San Gimignano

Marcella Vanzo

Galleria Continua | San Gimignano

Marcella Vanzo’s fourteen-minute double video projection, Summertime (all works 2007), focuses on two very different seasonal Mediterranean migrations: Illegal immigrants from North Africa arrive on the shores of the Italian island of Lampedusa, while tourists land on the beaches of the nearby Greek island of Zakynthos. The projection begins with a panoramic view of an empty beach on Zakynthos, a rusted shipwreck in the background; the image fills both screens. The notes of Janis Joplin singing George Gershwin’s “Summertime” blend with the noise of the sea and the sound of cicadas in the sun. Then the image splits in two. On one screen, Italian coast guard patrol boats appear, laden with refugees—silent, still, fully dressed, black. The people who fill the other screen are white; they wear bathing suits and blast their portable radios, and when their boat docks, they jump into the water. The refugees descend slowly, with difficulty, in organized fashion—women and children on one side, men on the other. The two journeys proceed as if synchronized, each like a parody of the other. At one point, for example, a bottle of water is passed around in both boats. The tourists drink straight from the bottle; the refugees, from paper cups. As insignificant as the gesture may be, seeing these two scenes side by side is disturbing and depressing.

Shot with a digital-video camera, the footage captures the close proximity of the bodies more than the faces—human beings at the moment they turn into a mass. The daily flow of time is broken—for the tourists, because they are far away from their workaday lives; for the refugees, because they have abandoned their homes and have no idea what will happen to them.

The video ends with views of the smugglers’ boats being confiscated by the Italian coast guard and collected in an enormous field on the island’s interior—a cemetery of ships. This image gradually covers both screens, while again the hoarse, exhilarating voice of Joplin sings the title song. The shipwreck of the opening shot acts as a theatrical backdrop to a beach for tourists; the ships seen at the close bear witness to personal tragedies. The only other work in the show was an installation in the gallery’s next room, Invincible Armada. An enormous inclined plane jutted out of the wall at eye level, shaped like a series of waves; hundreds of miniature model ships “sailed” atop it, each with the name Lampedusa on its side. They seemed to advance toward the viewer, like a wave in a storm, or like an incurable sense of guilt.

Francesca Pasini

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.