Diary of swimming across the Atlantic

1979, ‘Franco Parenti’ Theater, Milan, Ferrara and Pavia

Front view of the action at ‘Franco Parenti’ Theater. A sky view is projected behind.

Come to think of it, I’d been hankering after swimming across the Atlantic all my life. And not only because a swimming pool on an ocean liner is a fabulous affair and it has something of the grandeur of the Pharaohs about it in its elegance of concept, but also because of other considerations, other mechanisms.

From a physical standpoint the idea was born in California in 1979. During Music from the Sky II, one night, a journalist, under the balloon, asked me if I was a composer of electronic music. I said that my job was to illustrate titles, expressions, and that I was a swimmer, more or less.

In the former ‘Toselli’ Art Gallery in Milan, in 1977 I had built a swimming pool, where I spent one hour swimming butterfly stroke. And that my next assignment might have been… Swimming across the Atlantic.

I had the idea of representing the future voyage in a theatrical form. I thought in terms of a fantasy in which the publicity spots formed an integral part of the live narration, with the stage becoming an enormous video containing a screen – swimming pool – corridor, and in this swimming pool a robot director swam back and forth for the whole duration of the show.

The whole soundtrack was recorded on tape, synchronized with the sequence of the slides and films. The actors performed on a platform in front of the swimming pool. I understand that the ‘Franco Parenti’ Theater had only one previous similar example in the matter of new research, Robert Wilson’s one. For me it was a quite considerable physical undertaking. Right in the middle of the show I realized that the level of the water was dropping: the manager, noticing that I was splashing the front rows, decided to leave me literally out of water.

I lowered my stroke and while I was turning I asked to add water to the swimming pool. A further difficulty: the cold water entering and the necessarily slowed-down movements lowered my body temperature even more. After the one-hour show, in front of the television cameras and other people, I undoubtedly played the role of a shaking leaf.

Following the ‘athletic’ experience I had acquired in Milan, the program shifted to the center of Ferrara. The people of Ferrara remember the performance of Ronconi’s ‘Orlando Furioso’ in that same square. It was summer, the weather was good, and at the hotel I did immersions under a cold shower for training purposes. The Museum, the Theater and the Municipality cooperated on the project. Lea Vergine, art critic, performed a philosophical monologue from the platform.

That night she read selections from the ‘In praise of folly’ by Erasmus of Rotterdam before thousands of citizens of Ferrara. From a nearby bar they brought me hot water using of a long pipe. Instead of the wings of the ‘Franco Parenti’, an enormous box was built, an outdoor screen.