ominous threatening sky and as if running on the gables or attics of houses. The silhouetted figure of the ‘Discus Thrower’ in Athens is seen against a sun turned into a star through a special lens with a tinge of cloud at the athlete’s heel. The empty space of sky makes the picture. The equestrian statue of ‘Alexander the Great’ in Salonika, in silhouette projects the myth of this great general. On a rampant horse he rides against a sky in sepia. A monumental and colossal figure compared to the puny figures on the skyline. What an effect!
The equestrian statue of Frederik V in Copenhagen is artistic or probably even deserves the rare attribute ‘art’ as the photographer frames it behind a classical portico that divides the composition in rectangles with the first line of columns in the foreground in intense light with the back columns in silhouette. It is a frame within a frame.
An impressive photograph is the ‘Ratto di Polissena’ a sculpture by Pio Fedi under the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence’s Piazza della Signoria. Since it is the part for the whole, the photographer fills the viewer with suggestion. The female nude statue in bronze (1938) by Aristide Malliol in Paris is precariously balanced, a light breeze, while the ‘Three Girls and a Boy’ in Berlin sitting on the lip of a fountain is beautifully interpreted against a palatial building. Surely the Stockholm ‘Orfeusgruppen’ (Orpheus Group) fits perfectly in this section of wonderful artistic statuary in bronze.
The statues of Jim Larkin (1977) on O’Connell Street, Dublin and that of Robert Peel (1959) in George Square, Glasgow are worth comparing and contrasting. These two works attract attention for their effective quality: the former for setting the statue against a neo-classical palace with a Greek portico and the latter for setting the statue against the sky.
Perhaps the most historical monument included in the exhibition is the enormous sculpture to the ‘Discoveries’ in Lisbon. Commissioned by the Salazar regime the monument is rather more notorious than famous as it reminds the Portuguese of a cruel dictator, of an era they would like to forget. It was built in 1960 to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator (1394-1460). This massive angular monument 52 metres high is built in the shape of a caravel by the architect Cottinelli Telmo and the sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida. It commemorates great explorers, mariners, artists and royal patrons. The eastern face of the monument depicts Henry the Navigator with a caravel in his hand, Alfonso V, Vasco da Gama, Pedro Alvares Cabral (who discovered Brazil), Frenando Magellan and others. On the west side among others are Dom Manuel I, the famous epic poet Camoes with a copy of Os Lusiadas, the painter Nuno Goncalves with a pallet and other cartographers, navigators and kings.
The exhibition offers the interested visitor a historical document about European history, great works of art, popular myths and a general culture.
E. V. Borg
Curator and art critic
An interview in Maltese by E.V. Borg about the exhibition can be found here.
Features appearing in the local media about this exhibition can be seen here.