In contrast to the anachronism, which simply means that something has ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time, the anachrony has the power to explode our conventional chronological understanding of time entirely. Mari Lending pursues the anachrony through two art projects – both have their starting point in the past, and both pull the rug from under the here and now.

Peter Greenaway on Veronese´s Wedding at Cana from 2009 was the second of Peter Greenaway‘s live projection projects onto a facsimile, produced by Factum Arte. The performance took place in the original location of the great painting by Veronese from 1563: the refectory of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. Photo: Factum Arte.

In 1974 president Anwar Sadat provided Ramses II’s mummy with an Egyptian passport (occupation: ”former Head of State“), and in September the same year his Eminence was transported to Paris on a French military aircraft. As the story goes, this guest of honour was met by president Giscard d’Estaing and a ceremonious reception at Le Bourget airport, and then attended to by a team of more than 100 scientists from various disciplines at the Musée de l’Homme. The tomb of Ramses the Great — the pharaoh of the Exodus, builder of Luxor and Karnak — had been discovered in the Valley of Kings in 1881 and the mummy transferred to the National Museum in Cairo. Early in the 1970s it was discovered that the mummy was severely disintegrating, and France convinced Egypt to accept a full treatment, which had to take place in Paris. After two years of autopsies, electromagnetic radiation and cutting edge conservation and preservation, the mummy was declared fit and returned to Egypt.

Ramses II‘s mummy, c. 1881. Photo: Galerie Bassenge/Wikimedia commonsEgyptian President Anwar Sadat, 1980. Photo: US Library of Congress/Wikimedia commons

Ramses II’s relocation in time and space naturally created quite a media stir, and Jean Baudrillard described the affair as a ‘hell of a paradox’: ”In order for ethnology to live, its object must die; by dying, the object takes revenge for being ’discovered’ and with its death defies the science that wants to grasp it”.1 The French philosopher points to the sacrifice made by science in order to save its own reality principle. The Ramses II event created panic in the western world with the realization that it may not be possible to breathe life into a figure which the symbolic order had effortlessly kept alive for more than 3000 years, out of sight, undiscovered, in situ. “Our entire linear and accumulative culture collapses if we cannot stockpile the past in plain view”, Baudrillard claimed: thus the modern need to lift history from the invisible, to exhibit it in bright daylight and in glass coffins; and as in the case of Ramses, to furnish it with military distinctions. It is not worms that cause mummies to disintegrate: “they die from being transplanted from a slow order of the symbolic, which masters putrefaction and death, to an order of history, science, and museums; our order, which no longer masters anything”.2 On the contrary, the modern world of archaeology and ethnology desperately endeavours to repair what it destroys by means of a science that does not accept the hidden and invisible.3

The fascinating clash of temporalities may exceed even a pharaoh’s meticulously worked out plans for the afterlife. Ramses II awoke after three millennia of protective sleep and was unsuspectingly catapulted into a fundamentally different contemporary world. The scientists in their white coats became the cast in a kind of inverted science fiction story, thrown back in time as if in a time capsule with their modern scientific methods, to take care of a more than 3000-year-old body.

Time collision

These bewildering temporal displacements allow us to trace the contours of a liberating and strange historical phenomenon: the coexistence of different times in art and architecture, captured in a figure of anachrony. Through repetition, pastiche, reuse and intricate displacements, this productive model challenges straightforward concepts of chronology, originality, and authenticity: ”The work of art when it is late, when it repeats, when it hesitates, when it remembers, but also when it projects a future or an ideal, is ’anachronic’”.4

"Through repetition, pastiche, reuse and intricate displacements, this productive model challenges straightforward concepts of chronology, originality, and authenticity."

