Andrea Viliani


The Contemporaneity of Pompeii's Archaeological Matter


40° 51' 2.4574" N 14° 15' 5.6772" E

Extra Content


Pompeii, House of Bacchus (VII 4, 10), storage of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii. Courtesy Archaeological Park of Pompeii. Photo Amedeo Benestante

A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing […]. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.”

Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History (Thesis 9), 1940

Naples is the most mysterious city in Europe. It is the only city of the antique world that did not decline [...]. Naples is a Pompeii that was never buried. It is not a city; it is a world. The antique, pre-Christian world that lies undamaged on the surface of the modern world”.

Curzio Malaparte, The Skin, 1959

A New Discipline.

In the words of Walter Benjamin – perhaps the most “fragmentary” philosopher, in terms of both writing style and structure of thought, and thus perhaps the most “archaeological” of modern thinkers – modernity is still dominated by prehistoric and unconscious coordinates, such as nature and myth, which tend to regenerate continuously even in the commercialisation and standardisation of the present and of the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction1. Such present day works, therefore, are mere “rubble”, defined by an eternal return to, a compulsion to repeat predefined experience formats. Paradoxically, only memory –that is, not being forced to move forward, but the ability to look back – can emancipate us from this state, developing a hermeneutical experience that aims to bring together and restructure impermanence and eternity, the individual and the collective sphere: unearthing historical reality and revealing it to itself by rediscovering the structure under the fragments and deciphering the scraps of historical fact that subjective consciousness tends to preserve and reiterate. Moving beyond the Erlebnis explored by Wilhelm Dilthey and the limits of the “real duration” of voluntary consciousness explored by Henri Bergson, Benjamin conceives memory as a necessary means to overcome the protective narratives of psychoanalysis or the standardised ones of consumption, welcoming the complexity of the palimpsest of memory emerging in the contemporary world from the flow of history. 

We might say that, unbeknownst to himself, Benjamin was one of the first time travellers. Moreover, the implications of inventing an ante-litteram “time machine” could help to explain the similar experience that produced the rediscovery, in the mid-18th century, of Pompeii, Stabia, and Herculaneum: a forgotten time co-existing once again in the present day; an obliterated space resurfacing under an inhabited space that we live and think we know; another story retold in the course of our story. By introducing us into a synchronic dimension of time and a relativist dimension of space, and therefore a self-critical dimension of reality, Pompeii acted as an intellectual short-circuit of the existing modernity: who knows what would have happened if, instead of being written about and ad horas by Johann Joachim Winckelmann or Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Madame de Staël, François-René de Chateaubriand or Stendhal, Pompeii had been discovered a century later and had been discussed ad horas by Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Karl Marx and, indeed, Walter Benjamin; or, two centuries later, by the authors of theories arising out of quantum physics – the bubble theory, the string theory, the multiverse and Big Bounce concepts, which explore “oscillating”, “pulsating”, “parallel”, and infinitely multiple universes that are inevitably and fantastically entangled.

Sigmund Freud visited Pompeii in the early 20th century, and it would be interesting to deepen the parallelism, in his writings, between the psychoanalytical process and the archaeological excavation process. An example is given by his interpretation of Wilhelm Jensen’s 1903 novel Gradiva. Ein pompejanisches Phantasiestück, a “Pompeian fantasy” that tells the story of an archaeologist, Norbert Hanold, who sees a bas-relief of a female figure in a museum and contrives to obtain a plaster-cast copy of it. Attracted by the image of the woman he names Gradiva (“she who glows as she walks”), he dreams of living with her in ancient Pompeii, where she will later die following the eruption of Vesuvius. Finally, through a melding of dreaming and consciousness, he manages to free himself of his obsession with this figure, suspended between denial and revelation (“what could be the nature of a bodily apparition of a being like Gradiva, who was at once dead and, even though only at the mid-day hour, alive”), who is then replaced by a real woman, the childhood memories of whom had been suppressed by the iconographic reverberation of the stone girl’s walk.2

And indeed, the very works and artifacts of Pompeii seem to reflect Benjamin’s musings on the epiphanic and liberating value of “dialectic” images as described in his Theses on the Philosophy of History, written shortly before he committed suicide while attempting to flee the Nazi regime. To him, images are “dialectic” in the sense that their immobility subverts the consequential nature of past and future, proceeding in a discontinuous manner, with forward and backward leaps, thus condensing the intimately stratified authenticity of thought: “Where thinking suddenly comes to a stop in a constellation saturated with tensions, it gives that constellation a shock, by which thinking is crystallised as a monad” 3 . Thought has a tendency to unfold, and each “fold” is represented by an image reflecting a moment when memory retains the dialectic dynamism of its many components, in a temporary state of quiet addressing both the past, which it cites, and the future, to which it turns4.

