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The Saltflats of Priolo
June 18, 2021
The Fountain of Aretusa
July 12, 2021
The Saltflats of Priolo
June 18, 2021
The Fountain of Aretusa
July 12, 2021
Ph. © Scatolette


The sea above/the sea below

From the fight against art smuggling to contemporary art

Twenty artists who express themselves with the most diverse mediums, a handful of enlightened people whose works are displayed in a former watchtower that stands on the rocks at Calabernardo, the most evocative part of Marina di Noto: painting, underwater photography, sculpture, video. Alongside the artists, we find a “master d’ascia” or shipwright, a couturier and a creator of essences, perfumes.
They’ve all been gathered together by Aldo Premoli, journalist and writer, founder together with Emma Averna of Mediterraneo Sicilia Europa Onlus which has organised Il mare sopra/il mare sotto, The sea above/the sea below, a small but precious exhibition of multidisciplinary contemporary art which the curator approaches from a different point of view. Premoli isn’t the 'standard' curator, nor is he an academic: he’s organised various exhibitions in Italy and round the world, so maybe this is why he is a great traveller, a globalist (though rooted in tradition and a connoisseur of all forms of craftsmanship) but he considers the activity of a shipwright or that of a coast guard to be of no less value than that of a painter or sculptor celebrated on the contemporary art market. “There are no Sunday painters here – Premoli explains - nor are there useless snobs. This is an exhibition that anyone can understand, at any age or background”.
The choice of the site for the exhibition is certainly not accidental; the Museum of the Sea at Calabernardo, was inaugurated in 2016 by Sebastiano Tusa, then Superintendent of the Sea for the Sicilian Region. In the Fifties and Sixties of the last century, the building was used by the Finance Police as a watchtower to fight the contraband of cigarettes and coffee from the African coasts; the restoration of the building by the council of Noto after years of abandon turned it into a permanent exhibition space for the sea, with the sea and its infinite horizons stretching out in front of it.
A dramatic video shown on nine screens welcomes visitors; we see the members of the first underwater unit of the coast guards dealing with the recovery of archaeological remains, or freeing the fins of cetaceans from nets abandoned on the seabed, or during the terrible, moving recovery of those who drowned off Lampedusa; three large photos by Davide Bramante and eight scale models of traditional boats carved by the shipwright Alberto Aliffi from Siracusa are also on display.
In the other smaller rooms on two floors, we find the works of well-known painters like Giovanni Iudice, Francesco Lauretta, Giuseppe Veneziano, Giovanni Viola, Giuseppe Colombo and Ignazio Mortellaro; the combine by Alfonso Leto and Rossana Taormina; sculptures by Filippo La Vaccara and Alice Valenti; photographs by Francesco Bellina, Davide Bramante, Loredana Iurianello, Antonio Parrinello and Graziana Toscano; and ceramics by Guy Marshall Brown. The visitor can also experience a performance by Luigi Presicce, the autobiographical video of a visionary like Giovanna Brogna Sonnino, a textile sculpture by Mariella Gennarino and the perfume by Antonio Alessandria called Eperdurmant.
Antonio Alessandria told me about how in the first half of the 20th century in the south of Italy marriage by proxy was common between a young woman and an emigrant looking to make his fortune – says Aldo Premoli – he tells how groups of young women were sent on boats to an unknown country to celebrate a wedding as soon as they disembarked, almost always with a much older man who often left them widows after no time at all. This is the situation that inspired this perfume, where the scent of the sea is a leitmotiv. I couldn't say no, could I?”.
Even this little scented homage reminds us that the Mediterranean is a magnificent stretch of water but that it has always been criss-crossed by people looking for a better life.
Boccette di profumo Eperdurmant di Antonio Alessandria.
Antonio Alessandria con le sue boccette Eperdurmant.
Sailing across the Mediterranean yesterday or today is still one of the most dangerous crossings in the world; and this is what three small works by Rossana Taormina made of a combination of maps reminds us.
Each tessera of the mosaic that constitutes this “middle sea” must be examined in the light of the present - not always reassuring - and vice versa in order to be understood.
Outside the tower, in a natural pool between two rocks, the sculptor Alice Valenti has worked with the shipwrights of the Rodolico Workshop of Aci Trezza (direct descendents of the shipwrights described in Verga’s novel I Malavoglia): placed on the rock where the museum stands, six boats are decorated with the apotropaic signs and symbols traditionally painted on Sicilian fishing boats. On boats like these, built by master craftsmen, the peoples of three continents travelled in search of fortune, fish for sustenance and better opportunities for living. These wooden crafts are less in demand today as fibreglass hulls have replaced the old wooden ones, and radar and satellites assist with the navigating. In theory it’s much safer, but the photographs of two great Sicilian reporters, Antonio Parrinello and Francesco Bellina, remind us that it is only safer in theory: Parrinello’s shot shows a member of the Marina Militare on the bridge of the ship Diciotti together with a young migrant; Bellina has a series of beautiful black-and white photos that document the saving of lives in the open sea and their horrible punctured dinghy.
The exhibition is open until 31 August. Free entry.
Ph. credits @ Antonio Parrinello, Contatto 2016, Porto di Augusta

A lifetime spent telling stories with words, pens, typewriters, computers, camera-lenses. The most recent story is in my book Il patrimonio degli equivoci. Allarme beni culturali in Sicilia. I couldn't resist the temptation to direct SiracusaCulture, of which I am chief editor.