bye bye birdies

after spending an extended period of time working on our first collage, the birds’ take-over of civita, we have decided to step back from it for a while and move on to the next species. the birds’ world was initially the hardest for me to envision regardless of the fact that we have more information about how and why birds build than we do any other species.

mike hansell’s book bird nests and construction behaviour was especially helpful, inspiring and informative. and even though we had not heard of him or his book before writing our project proposal, he specifically mentions the architecture of birds, termites and spiders within the first two pages of the book. this was really exciting for us to discover and realize that someone else, particularly someone who has dedicated his life to studying creatures of the world, had also determined that those three species were the most noteworthy builders of all. it seemed to be a sign that our project was on the right path.

but it was still hard for us to imagine what the birds would do and how they would impact the appearance of civita if humans really did cease to exist there. and then one day curiosity got the best of us, as it tends to do, and we decided to explore the abandoned school building that we pass every time we walk into bagnoregio. and upon climbing up the overgrown steps we soon realized that this apparently empty building was actually quite inhabited… by birds!

view looking down hallway

plants growing into broken window

almost all of the windows were broken. plants were growing into and out of the building. there was glass, plant debris and excrement covering all the floors. and the second we entered the building, they all exited immediately. that experience really helped me imagine what would happen in civita, and ideas started racing through my mind. particularly the ways that vegetation could and would overcome all the buildings and streets. it would just flow up from the valleys below and cover all the stone and terracotta. civita would become a very green world.

the abandoned school building was really interesting to me even we don’t know anything about how or why it came to be in that state… so much irony exists in the fact that it’s located so close to the etruscan settlement of civita, which is older than rome and still lives on,  and yet the school building which was probably built only in the 1970’s has already been left to the birds.

next up…

the termites!!!

and their oh-so-fascinating mounds….

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viterbo hot springs!

our neighbor bernardo had dinner with us recently and told us about a place outside of viterbo that he has an annual membership to, which has a hot sulphur spring located right next to a cold spring. viterbo is the capital of the province that civita is in and it is slightly less than an hours drive away. and today tony costa, the NIAUSI founder that lives here year round,  needed to drive to viterbo to get the license plate and registration for the three-wheeled mini truck he purchased recently. he offered to drop us off at the springs while he went into viterbo, and we said, “yes please!”

the hot pool was really, really hot. in an awesome way. and because the source of hot water flowed down rocks and entered the pool at one end, and the intensity of the temperature of where you soaked within the pool was relative to how close you got to the source. and then you could get out and walk a few feet and plunge into a cold pool that was in a sunken circular rock formation. it was a very pleasant and relaxing experience that i would love to be part of my weekly routine.

we love bathing oh so much… so much so that we also managed to make our way up to peter zumthor’s thermal baths in vals, switzerland during the week we spent traveling before settling in civita. talk about incredible! it was by far worth the effort it took to get all the way out there. i would encourage anyone to visit therme vals if ever given the opportunity. it is a very special place…

today marks two weeks spent in civita, and three weeks spent out of the country! it is definitely getting a little weird spending so much time in photoshop creating the birds’ world. but things are moving along and looking good…

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living and working in civita

i wanted to share some images of our house in civita, il nuovo, if you were curious about where we are spending a lot of our time…

the kitchen has a giant fireplace, that is visually awesome, but the immense size seems to make it fairly difficult to keep a fire going in it. but check it out… so awesome!

the square table is definitely one of my favorite parts. i want to have a big eight seat square table in my future. something about the proportion of table space is really nice for two people. there is room for us to work at and have all our supplies spread out fully, and still have enough room to sit down and eat without having to clear off the table.


our bedroom and bathroom are upstairs in the loft. the ceiling upstairs is really incredible. i study it for extended periods of time as we fall asleep and wake up each day. the exposed chestnut rafters with the flat terracotta tiles above offer so many textures, lines, and colors for my eyes to analyze. it is like a stationary mobile for adults in some ways…



we are really appreciating the unique experience of living in this beautiful and magical space and town.


