"La Rivista di Engramma (open access)" ISSN 1826-901X

Staging Mnemosyne 

Editoriale Engramma n. 130

Daniela Sacco, Emily Verla Bovino



With Staging Mnemosyne, Engramma publishes an issue devoted to the relationship between studies of, and on, Aby Warburg (Hamburg, 1866 – 1929) and the Theatre: it does so with the awareness that the theatre and the theatrical recurrently emerge as themes of interest in the Hamburg scholar’s notes, publications and projects. Responses to our call for papers arrived from across the world and a selection of these contributions are gathered here under two lines of discussion: first, the study of forms of gestural expression in the history of theater and the visual arts and, second, the varied application of the Atlas construct that Warburg worked with in his Mnemosyne project, within the working processes of theatre. 

Alongside the featured original essays – the majority of which, significantly, are almost entirely devoted to works of contemporary theatre – we have also included a number of extracts from two previously published book-length works: these extracts are by authors who, from two very distant parts of the world – Argentina and Japan – have touched on similar concerns regarding our proposed theme of Aby Warburg and the Theatre. Extracts from Argentinian scholar José Emilio Burucúa’s Imagen y la Risa: Las Pathosformeln de lo de lo Cómico en el Grabado de la Modernidad Temprana (2007) are an important example of the application of Warburg’s concept of Pathosformel to comic expression. In his research on the comic in fifteenth and sixteenth century European prints, Burucúa’s writing on engravings in the collection of French abbot Michel de Marolles (1600 – 1681) shows how the concept of polarity principally explored by Warburg in its tragic dimension, can be adapted to explore comic pathos. Extracts from Japanese scholar Jun Tanaka’s volume Aby Warburg: The Labyrinth of Memory (Aby Warburg. Kioku no Meikyu, 2001) speculate on the young Warburg’s interrupted plans to travel to Japan, expanding upon Warburg’s interest in late-nineteenth century Pueblo theatrics and fifteenth and sixteenth century Florentine pageantry, to suggest associations between Warburg’s thinking and the classical Japanese theatre of Noh.

With La matrice tragica dell'atto artistico, issue curator Daniela Sacco prefaces the present selection of original essays and extracts with a focus on Warburg’s late thinking: her introductory essay draws theatrical resonance from ideas Warburg was in the process of developing before his death, about the tragic foundations of the creative act, framing them in relation to his concept of Denkraum.

In Wanting to See Duse, or on Goshka Macuga's Preparatory Notes for a Chicago Comedy inspired by Aby Warburg-as-Amateur-Playwright, co-curator Emily Verla Bovino follows the lead of a lesser-known dramaturgical experiment by the young Warburg, inspired by actress Eleonora Duse, to analyze the performance-film Preparatory Notes for a Chicago Comedy (2013) by Polish artist Goshka Macuga, a work inspired by Warburg’s more oft-cited amateur comedy Hamburg Kunstgesprache (Hamburg Art Conversations) written in 1896. Warburg’s conceptualization of the “kunstlerische” Act ("artistic" act) and Verleibung (corporalization) in his early notes, are outlined and disussed in relation to the internet life of images and semio-capitalism in the twenty-first century. An early instantiation of Macuga and Roelstraete’s script for the Preparatory Notes for a Chicago Comedy is published to accompany the essay.

In Atlante immemorabile. Virgilio Sieni a Palazzo Strozzi (Firenze, 12 aprile 2014), Stefano Tomassini addresses the epiphany of gesture evoked by Warburg’s concept of Pathosformel. Tomassini reflects upon what it is to reside in space using the Mnemosyne model of the ‘Atlas form’ and bases his observations on experiments in dance that Virgilio Sieni has worked on for a number of years, in particular the choreography for Corpus Deposizioni e Visitazioni performed within the monumental exhibition Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino. Diverging Paths of Mannerism at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence.

It is instead lyric opera, specifically the theatre of Federico Tiezzi, which Biagio Scuderi’s Per un’estetica dell’intervallo. Echi warburghiani nella regia lirica di Federico Tiezzi explores through Warburg’s concepts; Tiezzi’s Norma (1991) is offered by Scuderi as an example of a liminal work between theatre and the visual arts.

With Horror on Stage in the Dutch Republic. Re-thinking a Tableau Vivant from Joost van den Vondel’s Gysbreght van Aemstel (1637) through Aby Warburg’s Pathosformeln and Denkraum, Tim Vergeer rethinks the function of the tableau vivant in the context of one of the most important works of the celebrated seventeenth century Dutch poet and dramaturge Joost van den Vondel, associating what Warburg called Denkraum, with catharsis.

An interesting perspective on how the recent renewal of interest in Warburg’s work has influenced proponents of experimental theatre in Italy, is provided by two contributions relative to the work of the theatre groups ErosAntEros (Ravenna) and Anagoor (Castelfranco Veneto). In both instances, the experience of theatre is told directly by its progatonists: in Itinerari scenici e compositivi attraverso la Ninfa e l’Atlante di Warburg. Esperienze di ricerca del gruppo ErosAntEros, Agata Tomsic writes from the perspective of practice about the influence of Warburg’s hermeneutic model, and its evolution as a “compositional method,” on performances from Ninfa Mane! to the more recent Like Fireflies. 

In an interview conducted by Lisa Gasparotto, Simone Derai – co-founder of Anagoor – recounts the experience of Anagoor: La lingua di Atlante. Abbecedario del Teatro di Anagoor is a glossary or primer of basic concepts in which themes from Warburg’s oeuvre and thought – in particular the methodologically central Nachleben or afterlife – are connected to particular Anagoor productions, from Palazzo Atlante to Fortuna, from Tempesta and Lingua Imperii to Virgilio brucia.

Cover Image: From credit roll to Goshka Macuga's Preparatory Notes for a Chicago Comedy, video documentation of live Berlin Performance with animation by Jessica Harrington.


Engramma issue no. 130 “Staging Mnemosyne” includes contributions by Daniela Sacco, Emily Verla Bovino, Goshka Macuga, Dieter Roelstraete, Stefano Tomassini, Biagio Scuderi, Tim Vergeer, Agata Tomsic, ErosAntEros, Lisa Gasparotto, Josè Emilio Burucùa.

Keywords | Mnemosyne Atlas; Warburg; Chicago Comedy; Duse; Ghoshka Macuga; Palazzo Strozzi; Sieni; Federico Tiezzi; Tableau vivant; Joost van den Vondel; Nymph; Anagoor; Jun Tanaka; Imagen y la Risa.

Per citare questo articolo / To cite this article: D. Sacco, E.V. Bovino, Staging Mnemosyne. Editoriale Engramma n. 130, “La Rivista di Engramma” n. 130, ottobre/novembre 2015, pp. 5-7 | PDF

doi: https://doi.org/10.25432/1826-901X/2015.130.0011