Open letter to the artist
Silvana La Spina


Atena e Tiresia I, 2000 Perhaps you took example from the sea, the earth, the sky, the summer marinas, inland winters groaning snow – or the arid cold that the north wind brings with it. Sicily was an example to you – perhaps – being a land of different civilizations, in any case of different natures, rocks, precipices, hills. Of coasts, hundreds of kilometres of coasts, with here and there high ground, paths, chines, that go down to the sea in the form of lava, black, dark, infernal. And then the inland part: the fractures in the very flesh of the nature of Alcantara, rumbling water, the Pantalica caves, among scrub and deep omphaloi in which there race, as crazy as crazy souls, the bats, with a sharp screech sounding like that of dead souls that died badly – Greek, Arab and Spanish warriors and perhaps also Sicilian soldiers running away from the Allied armies. But all, all ready to leave on that tufa flesh a thought, a prayer, a Byzantine sacred image; angels with round eyes, Madonnas that seem to be impaled in the rock, immovable Christs perhaps indifferent to so much death. Thus in the Ispica gullies, thus in so many caves which our land abounds in, for no land, perhaps no island is thus made of flesh and mud and rock. Was it all this that you saw, Antonio? Right from your infancy, while you went around the fields, gilded with fallow, and did you dream of other things?– those colours you dreamt of, the strong green of the agaves, the spent and shady green of the carobs, the lunar green of the olive trees that make the slopes pale with holiness, the bright green of the lemons: the yellow of the fallows, the red of the sulla, the ochre of the sunsets that invades the sky before soaking into the patient red of the west. And then you started to caress that earth, first with your eye and then with your hands, the rocks, that white called Comiso white in your part of the world, that black with striations of greenish lavas. And on these rocks you started to see the fables in patches – the different infiltrations play jokes like these or give adventures like these. You imagined heroes, you told yourself the story of our civilization in flashes, in passages, in big tents, perhaps mixing them up. You came from a family that was middle-class but promoted anger and chivalric adventures: your father in that photo with all the farmers that pose smiling but have hearts full of ancient anger, the anger of the sharecropper, of the peasant in the service of the master, lives of the fields that do not calm down, each has the right to a piece of land of his own, your father said, and they, the others, said: we will go. They occupied the lands of the sluggish master, without fear of militiamen, policemen with rifles ready to fire, you a little boy following them, for you smelt adventure. Right from that time you understood that in order to paint this land there is a need for a heart of fire, but a cold head. An immortal beauty to guide you. Were the places around you full of this beauty – remains of an ancient civilization? Or the archetype of every civilization? Let us say that you intuited that the divine couple, Dionysius and Apollo, frenzy and reason, feeling and reflection, were at the origin of everything. But then that even before them there was the mother-father of everything, Chaos. How afraid you must have been of that unique clutter of all seeds, the origin of every thing that even if it changes always remains the same. Is there a limit, you wondered, to Chaos? Aristotle would have answered you that there was, even the boundless has a limit, but now we know that even Aristotle did not know everything. But then how could one represent Chaos? Someone before you, a talented writer, even tried to stage it, the chaos of life, the chaos of the soul, but his was the chaos that came from another land, the dark one, the subterranean one of sulphur, the purgatory of small creatures without sun or moon – ah Ciaula, Ciaula! – that in him became daily hell, folly, of house, of theatre, of the world. Can we marvel at it? In Sicily after all there is always a fracture, a place, a hole from which Chaos rises up like a stream of lava – Chaos and lava, it was this that you always saw, didn’t you Antonio? But how to represent it vibrating there, while the Greeks built the marvellous temples, their fragile democracies, their markets, their sublime chats. Who would ever have heard its roar? Dionysus the Elder perhaps, attentive to the shouts of the Athenians shut up to suffer because of the folly of Alcibiades in the caves that one day were to be called with his name? Or Archimedes, who became a victim of the fight against the mathematical chaos? How full of histories your land, your area is, Antonio! Your life will be interwoven with all those