An interview of Marco Delogu, the new Director of the Italian Cultural Institute in London by Alain Elkann.
Since July you are the new Director of the Italian Cultural Institute in London. How come you made this role your choice when you are a well-known and active photographer?
Photography was and is something too narrow for me. I was always pleased to meet writers, artists and movie directors. In 1984 I founded the Argot theatre in Rome which is still open, and where most of the young talents of the new generation of Italian actors began their careers. In 2003 I established the publishing house called Punctum Press, specialised in photography, and the bookstore Oneroom. I think I have need of a wider angle.
Villa Medici #4, 48 x 32 cm, from the series “Luce Attesa”, 2014. Marco Delogu.
So you don’t do photography any more?
Of course I still do it, and will always do it. Photography is my primary way of seeing the world. I must say that in the last thirty years photography has changed a lot, but unfortunately more abroad than it has done in Italy. You know that in the United States, at Harvard, Penn, Yale, and Columbia universities, they have great schools of photography. Photography has real status in Germany, the United States, the UK and France, but sadly in Italy the university world is not yet so open to photography, because apparently photography does not mean quite so much there.
But there are some very good and well-known Italian photographers?
Yes, but it’s not a school. There are a few individuals, like Ugo Mulas, Luigi Ghirri, Mario Giacomelli and others. What I really mean is that it is difficult in Italy to be a photographer artist, although you can do work for a magazine, or do corporate work or fashion.
So, why London?
I made an application for the London Institute because it is the only city that I know really well outside of Rome. I spent many years in London and in Cambridge, and it is good to be back and meet old friends.
Suspended Light, Rome or Reverse Polarity, photobook by Marco Delogu
What do you intend to do in this new job?
I simply intend to promote Italian contemporary culture much more strongly. I want to cross fields, like literature, cinema, art, theatre, music, and I want to go and promote Italian culture inside the UK’s multicultural society, and not just focus on the Italian community.
Well, it was excellent to have a public talk with Sir Antonio Pappano, conductor of the Covent Garden orchestra, and Luca Francesconi, an Italian composer, about the future of contemporary classical music. And we invited Valerio Magrelli to talk about Dante and Beckett; and John Foot, who wrote a very important biography of the psychiatrist Franco Basaglia; and together with the Tate Modern we are working on the exhibition “The World Goes Pop”, bringing the works of Sergio Lombardo. We also helped to show eleven Italian movies at the London Film Festival in October.
Valerio Magrelli, 1998
And what do you plan for the coming year?
In the coming year we will have Sandro Veronesi and Claudio Magris as speakers related to the exhibition of the renowned post-war Italian avant-garde artist Fabio Mauri.
Our main project however will be in the coming March, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Giorgio Bassani together with the British Library. This will provide an outstanding opportunity to examine the very influential role of Jewish writers, intellectuals, critics, agents and publishers in the Italian cultural life of the 20th and 21st centuries.
We will also support four shows: Giorgione in the Spring at the Royal Academy, Botticelli at the Victoria and Albert Museum, archaeology in Sicily at the British Museum and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. And together with the British Library we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the flooding in Florence and the restoration of the books. Then we will also have many other smaller but important projects.
Like what for instance?
Like presenting the Hanbury Gardens in La Mortola to the British people. This beautiful botanical garden was created in Italy by an English family in the 19th century, and we will feature it during the Chelsea Flower Show week. And then we will hold two summer schools, one dedicated to contemporary history and one dedicated to photography, with British and Italian teachers.
It’s really quite a lot for one year isn’t it?
Yes, but the main mission I have is to give this Italian Institute a very lively spirit, showing arts, lecturing and talking about books, cinema, music and theatre.
The Gallery in the Italian Cultural Institute, London
And what about yourself?
In my rare spare time I am starting a book on London, my previous life and my life today. I already did this on Rome.
What is the role of the Italian Cultural Institute today?
To keep Italian culture very vibrant, to be curious about the place where you live and follow the cultural scene here in the UK and in Italy, and to work hard not to miss any opportunity that runs across the two cultures. One of them will be the screening of “Blow-Up” on its 50th Anniversary. The film was shot in London by Michelangelo Antonioni. We have to keep our eyes on all that concerns Italian culture in the UK. There are several museums, like the Barbican and the Serpentine, that will put on contemporary art and architecture events. Obviously Italy is already extremely well represented in the UK in fields like design, fashion, automobiles and food.
What about Italian culture?
Starting from cinema, the distribution of Italian films seems to be going much better; and also, in literature, the re-edition of “The Leopard” (“Il Gattopardo”); and the Elena Ferrante books have been very successful, as have several other films and books. We really have to work together with major British institutions, like the Serpentine and Tate Modern. That Hans-Ulrich Obrist came here to the Institute to talk critically about the work of the abstract painter Giorgio Griffa is a considerable step in that direction. I am looking forward to discovering and sponsoring new young Italian artists and writers. Writers need translation, and we have to work hard to promote our literature with British publishers.
Can we say that you are happy about this new job?
Yes, incredibly. It is like a dream. London is a fantastic and lively place to be today.
November 2015. Images © and courtesy of Marco Delogu.