The Institution as Sanctuary: 2018 Queens International Biennial

qm_klempner
Essye Klempner. Photo: Queens Museum

‘What cordial hours we spent with our guests there, looking out from the terrace into the beautiful and peaceful countryside without suspecting that on the Berchtesgaden mountain directly opposite sat the one man who was to destroy all this!’

-Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday

Stefan Zweig and Count Harry Kessler are much on the mind, as before us pass sinister frames of the slow-motion train-wreck: yet another failed utopia, this time of a liberal, borderless world of benign, self-regulating markets. We live now in an environment tinged with xenophobia and fear, increasingly akin to the late Habsburg and Weimar years.

Culture suffers — and flourishes — when madness sets in.

An institution that had a torrid 2018, with the controversial departure of director Laura Raicovich, summarised here and with Raicovich’s response here, has recovered its poise with a focused Queens International biennial that combines formal and material rigour with a commitment to urgent conversations surrounding ecological collapse, the built environment, and of course, identity, the American cause célèbre in perpetuity.

The museum already had a charged history, as seat of the U.N. General Assembly (1946-1950), and site of the Resolution 181 (1947) which partitioned Palestine into Jewish and Arab States. Built in 1937, expanded successively by Rafael Viñoly Architects (1994) and Grimshaw Architects (2013), it is a brooding structure of glass facades amongst massive masonry piers, sort of a cross between the Palais de Tokio (Paris) and the Piazza Augusto Imperatore (Rome). It sits atop a bluff between the vaguely dystopic park of the 1939 World’s Fair and a dual carriageway. Yet the space! Here, work breathes and people flow easily in the generously proportioned, high-ceilinged galleries.

The museum, with almost no permanent collection, is unburdened of a legacy that might otherwise force exhibitions built around art loans and tortured curatorial visions. As an institutional priority, it chooses to engage heavily with a local community that includes families of diverse extraction: East and South Asian, Latin American, East European. Many in these groups live under a shadow of a challenging current political climate, involving deportations and reduced access to public health and nutrition assistance. The boundary between management’s (self-imposed) moral obligation, and its board’s fiduciary obligations to patrons and society-at-large, not to mention potential legal jeopardy arising from well-intentioned political action, led to the Raicovich contretemps. The Museum’s predicament is the more important as it is hardly unique: echoed by cultural institutions elsewhere, say Brazil under the 1960s-1970s dictatorship as well as today, or in the controversy currently enveloping the Volksbühne here in Berlin.

The biennial primarily included artists working in the light-industrial Queens districts of Long Island City and Ridgewood. Sophia Marisa Lucas invited as co-curator Baseera Khan, a New York-based performance artist, to develop a show that, while acknowledging the specific complexities facing the Museum, created a critical dialogue with the (contemporaneous) Carnegie International around the meaning of the word ‘International’ in a time of sprouting biennials. The Queens show, containing forty-three artists, cross-generational and multi- ethnic, can’t be done full justice here, hence this review presents a few highlights.

The exhibition website is itself an artwork created by software artist and writer Ryan Kuo (recent resident of the Museum’s respected Studio Program). It has bios and interviews with the artists, and essentially uses the architecture of the building, as well as the plans created by Exhibitions Manager John Wanzel, as raw material for a dynamic ‘walkthrough’ of the show. Kuo’s site, besides providing a point of engagement for viewers outside New York, explicitly foregrounds the fascinating tension between localised / experienced / architectonic space and online / simulated / flattened space.

Kim Hoeckele (b. 1980) also engaged directly with the building’s architecture. Her work, centrepiece of the 7 October 2018 opening, featured performers who weaved in and out of the galleries and balconies of the Museum, reciting variations of the Homeric epithet ‘rosy-fingered dawn’. The saffron-tinged performance came to a climax in the principal atrium of the museum, under Essye Kempner‘s (b. 1984) suspended azure cyanotype. Kempner’s ecological practice embodies a critique of capitalism’s effect upon the built environment, and the cyanotype itself acts as a record of sorts: at a dinner held in the Museum, each artist was asked to place an object on the emulsion-coated tablecloth. The tablecloth was exposed to the gallery’s natural light at dusk and dawn, creating a photographic imprint of the collected objects and table settings. The suspended fabric, by virtue of its scale and in the context of Kempner’s practice, reminds one of Susan Schüppli’s ‘dirty pictures’: climate-change is leaving a quasi-photographic imprint on the Earth (1).

