Short film on belonging

Year 2017
Location Chiaromonte, Italy
About belonging, rituals, wine-making
Collaboration Laura Delaney (visual artist, Australia)
Methods observation with filmcamera, micro-ethnography

 

‘Through the Vendemmia‘ is a short visual research film about belonging, through the process of the grape harvest (la vendemmia). It was created in collaboration with Australian artist Laura Delaney during the “Community residency for artists and anthropologists” in the village of Chiaromonte, Italy. The 17-minute visual research film follows five men in Chiaromonte as they come together every autumn to harvest the grapes of a tiny vineyard owned by Giovanni, the town’s mechanic. The grape harvest is one of the oldest ancient rituals carried out mostly by men. We participated in the vendemmia of 2017 where we learnt by hand about what it means to belong, to work and to share a culture. The film was presented as part of the residency group exhibition at the ex-scuola (ex-school) of Chiaromonte on 22nd September, 2017.

A chance meeting in a cave

Video still: cave door carved out from the hill

Video still: cave door carved out from the hill

Chiaromonte is a small town located on a rocky spur, with hundreds of ancient caves carved into its rock face. Some of the caves are abandoned, while others have been turned into wine cellars and cantine. One of the first evenings we wandered up the hill and met a group of lively elderly men sitting together drinking wine. A few minutes later we were drinking wine with them and before we knew it we were invited to harvest grapes for this year’s wine. Little did we know that this was a special event, conducted once a year by this small group of old friends. The following morning Pietro brought us to Giovanni’s vineyard just outside town, where we set to work.

Cultural rituals: la vendemmia

We expected to find a large vineyard, requiring weeks of hard labour to harvest the grapes. Instead, we were met with a tiny patch of land that produces just a few bottles of wine, shared by the men. Although not much work, everything was considered hard work and so everything was done together. Crates of grapes are lifted together. The weight is shared until there is no weight to carry. And since there is no weight, it is easy to talk. They talk more than they work, and they say less than they speak. Here is a world in which there is no time and space. They slow down, stay together and take each other’s rhythm. Moving up and down the vineyard lanes, on either side of the vine, hands move towards each other to pick the grapes off the vine. The film is a record of the movements, mirroring each other: the cutting of grapes, washing hands, moving crates, crushing grapes, cleaning the cave, drinking wine – it is the thing between them that connects them, holds them together. This is what culture is, what belonging means; that there is something that holds otherwise unrelated bodies together.

Visual research

Taking part in the vendemmia allowed us to merge our disciplines, as an artist and researcher, with each other and with those we met in the community of Chiaromonte – across generations and cultures. We chose to participate as workers, to learn about cultural knowledge using our hands, instead of our heads.  We presented the process of the vendemmia using film to highlight the mirroring and sharing of repetitive movements. The film touches on the following discussions that we began exploring during the residency:

Work

Video still: carrying crates together

Video still: carrying crates together

Coming from cities as Melbourne and Amsterdam we find that most of today’s work is valued on the basis of productivity. When we started helping we tried to move fast, to show them how productive we could be. We tried to carry things ourselves and do more than we were asked. But Vittorio said “slow down, stay with me, take my rhythm” and Pietro said “don’t force yourself”. Here we are presented with a different definition of work: working as a way of being together. It is the complete opposite of the working life we are used to, in which forcing oneself, being busy and productive are signs of a good day. The experience opens up a discussion on today’s work values and how people are valued in work.

Cultural knowledge

Video still: hand-mixing the grapes

Video still: hand-mixing the grapes

Certain histories and practices are carried forward and transmitted through the body, rather than through books, museums or institutional systems. The vendemmia as cultural ritual can only be understood by experiencing it. This means that knowledge of culture sometimes (often times?) needs to be transferred via hands and bodies working and being together. If there are no longer ‘bodies’ or ‘hands’ to pass this knowledge of culture on to, traditions and their meaning could become lost.

Sense of belonging

Chiaromonte

Chiaromonte

Many of Chiaromonte’s residents are retirees and younger people often move away. Those remaining or returning have consciously chosen to do so for reasons of ‘belonging’ there. This sense of belonging is reconstructed again and again through the rituals of the place and its people – the vendemmia being one of them. Without new generations carrying them forward, these rituals start to fade. While young generations move out of the village, a whole new group of people have arrived. The Italian government is placing migrants and refugees throughout Italy. In what used to be a hotel in Chiaromonte, there are now about a hundred non-Chiaromontesi from all over the world. This brings questions to the foreground such as: how do people experience a sense of belonging, how does a culture change, and how do entirely different groups create a new sense of belonging, connection and interaction in the same place?