Massimiliano Siccardi by Jeremy Lewis
By Erin Baldwin
Next Stop: Route 66
“This inspiration came about because we couldn’t move. But even when we can’t move, with our imaginations we can go anywhere.”
As COVID-19 brought the world to a halt, immersive digital art pioneer Massimiliano Siccardi was finding the inspiration for his latest production, Route 66.
Siccardi is well-known internationally as the creator and designer of the Immersive Van Gogh, an imaginative art exhibit that has mesmerized audiences in both Paris and Toronto by using vibrant lighting, dynamic movement and an exhilarating score to immerse viewers in the paintings and consciousness of Vincent Van Gogh. The Toronto show is 35-minutes long and has been shown up to this point on continuous back-to-back loops. Route 66, Siccardi’s new short film, will now be featured in between shows and take audience members on another all-encompassing trip, this time through America's heartland.
“Route 66 speaks about a journey,” says Siccardi. “It is about traveling, but it is also psychedelic like a dream. It was born in the moment that we were immobilized – I’m talking about the time of COVID-19. The idea that staying still – not moving – gives us the possibility of taking a long journey through the United States.”
The title of Route 66 stems from the historic American highway that runs east-west through the central part of New Mexico and into Arizona. Beginning in darkness, the short film begins with the camera revealing a deserted road where all that is visible is the center line dividing opposing traffic lanes. The film then follows the viewpoint of a child in the desert as he embarks on a journey in a vintage Cadillac through various scenes.
“The way I imagine it is this child is going in the car with his parents,” says Siccardi. “He’s sleeping and then he opens his eyes and finds himself in the middle of the road going to Chicago. We don’t see the child, the parents – we don’t see anything. We are just in the car. We are the child. At every stage of this journey – the ghost city, the gas station or the colourful, painted desert – we find something surreal. It is from our point of view. We are doing the journey.”
Immersing the audience directly into Route 66’s narrative is a continuation of Siccardi's previous work. Originally a dancer who studied at the London School of Contemporary Dance, he began exploring the world of video art in the 1990s and later became known for constructing the video mapping of the Basilica di Giotto and for the Teatro Petruzzelli of Bari. After becoming the artist-in-residence at the Carrières de Lumières and Atelier des Lumières in France, he created the mise-en-scène for numerous shows and was the co-creator of the original Immersive Van Gogh exhibit in Paris alongside Renato Gatti and Gianfranco Iannuzi. He has since created a new version of the Van Gogh exhibit for the Toronto production that incorporates a heavier focus on Van Gogh’s psychology and mental illness.
“From the aesthetic point of view, it (Route 66) is completely different (from the Immersive Van Gogh). But from the conceptual point of view, it is actually the same idea as Van Gogh’s journey in his mind,” says Siccardi. “This inspiration came about because we couldn’t move. But even when we can’t move, with our imaginations we can go anywhere.”
To create Route 66, Siccardi enlisted the help of two of his Immersive Van Gogh collaborators: art director and cinematographer Vittorio Guidotti and composer Luca Longobardi. Unlike with the main exhibit, the short film needed real, original images and Guidotti used six cameras simultaneously to get Route 66's footage. To accompany the visuals, Longobardi was tasked with creating an all-new original score of contemporary music.
Along with becoming a part of the Toronto production, Route 66 will also play in-between loops at the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit in other cities, including at the Chicago production which is set to open in the new year. It promises to be an exciting new work that takes audiences on a surreal and evocative journey beyond the constrains of daily life, while simultaneously speaking to the need for art and the imagination in our contemporary moment.