Gianni Borgna. Like a novel


26 February 2014  
Jordi Balló

Gianni Borgna, co-curator of the Pasolini Roma exhibition with Jordi Balló and Alain Bergala, died in February this year.  Jordi Balló has penned these few words in memory of the man who worked with him on the project.

When Josep Ramoneda and I first had the idea of producing a show (in Barcelona) linking Pasolini with the city of Rome, we immediately got in touch with Gianni Borgna.  We knew he had been friends with Pasolini and had worked with him, and we were also familiar with his excellent performance as municipal and regional councillor in Rome's first left-wing governments.  The enthusiasm he showed for our idea reassured us, and also ensured that we would be producing something different and original compared to any previous exhibition on Pasolini, in some of which Gianni himself had been involved.  From the outset, Gianni envisaged designing the exhibition "like a novel", starting with Pasolini and his mother arriving in Rome by train in January 1950, fleeing the political and sexual intolerance he had had to put up with in Casarsa.

As the project developed and became increasingly international, Gianni was especially happy with the prospect that the show would also be held in Paris, Rome and Berlin, and he was enthusiastic to learn that we would be bringing in another co-curator, Alain Bergala – a decision which turned the creative process into an ongoing exchange of opinions and views in which Gianni played his part with exquisite aplomb.  In his introduction to the French version of the exhibition catalogue, Serge Toubiana, the director of the Cinemathèque Française, dwells at great length on the way in which Gianni Borgna physically led us through a geographical reconstruction of Pasolini's Rome, particularly through his last night on earth from Piazza della Repubblica to the beach in Ostia where he was murdered.  He also recalls the emotional, captivating and extremely knowledgeable manner in which Gianni explained the political implications of that brutal death.  As Serge explains, none of us who were fortunate enough to be there will ever forget those reconstruction sessions in Rome, where we gained an understanding of the artist's deep links with the nerve centres of its culture, with its shanty-town suburbs and with the various neighbourhoods which he had filmed and in which he had lived, including the places where he used to meet up with other members of Rome's intellectual circles.

We also soon realised what Gianni Borgna meant for culture in Rome, and how an extraordinarily varied range of people loved him and felt grateful to him for the cultural renaissance he had promoted when he held political responsibility under Rutelli, Veltroni and even President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano – all political figures who have recently voiced their condolences and displayed their sincere grief over the loss that his death has occasioned.  The interviews that Gianni conducted with Dacia Maraini, Ennio Morricone and Ninetto Davoli, all of which can be found in the Pasolini Roma exhibition catalogue, perfectly illustrate the breadth and depth of his humanistic culture, along with his heartfelt confidence in all of those who were part and parcel of the fabric of close ties woven in the days of Rome's cultural resistance.

All of us who worked with him are particularly sad that his death should have occurred only two months before the inauguration of the Pasolini Roma  exhibition at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome, because it was a pleasure to which Gianni was looking forward with immense joy.  He supervised the adaptation of the exhibition to the Palazzo with boundless enthusiasm, highlighting the importance of the introduction, the importance of the fact that people should understand the mood –  so dark yet so full of hope – in which Pasolini arrived in Rome, a city which he was to transform with the poetry of his narrative.  Gianni made it very clear to us that it was Pasolini who prompted Rome's intellectual circles to discover a different city, yet a city that was very definitely there, with its overwhelming capacity for change.

Gianni will not be there when the exhibition is inaugurated on 15 April, but if we have learnt anything from this labour of love, it is that certain deaths make deep marks and that those marks imprinted in the cultural process can never be erased.  Gianni Borgna allowed us, in Barcelona, to be part of a Europe-wide project and to feel part of an Italy to which he made us feel closer than ever.  It is lives like his that help us to understand what is meant by our common heritage, the heritage of thought, of intelligence and of friendship.