Referring also to the Mnemosyne Atlas by Aby Warburg, the Bilderatlas Mnemosyne dedicated to the re-proposal of ancient images in modern European culture, as well as to the mémoire involontaire of Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu, or to Paul Klee's painting that inspired his own Angelus Novus, Benjamin analyses the ability of the dialectic image both to break the irreversible and teleological destiny of the quotation and to release its polysemy, potentiality and hypothetical nature, and so its intimate regenerating quality, its ability to originate possible further narratives. Thus we arrive at the Erfahrung, at an experience of coalition between past and present, subject and object in which everything has already happened and at the same time can still happen; in which the subject’s position can still be defined with respect to the object, at the same time both produced and still to be produced; in which every term of the relationship is what it is, yet is simultaneously free, in a proximity in which the subjects and objects of the past enjoy a posthumous existence in their encounter with the fluid alterity of a futuristic time that enfolds them in order to retell and renew their story.

If we think of antiquity, this is largely by the way a history of copies, replicas, originals that have been lost – in the words of Salvatore Settis – in the boundless shipwreck of ancient art and, therefore, only experienced by the synaesthetic transcription of sources, they too only partial and not necessarily faithful, or through the overlapping of progressive reconstructions and multi-subjective (and therefore potentially inconsistent) interpretations. It is the story, therefore, of the phantasmatic continuation of a canon, whose influence, dictated by the desire for an experience similar to the original, though relocated in space and delayed in time, transmutes, i.e. is transmitted, changing form and supports, while maintaining the purpose and recognisability of the original structure. This experience was first transmuted from Greece to Rome, and then from medieval to Renaissance and to modern Europe, through a series of miniaturised and portable reproductions, and through a series of developments in taste and techniques, fashion phenomena, illusions and errors. Such as those of neoclassical aesthetics, which conferred an aura to what might originally have merely been a functional object, or an imaginary candour to what originally might have been a pre-Pop colour scheme. After all, every era has reinvented its definition of classicism, an entity whose calibration has to do equally with the past, present and future, in a potentially infinite spiral that reaches as far as the present day and beyond, amidst the kitsch gadgets of mass tourism and the offering of digital, virtual, immersive experiences. Together, these shape a contemporary classicism that is both documentary and, paradoxically, fictional5.

So, how should Pompeii be studied from this critical and narrative point of view? Perhaps what is needed is a new discipline, one that arises only upon the encounter of the concepts and images of which I have spoken so far, of which the exhibition Pompei@Madre. Materia Archeologica (“Archaeological Matter”) offers a possible re-evocation and further narration6.

What Is the “Archaeological Matter”? Hints for a Method.

Within the context of the method outlined and used in this project, “archaeological matter” refers first of all to the discipline of archaeology (from the Greek terms for “ancient” and “study”): that is, the study of ancient civilizations through the excavation, conservation, cataloguing, documentation and analysis of archaeological finds – in relation to the environment where they were retrieved – such as architectures, works of art, common-day objects, organic and inorganic remains.

But the fragmentary nature of the objects subject to archaeological studies – which forces us to take a holistic view, that is to say, to resort to a coalition of disciplines which, interdependently, contribute to recomposing documentary fragmentation into a hypothetical unit and to transforming objective traces into a possible story – make “archaeological matter” a discipline which is potentially and radically also contemporary. The very fact that, to retrieve the past, archaeology must act in the present, following a process open to intuition and interpretation, suggests this fascinating proximity between archaeology and contemporaneity, introducing us to an interweaving (similar to the aforementioned entanglement of quantum physics) between cultural and natural components, between aesthetic categories and functions of use, between theory and practice, between social sciences and hard sciences.

