Francesco Urbano Ragazzi

Jonas Mekas. Under the Shadow of the Tree

Padiglione dell'Esprit Nouveau, Bologna
2 Feb. - 26 March, 2023

curated by Francesco Urbano Ragazzi
in the framework of Jonas Mekas 100!

Jonas Mekas. Under the Shadow of the Tree

Opening: February 2 to 5, h 10-20.

The exhibition continues through March 26, 2023, Sat. and Sun. h 15-18.


Cinema, like any other art, is like a big tree with many branches, some old and big, others small and young, and the tips are buds and leaves designating different forms, content, techniques; and the smallest, the youngest branches are like leaves and buds. The main body may be rush sustained by the roots, but it’s the small branches, the leaves and fresh buds that brings the sun and life go the tree. A tree can not survive without leaves. (Jonas Mekas, June 1st, 2015).

As part of Jonas Mekas 100!, the exhibition Under the Shadow of the Tree, set up at the Padiglione de l’Esprit Nouveau in Bologna from 2 February to 26 March 2023, continues the international program of initiatives celebrating the centenary of the birth of Jonas Mekas (Biržai 1922 – New York 2019), a crucial figure in the history of American avant-garde cinema.

The show has been curated by the duo Francesco Urbano Ragazzi and promoted by MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, the Lithuanian Culture Institute, and the Embassy of Lithuania in Italy, in collaboration with Home Movies – National Family Film Archive. The exhibition sets up a dialogue between the building – a housing prototype built in 1925 by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, with a faithful copy reconstructed in Bologna in 1977 by Giuliano and Glauco Gresleri with José Oubrerie – and a body of works that took off the big screen the film diaries for which Jonas Mekas is known. The initiative is part of the main program of ART CITY Bologna 2023, an institutional program of exhibitions, events, and special initiatives promoted by the City of Bologna and BolognaFiere on the occasion of Arte Fiera.

As if it were a sound box, the entire Bologna pavilion is filled with the sounds of the audio diaries with which the artist recorded the flow of New York life. Memorable moments, such as discussions about cinema between Peter Kubelka and Stan Brakhage, are interspersed with everyday songs and noises. Everything becomes part of a noisy symphony in which fragments from different eras merge into a single, infinite present.

The tree towering in the center of the building, passing through its ceiling, is instead the element around which, through images, revolves a reflection on the role of nature in the filmmaker’s work. A series of film scans are printed on the large windows that let light into the building, producing the effect of a polychrome stained glass window. Becoming projection surfaces, the flowers, plants, and landscapes immortalized in the photographic series come alive, testifying to the constant attention to which Mekas, with his camera, was committed. By filming the vegetation that miraculously grows in New York, the director, a Lithuanian refugee in the United States since 1949, rediscovered the woods of his village in the metropolis.

The tree, however, is a motif with more than one meaning. Mekas likened cinema to a lush plant of which independent filmmakers represented the tallest leaves. Some documents from the artist’s archive put this metaphor on the page. The branches traced by Mekas’s hand schematize his personal history of avant-garde cinema. Moreover, they describe his efforts to promote it through institutions such as the New American Cinema Group, Filmmakers’ Cooperative, and Anthology Film Archives, of which he was a founder.

Punctuating the exhibition are drawings, films, and videos that reflect Mekas’s multifaceted oeuvre in its interweaving of the poetic and the political. If the filmmaker’s cinema has been described as an act of resistance to Hollywood’s gigantism, these works show it to us as a tireless labor in the ecology of the media and images. In Mekas’s works, the smallest and most insignificant moments of existence are glorified as the essence of the world.