The large east gallery is one of the most exciting, with Milford Graves’ (b. 1941) collection of exuberant sculptures that allude to his varied interests, including the effect of rhythm on the human heart (related to which he is named on a U.S. patent). Meanwhile, around the corner is the quiet intervention of Slovak artist Peter Kašpar (b. 1983) that poses a minimal plywood sculpture impregnated with fibre-optic red lights, which in turn, are powered by solar panels. In this, and other work, he has questioned systems of knowledge that are commonly accepted as shibboleths in our culture.

Asif Mian (b. 1978) approaches systems from the perspective of surveillance, with a thermal camera in the main atrium observing polypropylene garments, stand-ins for visitors…or migrants, as they are cyclically heated and cooled. Thermal cameras are used on borders and by military drones, and are intensely politicised instruments, as eloquently documented in Richard Mosse’s 2017 show at London’s Barbican. Continuing on this vector of the weaponised Capitalocene, Kanad Chakrabarti (b. 1974) explores how intense consumerism and the military-industrial complex have intertwined into a Gordian knot that is slowly strangling us all. He does this through a video installation that questions the place of the essay-film in a time when smartphones and social media have relegated cinematic collectivity to an elite sport.

In the same gallery, Beatrice Modisett (b. 1985) and Arthur Ou (b. 1974), work with the materiality of the flat image. Ou’s photographs, which re-physicalise ‘filters’ through an archaic process of hand-tinting, are intensely concerned with time, meant as both process- time and as the viewer’s subjective, elastic time. Perceived time and the absorbed viewer have been theorised in connection with both photography and painting, most notably by Michael Fried(2). Modisett’s paintings too are based in process, but here it is the physical flow of paint, under conditions of restraint and constraint, that drive the final outcome. In doing so, she continues to mine the rich tradition, to a certain extent specifically American, of treating paint as a quasi-sculptural medium that, again, at its best, prompts a sense of absorption in the viewer.

One of the potentially most joyous works is itself an exercise in spatialised time, in that it unfolds over the show’s five-month run and over the entire museum. The curator and theoretician Brian Droitcour (b. 1980) and artist Christine Wong Yap (b. 1977) are collecting responses from comment boxes distributed through the galleries, as well as libraries that are sites for the biennial. The responses are disseminated through Instagram and a publication. In doing so, Droitcour and Yap are gently, humorously questioning the professional critic’s stranglehold on received opinion in the Artworld. Often the crowd- sourced reviews are written by children, and thus have a certain freshness of vision that, after all, artists from Picasso onwards have been trying to access. Equally, they appear to want to re-establish the museum as an space for healing and reflection, a resonant goal in post-religious societies (at least from a U.K./European perspective).

This edition of the biennial has also involved the Queens Library network, with installations at the Jamaica Central, Lefrak City, and Flushing branches.  Patrick Killoran (b. 1972) made a barely-noticeable intervention in the library, creating a sight-line of receding voids through a section of emptied book-shelves.  His work raises the question of ‘where’ the ‘artwork’ actually lies – in his view, his grey plywood frames frame the actions of viewers, many of whom are not in the library to see art, as they bend down to peer through nothing, at nothing.  He creates a situation that ‘proposes the useless’ in a space institutionally defined by goals (research, internet access, warmth).  At an spatial-architectural level, his work presents a binary: the library as ‘visible index’ of what it contains.  This is emphatically different from the way books, and information are increasingly accessed, via the web and search engines, which effectively obscure the index behind an algorithm and down-play the lovely serendipity of a wander through the stacks.  Killoran’s work is quiet, possessed of minimal materiality, combined with conceptual tightness, and recalls a certain European  transcendental sensibility very much opposed to the voluptuous, identity-riven and market-orientated flavour current in the New York art scene.

