© 2019 by matilde tomat 

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Blackburn, UK

Udine, I

Tel: +44 7576 007363

CONSERVATION

FRIULI 1976 - LANCASHIRE 2019

On 6 May 1976, at 21:00:13 an earthquake shook part of the Friuli area in the North East of Italy, with a magnitude of 6.5 and an Extreme Mercalli intensity. It affected 5,500 km2, 600,000 inhabitants, and killed 1,073 people. At the time, I was 8 years old. Now, after 43 years, I am prepared with this piece to revisit and share my experience and pain. I have decided to adopt a quasi-architectural and reconstructive approach to this work as a personal investigation not only into the history of reconstruction but into questioning the restoration of memory. Hence, the title CONSERVATION which reconciles the visible work of recuperation and reconstruction of the buildings and of the lives of the survivors [whom in the words of the Italian writer Gianni Rodari, “from the second day after the quake, are not seen crying anymore”] and the protection of memory after all these years.

 

Christian Boltanski has stated that he looks for understanding, in his work. “I believe artists have some kind of trauma at the beginning of their lives, and they learn to survive that trauma through their art”: for Boltanski the trauma was the Shoah. For me, the earthquake. I am wondering now what I am looking for. Our voices seem to say at unison: “When I was young, all my parents’ friends, everybody, spoke and spoke of it. And it was also a trauma for me that I had survived.” I add that somehow the Shoah could be stopped, it is man-made. Not an earthquake: you cannot foresee it, you cannot stop it. “Maybe, I am looking for a justification, for God to explain why. Or I am trying to say that I am sorry I am alive”. But God is not there, in my reconstructed skeleton of a church: the two wings of the reredos are separated, revealing emptiness. My cross, replicating the wooden scaffolding used during the reconstruction, is barren. Now, there are only those purified white pieces to represent the dead ones, as ghosts of people, forgotten nameless voices in a restructured building-site as simulacrum of a church; my possible reassembling of faith.

 

“Maybe I am looking for someone who will not forget me”. Echoing Boltanski, again “We give ourselves things to do so that we don’t die”: I am giving myself this work. Not a mother myself, I am also giving a voice to all those female victims who did not have children, did not become mothers and then grandmothers, did not leave a legacy, and could have then easily been forgotten.

 

“I was shocked, when among the list of names, I found: corpse of unknown female. In 43 years no one has come forward to give a name to those remains, no one remembers that woman. No one knows who she was, what she was doing. She disappeared as she never existed. Who was she? After 43 years I still remember the name and surname of my best friend at the time, the 8-year-old Marina Pedi. Who else, besides me and her brother, remembers her?” Now, the discreet voices of my girlfriends back home read the first names of all the female victims, a chorus of names and identities, where no one is unknown anymore. With their names, I recuperate their stories and add the gruesome tales that my father (also one of the rescuers) told me right after the event and that shaped our lives until his final death in 1995. One of those tales tells of a rope between two pulleys, in two adjacent rooms, used to match a piece of paper bearing a name and characteristics, to a corresponding extremity, to confirm death and identification. I always say that part of myself died that night; now I hope I can reunite my own fragments.

 

This exhibition can hence be read at various levels: from the fragility of the single pieces to the fragility of life itself and the uncertainty of tomorrow; on how the victims’ identity is eradicated and rendered universal by white plaster because, after a while, we all become unknown; on how I felt a need to meet and protect that wounded child-part of myself which never disappeared; on exploring my own memories of separation and good-bye, including those good-byes I never was able to say in 1976, all those funerals I didn’t go to; on how conservation of memories is related to restoration; and also how the destructive power of a quake can be purged by the pure creative revealing of plaster.

 

Two of the unmarked pieces do represent my friend Marina and myself.

These are only known by me. And we are still playing.

 

Today, 26.02.2019, in Blackburn I have started creating the 101 pieces which represent the 1073 victims of varying ages deceased during the earthquake. The pieces will be cast in plaster out of jars, pots, bottles, or containers used to conserve food or any other perishable material.

 

Today, on a very warm winter day, I began. 

 

I didn't cry. I felt observed and hence tense. I felt examined, scrutinised, checked.

I just wanted to be ignored.

Funny, though, I was alone. Just me and the material, and music, and memories.

Now, these first pieces are left alone, on a shelf, to dry. Again, I am not with them.

 

I wanted today to be a day of remembrance, of allowing of those tears I don't think I have ever cried. Still, the moment that I remember Marina, and that little picture I found of her, the pain is so overwhelming it feels as if something is eating me from the inside. So, I stop, I retrace backwards my thoughts and emotions and close my eyes and inhale.

That moment, that feeling of Life leaving someone's body, someone so young, innocent, unprotected, vulnerable, the idea I have of a child's tears and pain and drenching fear, that moment is gone. I brush it to one side, I deflect.

 

So, I think about the installation, the positioning, the font to use on the invites, the amount of plaster to use, how much it would cost me to rent a scaffold, if I ever will be able to exhibit this, the numbering of the pieces, the lighting, and deadlines, and if we should have Prosecco at the vernissage

 

I have asked for some funding via ARTS COUNCIL ENGLAND and I still haven't got a place / gallery / space / room.

 

 

For now, I just wait.

 

 

ps: update end of MAR 2019 : I got the place! More info here or here or in italian here

This is also the flyer / poster

And if you prefer, this is the link for the event on facebook...

 

 

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