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The Trieste of Magris

Picking up the thread of the “Cities and their Writers” series that the CCCB began a few years ago, this exhibition is an invitation to discover the city of Trieste, guided by the Trieste-born writer Claudio Magris and his books.

Trieste is a border city, a mix of languages and cultures: Italian, Germanic and Slavic. Its unique geopolitical location has marked its character throughout its history, up until the present day.

This Italian city is known and renowned for having been the birthplace or home of some of the foremost writers and intellectuals of recent centuries: Italo Svevo, Umberto Saba, Rainer Maria Rilke, Scipio Slataper, James Joyce…

In this exhibition, Claudio Magris is the leading thread and point of connection with his city. Magris’s extraordinary and complex texts often refer to Trieste, its personages, both anonymous and famous, to the history of the city and to the writer’s own memories. The exhibition curator, theatre director Giorgio Pressburger, a good friend of Magris and, has stepped into Magris’s body of work to bring it to life. The result is the exhibition “THE TRIESTE OF MAGRIS”, now presented at the CCCB, designed by Paola Navone (Otto Studio, Milan).

Visitors need all five senses to find their way round the exhibition. They will feel the force of the bora, Trieste’s wind, feel the stones of the Karst Plateau and sense the Adriatic Sea, be surprised by the clamour of war and listen to Triestine songs. They can sit in the famous Caffè San Marco and enter the well-known Antiquaria bookshop, and follow the Danube, in the form of an evocation of its course through Central Europe, in a reading of excerpts from Magris’s famous book of the same name.

The show includes a whole range of materials, from audiovisual installations, original objects and paintings to readings of literary passages and even a film, Dietro il buio (Behind the Darkness), specially produced on the basis of Magris’s text, Lei dunque capirà.



0.- Introduction

1.- The bora

2.- The Karst

3.- Nowhere

4.- The house

5.- The exhibition

6.- Marco Cavallo

7.- Piazza Unità

8.- Italo Svevo

9.- Caffè San Marco

10.- Antiquaria bookshop

11.- La Risiera

12.- The Danube

13.- Psychoanalysis

14.- Religions

15.- Behind the Darkness

16.- Secular immigrants

17.- Dawn and dusk

18.- Nowhere, no when



 0 – Introduction

This space welcomes visitors and introduces them to the world they are about to enter: that of a highly singular city and its relation with some of Europe’s foremost writers, including its representative par excellence, Claudio Magris.

1 – The bora

This is the wind that blows in Trieste and the surrounding area. The bora rises in the Julian Alps and blows down from the mountains towards the sea at speeds of up to 119 mph.

2 – The Karst

Here visitors will find stones from the Karst, brought specially for the exhibition from the mountains around Trieste. They are stones that have been worn by the water on the original limestone and dolomite ground of the place. The Karst is where the people of Trieste go on Sundays and the setting for historic events associated with World War I.

3 – Nowhere

Trieste, 200 years ago, was the laboratory for a new Europe, which today we term “multiethnic”, with no internal boundaries between its different peoples. As a result of this ethnic mix, more than one artist and thinker has referred to this city as “nowhere”.

4 – The house

This space reproduces the living room in the house of Claudio Magris. It contains his everyday objects, his life from childhood to adulthood, the way he worked almost in symbiosis with Marisa Madieri, his lifelong companion.

5 – The exhibition

On show are drawings by Vito Timmel, the Trieste-born painter who lived in the first half of the 20th century and died in the city’s psychiatric hospital city at the end of World War II. The drawings were made while he was in hospital; as he completed them, Timmel passed them on to his friend Sofianopulo, who was looking after him. The play by Claudio Magris, La mostra, is based on the life of this artist, though it is also about Trieste and Magris himself.

6 – Marco Cavallo

In the 1970s, the Venetian psychiatrist Franco Basaglia, then director of the San Giovanni Psychiatric Hospital in Trieste, revolutionized the world of modern psychiatry. He was responsible for introducing a new conception of mental illness, and new methods and therapies for treating patients.

