In 2018, the Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max Planck Institute for Art History elected Palermo as the venue of its annual Field School, a set of two scholarly excursions involving, respectively, fellows of the Institute and a group of twelve graduate and post-graduate applicants from around the world. On this occasion, a major photographic campaign was commissioned by the institute’s Photographic Collection to contribute to the visual documentation of the city. Over 600 professional photographs were produced encompassing art and architecture from the Middle Ages up to the contemporary. Produced by Roberto Sigismondi, this corpus covers the objects under scrutiny during the Field School and simultaneously aims to fill specific gaps in the photographic coverage of the city and its surroundings for the use of researchers worldwide. It is informed by the Field School’s specific focus on Palermo’s migration history and diverse cultural production, under the heading of »Coexistence in Flux«.
Since its foundation, the port city of Palermo has been defined by a nomadic gaze. Thanks to its focal position in the Mediterranean, the city has experienced manifold and mixed flows of populations, from the early Greek, Latin, Jewish, Arab, Norman, Spanish and Peninsular to the more recent African, Middle Eastern and transoceanic ones propelled by global imbalances. The motto of the city’s genius loci, »Panormus conca aurea suos devorat alienos nutrit« (»Palermo the golden dell, devours hers and feeds the foreigners«), speaks to the power of absorption that made Palermo one of the most complex cultural palimpsests of the Mediterranean.
In 2018, the city entered a new phase of reflection on its past, present, and future as the host city of Manifesta, the nomadic European Biennial of Contemporary Art. In line with the Biennial’s institutional profile, Manifesta 12 was conceived by its creative mediators as a locally involved platform for debates on pressing contemporary issues. Under the theme »The Planetary Garden – Cultivating Coexistence«, the exhibition intends to discuss and induce coexistence at multiple scales, from the local to the planetary, electing Palermo as its paradigmatic site. The Bibliotheca Hertziana’s Field School »Coexistence in Flux« proposed to contribute to this reflection by approaching »coexistence« from an art historical perspective, engaging with the city’s artistic heritage as well as its current resonance in the exhibitionary field. In this process, a critical approach to the modes of thinking and acting created within the exhibition provided the impetus for reconsidering the city’s artistic past and present, and vice versa.
Below, a selection of 25 photographs exemplifies the campaign’s breadth and variety.
Project: Maria Bremer, Tristan Weddigen, David Zagoury
Texts: Maria Bremer, David Zagoury
Photographers: Roberto Sigismondi, Tristan Weddigen
Implementation: Tatjana Bartsch