Brooklyn-based creative Alexis Georgopoulos, aka Arp, is a modern magpie: his music weaves fragments of cosmic jazz, classical, Japanese avant-garde and minimalism together – but his influences go beyond sound. For his new live album, Ensemble –Live!, he travelled thousands of miles to the sleepy foothills of Sicily to shoot the record’s artwork in the alleyways of Alberto Burri’s Cretto di Burri.
The Great Cretto, as it’s also known, is considered Burri’s masterpiece, begun in 1984 and completed after his death in 2015. Burri is best known for his abstract paintings but with Cretto di Burri, he transformed the ruins of Gibellina – a 6,000 inhabitant town destroyed by the Belice earthquake of 1968 – into an ethereal artwork by encasing its crumbling corridors, walkways and streets in white concrete.
The 85,000 sqm artwork is embedded into the hillside – an interactive piece of architecture that frames views of the landscape from its maze-like streets. City blocks, with 5-ft-tall walls, can be climbed upon and touched. ‘You’re inside the piece, or gliding above it, while you’re experiencing it,’ Georgopoulos explains.
‘It is a place, it’s a structure, it’s a doorway, a threshold. It exists in that liminal space, which is to say, suspended between many things, both formally, in a literal sense, and in its meaning.’
Georgopoulos’s encounter with the Cretto di Burri came at a crucial moment in his Ensemble project, which features live versions of tracks from 2018’s Zebra, as well as four new compositions. A few weeks before travelling to Sicily with his girlfriend, he and designer Sammie Warren had come to an impasse on the album’s artwork: ‘We had pursued a few different art concepts which all dead-ended about 80% in. We couldn’t find solutions; they just didn’t seem to want to complete themselves.’
Putting his trust that a solution would eventually present itself, it did – quite literally.
‘I remember driving up to [the Cretto di Burri]: you turn a corner and see this giant white mass – it’s quite alien,’ Georgopoulos says. ‘Because it’s white, its monumentality takes on a different character. A Richard Serra piece is dark, heavy, metal. It’s imposing. But The Cretto radiates. It seems to be hovering, floating. To me, there’s something hopeful about it.’
Though born from tragedy, Cretto di Burri transcends its chaotic, destructive beginnings.
Georgopoulos concludes: ‘If painting is like a song, The Cretto is more like a state. Not a nation-state – but a state of awareness, of openness. And I think that state of openness is something we tried to approach the [live record] with.’