histories, as the threads of a loom are the life of each one: thick walls of Ortygia blackened by enemy fires, Greek Carthaginian Roman; walls again blackened by the attacks of Ibn Al-Furat, an Islamic clergyman that advances, bringing death, famine and cholera. His astute armies will advance straight into your childish eyes, and soon the song of the muezzin will fill your land, will blend with that of the bells of the churches, recently melted down out of homage to the schism of Photius; but then it will again be the bells that triumph, together with the rising shriek of the pipes of Maniace, and at once of other Norman commanders, much more brutal than the Moslems, who will then cry tears of nostalgia – ouch Noto, the regret of Ibn Hamdis – while the last concubine of the emir will be accompanied to the embarking galleons by the weeping Syracusans. Here there is the façade of the Christian recapture with a foot in the old world and one in the new: the Cathedral on the temple of Athena, the acanthus of the Corinthian capitals that become the fruits of sin, Adam and Eve, Zeus and Arethusa mixed with the sharp tips of the churches and of the Benedictine convents, ave ave, and evoè, look out, now the Spaniards are advancing. With their pomp and their need for death. Gold and incense and folly. In the churches boxed white saints, wooden saints gilded according to the fashion of Toledo, of Seville, of Leon and of Valladolid. Roll of drums, screeching of bagpipes, here is the bastard of Charles V that advances amid all that flashing of flags, of armours, of grandees of Spain who now will become barons of these lands. Feudalism of the harsh kind has just started. And with it the Inquisition, monks in black cloaks and white robes reciting prayers, Deus judica causam tuam, the motto of the Dominicans, who are just a step away from hell, only separated from by their trust in the idea that their Devil is God. Statues, statues everywhere and sneers of monsters on every balcony, your land is invaded by statues, there is the Counter-Reformation and the Sicilians have to learn that the gods are dead. But are they really dead? Or down in that dark place, in that navel where the earth sinks, whence the most terrible earthquake rises, are they there listening and laughing? A man, mad like you, a dreamer like you, pursued by the dogs of the Church, by the dogs of remorse and crime, one day went to look for them, those images, those figures, and then with his memory took them to church, in that claustrophobic and dark picture – yet there is a light there, and what a light! – which was called The Burial of Saint Lucy. He tried like others to manage that force of ancient myths to transform them into shapes and figures. Is this what you too felt? The need to give flesh and shape to those stories, those myths? You began early to fall in love with them, ever since you were an infant they had got your into eyes – in the end it is always they that stay in these lands – and in your ears there was Pan’s pipe, in your mouth the spit of Apollo that has a salty taste of bad luck as Cassandra knew. Too much, too much of everything. The land continually smacked of Dionysius. So you went to look for Apollo in his kingdom, the lands of the North, Northern Europe. Where ice becomes reason, reason changes into feeling. After all it was part of your very nature as a Sicilian, of your soul, that North and that South. Indeed, the South becomes pure diamond only polished up by the North, only there does it become yearning and dream. In the North you have imagined that South, like Füssli, Böcklin and Max Ernst, in nightmare, in grace, in light and dreams: of paper, of stone, dreams engraved on the copper plate. In bronze and in terracotta. In hard stone and in fossil. From it there was born a Sicily almost seen by Goethe, returning from the Grand Tour. Followed hard on by Serpotta the Palermitan, of Vaccarini the architect of Catania. And of course the monsters of the Prince of Palagonia: whims of the gods, struggles of giants, female saints dressed as restless divinities. Hence quotation with quotation. As if Sicily had returned to its origins, had collapsed into its archaic catacombs and coming back up brought with it every memory, all the incrustations and all the vicissitudes, beyond all earthquakes and lava flows, back, back… What can one say? Did you want to surprise us? You did. Did you want to get us lost? You did this too. Now let us dream. Our, your history, this is the way it is, when we go most forward we go back. The last embrace is always the first one, all the light of the world cannot fold up the dark and the mourning of History. Listen: the soft footsteps of a barefoot young woman and the cry of the little boys that pursue her shouting: Kore, Kore, Kore!

(Traduzione di Denis Gailor)