Rome and the Campagna: splicing time

"The trace is the appearance of nearness, however far removed the thing that left it behind may be. The aura is the appearance of a distance, however close the thing that calls it forth. In the trace, we gain possession of the thing; in the aura, it takes possession of us." Walter Benjamin.

This project is essentially about human traces, and how these are evoked and recorded in different ways that evolve gradually.

My work, inspired by travels funded by the Leverhulme Trust, investigates Roman sculpture, architecture and the Campagna. It explores the idea of disrupting the monumental severity of Classical Antiquity with lightweight, mutable, coloured cloth. The resulting images suggest fleeting human presence through my leitmotif freeform flying fabric; the soft-edged folds of bright silk held in momentary tension against the formal patterns of crafted stone. This process is an attempt to respond visually to research questions that elide photography with painting and focus on drapery as subject. The photograph masquerades as an echo of reality while revealing ghosts ­– traces of people once living. Furthermore, in nineteenth-century portrait photography, when individuals moved during the process of image making, so their liminal trail was equally caught on camera like a soft vapour. It is these ghostings that intrigue me as they appear to reflect a real animated past life in a way that their immobile compatriots cannot.

Liz Rideal Terme di Diocleziano, exhibition at UCL Art Museum, June 2017. Image © Mike Dye.

While studying and viewing prints and paintings illustrating the Roman Campagna, as inspiration and compositional guides for my own images, I went to the UCL Art Museum to view their exhibition on eighteenth-century Grand Tour artist Richard Cooper Jnr. Consequently I was invited to become Artist in Residence, resulting in an exhibition of my prints on silk employing images created in Rome in September 2016. Other landscape works on show were derived from a visit to the ruined castle and grounds of Monterano, north east of Rome, a deserted place often used for film locations.


Black and white photograph of Roman bridge at Santa Marinella by Peter Paul Mackey(1851–1935), 1890–1905, and colour image by Liz Rideal, 2017, of Roman Bridge at Santa Marinella.

Parallel to my art works are a set of new documentary photographs that reiterate views taken by archaeologists in the British School at Rome Collection. My original objective was to investigate how views had changed or not, over time. Some places remain the same, but in other instances, walls have fallen down or buildings have grown up around the sites. It has been fascinating to find the locations and see how ruins are incorporated into people’s daily lives. The drawing together of academic and contemporary strands of data in order to visualise layers of time by interfacing with the maps of today, is a way of exposing just how intertwined out lives are with the past. 

Further developments have been the connections made with the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA,) at The Bartlett, UCL. MA student Siyuan Ma is working on the website development, broadening the project initiative by adding data gathered from social media such as Twitter and Instagram. This will be amalgamated into the final site, destined as a palimpsest of digital viewing. 

Ms Liz Rideal
University College London
Research Fellowship