Michelangelo Frammartino

Michelangelo Frammartino on Alberi

Michelangelo Frammartino, Alberi (Trees), 2013, HD video, color, sound, 28 minutes.

Michelangelo Frammartino’s Alberi (Trees) is a twenty-eight-minute rumination on ancient rituals performed by villagers in Italy’s Basilicata region. The piece builds from his 2010 film Le quattro volte, which meditates on the eternally cyclical, transformative nature of experience—in both a physical and spiritual sense. Alberi is on view at MoMA PS1 until April 27, 2013.

MY IDEA OF FREEDOM is connected to the television shows and films I watched when I was young. I grew up in Italy in the 1970s, when commercial TV began to invade everyone’s home. It was made to seduce people, to guide them in a specific ideological way, which was all intimately connected to power and maintaining control over the greater public consciousness. Much of my practice emerges as a reaction to this enforced passivity of viewership. When the audience can actively participate in constructing their visual experience, the connection between the image and the viewer becomes stronger. For this, one needs the freedom to interpret and enter the image at will, and so when I started working on Alberi, I began looking for ways to make images interactive—attempts to create participatory experience that result in freedom of viewership.

I have found that one of the ways to do this is through the loop—Alberi is a never-ending installation, meaning that you can enter and exit when you want. It is the viewer that drives and controls the beginning and decides what is the final cut. In this sense, this work is also a tribute to cinema. In Italy it was normal for us to go to the movies and enter a showing anytime we wanted. So the first time I saw a movie, I saw it from the middle, watching first the second half of it, and coming to the film’s beginning only after having seen its end . . . and when I reached my own starting point in the middle of the film again, the pleasure was so great that I couldn’t help making another round. So my first experience with a film was like a loop.

Alberi is inspired by an ancient ritual of the Basilicata region based on the myth of a treelike man called Romito, who rejected the idea of migration and planted roots in his own land. When I discovered the character of Romito, I understood it was still very connected to the cultural identity of this region, even though the ritual was no longer enacted. The Romito myth now exists only in the memory of the people, but it is deeply part of their mentality. It symbolizes a land surrounded by woods (the ancient name of the region, Lucania, is thought to come from a word for sacred wood) and refers to a fusion between humans and vegetation.

I knew, therefore, that I was shooting something that was inside the people. However, filming the ritual ended up changing it. Making fiction gave life to a new reality, and so there is a strange connection between our work and that ancient tradition. I dressed nearly one hundred people like trees to perform the ritual; they enacted a procession through the surrounding forest, culminating at the village square, which was literally turned into a forest.

For the construction of this installation, I focused heavily on sound, which here is connected to the idea of freedom I mentioned earlier. Also, the sound is interactive: It comes from many different sources, and it invites the viewer to move, to walk around, to discover something maybe unexpected.