Anachrony should not be confused with its relative, anachronism. Quite unfairly, anachronism carries several undesirable associations, and is often used to define historical errors and misconceptions, merely describing something misdated or displaced due to ignorance or naiveté. Hunting down anachronisms is a favourite pastime for nerds: Audiences make much out of discovering a Rolex watch in a gladiator movie, coffee in a medieval novel or Conan Doyle describing a streetscape in London with buildings completed a year or two after Sherlock Holmes passed that way. The arrogance of anachronism is also reflected in such a political-administrative expression as “developing countries”. Colonial in origin, it refers to a world order where certain places are located in the periphery of the same space, but in a different time. “Developing countries” alludes to a conception of an unsynchronized world (and will obviously remain so in the foreseeable future, thanks to still vivid imperialistic metaphorics). When the temple of Jerusalem is represented as a gothic cathedral in a Dutch renaissance painting or an Elizabethan clock strikes in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, we are, however, directed towards anachronism’s critical function as a tool for historical appropriation, and its aptness in marking the historicity of various periods.5 Critical or thoughtless, the anachronism still works within the basic rule of chronology — that history moves on, and thus that something precedes something else.

"Anachrony should not be confused with its relative, anachronism. Quite unfairly, anachronism carries several undesirable associations."

Anachronic artefacts, on the other hand, blow apart a chronologically ordered history — an order long considered so obvious and pervasive that it appears natural, not as a historical construction. The anachrony captures the delicious temporal phenomenon that takes place when elements from different times are thrown together. A memorable anachronic tableau is found, for example, in Federico Fellini‘s film Roma (1972).

Stills from Federico Fellini‘s film Roma from 1972. Engineers preparing to build an underground rail line stumble across a Roman villa, and are forced to watch as the perfectly preserved frescoes dissolve before their eyes. Photo: ML

From Federico Fellini‘s film Roma. Photo: ML

Engineers constructing a subway through the archaeological strata of Rome drill through a wall deep down in the underground. They suddenly find themselves in an ancient Roman villa richly decorated with frescos, hermetically sealed, and thus of a quality far beyond the restored, antique wall paintings we admire in museums. Overwhelmed by the bizarre feeling that the family who lived in the villa 2000 years ago have just left the room, they watch the frescos evaporate before their eyes. In addition to the fresh air flowing in, the engineer’s breath and the glow from their flashlights is enough to destroy the perfectly preserved wall. During the minutes before the frescoes dissolve and disappear like Eurydice before Orpheus’ gaze, we witness a magical junction of different times in the same room: past and present thrown together in a perfect and ephemeral anachrony.

Over the last few years in Venice, we have witnessed a series of installations on the border between architecture and art, where anachronicity has contributed to the beauty and significance of the works. In 2009 a Veronese painting formed the starting point and a Palladio room the location, and the object was, as is so often the case with anachronies, unstable: It combined a perfect replica of a damaged 450-year-old original with Peter Greenaway’s filmic dramatization of the copy in the place of the original. In 2010 we were faced with a hitherto unseen collection of decorative objects by the architect, designer and etcher Giovanni Battista Piranesi. The manufacturing of design schemes conceived in the mid-18th century caused a veritable time collision, as if we got to experience new works directly from Piranesi’s imaginary workshop, cutting edge contemporary design made strange by the 250-year delay.

Both events were signed Factum Arte, a company specializing in high-tech facsimile production of historical art and architecture. From their workshops in London, Madrid and San Francisco the Factum Arte staff of artists, conservators, archaeologists and art historians create and digitize rooms and objects, throwing our accustomed conception of chronological order into turmoil.

A time lapse photograph of Factum Arte’s team recording the original Veronese painting in the Louvre. Photo: Grégoire Dupond/Factum Arte

Giovanni Battista Piranesi: Untitled etching called “The Smoking Fire”, plate VI of 16 from the series Le Carceri, Rome, 1761 edition, reworked from 1745. Photo: Wikimedia commons

Naturalized chronologies

On the occasion of the “Year of Architecture” in 2011, Arkitektur N published an essay series on the relevance of architectural history under the heading “The Future is Behind Us”. Initially, the concept sounds somewhat nostalgic, perhaps suggesting disillusionment, as if the future was better in the past and the age of utopias dissolved and buried sometime between the optimistic perspectives of the Enlightenment and the collapse of the avant-garde. The theme, however, embodies a catchy paradox: During the centennial of the National Association of Norwegian Architects, the editor apparently wished to lecture her readers on the potential of the past. The formula points to the past not only as an intense sequence of shifting presents, but as a depot of lost futures. Architecture offers superb examples of such lost futures, from the massive, sublime visions in XL formats of the French so-called ‘revolution architecture’ to the light, floating imaginary worlds of early modernism.

