Installation Art

The Humble Umbrella as Art

Beach umbrellas - San Vito Lo Capo

Umbrellas as installation art? Who would have thought? But when I reflect on the many typical Mediterranean beaches we have encountered on our summer sojourns it is there, surely, that some artist originally drew inspiration for such a colourful and eye-catching work. Most Med beaches sprout a dense and colourful sprinkling of umbrellas on their sands over the summer season. Somehow, competing clubs manage to privatise sections of beach (something unheard of in Australia and New Zealand) and dot their section with large sun umbrellas for members, or paying customers to sit under.

The installation art I refer to in this article is not to be confused with the famous (infamous) installation titled “The Umbrellas”; a creation of Christo and Jeanne-Claude (Christo is renowned for his ‘wrapping’ of large-scale monuments). I use the word ‘infamous’, because at the Californian installation, where 1,760 yellow umbrellas each measuring 6 meters in height and 8.66 meters in diameter were erected, one toppled during high winds and killed a woman while injuring several others. The exhibit was ordered to be closed immediately, but a second death occurred during the removal of the umbrellas. An earlier exhibition in Ibaraki, Japan, of 1,340 blue umbrellas was, fortunately, incident free.

Installation Art Umbrellas - Sciacca

No, the installations I speak of are somewhat more modest in scale but nonetheless bring joy (and shade) to pedestrians and shoppers perambulating beneath their colourful presence. I believe it was an initiative of the council in Águeda (a Portuguese town) that enabled the concept to be realised. Here, back in the summer of 2012 as part of their annual arts festival, Agitagueda, the umbrellas were first erected as an art installation. We, however, first encountered a (perhaps more modest) representation of it in Sciacca, a town on the southwest coast of Sicily in July of 2015 – I guess the concept is readily copy-able, and the humble umbrella as an object of art is certainly not new to the world. This latter fact is potently and beautifully evinced in the following link to Art Mundus: Art Mundus – Umbrellas In Art

While we are on the subject of umbrellas and their use as eye-catching display; here is more artistic (well, attractive) use of them on the outside of the very interesting Bar Turrisi, or ‘Penis Bar’ (that’s not a translation) in Castelmola, Province of Messina, Sicily. Inside, this famous bar houses a fascinating collection of phalli, which will, at least, bring a smile to the visitor’s lips while they sup on one of the excellent beverages. Well worth a visit.

An unusual and old bar on 4 levels in Castelmola, with phallic symbols throughout its interior

Cave Churches

In our travels a recurring, interesting feature has been the ‘Cave Church’.

From the famous Buddhist, Hindu and Jain caves of Ellora and Ajanta in Northern Maharashtra India (thought to date from 600 to 1000 AD) to a delightful, compact cave church in Castelmola (in the Province of Messina, Sicily) they are places that at once inspire awe and wonder, and offer interesting and varied art forms from a long-distant past.

Take the Sassi di Matera in southern Italy for example: here in this fabulously interesting neighbourhood inhabited since Neolithic, and even Palaeolithic times and where there is bountiful evidence of its Troglodytic inhabitants, we encountered many chiese rupestri (cave, or ‘stone’ churches). Often utilising the Trogladyte caves, they were excavated by Basilian monks fleeing persecution during the Byzantine Empire and thought to be inhabited between 8th and 13th centuries.

Cave Church - Matera Sassi Italy

Cave Church in Matera Sassi

Our favourite was the little-visited cave church of Madonna dei Derelitti at the foot of the Gravina (gorge). We had the place to ourselves (primarily because it is at the bottom of this very steep-sided gorge and accessible only by a series of goat tracks) while tourists crawled all over the more easily accessible ones. We suffered though (this should please those religious among you who believe that life on earth should be one of sufferance) as the temperature was up in the high thirties and we were exposed to the sun all the way down – and up.

Cave Church in Castelmola Sicily

We found classic examples of cave churches in Caltabellotta in Sicily too, while they also abound throughout Greece and Cappadocia in Turkey, where in the 7th century thousands of Christians were forced to flee either to underground cities or rocky caves for refuge.

Cave Church in Caltabellotta Sicily

Why transform a cave into a place of worship? God knows. But these chapels and churches became intimate and cardinal places of worship for those Christians hiding in the caves and were kept secret for two hundred years.

Architecturally, too, half the work is already done for the builder, while in the hot climes, where most of these cave churches seem to exist, they would also have offered some cooling respite from the heat of the day. For the curious traveller it is always worth poking your nose into them.