“Il Danteum.” Installation. Richard L. Nelson Gallery, U.C. Davis, Davis, California. 1986. Kala Institute, Berkeley, California. 1986. The image is of the central feature of the installation that was a 17 x 17’steel parterre, raised 3 inches from the floor with a recorded sound element of a woman’s voice pacing beneath the structure. The steel garden was an imaginary public work that was created for a building that was never built commemorating Mussolini’s rise to power. Fashioned after Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” the building leads pilgrims through Hell, to Purgatory and eventually to the great Hall of the Spirit where an emblem of Mussolini and the Fascist State hovered about all who would enter.
This piece was created as a response to the political and cultural climate in America during the Reagan administration. Political and religious leaders used AIDS as a weapon to further oppress the LGBT community. This perverse joining of the Religious Right and the Republican Party created an atmosphere echoes in the imaginary space and time of this never completed project, Il Danteum.
“In 1938, at the behest of Mussolini’s fascist government, Giuseppe Terragni and Pietro Lingeri designed the Danteum, an unbuilt monument dedicated to the famed 14th-century Italian writer Dante Alighieri structured around the formal divisions of his greatest work, The Divine Comedy. The project was not seen as supporting Mussolini’s political ambitions and never came to fruition. Nowadays, just some sketches on paper, scraps of an architectural model of the project, and pieces of a project report (Relazione), written by Terragni, remain.”
In 1992, I used the steel garden that was used in the Danteum installation (1986) as a part of the Immemorial installation at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Adjacent to the steel garden in the courtyard of the museum, I enacted a Die In with members of the museum staff and gallery visitors for World AIDS DAY December 1, 1996.