Canonized favourites such as Mies van der Rohe’s structurally and technologically impossible glass skyscrapers in Berlin or Bruno Taut’s glass obsessions promised an architecture transgressing the physically possible through potent, projective architectural exercises. Paul Scheerbart’s science fiction theorized such visions in the lovely fragmentarium Glasarchitektur, published in the same year Taut’s glass pavilion was erected at the Deutsche Werkbund’s exhibition in Cologne – structurally and visually “the most brilliant combination of glass and steel achieved by any architect in the years immediately preceding 1914.”6 Taut’s pavilion illuminated Scheebart’s visions of a new global culture, an earthly paradise that would become reality along with the understanding of how to employ glass architectonically. High-strung and hyper-sensitive, Scheerbart envisaged a beautiful and technologically advanced future, transparent or translucent, also to be enjoyed from above: From an aerial perspective, coloured glass buildings would serve as lamps, lanterns, lighthouses (individually shaped, so that people traveling by air would always know their position) and searchlights, taking the form of illuminated mountains and other sublime landscapes. In contrast to buildings in traditional materials the glass house, “when lit from the interior, is an autonomous object of illumination” (§ XLVI).

A fragile pre-war world is evoked in Scheerbart’s rambling futurism, in which he insisted that structures of iron and glass would withstand wars and vandalism. Nevertheless, the vision of a future architecture in glass has proved to be visionary rather than utopian. The prophecies of technological, material and structural innovations, and the aesthetics accompanying an architecture resisting gravity and threatening to ”disappear in thin air”, as sensationally formulated by the Norwegian philosopher Marcus Jacob Monrad in 1890, have long ago been fulfilled.7 The same applies to the idea that glass would colonize the world of future transportation, both aircraft, boats and trains, and allow us to experience “beautiful impressions, when we, by day or night, see the express train pass through the landscape at full speed in clear colours. The railway, initially met with much reluctance by sensitive souls, will give rise to an aesthetic fascination, which still cannot be properly described” (Scheerbart, § LV).

From Paolo Veronese, The Wedding at Cana, 1563. Detail.

Arkitektur N’s polemic ”The Future is Behind Us” might be read as an invitation to return to unfulfilled and abandoned ideals, to search the depots of history. Could it be that we are encouraged to explore half-forgotten ambitions and neglected passions, to infuse contemporary architecture with bold and transgressive imaginations similar to those offered by a Boullée or a Tatlin, also beyond the avant-garde? Yet the idea that lost or unrealized futures might be represented in the present also points to another temporality — towards anachronic manifestations of different times and temporalities, complicating both the historical and the contemporary. Where the series of past futures are still caught in chronologies, on the assumption that one thing follows from and influences another, anachrony informs the idea that “The Future is Behind Us” with a new twist. Vladimir Tatlin’s monument for the third International and Mies’ glass towers for Friedrichstrasse are — in spite of being “trapped forever in their diminutive existence” as models — widely publicized, comprehensively referred to and thus fundamentally canonized and historicized.8 Their effective history is not reduced by not being erected; unbuilt architecture is also chronologically coordinated, serving as examples and experience from which to draw in architectural culture and production.9

Naoko Fukumaru, Factum Arte’s chief conservator, working in the Musée du Louvre with a selection of the pre-prepared colour sticks that are matched to the surface of the painting. Photo: Gregoire Dupond/Factum Arte

During the production of the facsimile the colour references recorded in the museum are essential to ensure colour accuracy. Photo: Alicia Guirao/Factum Arte

The printed sections are laid out on the floor of the workshop and carefully spliced together and glued to Alucore panels. Photo: Alicia Guirao/Factum Arte