A palimpsest that, oscillating between different spaces and times, stimulates a multidisciplinary approach open both to the possibility of invention and to the risk of error, and therefore to the constant redefinition of its methodologies, of its instruments of investigation, of its judgements, and of the very concept of what “space”, “time”, “history” and “reality” mean.

Moreover, the extended temporal perspective that the combination of archaeology and contemporaneity evokes makes it possible to reveal and explore the intimate fragility, ephemeral nature and entropic destiny of every work of art, civilization and culture (and therefore of human history itself), destined not only to be replaced by new works, civilizations and cultures, but to be compared, in their historical consistency, on the one hand against their natural origin and on the other against their final destination, again within the natural ecosystem. These stones from Pompeii, which bear the memory of the sculptures they once were, and in part still are, and these coloured powders, which preserve traces of the frescoes to which they belonged, suggest the mobile outlines of a permanent regeneration: before becoming an artistic object, each of these sculptures was a stone, just as every fresco was coloured powder drawn from shells, fruits, roots or mineral sources. Under their temporary aesthetic skin, therefore, they still belong to nature, just as it is to nature that these fragments refer, presages of their destiny in the flow of time.

In its cultural and natural stratigraphy, Pompeii therefore represents, epistemologically, an extraordinary laboratory, in which, for centuries, time has stopped, giving us – in a relationship almost of proximity with the remote past – fragments that serve as signs of a lost yet resilient civilization: a veritable time machine that tells us the story of endless matter immersed in the flow of historical and natural time, thus blurring the difference between past and present, nature and culture, life and death, destruction and reconstruction.

This is why the exhibition Pompei@Madre. Materia Archeologica has been conceived and structured as a circular display of works, artifacts, documents and instruments connected with the history of the various excavation works in Pompeii – providing glimpses of daily life in the ancient city and the role played therein by the arts and sciences – compared against modern and contemporary works and documents. Sourced from public and private collections, both Italian and international7, each of these works and documents has continued to claim, since the site’s rediscovery in the 18th century, the contemporary value and inspiration of Pompeii’s “archaeological matter”, acting as a link between different spaces, times and cultures, in a continuous play of comparisons. Moreover, the exhibition combines – sometimes merely through hints – the visual arts, literature, music, theatre, cinema, historiography, cartography, palaeontology, anthropology, biology, botany, zoology, chemistry, physics, genetics, and the extensive field of new technologies. In an attempt to define hypothetical parallels running through ancient, modern and contemporary history, the exhibition tells us the story of “matter” capable of revealing the relationship between original materials and resulting works of art, in transit between iconographies, concepts and experiences that re-emerge, in the history of culture and art, as envisaged by Benjamin with his “dialectic” images.

Ever since the eruption of the 24th of August 79 A.D. – whose gas cloud in the shape of a pine-tree, as described by Pliny the Younger in his letters to Tacitus, decreed centuries of dormancy for the city – and even more so since its rediscovery in 1748 (following that of Herculaneum ten years earlier), Pompeii has become a huge repertoire of “dialectic” images, a space-time portal bringing otherwise distant elements together. Its matter has since been subjected to further catastrophes – such as the damage suffered under the Anglo-American bombings of the Second World War, particularly on the 24th of August 1943 – posing as the spectres of and as a warning for similar, previous or subsequent, tragic destructions (in the latter case, think of those inflicted by the Taliban regime on the Archaeological Museum of Kabul and on the Buddhas of Bamiyan, by Al-Qaeda on the ancient mosque of Timbuktu and the Twin Towers of New York, and by ISIS on the sites of Nimrod and Palmira, the collections of the Mosul museum, and ancient Byzantine and Islamic works of art in Raqqa and Nineveh). But this same matter has also been the catalyst for just as many further regenerations, and open to further crossings and new lives.

