“I arrive at Termini in Rome and find the city is cracked. The excavations split the streets and allow glimpses of the layers and pockets of space below. I fall off the sidewalk and into the depths of the excavations of Piranesi’s Carceri.
Armed with Piranesi’s a map that I have constructed I discover the impossible unraveling of the buried carceri. As I go deeper into the carceri, I discover that the carceri is either built on or merges with another Piranesian capriccio, the ruins of the Campo Marzio. I pass by underground ghost fields and ruined basilicas, under super-scaled arches and duck under lowered architraves. I hear the Tiber, sometimes above, sometimes deep underneath. My only reference points are fragments of present-day Rome and a white sky seen through the excavation holes. I have the feeling that I am constantly being followed. At one point I startle when I catch a glimpsed of moving white but realize it was simply an oversized statue.
At one point, the I pass under an oddly seventies-looking carved arch flanked by bits of Roman ruin and stone lions and enter a fossilized circus. In a frozen explosion of stone, monoliths that half-remind me of something align.
I climb a series of steep staircases towards a round opening high above. I attempt to count the steps but lose count. The hole is a threshold between the vast underground labyrinth and a small, dusty room. The room has no ceiling, only a grid of excavation strings. The unexcavated area of the floor is cluttered with dusty artifacts – bits of Roman and Etruscan architecture, stained models, oxidized copper plates and yellowed prints. On the opposite wall, framed by bind windows, four large prints hang on the wall. I switch the light of the archeological tripod bulb and the room is flooded with light.
The first wall hanging I see myself falling into the excavations at Termini. I the second I see myself at the threshold of street and excavated carceri. In the third I am entering the circus of the unbuilt. I peer at the last one which shows the studio I am standing in. But I am falling back into the excavated hole. Suddenly I slip.”
“I fell into the carceri right after I arrived in Rome, in 1748 and, for 13 years, search for a way out from their labyrinth, a labyrinth that for me mirrored the Rome that I suddenly found myself in, chaotic, dirty and so far from the ordered marbles of the ancient city.
To escape the impossible spaces of the carceri I attempt to find the order of the ancient plan underneath them and I obsessively gutted out rome, excavate and document the old city. It took thirteen years to find an opening from the carceri into the old Rome. After my discovery, I buy back my original 14 plates from the Frenchman who had publish them and rework them. I add the depth and confusion of the spaces that I have been captive of. I then add two new plates that rip the surface of the carceri and open to a new and glorious ancient Rome, the rome of the Campo Marzio. These two plates are the gateways from 18th century Rome to ancient Rome and my Campo Marzio series which I publish shortly after the second state of the carceri.
So this is how I escaped the carceri, through creating the Campo Marzio. I never though I would revisit them again but I fell back when I got my first and only commission for built architecture – Santa Maria del Priorato. When the Pope commissioned it, I was wildly excited at first but then fell into a deep depression since the singularity and pressure on this one built work augment my displeasure with my position of paper architect catering to tourist guides.
I designed a view, a keyhole that acts as entryway to the third state of the carceri. Through several layers, the keyhole, the trimmed hedge passageway, an illusion occurs. One sees a facsimile of St Peter’s, an entrance to my third version of the carceri. It is a new kind of carceri, which I am imagining as built – possibly a response to my lack of building. They worm their way under a Rome of the future which will be excavated and gutted in order for my Carceri to be discovered, like an ancient relic. It looks as if this future Rome is bursting at the seams and my Carceri are opening up to the sky.
The carceri, especially in this last third state, I now realize, are a tome to the unbuilt architect. They are an underbelly of an underbelly of an underbelly, a deep labyrinth where Rome in different times collapses, where unbuilt projects are fossilized in stone monoliths.
I am in my studio, lost in this labyrinth of the third state, looking down onto the dusty artifacts that make up the carceri. Models, fakes, roman artifacts, prints. Maybe I’ll sell them to tourists tomorrow…”