The completed facsimile installed in Palladio’s refectory at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini. Photo: Grégoire Dupond/Factum Arte

Surely, anachrony may unfold the relationship between the imaginary and the built, as convincingly demonstrated by the brand new Piranesi works from 2010. But there are still other rapports lurking in Factum Arte’s interventions into historical art and architecture. Both the Veronese and the Piranesi displays in Venice mirror with great perfection the French philosopher Jacques Rancière’s definition of anachronic effects: ”events, notions, significations that are contrary to time, that make meaning circulate in a way that escapes any contemporaneity, any identity of time with ’itself’”.10

Shock effects

Among the Factum Arte productions displayed at San Giorgio Maggiore over the last few years, and which, thanks to a collaboration with the Cini Foundation, has facilitated quite lavish experiments, there are two that in different ways challenge our chronological sense. One is an intricate palimpsest of art, war and restoration history: The starting point is Paolo Veronese’s The Wedding at Cana, commissioned in 1563 for the refectory designed by Palladio for the Benedictine San Giorgio monastery, adjacent to the Palladio church San Giorgio Maggiore.

The painting, 70 meters square, was cut into six pieces when Napoleon conquered Venice in 1797 to facilitate transportation to Paris and the Louvre, where the painting formed part of the cultural-political endeavour aimed at making Paris the new Rome. It has subsequently undergone a series of more or less traumatic restorations. With our backs turned to Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, we can still see where the canvas pieces are joined in Veronese’s painted miracle. Looking even closer, one may also note traces of a carefully repaired tear originating from the last restoration in the 1990s, when the painting toppled over in a staircase in the museum workshop. This material history is captured in the hyper-detailed facsimile produced by Factum Arte director Adam Lowe and Grégoire Dupond; a kind of full-scale document of the painting’s history and historicity.11 The debates and trajectories of relocation and restoration formed the scientific basis for the copy, which was reintroduced in the original’s location in 2007.12 The materiality of Factum Arte’s projective reconstruction in itself creates a complete universe of strange temporalities, which were further added to when Peter Greenaway used the replica in Palladio’s refectory as the starting point for the work The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese. A Vision by Peter Greenaway, presented at the 2009 Venice art biennale with the assistance of the cinematic magicians from Factum Arte.

"The materiality of Factum Arte’s projective reconstruction in itself creates a complete universe of strange temporalities, which were further added to by Peter Greenaway's work."

The other show, displayed in Venice in the fall of 2010, appeared, title-wise, more like a traditional monographic exhibition: The Arts of Piranesi. Architect, etcher, antiquarian, vedutista, designer. Piranesi is the architect turned archaeologist. His wish to become the Palladio of his time resulted in more than a thousand prints combining Venetian scenography and Roman building tradition in an archeotecture amalgam. Piranesi’s oeuvre is obviously a cornucopia for anyone interested in the relationship between the imaginary and the real, the historical and the contemporary. The contemporary fantasy world he founded on antiquity was visionary to the extent that later times turn to Piranesi as a foretoken of a variety of aesthetics unfolding over the last 250 years, from romanticism to abstract expressionism, from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to Jake and Dinos Chapman’s installations.

Allied with leading Piranesi experts like John Wilton-Ely and Marcello Fagiolo, and with more than 300 prints from the Giorgio Cini foundation at their disposal, Factum Arte headed by Adam Lowe took a curatorial quantum leap in a multi-media staging of Piranesi’s black-and-white, breath-taking 18th-century registers. As an architect, Piranesi in his lifetime only partly completed the church Santa Maria del Priorato in Rome and a few objects. In an already lost here and now (Venice, 2010) we witnessed his apparently impossible spatial visions and historic panoramas taking actual form. Centrally placed was Factum Arte’s and Gregoire Dupond’s film based on Piranesi’s Carceri — the imaginary prisons — first published in 1749–50 and then again in 1761. On two screens facing each other, the sixteen prints were interwoven and then opened up as real rooms during a twelve-minute long, slowly sliding and hypnotic animated tour under vaults, over archways and behind walls. Running in a loop, the film left us mesmerized, but also enlightened: These rooms are not impossible, as is so often claimed, but actual mediated and spatial realities.

