The Cosmogony of Volcano Extravaganza

A history of Volcano Extravaganza, by Valeria Szabó Facchin


The Cosmogony of Volcano Extravaganza

By Valeria Szabó Facchin

From the darkness of the abyss to the luminous order of the constellations, from love to betrayal, through degradation and salvation, detachment and return, pity and indifference, hatred and forgiveness, Stromboli is not only a geographic reality but, first and foremost, a projection of the mind.

The history of Stromboli, home of Volcano Extravaganza – the yearly performative festival organised by the Fiorucci Art Trust since 2011, is indeed a story of biblical epos and hubris, ruled by the number 4.

In his fall from Heaven Lucifer, the damned archangel affected by intellectual perversion would have certainly elected Stromboli as his new reign on Earth, a circular spit of land around the crater of one of the most dangerous active volcanoes in the world. Here, Lucifer would have placed the gate of hell, an enormous hole in the centre of the Earth created by God when throwing him and his supporters out of the Eden garden. Like a meteorite, such as the Black Stone, Hajaru al-Aswad, conserved in the Kaaba and believed to be dated back to Adam and Eve’s time, everything here seems to start, and end, from a basaltic rock.
The number 4 has both an exoteric and esoteric meaning. For the Kabbalah, it is the set of motion and infinity, representing both the corporeal, the sensitive, and the incorporeal. It symbolises the Eternal, the man who carries within himself the divine principle. The quaternary was also used by Pythagoras to communicate to the disciples the ineffable name of God, the alpha and the omega. It is in the quaternary that the first solid figure is found, the universal symbol of immortality: the Pyramid. The vision of the pyramid-shaped island itself, standing at least 1,000 meters tall and plunging another 2,000 meters beneath the surface of the leaden sea, is indeed comparable to an epiphany, or a mirage. Located 38° 46’ 00’’ North, 15° 13’ 00 East in the Tyrrhenian Sea (3+8+4+6+1+5+1+3= 4), the island of Stromboli was born from direct parthenogenesis of Strombolicchio – the miles-deep, long-dead volcano that created the seven Aeolian Islands during a cosmic eruption thousands of years ago – in the same way, that Eve was created from Adam’s rib. As Eve, Stromboli would have become the femme fatal, with its charm ensnaring its visitors, leading them – time to time – into compromising, deadly traps. A creature made of flame, flash and shadow.
Here, the 4 elements merge into one, canalising the electromagnetic energy into a vortex – a black hole, where the Time ends. Such as a convex mirror, the volcano functions as a reflective surface, bulging towards the light source: a conic vortex into others worlds. The journey to the centre of the earth is indeed a journey of initiation, of space into space, of a circle into another circle, anamnestic and vital, a journey into the depths of shadow, in search of the unknown. Is Stromboli when a He or a She? Strombolian refers to the volcano as Iddù, He, comparing its explosion to a masculine climax, reached after a period of forced chastity. The Kairos, the epitome of the moment. But the volcano, flipped outside down, as it would have looked for Julies Verne when ejected by the womb of the Earth in his Voyage at the Centre of the Earth (1864), looks like a funnel, making then easier the comparison to a feminine organ: the cyclical reminder of a depuration, or of a rebirth – Chronos.
Stromboli is then a chimeric, hermaphrodite creature: it’s either a man or a woman, able to impregnate itself, and give birth, all at the same time. The island evokes both sensuality and malevolence to those who seek it, everything here is upside down. Its magical, mystical, and spiritual power resides in this dual alchemical nature: for some, Stromboli is light, for others it is darkness.

The mythical history of Stromboli spans for millennia. In ancient times the island was considered to be the Bronze fortress set ‘on tall pillars’ of Aeolus, the god of winds; later one it was considered the home of Mulciber: the pagan god of fire, forger of metals, and father of Servius Tullius, the penultimate king of Rome. For J.K Tolkien, Stromboli is Mount Doom, the site where the One Ring was originally forged by Sauron, the Dark Lord, and the only place where it could be destroyed. Is it also here that, for Saint Gregory the Great, the damn soul of Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths, naked, barefoot and loaded with chains, was dragged along the ether by the angry shadows of Pope John and the patrician Simmaco. Rossellini, in Stromboli terra di Dio (1950), made Ingrid Bergman climb to the summit of the volcano to meet God, while Nietzsche allegedly set here the ascension of Zarathustra, preaching the eternal recurrence of the same, the parable of the death of God, and the prophecy of Übermensch, the super-human. The epiphany of the soul, and the death of the universe: Stromboli embodies all of this, it is a mountain of fate.

It is for all these reasons that the island became the stage of Volcano Extravaganza, a sort of noir version of William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1847). Curated by Milovan Farronato, the festival is an open concept produced by the Fiorucci Art Trust and entailing a series of ephemeral and fortuitous events based on improvisation and chance. Such as a Nomen Omen, the artist-led festival, is a sign, a prophecy for artistic revelations ruled by a Wagnerian tempo, a format that is devoid of structure. As Alighiero Boetti once said, ‘Stra-vaganza is neither nomadism nor wandering, but brightness at a 360-degree horizon. And above all, it invests in multiplicity and the unexpected nature of encounters’. The literal sense of “extravagant”—wandering beyond, straying beyond the limits—is explained in the medieval Latin verb ‘extravagari’ – a forerunner expression of the contemporary Performative turn (John Austin, 1950), used to refer to monks and pilgrims. The travel to the island is itself a sort of pilgrimage, such as Watteau Embarquement pour Cythère (1718). The festival is indeed all about movement and ‘evolution’: it’s an expression of the stage of in-between, the suspension of time and space where all is in transit. Such as a glitch, Volcano Extravaganza reminds of the black monolith, a limited-time generated portal used by Stanley Kubrick in Space Odyssey (1968). Created by non-human species, the ‘firstborn’, the monolith was used to travel in time and space ¬– triggering a considerable shift in human evolution. Using the volcano as a portal, the festival itself has moved through the years between the others, to Bangladesh for the Dhaka Art Summit (2018), for then travelling back in time to Pompei (2019).
Many the artists that through the years arrived on the island following the spell of Farronato. Such as in Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, every July – for a couple of days, the curator selects an artist to be his partner for his own version of Woland’s ball. From time to time, he prefers to dance on his own. However, every year, it will be an extravagant experience. By investigating different forms of fusion and overlap in relationship with the contemporary world the festival, above all, explores the idea of experimentation and asks the participants to rethink the contents of their work. Nietzche’s concept of ‘no doer behind the deed’, is what indeed defines the festival. There is no self before the performance of the self: the one to have constitutive powers is the performance. This is how in Stromboli categories of the self, such as gender, class or race are seen as something that one ‘does,’ rather than something one ‘is.’ Here everything is in flux, such as the cycle of the four elements. Like the island itself, the festival has the power to bring clairvoyance. Like the Hanged Man tarot, the card of ultimate surrender, in order to see the truth, you need to change your perspective.