Earlier this month at the Baths of Caracalla we saw this spiral arrangements of Roman stone - like a Richard Long sculpture re-imagined by Ian Hamilton Finlay. It is in fact an installation by Michelangelo Pistoletto, one of the leading lights of sixties Arte Povera, who is still active and making work based on his concept of the 'Third Paradise', a fusion of nature (the first paradise) and culture (the second). This is symbolised by a new form of infinity sign - the pattern used to lay out the stones at the Baths of Caracalla. You can read various descriptions of the Third Paradise online and I suspect something tends to get lost in translation - this for example makes it sound frustratingly vague and over-ambitious:
'The idea of the Third Paradise is to lead artifice—that is, science, technology, art, culture and political life—back to the Earth, while engaging in the reestablishment of common principles and ethical behaviour, for on these the actual success of the project depends. The Third Paradise is the passage to a new level of planetary civilization, essential to ensure the human race's survival. The Third Paradise is the new myth that leads everyone to take personal responsibility at this momentous juncture.'
The fragments of ruined buildings used in this piece obviously recall the fragility of culture but they felt to me more elegiac than hopeful. Placed on this carefully mown lawn they increase the sense that this ruin is itself a carefully curated museum, rather than a place of mystery and poetry. Resting in the sunshine and contemplating Pistoletto's work reminded me of the very different approaches and strengths of Richard Long and Ian Hamilton Finlay, the former avoiding any overt meaning in his stone circles, the latter investing his work with complex and often troubling iconography.
In 2010 Pistoletto created the Third Paradise symbol on a larger scale, planting 160 olive trees in woodland near Assisi. A photograph to accompany an interview shows him actually ploughing the soil himself. Asked about how people should experience the work, he said: 'when spectators come to the large clearing that accommodates the Third Paradise (dominated by the Rocca Maggiore di Assisi) having walked through the woods along the Tescio (stream), they start out on a ritual course leading to awareness of a new relationship between humans and nature that we must all help create.' Again I find myself somewhat sceptical, and reminded of a post I did here last year on the ethics of land art. Wouldn't visitors prefer to wander through unspoiled, unmanaged woodlands finding their own inspiration? In fact, inevitably, no such 'first paradise' exists, as the Saint Francis Woodlands website explains.
'In 2011, the San Francesco Woodland was opened to the public and walking paths allow visitors to experience the beauty of Assisi's forest, [which was] neglected for centuries. Its restoration is not aimed at purely environmental conservation, but an attempt to reconstruct for visitors the area's traditional rural landscape in the context of the Franciscan and Benedictine religious orders. To this end, the woodland's 1.5 and 2 kilometer-long walking paths are color-coded--with corresponding explanatory notes, an audioguide, and mobile app--into three thematic routes: the landscape route, illustrating the history of the rural landscape in Italy; the historical route, which recounts the area's historic architecture; and the spiritual route, with reflections on the relationship between nature and mankind.'