In particular, the Killoran and Droitcour/Yap projects also implicitly take us back to the underlying political/social conditions that the Museum, and to a certain extent, many other cultural institutions find themselves in – in an environment of political threats and intimidation, how do institutions retain theoretical rigour and historical awareness, while avoiding accusations of elitism? How do museums, particularly regional ones, remain relevant for the local, non-specialist communities, who are, after all, tax-payers and voters?  To what extent do they have a critical role, to lean against the prevailing wind, even at institutional risk?  On this note, in any way, presuming to compare a (still) comfortable and safe New York context, with the more-or-less forgotten, yet still deadly, plight of the Occupied Territories, it was a bittersweet thing to read of the Qalandiya International, currently underway in Ramallah and Jerusalem, covered here.

‘Today I have sold my beloved Weimar house. How many memories and how much of my life vanish with it.’

-Count Harry Kessler, The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan 1918-1937

(1) Schüppli, Susan. ‘Dirty Pictures’ in Living Earth Field Notes from the Dark Ecology Project 2014-2016. Eds. Belina, Mirna and Arie, Altena. Amsterdam: Sonic Acts, 2016.

(2) Fried, Michael, Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

IMG_7684
Kim Hoeckele. Photo: Instagram @guiaer_and_runzhong
IMG_7679
Milford Graves. Photo: Instagram @sculpthead
IMG_7681
Peter Kašpar. Photo: Instagram @peterkaspar
IMG_7677
Asif Mian. Photo: Instagram @doosan_gallery
ephedra 1
Kanad Chakrabarti. Photo: Instagram @ukc10014
notadancingbear_1
Emmy Catedral, Umber Majeed. Photo: Instagram @notadancingbear
IMG_7678
Brian Droitcour and Christine Wong Yap. Photo: Instagram @thepeoplesguideqi
notadancingbear_2
Emmy Catedral, ray ferreira, Cullen Washington Jr. Photo: Instagram @notadancingbear
jandrewarts_modisett_crop
Beatrice Modisett. Photo: Instagram @jandrewarts

 

With Usura: From Reliquary to the Culture Industry

Who in Italy will have not noted her reliquaries? Vast collections grace even the humblest hamlet — carefully provenanced thumbs, teeth, hair, thorns, fingernails, arms, jaws — all held captive in exquisite vitrines of greenish glass.

Tourists file dutifully past these things, a guilty giggle suppressed – ‘Popish idolatry’.  Yet to go to the Basilica of Sant’Antonio di Padova is to see not merely a display of specimens, but sacred objects in use.  Tearful pilgrims crowd the back of the chapel, touching the Saint’s sepulchre, some knocking their heads on cold stone.  Meanwhile the less devout visitor gingerly steps around them to find the Tullio Lombardo relief.  The contrast is stark – desperation born of sickness, juxtaposed with the Instagram-ready culture vulture, ticking off a tourist itinerary.

From what source then derives the power of the relic, and its cousin, the icon?  We are assured that Christ and the Virgin Mary were safely lifted into the empyrean through the Resurrection and the Assumption, respectively.  Thus, in a historical echo of the Arian Controversy, the question of Christ’s physical remains does not arise and may border on blasphemy.  For these principals, it is usually secondary objects — thorns from the crown, nails from the cross, the Mandylion of Edessa — that are venerated.

A supply-demand imbalance presents itself, leading to a panoply of martyr’s remains.  Between the years 360 AD to 430 AD, the early Church sought to resolve its foundational disputes, through a string of synods, councils, and diets.  It became theologically acceptable to divide up bodies of martyrs, thus causing an extraordinary efflorescence in relics across the empire.  In the historian Cyril Mango’s words: ‘regions that had an excess [of relics] could supply those that suffered a deficiency’.

Not only bodily remnants attracted veneration. At Rome’s church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, the Empress Helena (c. 246/50-330 AD), mother of Constantine the Great, brought back pieces of the True Cross, and a great quantity of blood-soaked soil from the Crucifixion.  Alexander Nagel, theorising the connections between contemporary land/installation art and Medieval chapels, sees this church as ‘an ancient earthworks project…a piece of transplanted territory, a bit of Jerusalem installed in Rome’.  An age of effortless travel makes it difficult to appreciate the impact — most in the congregation would never make it to the real Jerusalem — this was an opportunity for them to visually and phenomenologically project themselves to Golgotha.

Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
Earth from the Crucifixion in Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Rome. Source: http://www.booksandideas.net/Not-Ruled-by-Time-and-Space.html

Nagel, discussing Robert Smithson’s Non-site works (c. 1968), shows a 6th-century reliquary held in the Vatican Collections. A wooden box contains rocks and a splinter from the Holy Land, inscribed in faded Greek: Bethlehem, the Mount of Olives, the citadel on Mount Zion.  The artefacts rest in ossified mud, presumably from Palestine, whilst the cover, designed to slot into the box, features five tiny primitive paintings from Christ’s life.  This, the obverse to Santa Croce: instead of an architectural environment transporting the faithful, here a small, rather crudely-made object acts as a visual and haptic aid to the viewer’s imagination.

Vatican reliquary Santa Sanctorum
Inscribed rocks in a reliquary box from Vatican Collections, originally from Sancta Sanctorum in the Lateran Palace. Source: http://phdiva.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/early-images-of-crucifixion.html

Neither dismembered bodies nor transplanted land fully satisfied the proselytising needs of an œcumenical church; hence Roman painting was pressed into service.  Larger, mobile, and above all, unambiguously narrative, the painted picture could reach far more people, even the dim-witted and unimaginative. Yet, the early Church had inherited the Judaic prohibition on holy images.  Over the years, a variety of justifications were proposed: some didactic, others citing as precedent L’evangelista Luca, pittore.  Canonical guidance held that religious paintings could be efficacious in intermediating with the Divinity, and could even perform miracles, speak, bleed, and exude oil.  Paintings were to be done from life — that is, from direct observation of the saintly subject. When it became obvious that this wasn’t always practicable, a welcome theological flexibility, anticipating the Jesuits, ruled it acceptable to copy from a faithful likeness, subject to certain pictorial conventions being observed.  Needless to say, the issue was periodically revisited, not least in the First and Second Iconoclasms (726-787 AD and 814-842 AD respectively), yet the sacred image was never proscribed for long.  The drastic contrast between Christianity’s attitude to images, and that of say Islam and Judaism, led the essayist George Steiner’s to observe that ‘Christianity…is a form of polytheism…charged with an awareness of the symbolic, allegoric and the imaginary’.

So far then, the venerated thing, whether relic or icon, derives its agency from physical and temporal proximity,  or else a mimesis, to a holy site or person.  But how does one go from a smallish, intricately-worked panel covered in a jewelled carapace, and made for private, perhaps rare, worship, to large mosaics and frescoes on church walls? Such architectural decoration is at one remove from the font of spirituality, neither divinely touched nor a directly-painted likeness.  Further, large scale makes them expensive, while site-specificity is inseparable with the local population’s ethnicity, customs and politics.  Hence we see that the raw, early belief of a besieged sect, Edward Gibbon’s ‘poor and simple’, needs step aside, in order to make way for an established religion, that practiced by the Imperial house — as well as the merchants, bankers, and generals who formed the body politic of, and funded, a far-flung and multi-ethnic Empire.  These worthies sought to commemorate their presence, and perhaps, having lived lives of distinctly imperfect ethics, hedge their bets on eternity.

Julius Argentarius monogram
Julius the Banker’s monogram, San Vitale Source: Carla Linville White, ‘Reassembled Art and History: The San Michele in Africisco (Ravenna) Mosaics’ , 2014. http://digitalcommons.lsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4610&context=gradschool_theses

In the exarchate of Ravenna, there was Julius Argentarius, financier of San Vitale and Sant’Apollinaire in Classe.  Possibly commemorated in the Justinian mosaic, he lent his name to distinctive long flat bricks known as giulianei.  Nearby, in Padova, we find the patron Enrico Scrovegni, fearing for the soul of his usurer father, endowing a small chapel for public use. On the Scrovegni Chapel’s Last Judgement, the torments awaiting moneylenders are exquisitely rendered under Giotto’s hand.

screen-shot-2017-04-14-at-12-24-36.png
Julius the Banker (centre), San Vitale Source: Carla Linville White, ‘Reassembled Art and History: The San Michele in Africisco (Ravenna) Mosaics’ , 2014. http://digitalcommons.lsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4610&context=gradschool_theses

In another Byzantine theme, Sicily, one comes upon the most moving, and visually explicit, of such donative works.  At Palermo’s Church of the Martorana, there is George of Antioch, admiral of King Roger’s fleet and successor to the protonotarius Christodulus.  George resembles a glittering, cowering turtle, posed as if handing up a tiny model of the church to the Virgin. A similar motif is replicated in Constantinople, at the monastery of St Saviour in Chora, as well as in the Hagia Sophia.