One day in February 1973, the Marco Cavallo, a blue horse thought up by the patients at San Giovanni Hospital, walked out of the psychiatric centre and entered the city of Trieste. By means of this action, encouraged by the Mayor of Trieste, Michele Zanetti, the writer Giuliano Scabia and Basaglia’s collaborators, the patients regained a place in society.

7 – Piazza Unità

Trieste is home to what was one of the most representative squares in Italy in the early 20th century: the Piazza Unità, or Square of the Unity of Italy. Here, the city people come together and meet at the Caffè degli Spechi, against the backdrop of the sea.

8 – Italo Svevo

The family of the writer Svevo came from a small village in Transylvania. In Trieste, he married the daughter of a manufacturer of a boat varnish, for whom he worked until the end of his life.

This factory, which still exists, gave him many ideas for his best-known work, La coscienza di Zeno, which today is known worldwide. He owes much of his fame to his Irish friend, James Joyce. Joyce lived in Trieste for 14 years and became good friends with Svevo.

This part of the exhibition deals with Svevo, James Joyce’s years in Trieste and the friendship between the two writers.

9 – Caffè San Marco

The most famous café in Trieste is the place where some of Magris’s best-known books were thought out and written. The space recreates the Caffè San Marco, the décor of which remains practically unchanged since it opened in 1914, and invites visitors to take a break and browse through Magris’s books.

10 – The Antiquaria bookshop

This space is dedicated to Umberto Saba, one of the greatest Italian poets of the 20th century. It includes a reproduction of the Antiquaria bookshop, owned by Saba. It also includes a text by Claudio Magris about the poet’s private life, excerpts from a film inspired by Saba’s posthumous novel (Ernesto) and a poetry reading given by Magris himself.

11 – La Risiera

In 1913, in a neighbourhood of Trieste called San Sabba, a construction was built for cleaning and preparing rice for human consumption. Thirty years later, after modifications carried out by the Nazis, it became a transit camp on the way to the crematoria of the Third Reich in Germany and Poland, and later into a camp with its own crematorium.

Today, La Risiera is a national monument. Visitors can see the cells where prisoners were tortured, detained, dissolved in acid or reduced to ashes, and the remains of the crematoria that the Nazis blew up when they retreated, to destroy any evidence.

12 – The Danube

Claudio Magris’s master work, one of the fundamental books of 20th-century culture, bears the name of central Europe’s main river: the Danube. This book follows the history and culture of Mitteleuropa, along the twists and turns of the river. From its uncertain source to its mouth, it flows through cities, regions and countries, but also history and histories, past and present, real characters and collective myths, great works in the European canon and oral legend and popular anecdote.

13 – Psychoanalysis

The first Italian city where psychoanalysis became known and was introduced into the praxis of city life was Trieste. From there, the practice spread throughout the country. The founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, had a particularly devoted and active disciple, Trieste-born Edoardo Weiss, who attended the first sessions of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. When Weiss returned to Trieste, he devoted his entire life to psychoanalysis. His patients included many Triestine artists and intellectuals, such as Arturo Nathan and Umberto Saba.

14 – Religions

Trieste is a city of absolute religious tolerance. Catholic, Protestant, Adventist, Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Buddhist—people of every religious persuasion live there. There are nine different cemeteries, temples and churches for all these confessions.

15 – Behind the darkness

Dietro il buio, made specially for the exhibition, is an adaptation of Claudio Magris’s monologue Lei dunque capirà. It is a highly personal text that he wrote in memory of his life partner, the writer Marisa Madieri. The film is a co-production by an Italian film production company and the CCCB.

16 – Secular immigrants

This part of the exhibition documents the arrival of Italians who emigrated from Istria in 1954, when the city became part of Yugoslavia, and deals with the Slovene minority in Trieste.

17 – Dawn and dusk

A stage set reproduces the sky of Trieste at dusk and at dawn, created by the interplay of light.

18 – Nowhere, no when

Trieste has once again become nowhere in particular. It is a mix of many different places. Where are we? China? Africa? Japan? Serbia, Romania, Albania? The exhibition closes with an allusion to the Trieste of today, a real cosmopolitan mix that manages not to lose its own particular identity.

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