This previous spring, media retailers of each sort revealed photos and videos of eerily empty public spaces in towns like Beijing, New York, Milan, Paris, and Seoul, towns now not recognized for his or her lack of boulevard existence. At least in the case of Seoul, the place I are living, the depopulated symbol used to be a bit of an exaggeration, however taken as a entire, those surprised visible dispatches from round the international mirrored a actual and unexpected trade in city existence led to through this yr’s coronavirus pandemic. They additionally were given us pondering, now not almost about our towns however about the constructed atmosphere, or even human civilization, normally. Life, as ceaselessly, had imitated artwork: particularly, it had imitated the art work of Giorgio de Chirico, the founder of the Metaphysical art movement.
“In 1909, de Chirico used to be sitting on a bench in the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence, convalescing from an intestinal sickness, when all of a unexpected he had a profound revel in.” So says Evan Puschak, higher referred to as the Nerdwriter, in his new video essay “When the World Became a de Chirico Painting.”
As the artist himself later remembered it a few years later, “The entire international, all the way down to the marble of the constructions and fountains, perceived to me to be convalescent.” There adopted the portray The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon, depicting a hollowed-out Piazza Santa Croce, its statue of Dante now headless. “This and all the plazas in his Metaphysical Town Square collection are simplified, empty, reduce with dramatic shadows.”
Seldom does a human being — this is, a human being now not made of stone — seem in de Chirico’s Metaphysical Town Squares. But he does come with the occasional teach in the distance, normally with a billowing smokestack. This means that, regardless that existence in the foreground turns out to have stopped indefinitely, modernity continues apace in the background. To many of us, the imprecise disorientation this reasons now feels virtually standard, as does the sensation of seeing acquainted puts made unfamiliar. In 2020, Puschak says, “towns and cities changed into immense museums of strangeness, and it used to be conceivable to peer what we constructed via alien eyes.” For greater than a century, De Chirico’s art work have, on a a lot smaller scale, introduced us the identical alternative for mirrored image. But amongst different issues we’ve discovered this yr, no person needs to are living in a De Chirico for lengthy.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and announces on towns, language, and tradition. His initiatives come with the Substack publication Books on Cities, the guide The Stateless City: a Walk via 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video collection The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.