Power and Glory

Power and Glory

The face of the Palio
Overall size 10.7 m x 2.26 m

A framed photographic work consisting of 61 images

One large image (4.6 m x 1.47 m) of 6 separately framed panels, 5 panels are photographic silver prints on fibre paper and 1 panel is an archival inkjet print on mould-made paper.

The other 60 separately framed images (50.5 cm x 40.5 cm) are photographic silver prints on fibre-based paper.

The Palio – Siena, Tuscany, Italy
Twice during the summer, for approximately 90 seconds, ten horses race clockwise three times around the Piazza del Campo, the main square of the city of Siena, which has been transformed into a racetrack for the occasion. The horses are ridden bareback by jockeys wearing costumes, which display the colours of ten of Siena’s seventeen contrade or wards. The horse which finishes first wins for its contrada a large rectangular banner decorated with the image of the Virgin Mary. Both the decorated banner and the race itself are called the Palio.

A careful observer will soon realise that this horse race differs markedly from ordinary horse races he may have seen in the past. Special features include these facts:

  • The race is run in the honour of the Virgin Mary.
  • Although thousands of Euros change hands, there is no betting.
  • The winner of the race receives a silk banner as a prize but he must spend a small fortune to pay for the victory.
  • The losers receive money but they are sad at the disgrace of having lost.
  • The horse, which comes second is the horse which loses.
  • The traditional enemy of the winner is considered to have also lost the race even if he did not actually race as one of the ten participants.
  • Before the race, each horse is taken inside the church of its contrada to be solemnly blessed.
  • During the days immediately before the race, the jockeys are isolated and do not talk to anyone except to and through their bodyguards.
  • During the race, the jockeys beat each other and their horses with whips made from calf phalluses.
  • After the race, the winner sucks a pacifier while the losers take a purge.

The casual visitor to Siena in the days of the Palio may miss some of the above details and may see nothing more than a “horse race in costume” and a brief one at that. He or she may even wonder if all the obvious effort expended – such as bringing earth in from the country to make the track or building an extensive ring of viewing stands, called palchi – is really worthwhile for an event that lasts for only a minute and a half. What the tourist may not realise is that the Palio does not last for a minute and a half, but rather for all the year, or rather for all the lives of the Sienese who participate. In order to understand even a fraction of all the incredibly complex cultural factors involving the running of the Palio, one would need not seconds or minutes but hours, weeks, months and even years. In fact, it is doubtful whether any one individual could ever articulate all the details underlying the Palio, no matter how long and assiduously they studied it. For the Palio is endlessly rich in symbol, metaphor, and patterns of interaction.

It is likely that part of the Palio’s extraordinary appeal through the centuries has been the impossibility of reducing it to a system of rules. With its shifting combinations of fate and human manipulation, the Palio has provided both a behavioural model and a critical emotional outlet for the Sienese people. It is impossible to think of Siena without the Palio, just as it is impossible to consider the Palio outside the context of Siena. For the festival is truly an expression of the soul of the city.

Exhibition provenance

Museum of Santa Maria della Scala, Sala Sant’Ansano, Siena, Italy, 2001
Barbican Art Galleries, Art Space, London, 2003
Hafnarborg Institute of Culture and Fine Art, Hafnarfjorour, Iceland, 2007