Monday, 8 March 2010

The Italian Job

For anyone who happens to be within striking distance of the top right-hand corner of Italy in the next couple of months, there will be a show of my sequence "The Revenants" in Innichen / San Candido from 13th March to 7th May 2010 at

Kunstraum Café Mitterhofer
Peter-Paul-Rainer-Str. 41
39038 Innichen

Nice invitations -- Thanks, Manfred!

The observant among you will have noticed that the above address (apart from the word "Italy") appears to be in German. The linguistic and tribal politics of Europe can be complex, deep-rooted, and occasionally explosive: the question of the "South Tyrol" is no exception. (I expect perfidious Albion will have had an interfering finger in the pie, somewhere. We usually do). I refer you to the Wikipedia article on the Province of Bolzano-Bozen for some clarification.

I don't think my pictures are likely to stir anyone's nationalist pot, though.

Take a test drive of the book...
Fancy a copy? Buy one from my Blurb bookstore here!

A while ago I was talking with my son about the way causes like nationalism tend, temporarily, to unite some very odd bedfellows, who then wake up one morning to discover that they despise each other even more than whatever it was they originally mutually loathed. It's a very common phenomenon, and I expect it has a name.

One day the Romantic Lover of Local Folkways and the Political Radical find themselves united in common cause against a common oppressor -- perhaps, a wicked colonial power seeking to eliminate inconvenient and inefficient differences between its subject peoples ("Look, why don't we all just speak English, OK?"). After a period of struggle (in which the Radicals do some struggling and the Romantics write some agitated music and poems in the local dialect) there follow some token concessions from the weary colonial power ("Alright, alright, you say tomato and I say tomato. WTF, I am, after all, condemned by History... How about we change all the road signs, OK?")

So, the Romantics finally get their Craft Centre, Gift Shop and Performance Space and their precious language is inflicted on the local schoolchildren, and they are perfectly happy (the Romantics, not the schoolchildren). But the Political Radicals (whose agitations provoked the compromises in the first place) are nowhere nearer the utopian separatist state of their dreams. And they could care less about speaking some stupid, unlearnable dead language with twenty words for "frying pan" but no words at all for "unreconstructed hegemonic masculinism". Anger and marginalisation ensue, with perhaps a futile but increasingly desperate terrorist campaign sputtering on for a decade or two.

Meanwhile the world moves on. But, as the Balkans show, some grievances can run deep, sometimes even into those dark, bitter depths where cruelty to erstwhile neighbours becomes a satanic form of performance art. This sort of thing can get very ugly, and the Romantic Lover of Folkways can sometimes wonder, "My God, what have we done?".

As it happens, something of the sort happened right here, on these very islands, about 40 years ago. Forget your "I Remember the 70s" clichés from TV; the end of the 60s / start of the 70s was a very weird time. But that's a story for another day.


Mauro said...

Mike I wont miss it. But on to the question you rise. I'm from another part of Italy that had an Separatist Movement and I can understand very well the matter. Problem is that Italy is a synthetic nation, made up of an impressive number of separate cultures and ethnicity.
In the specific case I'm not sure if the natives would do better being the southern part of Tirol instead of the northern part of Italy.
Just for the historic record, Mussolini, as much as Tito or Stalin, promoted large immigration to the area from the poorest areas of Friuli and Veneto making the return of the area almost impossible, as much as today its unthinkable to consider the area without those ones that actually make the vast majority of the local population even if they are still in subordinate positions.

Mike C. said...


That would be very kind, if you can make it up there. As I didn't make the prints myself, I'll be very interested to hear what kind of impression the exhibition makes. It's a bit unsettling, not having control over something so fundamental...

Yes, Italy is a bit of a special case (in many respects!) but nationalism lurks everywhere, and is like those seeds that lie dormant for 1000 years... It only takes the right conditions for it to break out all over again.


Gavin McL said...

I was once quite the little Scottish Nationalist - I learnt all the words to Flower of Scotland whilst at infant school. The mid seventies were a heady time for Scottish nationalism and talk of devolution and freedom caught my young ear. The village I lived in was bordered by the site of a battle between the English and the Scots (The Battle of Prestonpans) where the Scots won (a rare thing. This all combined in my imagination to generate quite a little nationalist. My Families move to England and the disappointment of the failed referendum took the edge of it but I still held a flame for the cause.
What really turned me against it all though was Balkan war. I was living in Leeds with my brother and I met a few of Serbs who were at the University studying MSc's or PhD's. They fled to the UK on student Visa's to avoid conscription into Slobodan's army and all that could entail. Talking to them brought home to me how those Local Folkways can so easily be twisted. I don't think the Scots will be at war with the English any time soon but I don't feel comfortable any more with much nationalist talk of any colour.

Mike C. said...


Yes, I agree, the Balkans has had quite an effect on a lot of people -- in the long run, possibly for the better. Some of the tales of grotesque savagery I have read have haunted me ever since.

I'm such a mongrel I wouldn't know what side to take, anyway... (though I'm English enough to think, "probably whichever is the winning side" ...)


Mike C. said...


Forgot to say: did you know that at Culloden the chief of Clan Chisholm had a son fighting on either side? Pragmatic ...

Although several of the "Glenmoriston seven" were Highland Chisholm men, my ancestors are Border Chisholms, an altogether less romantic breed...


Gavin McL said...

Sorry been too busy to reply.
Since delving into the "unknown" (at least to me) parts of my family tree I've found that I'm indeed a mongrel to. Ironically the cross border marriages were as the result of both world wars.
Most of my Scottish relatives are from the borders, not from any of the "interesting" border clans though. Have you read the "Steel Bonnets", George MacDonald Fraser. The best bit in the book is the diagram of the feuds, worth looking up.