It is precisely the history of this “archaeological matter”, both fragile and combative, archetypal albeit so ephemeral, that has allowed Pompeii to continue to be contemporary and, with its ongoing process, to accompany modernity. It is on the enduring contemporaneity of Pompeii that this exhibition and its underlying research method are based. Pompeii had, of course, provided evidence of this contemporaneity to every traveller of the Grand Tour, as testified by a frenetic exchange of letters, drafting of travel diaries, and production of sketches, paintings and printed volumes. In 1787, Goethe wrote that “of all the catastrophes that have struck the world, none has caused so much joy to the following generations”; a sentiment echoed by Chateaubriand when, in 1804, he visits “a Roman city preserved in its entirety, as if the inhabitants had left a quarter of an hour before”. To this feeling of elective, even epidermal affinity, perhaps more irrational than rational, may be attributed the profound influence that Pompeii has exercised on intellectuals of different origins and backgrounds throughout the modern era: Gustave Flaubert in 1851, Théophile Gautier in 1852 (“In Pompeii, two steps separate ancient life from modern life”), Alexandre Dumas in 1860, the historian Hippolyte Taine in 1864 (“the image of the reddish-grey city [...] with rows of thick wall, and bluish flagging glittering in the dazzling white atmosphere; and surrounding this the sea, the mountains, and an infinite perspective”); and again, Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Sergej Djagilev, Léonide Massine and Le Corbusier. In his drawings, on display at the exhibition, Le Corbusier seems to refer more to the biodynamics that already featured the Pompeian domus – the balance between inside and outside, between architectural components and the relationship with the surrounding environment – than to the symbolic and undemocratic rhetoric of Roman monuments8. Indeed, it is to Le Corbusier that we owe the inspiration for the design underlying the exhibition Pompei@Madre. Materia Archeologica.

The Circular Space-Time of an Exhibition (A Possible Short Guidebook).

This exhibition features a circular layout – evoking a cyclical, Greek/Roman kairological conception of time – permitting, however, a dialogue between the interior and the exterior, composed of freely associable suggestions that revolve as if to explore possible variations on the already known. First of all, the works of the Palazzo Donnaregina collection, transformed for a whole year into a real contemporary domus, are given a new perspective. From the entrance by Daniel Buren (Axer/Désaxer, 2015) – a vestibulum and atrium, but also a peristylium which moves from its own internal axis to dialogue with the street outside – to the site-specific rooms on the first floor, with which the MADRE museum was inaugurated in 2005: Domenico Bianchi’s epigraph stands against those written in Latin on the walls of the ancient city, like “stories within history”; the room frescoed and decorated with floor majolica tiles by Francesco Clemente are the heart of the domus, namely the tablinum or reception hall and the triclinium or banquet hall; the celestial vault by Luciano Fabro, with its constellations and mythologies, reverts to a relationship with the astral dimension, with that which resides in the sky and can fall from heaven and manifest itself on Earth, becoming the unusual profile of a compluvium mirrored in an impluvium; Jannis Kounellis's travel theme seems to reverberate in a floor mosaic filled with marine creatures surrounding a great anchor and placing the ancient community in the kaleidoscope of its peripli of human beings, goods and stories; while, then, the relationship between figuration and abstraction typical of Pompeii’s room decorations expands in the rooms by Sol LeWitt and Jeff Koons, fragments of wall paintings and sculptural decorations echo in the rooms by Giulio Paolini and Richard Serra; and while Richard Long’s mud-covered room suggests the daily need to relate with the living matter of the kitchen (culina), Rebecca Horn's capuzzelle, or skulls, with their folkloric references to the Neapolitan traditions of vanitas and memento mori, bring back to the surface the cult of the ancestors (Lares and Penates) and a reminiscence of the deceased which is further explored in the underground, chthonic dimension of Anish Kapoor’s black hole in the floor. Last in this ideal sequence is the room by Mimmo Paladino, hosting the sleeping area or cubiculum, in which lie, motionless yet charged with energy, the casts of two of the many frozen figures – in this case a father and child? – of ancient Pompeii.

On the third floor, the layout of the rooms proceeds in the same non-chronological manner, providing a narration in chapters in which each work presents a connection with the others in the room, regardless of its date, origin or characteristics. Displayed at the start of the exhibition route are a number of excavation journals (1780; 1853) and the first logbooks documenting the destruction of 1943, surrounded by the day-to-day tools of the trade of archaeologists (shovels, picks, brushes, baskets, sieves, set squares, lanterns, signs and containers) and by a set of maps showing an aerial view of Pompeii taken in 1910 from a hot-air balloon. The centre of the room is dominated by the presence of boulders on which, as by superfetation, organic or inorganic elements grow and take shape: these are the works of Adrián Villar Rojas, suggesting a first short-circuit between the plausible and the implausible, in which what appears before us, instead of being an archaeological find, is a contemporary work.