Why these curious images? Are the donations of Late Antiquity a type of contract?  Not in the strict sense — after all, two contracting parties should be roughly equal in status, and at a minimum, a contract needs to specify actions by both parties, and penalties for breaches.  We would have to wait until the dawn of the Renaissance to see contracts per se: by the 1500s, much Italian religious art appears to have been made on commission, with a written, notarised contract stipulating precious materials, timing, milestones, while leaving, perhaps surprisingly, the precise subject matter somewhat open to development.

Martorana, Palermo
Donation portrait of George of Antioch in Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio (Martorana)

More plausibly, one may view these images as covenants, in the Judaic sense.  It would appear that the church is being dedicated, financed, indeed physically offered upwards, in exchange for a promise, that of salvation, handed down by a benevolent deity.  We do not know how these donations were documented, but contemporary sources give some clue — in the early Byzantine world, charity became a way for an increasingly wealthy Christian class to retain control over society as well as increase social status.  The great Bishop of Constantinople St John Chrysotom (c. 396 AD), baldly writes that alms ‘quickly raise human beings to the heavenly vaults’, and constitute ‘ransom from the bondage of sin’.  One suspects that a transactional view of charity, and organised religion, was possibly all the more pronounced in the Byzantine milieu owing to caesaropapism: an institutional unity of the secular and spiritual authorities — perhaps discernible today in Russia, heir of Byzantium.

In summary, as the sacred image grows larger and more complex, organisational and pecuniary needs place it in the warm embrace of patronage.  The source of its efficacy becomes more bureaucratised and less authoritatively steeped in apocryphal antiquity.  From sacred object to devotional image to architectural decoration – religious art in the Late Antique can be seen to be circumscribed within an arc of gold.  That arc stretches from the time of Attic tragedy and the pre-Socratics, becomes increasingly secularised and financialised through the ages, and comes down to us as Adorno’s culture industry, insipid and pervasive.  The art object, no longer embedded in a people’s belief, metastasises into its own autonomous reality, becoming reliant on global markets in luxury goods and academic theories for value and justification.  Against this world where the medium has indeed become the message, a dull knocking of heads on Proconnesian marble, as in Padova, dimly memorialises the archaic and performative origins of art.

Nagel, Alexander Medieval Modern: Art Out of Time New York, London: Thames and Hudson, 2012, p. 112
Mango, Cyril (ed) The Oxford History of Byzantium Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 108
Nagel, p. 100
Nagel, pp. 118-120
Mango, p.154
Nagel, pp. 230-231
Ronald A. Sharp The Paris Review George Steiner, The Art of Criticism No. 2, Issue 137, Winter 1995, https://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/1506/george-steiner-the-art-of-criticism-no-2-george-steiner accessed 12 April 2017
Gibbon, Edward The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire London: Penguin, 1776,  Ch 15
O’Malley, Michelle The Business of Art: Contracts and the Commissioning Process in Renaissance Italy New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 3-6
Kevin C. Robbins in Powell, Walter W. and Steinberg, Richard The Nonprofit Sector: A Research Handbook p. 22
Mango pp. 14-15

Review: Yuri Pattison, ‘User, Space’ at Chisenhale Gallery

Image-2
Installation View, Yuri Pattison, ‘User, Space’, Chisenhale Gallery, 2016. Author’s own image.

A visitor to Yuri Pattison’s exhibition User, Space at the Chisenhale Gallery is confronted by a large, nearly empty, room that is, paradoxically, filled with stuff. Orange industrial shelving on two walls support stacking plastic boxes, miniature designer furniture and computer servers. In the middle is a long glass table flanked by semi-opaque room dividers, a profusion of transparent Eames chairs covered in plastic sheeting, and a pile of plants under a steel canopy.  Rectangular panel lights, hanging overhead, come on and off at seemingly random intervals, and the room is filled with the hum of computer equipment. Monitors abound while electrically actuated bottles emit vapour.

The show is a product of an 18-month residency which allowed Pattison to spend time in London’s tech community: the non-profit Hackspace, as well as in Second Home, a ‘co-working’ business where freelance workers, writers, graphic designers, and coders use shared desks. The room represents a “speculative live/work environment drawing influence from Modernist architecture and science fiction”.

