Forcella Reigns: The Men Who Play Cards

at ZJU Theater, North Hollywood (through 9 September)
Reviewed by Hoyt Hilsman

Neapolitian painter and set designer Francesca Bifulco and her collaborator, musician and sound designer Alex Schetter, have recreated a virtual Naples streetscape that focuses on the timeless ritual of men playing cards. The title of the installation, Forcella Reigns, refers to the rundown neighborhood in Naples that is overrun with violence and organized crime. Yet amidst the poverty and chaos of the Forcella neighborhood, Bifulco has observed patterns of life that are universal in their richness.

Bifulco, a native of Naples, observed the men playing cards on her many visits to the neighborhood and studied the daily rhythms not only of the card playing, but also of the conversation, espresso drinking and gossiping in this exclusively male preserve. Although the men were always suspicious of outsiders, Bifulco gained their trust, and documented them in video and audio form as they played the traditional game of “scopa,” which is roughly translated as “broom” or “sweep.”

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Francesca Bifulco with the men of Forcella

Adopting an anthropological perspective on the ritual, Bifulco came to regard the scopa game as a kind of open-air theater, and the players as actors in the drama. She viewed the daily game as not so much a routine, but rather a ritual that had likely been enacted over centuries and was as much a part of the neighborhood as the crumbling buildings. In fact, she adopts the symbols that appear on the scopa cards — dating from at least the Middle Ages — as one of the visual themes of the installation.

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“Forcella Steps”

The multi-media installation, set in a black-box theater in North Hollywood, features a reconstructed silhouette of the staircase in Naples where the ritual of the game is played out on a daily basis. Using video projections, Bifulco depicts the actions of the players, accompanied by an enhanced video score of voices and street sounds. The effect is a moving, often haunting tableau of the streetscape that is abstracted to a more universal dimension.

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Bifulco at work

The piece also features a series of paintings on wood, which carry out the themes of card-playing. Bifulco adheres strictly to red and black tones in the entire installation, including a black card table with illuminated red objects, as well as a charcoal black foot warmer outlined in red. The red and black theme suggests the medieval conflict between the black of the clergy and the red of the nobility, a conflict that persists today in the social struggle between the forces of good and evil, dark and light. This conflict seems especially highlighted on the rough streets of contemporary Naples. . .

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To read the rest of this review, go to Riot Material magazine: https://www.riotmaterial.com/forcella-reigns-men-play-cards/

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RIOT MATERIAL is LA’s premier literary-cultural magazine with an eye on art, word, and forward-aiming thought. Check out our gallery on IG: @ riotmaterial.

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