No man is an island – Venezia

No man is an island

Michele Gazich – Waterlines

Isola di San Servolo – Ottobre 2017


There is a strange relationship between what people feared a long time as a scream and what they awaited a long time as a singing”.

Michel Foucault

During his residence on the San Servolo Island, the artist Michele Gazich (musician, poet, songwriter, producer) is going to work on a project – firstly dedicated to the students who live on the island, and then open to the audience too – which is like a discovering path of the island itself and of its past inhabitants, at the time when the island was a mental hospital (from 1725 to 1978).

I gladly accepted the Waterlines invitation – Gazich says – but I didn’t want my work on the island to be a solitary sailing, just a personal research, because no man is an island, as John Donne said.

My wish is to give a new meaning to this famous quote, to tell it again with a new, paradoxical strength, from the San Servolo Island, where so many men have really been “an island” themselves.

I have been immediately surprised and moved by the archive of the ex-mental hospital: it is perfectly preserved by careful archivists. Thousands of papers, thousands of case-histories, thousands of people, thousands of lives. I had the clear idea that my meeting with those people should be the core of my work, for many reasons.

First of all, I would like to give them again dignity and citizenship in the world outside the island, to relive their sad lives with sensitivity and a deep, delicate feeling, as the papers are full of data, not only medical, but even of dialogues, their own words and personal history.

Secondly, I would like to help the students to get conscious about the meaning and the history of the place they live in nowadays. It’s typical by contemporary men to live and use places unconsciously, without listening to what they can really tell us.

I will try to give those people from the past their voice back, to let them free from the chains of case-histories and turn all this into songs.

Foucault wrote, in his essay Madness, the absence of work, that “there is a strange relationship between what people feared a long time as a scream and what they awaited a long time as a singing”.

The aim is, therefore, to listen to the scream hidden in the papers, make it sound deeply into our souls and then turn it into a singing.

Students will be personally involved in the archive research and throughout the creative process of the songwriting itself.

I couldn’t ignore, during a first recognition of the archives when I had also the chance to read the Reports of the Conference Psychiatry and Nazism (San Servolo 1998), the story of the Jews already segregated into the mental hospital, and then deported toward German concentration camps.

Their story will be the heart of my research. I would like to write about it, to let people know.

The related papers, seventy years later, have been recently made available for studies.

No man is an island, so we will not be alone during our work.

Every week in October we are going to talk, to make the point, to discuss, to meet even other personalities who will help us to see things from other points of view: a doctor, a professor of history…

At last, I am going to call another musician to cooperate with me for a lecture-concert: all the songs written and composed during my residence will be performed, together with previous songs and music of mine, dedicated to some poets and writers from the 20th century: Paul Celan, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Cristina Campo, Ezra Pound, Sylvia Plath, Ingeborg Bachmann. All of them suffered the consequences of expulsion by society and power, which lead them to insanity, death, reclusion or self-isolation.

Their outstanding and meaningful experiences and lives will sound together and at the same time with all the other meaningful San Servolo ex-dwellers’ lives: because No man is an island.

Partners waterlinesproject: Fondazione di Venezia, Collegio Internazionale Ca’ Foscari, Società San Servolo Servizi Metropolitani.


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