Opening at the American Academy in Rome on Thursday 15 April (6pm to 8pm, in the Cryptoporticus) is a multimedia installation “L’Impero Invertito” by Abigail Child, current AAR Fellow in the Visual Arts. Child, the recipient of the Joseph H. Hazen Rome Prize, is an internationally acclaimed film/video artist who has received many notable distinctions, including Guggenheim, Fulbright, and Radcliffe Fellowships. Abigail Child’s original montage pushes the envelope of sound-image relations, exploring gesture as language, and creating radical strategies to rewrite narrative. She is currently a Professor in Film / Animation at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA.
In the last decade, Abigail Child has expanded her vertical montage to multi-screen installation, exhibiting at The Walker Art Museum and Harvard University, among others. In Rome this year Child has been filming scenes from the life of Mary and Percy Shelley in the form of imaginary home movies, utilizing AAR Fellows as actors and the magnificent light and buildings of Rome as “sets” for a feature film whose working title is The Pursuit.
With Abigail Child’s piece for the AAR’s massive subterranean Cryptoporticus, L’impero Invertito, we find her most site-specific installation so far. Here, Child responds to the darker side of Rome, the side that emanates power and military force, as well as to the Academy’s Cryptoporticus itself, where corridors with arches at their ends mime streets through which armies—heraldic or attacking—historically enter Rome. The result is a multi-projector video that establishes women and children (usually victims of war) as Emperors and Triumphators, contrasting with scenes from both ancient and contemporary expansionist exploits.
In responding to the rare individuality seen in female portraits in Roman statuary and intrigued as well by the body’s adjustments to the camera, to the “empire of the camera,” the poses that the body performs for the camera—a long-time focus in her film-making—Child has created a series of portraits that limn history even as they invert it. The moments of stasis become convincing, whereas the moments when the bodies return to life shock, the body mobile, not made of stone.
From L’Impero Invertito, Abigail Child
To underscore her reversal, Child combines Hollywood invention and historical reenactments to create a new, more ambivalent triumphal march into the capital of Empire. Through montage and asymptotic sound, Child suggests the wages of war and the underlying reality of battle, its sacrifice, whether ending in loss or triumph. Child conflates histories as she asks her audience to examine these reflecting mirrors of our contemporary moment.
The labyrinthine flow of the Cryptoporticus encouraged Child to include other “screens” so that the viewings for the audience itself are multiple and complex—undermining the empire of looking, as well as that of production. To that end, Child presents some of her earlier work, including re-constructed home movies and disjunctive narratives, connecting still images to “live’”and reality to fiction, in an attempt to create new histories of the body and reconfigure, with a sense of marvel and opportunity, the empires under which we live.
From Abigail Child’s The Future is Behind You (2004)
From Abigail Child’s (If I Can Sing A Song About) Ligatures (2009)
The Cryptoporticus gallery will be open for the Abigail Child installation from April 15th through May 9th by appointment. Please call 06/5846459. Please note that all visitors to the American Academy in Rome are required to show a form of ID at the entrance.