November 2016 has been a special month at The British Institute of Florence. In fact, it was dubbed the ‘Month of Mud,’ as 50 years have passed since Florence’s devastating flood of 1966. On 4 November of that year, the Arno burst its banks, and water rushed through the city. This was a disaster in itself, but the water burst people’s tanks storing heating, lacing the deluge with oil. To commemorate the disaster and the aftermath of events, the B.I.F. put together a series of lectures, exhibitions and films.
The Month of Mud opened with a book launch and exhibition of works by Scottish artist David Cass. His new book, Perimetri Perduti, contains art he made inspired by the flood, which is accompanied by extracts and testimonials from people also reflecting on it. I can’t say I’ve read the book cover-to-cover, but I got to have a sneaky look inside; every piece is unique and captures the colours and feelings evoked by water. Even the frames for his art works are mostly reclaimed items, worn by time, like objects caught in the flood were worn by its force.
After the B.I.F’s director, Julia Race, had introduced David and asked him about his exhibition, some other important guests took to the stage. Many of the B.I.F’s members were living in Florence at the time of the flood, and they helped clean up afterwards. For this reason they’ve been given the name ‘Mud Angels’ or ‘Angeli del Fango.’ A few individuals took to the stage to share their experiences with us, some even included personal photographs taken during the time. From hearing everyone’s tales, you got an overwhelming sense of how the disaster brought together the city’s occupants in a positive way.
Whilst the evening was proceeding, we had a surprise visit from The Rt. Hon. Donald Wilson, Lord Lieutenant and Lord Provost of the City of Edinburgh. He stopped by to talk about the historic connection between the two cities, as it was also the 50th anniversary of their twinning.
To end the night, the chairs in the Sala Ferragamo were rearranged for a the premiere screening of Roger Graef’s documentary titled ‘Why Save Florence?’ The man himself was also there to introduce his work, which had never before been shown in Florence. I had seen the film beforehand, as I was lucky enough to be given the task of transcribing it, so the dialogue could be translated into Italian for subtitling. If you’re interested in the events of 1966 definitely give this a watch.
The exhibition was the first of many flood-themed things on in November. A couple of nights later there was a special screening of Graef’s documentary, this time subtitled with Italian, hosted at the Odeon cinema. Rather eerily, the second screening fell almost exactly on the anniversary of the flood, and the Arno had swollen almost to the undersides of the bridges to echo this. Alongside this, the Institute hosted a series of lectures on the subject as part of their Cultural Programme, and there was a special week-long course exploring the relation between art and flood waters in the city of Florence.
The big question asked during almost every session, was whether anything has been done to improve Florence’s flood defences. At no point was a clear answer given; there seems to have been a few precautionary measures taken in the intervening years, such as re-installing Giotto’s crucifix in Santa Croce with a pulley device, but nothing substantial. You wonder what would happen if events repeated themselves in the modern city of Florence?