RIETI: The Five Elements

Video Art project for the EXPO2015

RIETI – The V Elements from MEDIARS

The V elements (4’41”)

The central concept that forms the basis for the video is the result of much back and forth between a number of people including the Mayor Simone Petrangeli. The very idea to look at the ‘five elements’ the video portrays was the result of a lengthy dialogue with the local former councillor for Tourism and  Culture Diego di Paolo.

The video entitled The V Elements looks at an entire day, from sunrise to sunset, and concentrates on five aspects that define Rieti: the Via Salaria, the sugar-factory, olive oil, the underground tunnels, and water – the natural source that, in a sense, metaphorically connects all the other ‘elements’.

The video gets at the very DNA of the place, focusing on features that define its identity and questioning how man interacts with them. It is also a way of looking at who we, as the people of Rieti, have related to them in the past and will continue to relate to them as we move into the future.

It is thus a quiet, thoughtful piece. The beauty of surroundings reveals itself to the viewer, slowly. From a cinematic perspective, the style is rather minimal in order to let one immerse oneself in the spectacle naturally.

The strong imagery marries itself to the passing of time through the use of timelapses as well as the ‘circular’ rhythms of the images and the music. The experience of watching these five elements together seems to have an almost spiritual effect.


The video begins with a brief series of photos showing each of the five elements: Salt, Water, Sugar, Olive Oil and Wheat. The use of classic ‘food photography’ shows them in their most common context – as part of our daily food intake.

The video then depicts a wider scene where we see the whole area – the setting for the video.

We begin in the bowels of the city, a man-made world, ancient and hidden far underground. These underground tunnels were  built long ago, by the Romans.

Via Salaria
The video begins in the subterranean part of Rieti, below the arches that hold up Via Roma, where the ancient Via Salaria passed. Today it is known as the Strada Statale SS4 and goes all the way from Rome to the port of Ascoli, on the Adriatic coast. As one can infer from the name, the Salaria was used primarily for the transportation of salt, necessary for the preservation of food, and it ran from the Campus Salinarum in the port of Ascoli, to Reate (Rieti). When, in 290 BC, Rieti became part of the Roman Empire, the Salaria was extended further –  all the way to Rome. It thus connected the  Tyrrhenian and the Adriatic seas, becoming one of the Empire’s most important roads and being given its famous name by Emperor Augustus.

Water is one of nature’s most evocative elements. It is necessary for life and is often linked to birth and re-birth. It is no coincidence that in ancient times, communities would settle in places where water resources were abundant. In this video, water is depicted, through sound and imagery, as the essential connective tissue, linking everything. We have therefore chosen to focus on Santa Susanna, the Church of San Vittorino, and the nature reserve surrounding the Lago Lungo (‘Long Lake’) and Ripasottile.

The Water System
The water system in Rieti is characterized by a water network that relies on two dams, the Salto and the Turano. They use the Salto, Velino and Turano rivers and a network of irrigation canals to ensure that there is plentiful water in the whole area. Two of the most important water sources are the Peschiera and Santa Susanna springs. The water system is one of the largest in the world (used solely for water distribution) and it provides Rome with 14,000 liters a second.

By looking at these disparate elements, the video celebrates Rieti’s vibrant surroundings. The natural passing of time is juxtaposed with a passing of time that is more ephemeral. For example, in the video of sunrise, shot along a path once walked by St Francis, in Greccio, one can see a thick, watery mist as it descends on the valley, near Contigliano and Greccio. This mist almost reminds us that there used to be an old lake there – the Lacus Velinus.

Lacus Velinus
A small hill, 405 meters above sea level, is present in the center of Rieti on the edge of the 90 km² wide valley called the Piana Reatina. The valley used to be the site of the Lacus Velinus. The Ancient Romans opened a gap in the limestone funneling the water through it and creating the Marmore Waterfall (which is still there today).  There are some remnants of the old lake: the lake of Piediluco (near Terni), that of Ventina and those at Lungo and Ripasottile. The last two are part of a nature reserve.

The old sugar factory in the video naturally represents the element of sugar. Despite its cultural and historical importance, it is not accessible, and it has been overrun by heavy vegetation. While it is technically in the city, it is almost as if it exists separate from it.

Former Sugar factory
It was finished in 1874 and started making sugar beet, on a national level, thanks to Emilio Maraini, a Swiss entrepreneur who later became Italian. Up until then, Italy had been reliant on foreign imports of sugar. Thanks to Mariani’s efforts and a new technique in sugar production, it was highly successful and became one of Rieti’s primary industries.

Olive oil is represented by the “Ulivone”, one of the biggest and oldest olive trees in all of Europe. In the video, we begin with an upward movement of the camera shows us the impressive bark of the tree. Faced with this veritable miracle of nature, the viewer is transported to a mystical place.

Olive Oil
The noted historian Strabone (116-27 BC) and the renowned doctor Claudio Galeno (129 AD. – 216 AD.) both note that the Sabine hills are rich in olive oil of the highest quality. It is so distinctive that it is one of the defining elements of the area. For this reason, the olive tree from Canneto Sabino is an integral part of the collection. Almost two thousand years old, it represents the area’s calling to produce wonderful olive oil. The tree itself is about 15 meters high and the circumference of the trunk is seven meters wide. Its foliage reaches a diameter of about 30 meters width.

The video depicts the threshing of ancient wheat, more specifically the wheat of ‘Senatore Cappelli’. The speed of the video suggests the genetic modifications that have occurred over the years and the way man has been able to increase and accelerate modes of production.

Strampelli’s wheat
Nazzareno Strampelli (1866-1942) was a visionary in the field of genetics. His research led to tens of different varieties of grain which he called the “Chosen Seeds.” These allowed the countries that used them to increase production and always be sure they had edible wheat of a high quality. For his research, he chose a particular variety from Rieti. He would combine different types in order to create grains that were stronger and stronger.

The last piece, which focuses on water, was shot near the nature reserves that include the Lungo and Ripasottile lakes. The latter is larger (80 hectars) and has a maximum depth of about 6 meters. Natural springs under the lake mean that it is constantly replenished and causes the surrounding soil to be constantly damp and humid.

The area around the lake is about 60 hectars long and leads to a narrowing where the Vergara canal allows the Lungo lake to flow into the Ripasottile lake. Here a water pump regulates the water level. The high-speed video shows the effect of these water pumps.

The video ends with sunset, bringing the day’s cycle to an end. We move back underground, where we started.

The music was composed specifically for the video.