the last thing i wanted to share was this incredible roof plan drawing of civita as a whole that was done by astra zarina, the founder/reason NIAUSI exists and thus why we are even here right now. this place is truly insane looking no matter what angle you view it from…

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we have two neighbors that are living next to/below us for two of the weeks while we are out here… karen, the resident gardener from seattle that was selected by NIAUSI to come out here to help manage the garden; and her husband doug, who happens to work for microsoft and managed to solve our internet dilemma!!! yay!

however, we did have some technical difficulties with the panoramic collages that jon was stitching together. photoshop managed to corrupt and destroy a few of the files, and we lost most of the work he had completed over the week. but with the internet existing regularly now i was able to download a trial version of photoshop, and the two of us knocked out replacing them over the weekend.

so now we have all the base images that we are going to build our montages on top of, and that feels really good. they are already captivating views without us even transforming them yet! i can’t wait to see what comes out of these ideas.

in other news, jon opted to shave off most of his facial hair and now looks like borat. hahaaaaa!

we walk to bagnoregio every couple of days to get more food and supplies. those trips seem to provide our main sense of rhythm of existing out here. we are living fairly simply… sleeping a lot. cooking and eating really well. sometimes i miss having more social interactions, but it is also nice to just be here in the quiet and seeing what my mind comes to on its own.

we have taken photos from many different angles to try to capture the overall view of civita that we find most compelling. we probably aren’t going to use this one, but it’s an interesting image that we wanted to share. it shows the true nature of the valley bowl that civita rests in…

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belltower views

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and so it begins…

(written at approximately 21:00 on april 6)

it’s time to update as we have now spent 5 days in civita.

the silence in this town, especially at nighttime, is so unbelievably loud. if there is such a thing… i have never been to a town this small, let alone lived in one. there has been a moment each night as we are gearing down, where we once again realize exactly where we are, and how there are less than 10 other individuals (most of which we can’t even communicate with) who are also out here on this island in the sky, and this strange sense of hysteria takes over us. it’s really insane. laughing though we don’t really know why. wondering what 30 days of this will actually feel like. are we going to make it? how did we end up here anyways? is this even real? is our project actually going to come to fruition?

there have been constant intense gusts of wind for the past two days. during this time the internet has pretty much stopped working entirely, and today the power has been dropping in and out all day. like right now, as we sit here in the dark… makes research and project advancement fairly difficult. but i have been reading and summarizing a lot of information about animal architecture that we want to include in our presentation. jon has been focusing on photographing and piecing together the perfect panoramic shots of civita that we are going to use for our photo montages. and together we have slowly began brainstorming what we want our creations to be. we have set up our work station at the large square kitchen table in our apartment. this is a nice and open space to work in, but also is probably influencing our constant intake of food…

as with all forms of nest building, getting a project started is the most difficult phase and also where the greatest source of variability is introduced. our main struggle so far has essentially concerned what role we want science to play versus our imaginations. all the information we are learning about how animals build is very interesting, but also could potentially be restrictive in some ways to the artistic side of our project if we cling to the facts too closely. overall we are leaning towards focusing on the commonalities of building techniques exerted by all animals, but exaggerating their creations with our imaginations to develop what their version of a civita take-over would be like.

the commonalities we are studying include simple constructions made from standard units, few select local materials that are found near the nest site and/or created by their own bodies, and the fact that the aesthetic beauty in what animals create generally comes from the repetition of these styles and materials. we also want to focus on the fact that nest building itself might have contributed to the evolution of greater social complexity in general, especially in the case of social spiders.

overall i am thinking that if we can get the internet to come back, or at least get the power to stay on, our project is going to be great. but being out here in the middle of nowhere, while mercury is in retrograde nonetheless, i am beginning to wonder if this is just how it’s going to be all month. and if that’s the case, maybe we will just lose our minds out here and accomplish nothing. but for now i will just keep reading and hope for the best.

Posted in life in civita, nests, photos of civita | 1 Comment

civita bell tower

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