Cornford and Cross
Why Read the Classics? 2005

Film lamp and reflector on marble statue
For Tra Monti, curated by Adrienne Drake, Athéna Panni, and Maria Rosaria Rinaldi.
Rome, Italy


Why Read The Classics? was a work made around a damaged classical statue in a public garden in Rome. A flight of stone steps leads past ancient ruins up to palms and orange trees, in a garden which, though beautiful, is rather used and neglected. Near the top of the stairway stands the marble figure of a young woman, on a pedestal in an alcove in the wall. Like so many statues in Rome, the head of the figure is missing.

Behind the space of the figure’s head we positioned a golden disc, of the kind used to reflect light onto the faces of actors and models. Opposite the figure we installed a powerful film and television lamp, so its beam of light reflected from the disc to create an aura or halo.

Visitors to the garden found their gaze drawn by the dazzling light to the iconic vision of a mythical woman. Yet the lamp and electric cables that produced the light anchored the scene firmly in the moment.

In Why Read the Classics? three conceptions of femininity converge: the classical goddess, the Christian Madonna, and the contemporary film star. Depending on the viewer’s position, their co-existence in the present may focus the mind on issues around the representation of gender, or contemplation of the wider ideological mechanisms of belief.

Why Read the Classics? refers to a book of the same title by the great writer Italo Calvino, who answers his own question with characteristic erudition, insight and wit.

Headless marble statue. Gardens of the Villa Aldobrandini, Rome, Italy

Headless sculpture and Catholic Church Overlooking Villa Aldobrandini, Rome, Italy

Madonna with gold halo. Catholic Church Rome, Italy

Madonna with electric halo. Catholic Church, Rome, Italy

Sunlight on dirty car windscreen. Periferia ring road, Rome, Italy

Testing lamp and reflector at Panavision Italia. Rome, Italy

Installing lamp and reflector. Gardens of the Villa Aldobrandini, Rome, Italy

Photographic reflector as halo. Gardens of the Villa Aldobrandini, Rome, Italy

'Why Read the Classics?' 2005. Gardens of the Villa Aldobrandini, Rome, Italy

Viewer dazzled by reflected light. Gardens of the Villa Aldobrandini, Rome, Italy