Selenite - The Stone of the Moon

Alfonso de Gregorio

2018 - Ongoing

Gessopalena, Abruzzo, Italy

In the present project I have set out to assemble a filter made of selenite – crystalline mineral gypsum – and to use it to shed new light on the vestiges and the war-torn history of the old-town of Gessopalena (Italy), whose habitations are dug into the gypsum rock itself.

Razed to the ground in 1943 by the WWII when the Gustav Line ran across it, Gessopalena is also my hometown and a place from which I moved away. Like personal relationships, gypsum shows translucency, opacity, and color. As such, and forever fixed in the geology of our common place of origin, it remains an allegory of: 1/ the traumatic memories of a population torn by the war; 2/ the ambiguous relationship of my contemporaries with today’s neo Fascist narratives; and, 3/ the dealings, connections, and exchanges with locals and with my family members. I have combined the resulting body of work with my family archive. I juxtaposed the archive photos to the diverse gypsum crystals of the town. In so doing, I tried to put everything together into some kind of cohesive entity.

After the war ended, the survived population tried to find new shelter in the destroyed village, as this was central to their history and identity. They eventually rebuilt a modern borough nearby, and the old-town became a ghost village. Therefore, the present project serves also as a meditation on the relationship between the local cultural identity, the city of today, and its history of urbanisation.

Employing a selenite filter sabotages all optical properties of modern-day lenses. I do so on purpose and embrace the imperfections. I feel the blurry images coming out the selenite filter can help me in bearing witness to the lost way of life of the town and to its bygone subculture. Literally taken from the territory being represented, I want the medium to speak about our common place of origin.

The process was inspired by a geological feature of the territory. Known in the Ancient Rome as Terrae Gypsi, the town stands on a gypsum outcrop. The gypsum stone found there exhibits so obvious crystalline structure that the town was also known as Preta Lucente, or Shining Stone.

I print this body of work on satin paper, so that it can resemble the gypsum. And I toned in blue some of its images to reflect the feeling to the touch of such stone. Gypsum, in fact, has natural thermal insulating properties; and, as a result, all its varieties feel cold to the touch.

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  • For the generations born in the aftermath of the WWII, the war and the losses that it caused, remained an important source of collective trauma. This remains at times hard to grasp for some of my contemporaries. Fascinated by more and more popular neo-Fascist narratives, many fellow citizens seem to overlook both how the current cultural climate reminds of the early days of the Italian Fascism, and how those ideas brought fear, hunger, deportation, and death to our grandparents. C-Print on satin paper, 100x66.7cm

  • Selenite is also known as the stone of the moon, from selēnē (Moon). C-Print on satin paper, 100x66.7cm

  • Gessopalena (Italy) was destroyed by a quake in 1933 and razed to the ground again in 1943 by the WWII, when the Gustav Line ran across it. On a plaque placed at the summit of the old town we read: "The wind of these valleys, the snow of these mountains, the sun and the nights alternating between the ruins of these deserted districts, will renew in the memory the cry of revenge to the slaughter, destruction, extermination that the Nazi oppressor and the allied fascist tyrant imposed, so that every home hearth was ruin, every house was broken and burned, every affection, every human hope, become fear, hunger, deportation and death." C-Print on satin paper, 100x66.7cm

  • The Rosario bell tower was one of the few landmarks who survived quakes and war. Like other buildings it was made digging the basements into the gypsum rock and using the materials left from the excavations to build the upper floors. C-Print on satin paper, 100x66.7cm

  • Alceo Tozzi (b. 1922, Gessopalena, Italy) and the gypsum crystals of his hometown. In 1940, aged 18, Alceo left with the 8th Italian Army (ARMIR) to the Eastern Front of the World War II. In the winter of 1942, he suffered a frostbite after surviving a defensive battle on the Don river, 200km north of Stalingrad. He remained missing in the USSR. C-Print on satin paper, 100x66.7cm

  • C-Print on satin paper, 100x66.7cm

  • Emo Tozzi (b. 1920, Gessopalena, Italy) was the Alceo's brother. As a soldier, he was deployed to the Libyan front of the World War II. After the war outbreak, he never had the opportunity to meet again his brother. C-Print on satin paper, 100x66.7cm

  • After the war ended, the population torn by the conflict tried to find new shelter in the destroyed village. They eventually rebuild a modern one nearby, and the old-town became a ghost village. Here a haystack is still visible in the middle of the ruins. C-Print on satin paper, 100x66.7cm

  • Employing a selenite filter sabotages all optical properties of modern-day lenses. I do so on purpose and embrace the imperfections. I feel the blurry images coming out the selenite filter can establish a new dialogue with the town I come from. C-Print on satin paper, 100x66.7cm

  • The habitations of the old-town of Gessopalena (Italy) were dug into the gypsum rock. Known since the Ancient Rome as Terræ Gypsi, the town stands, in fact, on an outcrop of this calcium sulfate. The gypsum stone found there exhibits so obvious crystalline structure that the town was also known as Preta Lucente, or Shining Stone. C-Print on satin paper, 100x66.7cm

  • “… so that every home hearth was ruin, every house was broken and burned, every affection, every human hope, become fear, hunger, deportation and death." C-Print on satin paper, 100x66.7cm

  • Giuseppe Tozzi (b. 1895, Gessopalena, Italy) was the Alceo’s father. He never stopped waiting for the return of his dear son, missing in the USSR. Soldiers returning from the Eastern Front informed Giuseppe that Alceo had survived the war. Yet, Giuseppe never had again the opportunity to talk to the son. Like personal relationships, gypsum shows translucency, opacity, and color. As such, and forever fixed in the geology of the district, it remains an allegory of the dealings, connections, and exchanges with people from Gessopalena. C-Print on satin paper, 100x66.7cm

  • Religion, and its celebrations, played a central role in the elaboration of the collective trauma ensued with the latest world conflict. At the same time, it appears to be of no help in reminding my contemporaries about the risks of the current cultural climate, that draws so much from Fascism. C-Print on satin paper, 100x66.7cm

  • C-Print on satin paper, 100x66.7cm

  • After the WWII ended, the survived population tried to find new shelter in the destroyed village, as this was central to their history and identity. They eventually rebuilt a modern borough nearby, and the old-town became a ghost village. Therefore, the present project serves also as a meditation on the relationship between the local cultural identity, the city of today, and its history of urbanisation.In the summer nights, the ruins host concerts and recitals, providing people with an opportunity to briefly bring the old town to a new life. August 9th 2018, C-Print on satin paper, 100x66.7cm


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