SHAUN WILSON: REVISITING THE DECAMERON
This residency is part of a wider investigation ‘Winter Light’ examining the beauty and horror of plague through contemporary art. ‘Revisiting the Decameron’ deconstructs ‘The Decameron’, a series of novellas written by medieval author Giovanni Boccaccio around 1348. These stores digress seven young people sheltering in quarantine at an abandoned villa outside of Florence during the Black Death pandemic. The new works will situate the ten days of stories into a suite of ten works on paper contextualising the backdrops of the Black Death and COVID-19.
The initial story of the Decameron presents a group of seven young people fleeing the Black Death in Florence to a deserted villa where they held up for two weeks and concocted the 100 stories. This first work presents medieval Florence at the start of the plague spreading within the city walls. From an aesthetic perspective, I drew reference from some of Chagall’s early lithograph works especially winter scenes by Russian print makers in the pre-revolution period. I use the concept of winter as an allegory for the coming of plague which has it seems o be a commonality through my COVID-19 themed works from last year and into this year. The work is a culmination of hundreds of layers of acrylic and ink washes, charcoal, and medium rubbings that makes the paper on completion feel like leather. The photos don’t really do the work justice as my phone camera tints a heightened contrast level but you get the idea of where they’re going. I’m attempting to produce one of these artworks every week created mostly late at night in my studio. The image is based on a landscape painting of Florence during medieval times where I’ve taken care to note the terrain and walled city elements as they would have been at the time of when Boccaccio started to write his novellas.
This week’s work focuses on the introduction of the second day as Boccaccio describes the group led by Filomena venturing into a shady meadow where she orders Neifile to lead the days stories. I was drawn to the idea of representing landscape as the background of where these stories unfold. An aspect that I’m most interested in is the role that place intervenes within the groups of stories. In this instance, not only is place itself an overlooked aspect of the Decameron, but rather it establishes an important experience for the ways that the stories are manifested over the duration of the ten days which, moreover is simply ignored throughout critical readings of the book. The role of the meadow in the structural effacement of the ten stories contributes to the way that each story is later told and experienced. While each story has its own imaginative place mapped into the specific narratives unfolded, the mechanics of such are dependant on place thus intertwined within both the story and the narrators of each instalment.