Gilded bronze tripod with silver patina and alabaster top, 90 cms high. Designed by Giovanni Battista Piranesi in 1769. Made by Factum Arte in 2010. Photo: Factum Arte

Silver coffee pot as designed by Piranesi, Rome 1769. Piranesi‘s drawing and a digital model constructed as part of the fabrication process. Photo: Factum Arte

Silver coffee pot made by Factum Arte. Photo: Factum Arte

Anachronic effects were further powerfully evoked as Piranesi’s fantasies were allowed to unfold almost shockingly in three dimensions. With sensitivity, precision and audacity Factum Arte had lifted engraved objects, some of them microscopic, from the vast collection of prints and translated them into physical forms: a fireplace, a candelabra, a gigantic urn made of composite marble, as well as two tripods executed in bronze. Slightly more convenient for everyday life, perhaps, was the hallucinatory coffee pot, in a kind of baroque art deco, formed as a shell balancing on a turtle with a bee for a spout, hammered for the occasion in nickle-plated copper. The project is captivating because we have been used to seeing lost worlds simulated in all variations except as actual materializations. These sophisticated and somewhat disturbing relics appeared as if they had passed a time lock, from an 18th-century warehouse into our time. The process from engraved prints to physical objects made the exhibition hall behind Palladio’s church appear as something between an ancient workshop and a high-end furniture fair.

"These sophisticated and somewhat disturbing relics appeared as if they had passed a time lock, from an 18th-century warehouse into our time."

The Carceri series in particular must take the blame for popular interpretations of Piranesi as feverish, dystopic, irrational and Kafkaesque.13 Rather than being a psychological case, however, Piranesi developed a theoretical and historical argument through his eclectic and awesome wunderkammer. He mobilized against those who, during the 1750’s, argued that Roman antiquity was a degeneration of the simple and sublime Greek ideal. In its place Piranesi invoked Egyptian and Etruscan precedents for a particular Roman aesthetics, and for an almost self-generating richness of motives and an ideal which consisted, through and through, of fragments and pieces. Thus, in his own time Piranesi was already distorting the modern chronology on which art history was founded: the concept of successive style-based periods, with Greek antiquity as the ideal that can never be matched. As this 18th-century aesthetic polemic resurfaced in 2010 in the form of unrealized products conceived through Piranesi’s generous hybrid aesthetics, we were invited to an anachronic gala performance, mind-blowingly both questioning and veiling matters of origins, originality and authenticity.

Image showing Peter Greenaway‘s interpretation of Veronese‘s painting through light and movement. Photo: Factum Arte

Facets of the same phenomenon, though in a different manner and medium, are revealed in Greenaway’s Veronese vision. It is the third in the series ”Ten Classic Paintings Revisited”, a series comprising hyper-canonized works such as Michelangelo’s Doomsday (Sistine chapel, Rome), Picasso’s Guernica (Reina Sofia, Madrid), and Pollock’s One: Number 31, 1950 (MoMA, NY); monumental works in monumental spaces and institutions. The opening took place in the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum in 2006, where Rembrandt’s The Night Watch was theatrically interpreted with light, sound and movement. In 2008, the plan was to project Leonardo’s Last Supper. A Vision onto the original in Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan (cancelled at the last moment as someone realised that the meeting of tempera that is over 500 years old with a highly luminous installation might be exceedingly bold).

The extravagant performance of The Wedding at Cana was a remarkable actualization of a lost work, in situ, with displacements unfolding in time, space and medium. The sophisticated technology illuminated and personified the near 140 wedding guests and the magical moment when Christ turned water into wine, throwing the biblical together with the renaissance and our own time. The handling of Lowe’s facsimile reminds us of what animation really means: With light and sound Greenaway breaths life into the old painting, making it come alive far beyond our experience in the crowd in front of the original in the Louvre. The anachronic configuration in Greenaway’s Veronese is dependent on the strange reference to the original by the acute presence of the multi-mediated replica in lieu of the original. The phantasmagoric light show added movement to the painting, and a certain flair of fake and confusion, but also delays, hesitation, pastiche – all facets of the anachrony.