IMG_0212
Installation View, Yuri Pattison, ‘User, Space’, Chisenhale Gallery, 2016. Author’s own image.

There is little physical transformation of materials – other than said plastic sheeting, quite a lot of dust, and electronics stripped of casings.  Lighting and electric window-films are controlled by computer server, while cameras feed live footage from the gallery to a monitor.  A large monitor shows a video based on the architecture of co-working spaces. Some notable contemporary art tropes are missing: 3-D printed objects, UV-printed plastic, casts of body parts (though there is a little finger stuck onto a server), crutches-as-sculpture.

In an accompanying printed interview, one learns that Dexion shelving units relate to Pattison’s interest in global logistics. He talks about an Amazon fulfilment centre in London, recalling for the viewer how work and labour have changed in the contemporary gig economy.  The interview goes on to explain that transparency, surveillance, modification of sleep patterns, and the history of computing are amongst the ideas that occupy Pattison.

Image-6
Installation View, Yuri Pattison, ‘User, Space’, Chisenhale Gallery, 2016. Author’s own image.

He also talks about the work-leisure slippage, a phenomenon that started with the mobile internet, and developed most famously in Silicon Valley offices with their bean-bags, ping-pong tables, and free food.  On a related note, companies like WeWork, which started by developing co-working spaces, are now building ‘co-living’ spaces.  In a co-living arrangement, millennials, finding city-centre housing unaffordable, rent rooms in a shared flat (often decked out as a loft with exposed brick, cable runs and concrete), complete with ‘concierge’ services like cleaning and laundry.  Sounds like a conventional flat-share, except that the flats are owned by a large corporation; in WeWork’s case, valued at sixteen-billion dollars.  Co-living and its economics have attracted mild incredulity in the venture-capital press, and apoplexy in the art press.

Pattison’s particular take is how these practices result in individuals who “isolate themselves…[and] create a physical filter bubble”, resulting in a “disengagement with the fabric of the city”.  Moreover, the sharing economy means time gets carved up, as people rent desks by the hour or co-living spaces by the week, again to the potential detriment of the broader community. Yet this isn’t really picked up, visually, in the installation – the videos and CGI feel a little lazy and could have taken a more critical perspective.

Image-4
Installation View, Yuri Pattison, ‘User, Space’, Chisenhale Gallery, 2016. Author’s own image.

The 14-page interview is fascinating in its breadth, touching on almost ever trendy topic in contemporary cultural and economic theory: Bitcoin-mining rigs, pop-up restaurants and stores, the new international style in interior design, coffee culture, mass-marketing of Modernist furniture, and so forth. These first-world concerns, arguably familiar only to the culturally-aware metropolitan, when combined with the visual poverty of the exhibition, fail to move or surprise the viewer.

The closest Pattison perhaps gets to eloquence, is in the dried sebum and dust covering many surfaces – the abjection of which somehow speaks to the absence of the worker, of the human.  One misses the jargon, rituals of coffee, cigarettes or Soylent, inside jokes, backstabbing, gossip – all of which characterise shared places, whether of work or life.

To end with a counter-example, consider Simon Denny.  He has similar concerns: intersection of corporate and hacker culture, surveillance, the physical and digital material of the work environment.  In contrast to Pattison, Denny’s 2015/2016 exhibition at the Serpentine maintained a tight focus on organisational and software structures.  He married, mediated, and abstracted the graphic and architectural elements of corporate and governmental intelligence entities, producing an installation of sculptures memorable as much for their totemic presence as for any politically-charged content.

_dsc5825_2
Installation View, Simon Denny, ‘Products for Organising’, Serpentine Galleries, 2015/2016. Image courtesy Serpentine Galleries.

The overwhelming sense of Pattison’s show was that of a research project rendered visible, almost a ‘core dump’ (computing term for the aftermath of a crash: the entire contents of memory are dumped into a file, to help programmers debug).  That is not to suggest the collection or display were un-curated or arbitrary, and there were some clever twists, such as a circulating economy of Bitcoins that are mined using free electricity.  Yet somehow, there was a whiff of incoherence, and it is not clear the interview, perhaps due to the sheer catholicity of Pattison’s avowed interests, helped.  Most importantly, the social element that energises any working or living space, was missing.  Yet one could argue, it was precisely that exclusion of the human that generated a pathos and brought forth the moral and ideological bankruptcy of the sharing economy.

