Melancholia and the Po Delta Gothic
There is a condition of precarity involved for people living in and near the shores of a significant river. Historically speaking, rivers are confounding creatures that meander, braid and intertwine themselves around villages, fields of crops and in terrible times; the shoulders of local villagers pulling their bodies to depths and geographies unseen. The river is one of nature’s disturbing phenomena. It moves cargo, soil and livestock along its shores with a confounding cycle of boon and bane. To live or work near its shores invites a potential for calamity; an excoriating possibility is part of the river’s debt to collect.
Rivers, though significant in their ability to transport and endanger, are also fortuitous to local populations. Rich sediment passes from the source of a river to its mouth. This sediment embeds itself in the banks along the river’s path over millennia creating mineral-rich topsoil that allows agriculture to blossom and provides a sustenance that nourishes the local population. Civilizations are raised along the banks of rivers and have been since recorded time. Rivers are not simple geological considerations. They are mythical and they are not to be feared per se, but they are to be respected. This respect has been indoctrined into our endeavors as its collateral means of resource.
In the case of the Po River in Italy, the source of sustenance for the local population is cereal. The river valley and its delta that empties into the Adriatic Sea are some of Italy’s most agro-rich lands. There is an emphasis on farming and the management of the land is aided by the industrial production centers of both Turin and Milan further up stream. The Po Valley supplies Italy with food, economic activity and power through its series of dams that harvest the river as source of electric power. The mouth of the Po Delta empties into the sea as a vast marshland in which secondary resources such a mussel and clam farming have taken over the production of cereals. Water rises and the ability to predict agriculture on the land becomes more difficult. This creates a certain diplomacy of attitude in which the delta is observed with both hope and disappointment. This combination creates a colorful melancholia. Some call it the delta blues. This psychogeographic blue is reflected in the terrain of the Po Valley.
The mythology of a river is made from a number of observations of both oral and written tradition that suggest the geological specificity of the river to contain amongst other narratives, a place in which tragedy, toil and good fortune can be seen to compete. In the case of the Po River Valley, the river itself is seen as something of a curiosity in regard to its ability to nurture farming and create fishing pathways to the Adriatic which is also subverted with the general acknowledgement that the water is often times polluted with byproduct from both sewage and industrial waste. This conspicuous conflation of the river’s ability is often what produces the local histories garnered from the people who work the river’s shores. Tales of existing in the floodplain of the Po are not limited to health, floods and economy, but are also relegated to something more primeval. This primeval construct is based on the aforementioned economy of melancholia in which the terms of hope and its actualization resist permanent delineation; suggesting instead an implausible and ungovernable home front in which constant agitations between the production of sustenance and its absence are at conflict.
This is symptomatic of what could best be described as a delta gothic. Not to be confused with the southern gothic tradition of America, the delta gothic can be constructed as a more universal narrative of uncertainty as it relates people and the river. The southern gothic tradition is a construct defined by the complexities of race, economy and the expanse of land in America that functioned as a driving experience in its hardship. The delta gothic offers several sympathies with the southern version, but where it exceeds is the understanding of the universal condition that has been positioned in its economy and the fear of its natural world order. This fear is insolvent, changing and often times leads to a psychological outcome such as expressed by the melancholia previously mentioned.
In the case of Matteo Di Giovanni’s Blue Bar, the examination of the river is compelling in how the artist observes its presence as both nurturing and haunting. Interested in psychology and geology that makes the valley fertile, green and illustrious of its pleasant visage, Di Giovanni considers the rough-worked land of the Po Valley as a muse and he chooses his human subjects within its proximity carefully. The absence of men in the work is notable. It is a ploy that describes the performativity of labor and gender in delta regions. Traditionally-speaking the delta is an unstable geography. The sea, and its permeable border, brings along with it considerations of how the natural order of the water is inhabited, worked and conditioned by a male-dominated environment of fisherman, tradesmen and so forth. In suggesting human absence, Di Giovanni is in effect highlighting a potential ghostly presence. This creates a melancholy; a haunting that asks the viewer to consider the delta regions proximity to decline in spiritual terms. It asks the viewer to consider other possibilities and to de-entangle the labor of men from the landscape.
In Di Giovanni’s work, the image of Po Valley is enabled by the production of organic life and the shores of the Po’s muddy banks become signifiers for new observations of the indigenous. In his ability to capture the melancholia and stillness of the delta, Di Giovanni is asking the audience to identify the condition of the Po River that is predicated upon a new understanding of community, labor, and the vast potential for the natural world to conspire towards loftier climes. The passing of time and the gentle lapping of azure waves along the banks of the river are indicators of a higher co-ordinance of the sacred. The ennobling of the landscape through the means of Di Giovanni’s production suggests a land, which cannot be dis-corporated from the human inhabitants within, instead the land exhibits a tendency to become a home and a sanctified geography in which production and spirit are constant collaborators. Within Blue Bar, Di Giovanni regards the land as ancestral and full of fecund potential in examining the ghosts of the past through the intoxicating lens of the present.
Published by Artphilein Editions, lugano, in September 2020
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Blue Bar is available in a special edition with two limited prints
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Matteo Di Giovanni
Matteo Di Giovanni and Emiliano Biondelli
Matteo Di Giovanni
Symbol Tatami, Tintoretto Ceylon
Mrs Eaves, Serifa
Artphilein Editions, Lugano
Printing and Binding
Fontegrafica, Cinisello Balsamo (MI)
500 copies including XV Special Editions with a signed C-type print