An interview with Claudio Pestana, Abbey Scholar in Painting, in which they speak about the work they have produced during their residency at the BSR from September 2021–June 2022, ahead of the June Mostra.
The June Mostra opens on Friday 10 June. For more information or to register for the opening night, please see our events page.
A new character called Oretta has recently emerged in your work whilst at the BSR. Could you tell us more about them?
Oretta was an accident. They were not planned. But then my work at the BSR has all been created as a response to my environment and experiences during my residency, so it would make sense that Oretta would come into the world as a result of a series of fortunate events that occurred in the course of my residency. Sometime at the height of the Roman Spring, in one bright morning, the fountain at the centre of the BSR courtyard laid empty; the resident troubling of goldfish nowhere to be seen. Multiple theories were proposed amongst the cream of the scholastic community; one of which was that the naughty heron that had been stalking the little fishes for a while, perched high on the floating branches of the pine tree, ate them all. ALL OF THEM! But then Fulvio proceeded to do his scheduled cleaning of the fountain and voilà, all of the clever fishes appeared. They were hiding under the rocks from the preying gaze of the piscivorous bird. They really are a clever lot. So my unconscious went to work at night (disclaimer: no one at the BSR forced me to do unpaid after-hours work) and the goldfish Oretta appeared in my dream. Now, Oretta is a different kettle of fish. Whilst Cliza is a wild animal, and many a times the object of abuse for being different, Oretta is a learned sophisticated being from the upper echelon of fishdoom. And statistically speaking, being up there means less hardship for sure.
Left; the BSR Courtyard, Rome. Right; Catacombe di Priscilla, Rome.
Gradually, the plot thickened and the story of Oretta got intertwined with the story of Cliza, the colour red, and mythology. It went like this. As there can only be one queen, Oretta fought and defeated Cliza on the battle of Trastevere. Some say Cliza is dead. Others say that Cliza has gone into hiding. If the latter is true, Cliza should re-appear anytime soon. As we know, cinghiali are not very good at staying put. That sorts the meeting of the two non-binary specimens. As to the link with red, because Oretta’s head has a slight red hue, I was considering having Oretta dressed in red garments. But I wasn’t sure. Around that same time I went to visit the Catacombs of Priscilla and on the way there I walked with a fellow artist-in-residence and talked about not being sure if I should use the colour red. I went into the catacombs and at the start of the tour the guide pointed out on the wall a tile with red colouring and said “Look at the red, it is very important”. The guide then turned the group’s attention to the opposite wall where there was an epigraph on a marble slab relating to a “Cecilia” (at least that is what I heard). My mother was called Cecilia and just as it happens, when my mother was dying I had a dream that she was a red flower. So red it shall all be, I thought.
To make the story more serendipitously juicy, I have just visited the archaeological museum of Lavinium, where I found out that the thirteen altars found at the ancient site were said to be painted red. And amongst all the wonderful artefacts in this quaint civic museum there was a 5th century BC terracotta statue of Minerva accompanied by a little Triton. Wait a minute… Triton-Oretta; could there be a link? I have now come to suspect that Oretta is a direct descendant of Triton, and whereas Triton had the upper body of a human and the tailed lower body of a fish, Oretta, don’t ask me why, has the head of a fish and the body of a human supermodel. I guess sometime during the evolutionary journey the gods must have come to the conclusion that stilettos looked better on human legs. No?
Museo Civico Archeologico Lavinium, Pomezia.
So Oretta is a metaphor for beating the odds (the world is full of predatory herons), for grieving those we love, for chance (and how much it shapes life), but also for irreverence – which always crushes hatred.