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  • Writer's pictureBen Jenner

The Museum of Loss and Renewal

As part of the final year of my degree I submitted a proposal to be an artist in residence at The Museum of Loss and Renewal in Collemacchia, Italy. The proposal was accepted and I was excited at the prospect of exploring my practice away from an educational institution. I was keen to hone my practice in a residency setting that would encourage personal growth as well as having the opportunity to assert myself as an artist in a creative context. University was great to have as a constant alongside full time work, but I had never before been afforded a lengthy period of time to research, explore and develop ideas in a setting away from my comfort zone.

After a few knock backs and delays due to the global pandemic the time had come to clock out of work and embark upon my travels to Italy. Travelling itself was incredibly daunting after not travelling alone for some time. Additionally I was suffering from imposter syndrome as a result of having a break from my creative pursuits, and my self confidence was very much diminished. Despite all of this I threw myself at the opportunity and it was the best step forward that I could have taken.


Collemacchia is a small village in the province of Molise in Italy. The village is home to about 50 people, and is connected to a network of villages by a series of old paths built into the mountain sides. The nearest town is 12km away, and so unless you are prepared to trek, you take advantage of the fresh produce in the local shop in Filignano, a 1km walk down the mountain from Collemacchia. Filignano itself is only slightly bigger than Collemacchia, but is home to a bar, a grocery shop, a butchers and a post office; an ideal setting for a fortnight of living humbly.


I had aspirations of getting up early and making work all day until the sun set, by which point I would sit and write until my head hit the pillow. The reality of the situation was very different. I had spent so long being wired to be productive at every waking hour back home that I found it more fruitful to just do nothing for a while. So that is exactly what I did. I woke up when I wanted to, and got ready for the day at a leisurely pace, and once I had done that I left the house and walked, and walked and walked. For the first time in a long time I allowed myself to stop and breathe and be present, rather than constantly let my mind race towards the future. I gave myself permission to get lost in the sea of trees that engulfed the mountain tops, and I did not feel guilty for it. In the two weeks that I spent in the mountains I walked nearly 200km, and it was the most calm and content that I have ever been. Once I had unlearnt all the bad habits from home of rushing around and ticking things off ‘to do’ lists and rushing meal times I was in the right mindset to address the proposal that I had initially written.


The proposal that I submitted was a continuation of sorts of the inquiry that I began as a postgraduate student, which was in the early stages of exploring asemic writing as a means to communicate narrative. I asked for the chance to develop this idea in a setting where the language spoken is not my mother tongue. How might a language that I don’t understand look visually?


I also had ambitions to learn Italian before I arrived, but rethought the idea so as not to hinder the concept of the work I would go on to make. I wanted the proposed project to be as authentic as possible. So I became a stereotypical Brit abroad that points and nods in the appropriate places when attempting to communicate. However this gave me the precious ability to completely disassociate with what was being said, and become more attuned to things like tone and pitch and expression.


I would walk to Caffe Borgo in Filignano each morning for a coffee and monoprint the ebb and flow of exchanges between the locals. This became a big part of my daily practice, as I quickly understood was the case for those that frequented the same café each day. What began as a project about the aesthetic properties of the spoken word became more about routine and ritual, and the rhythm of conversation. There was always a welcoming sense of community and belonging, and I was regularly included in the exchanges, though could only participate with a ‘ciao’ or a ‘buongiorno’.


The prints themselves echoed the passionate dialogue between the residents of Filignano. I captured the energetic flux of discussions that were had over a morning coffee, scattered with interjections and exclamations. The monoprinted discussions began to grow, take shape and became a series of oral landscapes that recorded the chroreography of communication. I would eventually like to compile these prints into a publication that documents the daily ritual that the people of Filignano allowed me to take part in for two weeks. The project itself has much scope for further development. I could take the same project anywhere in the world and explore how conversations might look elsewhere, an idea that I am keen to consider for future works.

My time in Collemacchia was truly life changing. The opportunity granted me the ability to get out of my own way and understand what was obstructing me at home. Although the global pandemic may feel like a thing of the past as we get back to our habitual ways of living, the effects of the crisis are still ever-present. I am still digesting and processing the last three years, and I struggle with the mental exhaustion of working in hospitality whilst trying to be proactive with my art practice. I need to remind myself that my practice not taking priority does not make me any less of an artist, and that forcing my practice will not result in work that I will be proud of. A lot has happened in the last few years, and a lot has been said, but I have found my rhythm again and sometimes a bit of silence is ok.




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