Udine, Cormons, and Orange Wine

Udine's poshest cafe, Beltramme.  Superb porchetta panini.
Udine’s poshest cafe, Beltramme. Superb porchetta panini.

Udine, the second city of Friuli Venezia-Giulia (FVG), is somewhat overshadowed by its beautiful, literary, acutely self-conscious and slightly “tristesse” sister, Trieste. More inland, it’s not far from the foothills of the Giulian Alps and close to verdant vine-covered hills of the Collio. The sea plays much less of a part in both life and food, and the city feels more Venetian than Slavic/Austrian.

Udine's cathedral
Udine’s cathedral

Yet it’s precisely this relative lack of mitteleuropanisch glamour that helps the city, for in June, we heard virtually no English, and the few tourists present were Austrian or Italian. Moreover, Udine (as is Trieste) is well-located by bus for the Roman and early Christian ruins of Aquileia, and those of Grado, a wealthy beach resort filled with some fine 1960s-1970s seaside apartment blocks. The patriarchal city of Aquileia itself was an important Roman centre, said to be on par with Antioch, Milan, and Trier. Grado, similarly, had its own patriarch (we had the pleasure of sampling a grappa Due Patriarchi which celebrates the curious schism). Both have lovely cathedrals that hint at their importance in days of old.

Aquileia: Roman ruins
Aquileia: Roman ruins

acquileia6 acquileia5 acquilea1

Udine’s food was rather heavy (for the summer), but distinctive and terroir-infused: cjarsons, a ravioli with a complex filling of sweet things, herbs, and/or nuts, in a melted-butter and aged ricotta sauce; the delicious gnocchi di susine, a potato gnoccho with a ripe pitted plum in the middle, which softens as its cooked, again a mix of savoury and sweet; frico, a disc of montasio cheese that is fried until most of the fat renders out, leaving it crunchy or chewy, depending on the variety; and lastly, the lovely San Daniele prosciutto, second only to that of Parma. All quite different from the distinctive sausage, cabbage, or marinated fish cuisine of Trieste; or the intensely fishy food of Venice. A favourite place was the enoteca La Spezeria Pei Sani, dating from 1939 but with recent new (and very hip) owners. Great wines, very knowledgeable and friendly, awesome meatballs, stun-negronis. For more substantial food, the Osteria al Vecchio Stallo was very likeable and warm-hearted, even if the food was simply good (again in the middle of winter, this old horse-changing stall would probably come into its own).

Polpette and negroni
Polpette and negroni
At the "Stallo" restaurant
At the “Stallo” restaurant

Cormons is the centre of the Collio wine zone and is close to Udine (the other main wine zone is the Carso, near Trieste). We didn’t explore the town’s enotecas but did spend time walking through the surrounding hills and vineyards, basing at the superb inn and restaurant La Subida (1 Michelin star). It was at La Subida where we had exquisite orange wine of Gravner: the 1998 of Friuli’s autochthonous ribolla gialla grape (made before he started using Georgian amphorae in 2001) from nearby Oslavia. We also had La Castellada’s excellent ribolla gialla, again from vineyards near Oslavia. Oslavia, a good 2 hour walk away over the vineyards in the heat proved out of reach, and we missed Stan Radikon’s intense, but temperamental (owing to a no sulphur approach), production. The food at La Subida was memorable, particularly a goose ragu nestled in a basket of semolina, which softened in the sauce to become like a pasta.

La Subida's food and Castellada's orange wine
La Subida’s food and Castellada’s orange wine
Gravner and grappa "Due Patriarchi"
Gravner and grappa “Due Patriarchi”

Further reading:

Eric Asimov’s blog on the NY Times has quite a lot on the orange wines of Friuli, particularly on Gravner and the other pioneers.

http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/03/orange-wines/

For food in FVG, as in most of Italy, a great starting point is Italy for the Gourmet Traveller by Fred Plotkin (2010, Kyle Cathie Limited, London). He covers the cuisine, wines, and towns/villages of Italy, and gives restaurant recommendations, which are, at least, a starting point. A few will perhaps have changed owners or even gone downhill, but fortunately things in Italy change but slowly…