“Are we talking about a ‘fake original’ or an ‘original fake’”? Greenaway mused while preparing the Veronese production.14 ”In and out of time, all at the same time” is a precise definition of anachrony.15 In the Piranesi case, the future utopias in three dimensions are genuine new objects and not reproductions. In the Veronese/Lowe/Greenaway sequence, the transient, animated facsimile constitutes a new artefact. In both cases the works are translations playing out independently of chronology. Thus, they inventively resist questions about origins and a first original. In line with Jacques Rancière’s definition of anachrony, the works as events resist the order of chronology. They let meaning to circulate without being fixed in times past or present; they point both forwards and backwards and allow us to experience them in a peculiar, already lost, here and now.

  1. Jean Baudrillard, “The Precession of Simulacra”, in Simulacra and Simulation (1981), (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press 1993), 7. 

  2. Ibid., 10. 

  3. A similar argument from before the days of the postmodern simulacrum was put forth by the Norwegian landscape painter J.C. Dahl, who in the 1840s warned passionately against the excavation of medieval burial mounds, and the lethal decontextualization involved in transferring the objects to museums. See Mari Lending, ”Landscape Versus Museum. J.C. Dahl and the Preservation of Norwegian Burial Mounds”, Future Anterior. Journal on Historic Preservation. History, Theory, & Criticism 1/2009. 

  4. Alexander Nagel and Christopher S. Wood, Anachronic Renaissance, (New York: Zone Books 2010),13. 

  5. For a cornucopia of examples and amazing interpretations of anachronic phenomenon, see Nagel and Wood, ibid. 

  6. Taut produced the pavilion in a moment of genius he was unable to repeat, according to Reyner Banham, Theory and Design in the first Machine Age (1960), Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press 1980, 81. 

  7. Monrad, Æsthetik. Det Skjønne og dets Forekomst i Natur og Kunst II. Christiania: Alb. Cammermeyer 1890, 151. 

  8. As ”controversial competition winners (and indeed, celebrated losers)” they have found their place in architectural history. Tom Porter and John Neale, Architectural Supermodels, Oxford: Architectural Press 2000, 18. 

  9. “The question whether a building can assume a place of authority in the world of architecture without actually being built is a curious one. But the answer is not in doubt,” Sir John Summerson notes: “Bramante´s design for St. Peter´s dome and Wren´s great model for St. Paul still put their weight in the history books and a whole treatise could be written on the influence of Bernini´s rejected design for the Louvre.” John Summerson, quoted from Porter and Neal, ibid. 16. 

  10. Rancière, ”Le concept d’anachronisme at la vérité de l’historien” (1996), quoted in Nagel and Wood, Anacronic Renaissance, 370. 

  11. See Adam Lowe, ”Returning ‘Les Noces de Cana’ by Paolo Caliari (called Véronèse) and some issues concerning repatriation and originality”, Art Historian’s annual conference, Melbourne Australia, January 2008: 

  12. For this event, se Pasquale Gacliardi, Bruno Latour, and Pedro Memelsdorff, Coping with the Past: Creative Perspectives on Conservation and Restoration, (Firenze: Leo S. Olschki 2010), a transcription of a symposium arranged at San Giorgio Maggiore in front of the Veronese facsimile in the refectory. 

  13. As we know him not at least from Marguerite Yourcenar’s beautiful ”The Dark Brain of Piranesi” (1965), in Yourcenar, The Dark Brain of Piranesi and other Essays, (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1985). 

  14. Elisabetta Povoledo, ”A Filmmaker Adds a Cinematic Scope to a Storied Painting”, New York Times July 2nd 2008. 

  15. Nagel and Wood, Anacronic Renaissance, 326.