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‘The Hôtel de Galliffet as a Site of Historical-Mythological Research’
Curated by Sergio Mario Illuminato

Among the elegant streets of the VII arrondissement of Paris stands the Hôtel de Galliffet, a jewel of eighteenth-century architecture now serving as the seat of the Italian Cultural Institute. This sumptuous residence has hosted a long line of prominent figures in history, from Napoleon to Madame de Staël, from Chateaubriand to the poet Arnault.

In the garden in front, under the majestic colonnade designed by the Italian architect Luigi Moretti in 1953, stands an installation that captures the eye and imagination: a sequence of painting-sculpture devices that carve into the ground. It is a manifesto of freedom, a call to the timeless essence of humanity on the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

In an era marked by conflicts and irreversible climate change, daily reality seems adrift. Yet, here, among the 41 sticks of Jonchets, or Sciangai, at the center of the garden-laboratory, lies a message of hope. It challenges and invites artists not to surrender to the complexity of the world, but to confront it with courage and determination, weaving future upon future, unraveling one stick at a time from the tangled mess.

This is a place where contemporary art comes to life, where visions of the nightmares of the twenty-first century merge with illuminations of alternative futures. It is an invitation to reflect, to look beyond appearances, to seek deeper stimuli in the art that surrounds us.

At the heart of the installation are the seven ‘Communicating Artistic Organisms (CAO)’, shaped during a residency at the former Pontifical Prison of Velletri. These organisms are named for their fluid and mutable character, embodying a ‘Cosmic-Fabric-Weft’ in constant evolution. In these devices, everything is in a state of change: chemical reactions, fermentations, chromatic alterations, and degradation. This name not only underscores the dynamic nature of art but reinforces the idea that it is inherently linked to life itself, using the raw material of our existence in an active and inclusive interpretive process that involves artists and spectators.

The impact of the installation is that of a site of historical-mythological research, and the Communicating Artistic Organisms, fallen from the sky with an impassive and solemn presence, evoke the ‘ruins’ of life itself – as described by the sociologist Georg Simmel. Abandoned fragments of art, historical ‘capsules’ of beauty and perfection irretrievably turned ephemeral. But, hurled by Prometheus before being chained, they still want to serve as catalysts to re-generate deeper spaces, akin to underground fires, leading back to the depths of humanity and, from there, pouring back into the infinity of the sky.

The audience, immersed in flânerie, is engaged in a complete aesthetic-sensory experience as theorized by Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Seeing, smelling, touching, and listening generate a sensation of emptiness, creating distance from the daily routine. This emptiness, paradoxically, delineates the threshold of truth in silence, paving the way for inner journeys that do not follow a privileged direction but unfold in multiple directions, exhibiting the richness of diversity and human experiences.

The area surrounding the installation reveals original writings left by the detainees of the former Pontifical Prison of Velletri, tangible evidence of a past marked by confinement and isolation. Today, these same words serve as a canvas to explore a theme as universal as it is intimate: human vulnerability and its cathedrals.

Within the Hôtel de Galliffet, the light of the short film ‘Vulnerare’ represents the last fragment of the same historical heritage of the former Pontifical Prison of Velletri, remaining intact for two centuries before undergoing an irreversible transformation. This cinematic event offers a tangible glimpse into history, bringing to light the vicissitudes of a place that has experienced times of imprisonment and now, in a turn against, opens up to new forms of artistic expression and storytelling.

This curatorial project, encompassing painting-sculpture installations, photography and cinema, music and dance, is based on the harmonious fusion with the rhizome, an open alliance created by nature and promoted by Deleuze and Guattari in their book ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. This multifaceted and transdisciplinary artistic network, dismantlable and reversible, devoid of defined exteriors and interiors, invites the spectator to be connected to any perspective through a process of correlations.

Challenging every centrality-celebrity – as Benjamin recalled – and paving the way for a ‘monotonous wandering’. In this territory of uncertainty, there are no privileged connections, but ‘broken lines’ that intertwine and then diverge. It is here that the right path lies for those who, nevertheless, will ultimately achieve ‘failure’. In this way, the Hôtel de Galliffet reveals itself not only as a place of beauty and history, but also as a meeting point between past and present, myth and reality, art and reflection.

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