Genius Loci, how two Italian artists capture the soul of historic sites through art

Artists Stefano Forgione and Pino Rossi working on their project Genius Loci at Fort Point.

A unique project, called GENIUS LOCI, made its way to San Francisco and opened with an exhibition at the Museo Italo-Americano on February 7th. The work has been created by two Italian artists, Stefano Forgione and Pino Rossi, who work under the pseudonym of TTOZOI.

Genius Loci, the Latin word for the guardian spirit of a place, was created by TTOZOI and developed under the patronage of Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Activities and Tourism (MiBAC). It already took place at two of most known and visited Italian UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Reggia di Caserta and the Archeological Park of Pompeii, as well as at Ghetto Ebraico in Rome.

The Italian artists, called TTOZOI, had a live performance at Fort Point

The concept is to create works of art in situ at certain historical sites, while using an original technique, the natural proliferation of molds on jute, with pictorial intervention by the artists. The technique used by TTOZOI produces works of art that are able to absorb and capture the “soul” of the historical sites. The memory and the spirit of the location get transferred onto the canvas. Not only is this art produced through the “emotional conditioning” by the artists, but also through the “environmental conditioning” of the space.  Creating art in such ancient locations allows the unique realization of contemporary art with a concrete connection to the past.

Some moments from the live performance of TTOZOI at Fort Point

When in Caserta, in 2017, the artists simultaneously painted a jute canvas with an organic substance made up of natural pigment, water, and a variety of flours. They later sealed the work in a case, stored it on site for several months, and allowed the molds to proliferate naturally. As a result, the molds feeded on the organic material, interacted with the work of art, and created their own haphazard paths and designs through the veins of the jute. Artists Rossi and Forgione closely monitored the progress of the spores and decided when it was time to interrupt it. The canvases were then cleaned and sealed with resins, used for the purpose of protecting the work without altering the naturalness of the result.

We talked to the exhibit Curator, Anna Dusi, a Los Angeles resident, who came to San Francisco for the opening and spent a rainy Saturday at Fort Point National History Site, on the southern side of the Golden Gate at the entrance to San Francisco Bay.

From the left, Pino Rossi and Stefano Forgione

“This experience started a year ago when I proposed the project to Marie, from the Museo Italo-Americano, and we decided to do it together. The whole process has been amazing, this experience has been a unique journey for the artists as they embraced everything of the place San Francisco offered them.” And continued: “It is very important that everybody understands the process because, though it’s not too complicated, you need to understand the meaning from start to the end.” Why Fort Point?, we also asked: “At the beginning we thought of Alcatraz but, because of some permits issue, we got offered this location, which really represents the connection with the history, the past, and the soul, and is indeed also linked with what Italian culture represents. TTOZOI asked for a place close to the water and the nature and Fort Point gives it all”.

Curator Anna Dusi, Stefano Forgione, and Pino Rossi with a ranger from the Fort Point Historic Site in San Francisco

We met with TTOZOI while they were working on their project at Fort Point. We learned that Pino has a degree in Economics but a strong passion for arts; Stefano on the other hand is an architect, an artist, and an arts seller. Friends since they were very young, grown up in the same place, almost the same age, on a Christmas Night not so long ago they got into a conversation after which they realised they both had in mind to start an artistic project. And they decided to take it on together. “We met Anna in LA and we have always been in contact. We presented the Genius Loci to her, she immediately offered her help, and eventually managed to take it to San Francisco. We loved Anna’s idea of San Francisco also because the West Coast is a lucky place for us. Changing location, from LA to SF, gave us the opportunity to discover new things, we exhibited at the Museo with the support of the Consulate and the Italian Institute. We loved it all and we couldn’t wait to be here.” And they continued: “The Museo was well organized whereas Fort Point took us by surprise because it is different from any location we work in Italy. It belongs to the American history, the place is fascinating, and it also represents the pride of the city. When we learned we got the permit, we were honored because they opened the doors to Italian artists who are trying to take the idea of the Genius Loci worldwide. The word “connection” is crucial for our project: artists usually do exhibits with pieces made in their studio. In our case, instead, we build a connection with the place we visit and we try to give our arts the genius loci of the place where they are created. There is a synergy between the arts and the artists, the place absorbs and gives back unique pieces to the people of the place. The project engages everybody because we try to capture the memory of the place through the molds: visitors see and appreciate something that is completely new to them. The Genius Loci belongs to everybody and the process, though both complicated and sophisticated, becomes a moment to think about memories stored by the place.”

Artists Stefano Forgione and Pino Rossi working on their project Genius Loci at Fort Point.

What’s coming up next for the two artists? “We will try to take this project to as many places as possible because the project itself doesn’t have a destination. We developed it in Pompeii and at the Reggia, we will do it at the Coliseum in Rome, but the final goal is to capture the Genius Loci of many places in the world.”

Maria Serventi Steiner, the Museo Italo-Americano Curator, was attracted by the uniqueness and the creativity behind the project and the concept of creating arts in historical places while absorbing their souls. “I loved the contrast of creating something contemporary in an ancient space, and somehow bringing the past into the present. I found it the most compelling part and I hope our visitors will see the same in it”. And she concluded: “It brings together a lots of roots and connections with Italy. The project grew from being an exhibition into an art project at La Scuola, an art exhibition, and an art performance at Fort Point. So many components and connections, with local and global efforts, so I can’t wait to see how the pieces created in San Francisco will be part of a global exhibit and we hope to be part of that”.

GENIUS LOCI [LATIN]: The guardian spirit or soul of a place by Stefano Forgione and Giuseppe Rossi, presented in partnership with the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco, under the patronage of the Consul General of Italy in San Francisco, with additional support from La Scuola International School, Santa Margherita Wines, and AXRT Contemporary Gallery, will be at the Museo Italo-Americano until June 9, 2019.

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