Sunday, September 11, 2016

Bus de la Lum

In 'The Eeriness of the English Landscape' Robert Macfarlane wrote about a growing interest in landscape and the uncanny, with recent books, music and art all exploring places that seem to hide dark secrets.  But if, as he says, this relates to our anxieties about conflict and globalisation it would not be surprising to see non-English artists in other countries pursuing a similar path. In Italy, for example, there is Nico Vascellari, punk musician and visual artist (Macfarlane describes the field as 'a mutated cultural terrain that includes the weird and the punk').  Studio International's description of Vascellari's imagery reminds me of some of the artists referred to by Macfarlane, recent work by Richard Skelton for example: it 'draws on archaic folkloric traditions and animism. He layers both the chaotic and destructive elements of nature with their lush, more abundant counterparts. His pieces suggest or incorporate pelts, leaves, bones, animal parts, rocks, plants and fruits. Items may be charred or distorted, evoking the burning votive figures of his region’s enduring archaic folk rituals.'

I was in Manchester this week and visited The Whitworth where Vascellari has installed a forest of screens and projections based on an eerie landscape he knew as a child.  Here's the gallery's summary:
'Bus de la Lum (which means ‘hole of light’) is a natural cavity located in woodland of the Cansiglio plateau. Shrouded in mystery, the void emits a strange light that has long been associated with magic and satanic legend. During World War II it acquired a less mythical but equally terrifying reputation as a death pit for hundreds of prisoners and casualties of war.  Vascellari also connects us to another place, Darvaza (‘Door to Hell’) a vast, burning crater in the desert of Turkmenistan. The stories of these two magical places are interwoven by light, shadow and an extraordinary soundtrack created in collaboration with Turkish-born musician Ghédalia Tazartès.'
I had not heard of either of these places before and looking further into their history it is not hard to see why they might exert a dark fascination.  Bus de la Lum, a limestone sinkhole, may have gained its reputation for emitting fire from the vapour coming off the carcasses of dead animals thrown into the pit.  According to Vascellari, the people living outside the forest 'would see these flames and fantasise that a witch was living inside that hole and burning kids.'  In the Second World War it was the partisans rather than the fascists who pushed people to their death in this pit: civilians as well as German and Italian soldiers were killed - exactly how many is not known.  As for Darvaza, I have embedded a clip of it from Youtube below. Here's what Vascellari told Studio International about it.
'Around 40 years ago, they were drilling to look for gases and, all of a sudden, the ground under the drill collapsed, creating a large hole. And the gas that was coming out of the ground was found to be poisonous. They didn’t know what to do about this, so some geologists were contacted who suggested burning those gases. They expected that, if there was a lot of gas, most likely it would have burned out in four or five days. The reality is that the fire is still burning 40 years later. The name Darvaza, in the local language, means gate of hell.'

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