After a showcase-library housing a bibliographic history of the fascination for Pompeii’s “archaeological matter” over more than two and a half centuries (the Grand Tour), including recent texts on Paweł Althamer and a textual work by Darren Bader, the exhibition unfolds in rooms where modern documents – watercolour prints, photographs, furnishings, unique or copied artefacts (real period reproductions) – integrate with archaeological fragments and artefacts and with contemporary works. The series of aquatints Vues pittoresques de Pompéi by Jakob Wilhelm Hüber, an apprentice of the painter Jacob Philipp Hackert and a seminal figure for the genesis of the School of Posillipo, lead on to Roman Ondák’s recovered prints, in which, more than two centuries later Hüber, the younger artist pencils an impossible self-portrait, as if bearing witness to the same past eruptive events. The theory of the columns in Victor Burgin’ Basilica I and Basilica II invades the photographic sequence of archival images documenting successive excavation works in Pompeii. The subject of his works is both contradicted and reaffirmed by the ghostly three-dimensional materialisations of Maria Loboda’s broken column, by Iman Issa’s gold-white base, and by Rita McBride’s architectural profile. In the foreground are wall and mosaic decorations – adopting Pompeii’s various styles of illusive representation – captured by the analogue cameras of Luigi Ghirri, Nan Goldin and Mimmo Jodice, by the digitally generated tapestry of Laure Provost, and – concisely – by Betty Woodman’s ceramic bas-relief, seemingly forged with the same curiosity that animates two modern copies, respectively in pencil on paper and in clay relief, of the ancient mosaic depicting Alexander the Great at the battle of Issus. Sketches and studies of architectural details by Claude-Ferdinand Gaillard, Pierre Gusman and Jules-Leon Chiffot, dating between 1861 and 1927, combine with original domus fragments, while Fausto Melotti’s puppet theatre, supported by a Pompeian red metallic structure by Thea Djordjadze, acts as the backdrop to two bisque porcelains of the Royal Porcelain Factory of Capodimonte and to a coeval pietra dura work that reproduces the Temple of Isis, the first shrine to be found intact in Pompeii in 1764. And while a wall of the Golden Bracelet fresco is seen in conjunction with a silver painted wall sprinkled by a hydrant and punctuated by Pádraig Timoney's small paintings, Haris Epaminonda's ethereal environmental installations seem as if summoned from the bowls of multi-coloured powder found in Pompeii or from one of their end products: a detached fresco in which a female figure (the goddess Venus) is framed by two plant wreaths and carried in triumph by a group of elephants.

The central room of the exhibition opens instead with a series of views of the Vesuvian countryside, just as the volcano erupts. As in a cinematographic long shot panning the entire room, the eruption seems to continue uninterrupted from the mid-eighteenth century – with various neoclassic, romantic and naturalistic-realistic landscapes (from Johan Christian Dahl, Joseph François Désiré Thierry, Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes and Pierre-Jacques Volaire to Gioacchino Toma), to the 1980s (with an example of Warhol's Vesuvius works), only to stop temporarily in the same year as the exhibition (2017) with Wade Guyton's Untitled work. Standing in the centre of the room – in silent confrontation with Trisha Donnelly and Christodoulos Panayiotou's marble and stone works, from which traces of a hypothetical figuration emerge – are piles of stone and ceramic “archaeological matter” from Pompeii, situated in two big depot-tanks, as if to represent the flow of this matter amidst different yet coexistent ages, means, styles and sensitivities. Moreover, on a clay floor by Petra Feriancová, the adjoining room hosts pure matter in the process of transformation: from Robert Rauschenberg's assemblage entitled Pompeii Gourmet to Renato Leotta’s drawing representing the falling of volcanic ashes and Mike Nelson's leaf-tyre.

