Chuck Sperry’s multi-media art installation at the Oratorio di Santa Maria in Selaa in the remote Ligurian village of Tellaro, Italy was an evocative and deftly subversive repurposing of an historic 17th Century church into a pagan temple of San Francisco Psychedelia for one week last June. In the process Sperry reconsecrated the deconsecrated building with 21st Century humanist ideals, displaying his large scale silkscreened figurative art works. Sperry’s pieces were presented within the church in an arrangement reminiscent of an ancient chapel, in related pairs, as if they had withstood the ages there, illuminated solely by a dusky, adorational candlelight for a portion of each evening’s program. An original soundscape was commissioned by Sperry from world renown composer Franz Treichler (singer of The Young Gods), and in homage San Francisco legend Bill Ham was commissioned by Sperry to create an hour-long psychedelic light painting which was brightly projected on the facade of the church for each of the six nights of the event. Attendees travelled from the United States, France, Switzerland, and from all over the region – all drawn in to see this unique art event.
The photos below document Sperry’s installation. The film below presents a 6 minute segment of one of the 6 evenings in which Bill Ham’s light painting was projected on the facade of the church.
“The Flowers of Popular Victories” Light Painting by Bill Ham
“The Flowers of Popular Victories” The piazza, standing room only.
A Few More Words About “The Flowers of Popular Victories”
The beauty of Tellaro has taken on a mythic quality in my imagination. I have stayed here every year, for a few days to months at a time, since 2007. My installation in Tellaro, Italy in June 2013 at the Oratorio di Santa Maria in Selaa was my response, to create a legendary art event in this small Italian village that has given me so much inspiration.
One arrives at the end of the road, south until one can’t go anymore, and one has arrived at the white Carrera marble piazza of Tellaro, southernmost tip of Liguria. The woods above the village are lush and bursting with flowers, the air pungent with begonia and a salt sting from the sea. Below down many steps you’ll find my church, Oratorio di Santa Maria in Selaa, in a small square on a shelf slung above the Mediterranean Sea.
The Comune di Lerici gave me the key to the church, thanks to Riccardo and Melissa Azzarini, who co-ordinated my show with the Comune di Lerici. I repurposed the church into a pagan temple of San Francisco Psychedelia for one week. In the process I reconsecrated the deconsecrated building with 21st Century ideas.
The program was simple. I opened the doors of the church at 6 pm to midnight everyday, from Monday, June 10 to Saturday, June 16, 2013. Crowds came to see my art pieces, which were arranged in the church by me and my good friend Yvan le Hyaric. We emulated the hanging style of chapel art, hanging my pieces in pairs spaced down the olden walls. We used an existing 400 hundred year old inset frame to hang the altar piece at the back wall of the church; there was Thalia, my Muse, draped in flowers, arms spread wide, head thrown back in adoration.
Also at 6 pm I started the music; Franz Treichler composer and singer for The Young Gods created a stunning soundscape to play during the exposition. Franz synced his composition – in length and sound quality – to Bill Ham’s light show, using music to bring my art pieces together in harmony with the light show and the setting of the church.
Franz told me what was on his mind when creating the piece:
“The music was inspired by the artwork. That’s all I can say. When Chuck sent me the art for Italy, I said, “Okay!”
I wanted to use some Gregorian female singing, because it’s female power.
I worked with textures of Hildegarde von Bingen. I don’t know if you ever heard about her. She was one of the (most famous) female religious persons. Very very important from the … I think it was … 12th Century … She was like a shaman of Europe in the old days. She wrote a lot of music. She wrote a lot of philosophy. She wrote a lot of books about how to cure people with plants. She was very famous, Hildegard von Bingen.
So I used some of her music, but I stretched it for a long (pauses) a much longer time. It has a quality of this slow singing, these female voices, which is a natural.”
At ten, when the sun had dipped under the sea, Yvan started the projector, lighting up the facade of the church. This started the hour long light painting projection featuring the work of Bill Ham, San Francisco’s legendary master of light. Thanks to the minister of culture, the city turned off the street lights around my church to better view the light show. And thanks to Yvan le Hyaric, who provided technical expertise, the projected show was brilliant and beautiful.
Bill Ham is a San Francisco treasure; I was very happy to be blessed with his work for my event.
Bill Ham was instrumental at the very birth of the psychedelic movement. Bill told me how the movement began, at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City in 1964. There the San Francisco Charlatans played the first psychedelic happening that lasted the whole summer. Alton Kelley made the first psychedelic poster for the event. This poster is always referred to as The Seed, because from this one event came the whole San Francisco psychedelic movement. Bill provided the first psychedelic light show which he ran all summer. Bill Ham later moved on to create light shows with The Family Dog at the Avalon Ballroom, and to tour with the Grateful Dead. Bill Ham continues to hone his immense skills to this day, and is investigating the interaction between his light painting, public spaces and music.
During the light show inside the church we doused the electric lights, leaving the paintings to be illuminated only by candle light, which gave them a dusky moodiness. A local woman approached me during the light show, and asked, “la chiesa è consacrata a stasera?” (Is the church being consecrated tonight?) She was initially confused, but became oriented by Bill Ham’s light show, Franz Treichler’s music, my art and finally when she discovered there was no priest present. I could see that she began to enjoy herself.
My installation drew great crowds every night, which culminated with a huge turnout on the last night, when Radio Zero came and played a rock show in front of the church. We filled the town and tore the roof off the place. Radio Zero rocked it! The party went way past three am at The Red Fish Cafe, which threw an after party with DJ Riki Spike.
I want to thank everyone who helped me organize this show, came to see, took home pieces, or just took home the great synergistic spirit of the event. I was happy to share this event with all the many, many residents of Tellaro who came to welcome me and shared their generous hearts and illuminating thoughts with me, and my friends who came from far and wide, Franz and Helene who came from Switzerland, Claire and Korine who came from France, Patty who came from San Francisco via Maui. My deepest thanks to Riccardo and Melissa Azzarini who co-ordinated the show with the Minister of Culture of the City of Lerici, Carlo, Paris, Thomas and Elizabeth at Red Fish Cafe. And my deepest thanks to Yvan le Hyaric who sweated with me through the whole production. You rule the planet!
My installation in Tellaro, Italy in June 2013 at the Oratorio di Santa Maria in Selaa was a project that was born straight from my heart. I don’t have any other words to express the meaning this show had for me. Okay, here are some other words that kept turning in my mind, “I’m in, and I mean all in.” Meaning to say, I put all my skills, all my resources and all my abilities into this show. It was deeply rewarding; I dove in to the deep water, and came back up for air with many blessings.
As a postscript, all the pieces from this show were taken carefully by van to Paris, to be permanently installed at Blue Valentine, 13 rue de la Pierre-Levée, 11th Arr., an excellent restaurant which will open in November. Blue Valentine will serve superb French food, tasty cocktails, organic beers and wines; it will be an excellent place for my friends and fans to stop and eat or drink, whenever they should find themselves in Paris. I’ve created the visual identity of the restaurant, logo, cards, coasters, window, bar and table design, and painted a fresco on the ceiling. The pieces from this very special show in Tellaro will permanently be on display at Blue Valentine – and available for acquisition – for drinkers and diners. I’ll post more information about Blue Valentine soon!