After a room dedicated to a conjectural and highly imaginative museography – entrusted to Mark Dion's peep show and his Hamiltonian showcases, mixed with real artefacts and modern objects, and framed by Ernesto Tatafiore's “fire painter” – the following rooms develop like an epicede dedicated to death: the death of everything, of every human being and of every form of life under the rain of lapilli, gasses and ashes of 79 A.D. In a ritual diachrony that seems to level everything, we move from Jimmie Durham's fossilised office to the 1972 documents of Operation Vesuvius, in which the critic and curator Pierre Restany suggests various artists transform the Vesuvian area into a ‘cultural park’, a gigantic work of Land Art. From here we move on to identification between earth and sky in a rough canvas that embraces them both, painted by Salvatore Emblema at the foot of Mount Vesuvius. From an ossuary closet hailing from Pompeii's storehouses, we move on to the gigantic profiles standing on spotless skulls of Nino Longobardi's Terrae Motus, to Antonio Biasiucci's black and white skulls/loaves, to Seth Price’s bas-relief of a white bomber in plastic material, to Nairy Baghramian’s seating furniture/body imprints. Furthermore, from the cast of “Pompeii's dog” – using a technique developed and promoted by Pompeii’s Director, Giuseppe Fiorelli, between 1863 and 1868 – we meet Allan McCollum's serial reproduction of the same dog, and then Roberto Cuoghi's showcases of slowly and progressively decaying multi-material birds. But exactly at this point of the exhibition a taxonomy of organic materials appears in an air-conditioned showcase. These are the remains of a life in Pompeii that may have been buried, carbonised and fragmented, but was not completely annihilated, leaving traces of seeds, shrubs, fruits, shells, bones, eggs, loaves and fabrics. From the DNA of those remnants of life, patiently gathered and expertly studied by archaeologists, agronomists, botanists, anthropologists, zoologists, chemists and physicists, life in Pompeii could literally be born again, rising from its own ashes. This is what the zoomorphic vases and anthropomorphic masks also found in Pompeii seem to suggest, providing the inspiration, through the hypothetical mediation of Ettore Sottsass’ ruins-vase, for Goshka Macuga’s retracing of the history of the recently-ended “short century”, entrusting it to his most revolutionary modern intellectual icons, from whose heads flowers sprout.

And as we come to the end of this exhibition (which coincides with the beginning, due to its circular layout), we find that Maria Thereza Alves had been entrusted with collecting seeds from a real garden, growing in the last exhibition room following a layout that can be also found in Bill Beckley's collage installed nearby. From these seeds will sprout, not just new plants but new stories, yet to be told, retracing the historical origin of the planted seeds and therefore their hybrid, multicultural matrix.

Hypothesis for an Open Ending…

Besides, the project has an open ending, in every sense, corresponding to a musée imaginaire, a “museum without walls” (and without epochs) such as the one prophesied in 1947 by André Malraux9, or like the open-air museum yearned for by travellers on the Grand Tour. Possibly starting in the near future, a project will be launched which will allow the use of “archaeological matter” from Pompeii for the commissioning, conception, production and dissemination of new works of contemporary art: Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological Matters.

In 1834, Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote a novel entitled The Last Days of Pompeii, which was later to inspire numerous films10. Yet, at this point, we could ask ourselves: what if, with its legacy of historical, cultural and natural, organic and inorganic “rubble”, inclusive of mineral, vegetable, animals and humans testimonies, those were not in fact just the “last” days of Pompeii, but also the “first” of a new, another Pompeii – our own? Pompeii’s regenerative emancipation would appear to be demonstrated by a sequence of the film Journey to Italy (1954) by Roberto Rossellini, in which, during a visit to the archaeological site of Pompeii, an unhappy middle-aged couple, Alex and Katherine Joyce (played by George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman), witness the discovery of a cast of an embracing couple. This image of communion beyond time and space encourages them to consider a possible reconciliation.

Images that could be indeed defined as “dialectic”, to adopt Benjamin’s word, are also those of the documentary film by Adrian Maben11, documenting the recording, between the 4th and the 7th of October 1971, by rock group Pink Floyd, of three live tracks (Echoes, One of These Days and A Saucerful of Secrets) in the empty Pompeii Amphitheatre: as if an audience were already there, at that very moment, listening to them – one that was not just metonymic, but made up of mute stones transformed into squared blocks and assembled as the stands and steps of the theatre; or as if an audience were still there, or could have been there, or could be there once more. Music for other days and for every type of matter.

Many years later, this exhibition rediscovers Pompeii at the MADRE museum, in a further, hypothetical intellectual excavation that follows the same “dialectic” images and takes place in that reincarnated Pompeii, in which this contemporary museum operates, which the city of Naples is (as described by Curzio Malaparte in the opening words to this text). And now, to conclude, let me pass the baton to Massimo Osanna, who will take you on a journey back in time, in a triangulation between contemporaneity, modernity and antiquity in which unity and reality are given – as always in archaeology, but also in science (fiction) and artistic research, whether contemporary or otherwise – always and only in fragments, and proceeding by hypotheses.

28 August, 2017, Hotel Costantinopoli 104, Naples (at dawn). Version re-edited and updated on 1 Ferbruary, 2022, on the occasion of publication on


1. See Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Art and Mass Culture (Turin: Einaudi, 1966 [Ed. 1991]).

2. See Sigmund Freud, "Delusion and Dream in Jensen's Gradiva", in Works, Vol. 5 (Turin: Boringhieri, 1975).

3. Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History" (Thesis 17), in Angelus Novus. Essays and fragments, ed. R. Solmi (quoted from the Italian edition Turin: Einaudi, 1962 [Ed. 1995]), p. 85.

4. For the concept of “fold”, with its references to the philosopher who theorised the connected concept of “monad”, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, and to how such metaphors can translate certain neo-baroque parameters into the modern and contemporary experience, see Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque (Turin: Piccola Biblioteca Einaudi, 2004).

5. See Salvatore Settis, The Future of the Classical (Turin: Einaudi-Vele, 2004) and the two exhibitions Serial Classic. Multiplying Art in Greece and Rome (Milan, Fondazione Prada, 9 May - 24 August 2015) and Portable Classic. Ancient Greece to Modern Europe (Venice, Fondazione Prada, 9 May - 13 September 2015) and the relating catalogue: Serial/Portable Classic, eds Salvatore Settis, Anna Anguissola, Davide Gasparotto (Milan: Progetto Prada Arte, 2015).

6. See Giorgio Agamben, “Aby Warburg e la scienza senza nome , in La potenza del pensiero (Vicenza: Neri Pozza, 2005). I wish to thank Rosanna Cappelli for suggesting I re-read Walter Benjamin while drafting this text, and Paolo Vinci for helping me to study in greater depth Benjamin’s memory states which underly the proposal of this new discipline. Finally, I wish to thank Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and her agents for the precarious yet authoritative inspiration offered by the reflections, in dOCUMENTA(13), on the natural materiality of artistic objects, that is, on their origin and their destination of entanglement with the organic and inorganic natural sphere, and on the dialectic between collapse and recovery in the course of their existence.

7. Institutional lenders include: Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples; Museo di Capodimonte; Polo Museale della Campania; Biblioteca Nazionale and Institut Français in Naples; Casa di Goethe and Biblioteca Istituto Archeologico Germanico in Rome; Fondation Le Corbusier and École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

8. See the catalogue, published by Electa, Milan, of the exhibition Pompei e l’Europa. 1748-1943, MANN-National Archaeological Museum of Naples and Pompeii Amphitheatre (27 May - 2 November 2015). The quotations in this paragraph are taken from the catalogue and other material relating to the exhibition. I wish to thank Arch. Francesco Venezia, who oversaw its outfitting, for encouraging me to analyse, in a conference connected with the exhibition, the relationship between Le Corbusier and Pompeian architecture, thus stimulating investigation into the relationship between nature and culture as a constituent element of the experience of Pompeian architecture and art.

9. André Malraux, Le Musée Imaginaire (Geneva: Albert Skira, 1947).

10. From the 1908 movie directed by Arturo Ambrosio and Luigi Maggi, the first historical epic in the history of Italian cinema, to the last to be produced as a silent movie, in 1926, by Carmine Gallone and Amleto Palme, to subsequent ones, such as the first in Technicolor, in 1959, directed by Mario Bonnard and Sergio Leone.

11. Adrian Maben, Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii: Director’s Cut, DVD, Universal Music & Video Distribution, 2003.