Auguraculum Collettivo di Segni

by Beju and Sherryl Muriente


The town of Segni, Italy in conjunction with the International Society of Biourbanism invited Lejobart, international artist duet composed of Beju and Sherryl Muriente, to create a project based on the principles of biourban acupuncture during their 56th Sagra del Marrone Segnino Festival. Lejobart embarked on an art installation and performance piece which involved collaboration with nearly three hundred citizens of the town. The installation featured a sculpture by Beju as the central point of interaction and a communal space which promotes a public place for envisioning the future of the town. Following the theme of a beehive, 300 words collected from randomly selected citizens were used to compose a poem illustrating the city of Segni. This text was read out loud by the “Queen Bee” played by Sherryl Muriente during the performance, atop the 15 foot tall sculpture at the culminating location and time of the project. The sculpture includes at its top a pulpit-like space that allows someone to stand and face the crowd below. It also holds the beehive and symbols that are important to the people of Segni. The tree in which these “bees” were to gather is located on what has been understood as the ancient Roman Auguraculum of the Segni Acropolis. The artists incorporated this idea into a modern version of future visualization, by creating an “auguraculum” from this tree. In the artist version of the Auguraculum, they decided to shift the “augura” or future prediction into the hands of everyone. Thus, proposing a collective Auguraculum, where everyone can gather and envision the future of the town together.

300 “bees” symbolized by wooden honey dippers were inscribed with words by randomly picked citizens throughout the city in various places, such as, churches, markets, town hall, schools, bars, cafes, playgrounds and in the street. Each person willing to participate was asked to spontaneously write a single word on the stem of the “bee” attributed to him. The main question asked was, “what is Segni to you?” making some people stop and ponder about their town and their relationship to the place. The bees were retrieved on the spot by the artists to then compose a poem using all the words collected. When the poem was presented many of the participants were able to recognize their input, creating a collective voice of the people by the people. By the end of the performance the bees were inserted into the sculpture created from a pine tree and by Beju putting the final touch to the physical art piece.

As a beautiful small town situated on a steep hilltop, Segni is a 2,500 year old settlement located in Latium, Italy. It overlooks the valley of the Sacco River, which is 30 miles southeast of the city of Rome. Today the town suffers from the downfall of the economy. A lot of the workers that go to Rome or down the valley on a daily basis start facing difficulties to provide for the welfare of their family and that of the town. As in many communities who face hardship, solutions to the unexpected problem are difficult to envision as communication between the actors has become sluggish during the decades of wealth, and therefore deteriorated the chances of creating new solutions together. Lejobart’s art project attempts to provide a space and an initial catalyst that may begin to restore the communication between the inhabitants and the town officials. In their project, Lejobart decided to create a symbolic beehive, in which the “bees” extract the “pollen” or words, in this case, from the citizens of Segni creating “honey” that represents their collective vision of the town. The tree in which these “bees” were to gather is located on what has been understood as the ancient Roman Auguraculum of the Segni Acropolis. The artists incorporated this idea into a modern version of future visualization, by creating an “auguraculum” from this tree. As stated by various members of the Segni Museum of Archeology, the Auguraculum is where, in ancient times, a Roman priest and official called “augur”, a type of Shaman, would predict the future of the town by observing the path of the passing birds; it was invariably located on the highest point of a settlement. This was done by one person, in the artist version of the Auguraculum, they decided to shift the “augura” or future prediction into the hands of everyone. Thus, proposing a collective Auguraculum, where everyone can gather and envision the future of the town together.

After studying the city for several weeks through information gathered via Internet and email communication with the interested parties, and to confirm the data gleaned, Lejobart spent two days of collecting verbal information and physical data from the area. This was achieved by visiting the churches, the city’s archeological sites, the museums and through interaction with the local population. Strategically positioned, a 75 foot tall and 50 year old pine tree, which roots menaced to destroy part of the Roman city walls next to the ancient cistern, was “sacrificed” for the project and became the base for a sculpture executed by Beju. The top of the tree was cut and the remaining 15 foot trunk kept vertical. It became a type of podium, or as referred to some a pulpit, adorned with the prominent symbols of the city, a hippogriff and a cyclop. The 300 bees inscribed with the words from the citizens collected by Sherryl were inserted in and around the figures in a harmonic pattern resembling the aggregation of bees around their queen and swarming up to rise the hippogriff up to the sky. The upper 60 feet of the tree were cut into improvised seats that were arranged at the base of the sculpture to provide a place for the people of Segni to gather momentarily and comfortably. Using marble pieces that were discarded from a nearby sculpture venue by other artists, Beju fashioned steps into the trunk to provide means to reach the top of the sculpture. The collection of words was done by Sherryl who for three days walked the town and gathered the “voice” of the people, presented at the culmination of the project to its future users.

The idea of comparing the city to a beehive was chosen by Lejobart. In a beehive, the queen, by laying eggs provides the community with the workers it needs to function. The workers in turn keep the colony alive and well. They do so by tending to the queen and by venturing outside the hive searching and retrieving food and by communicating with each other to strengthen the accuracy of the information leading to the food source. In a human community we find that the leadership much like the queen bee is meant to organize the group and provide it with a sense of direction. The dwellers in return venture outside the town to return the means of sustenance for the community. Break either of the two parties or lose their interaction and the system will collapse. Lejobart’s project, by using and representing the most iconic features of the city, was able to convey the idea that the restoration of communication between citizens was at hand. The artists found that by carving a tree representing the city on one of the most ancient and important sites of the town created the appropriate site placement for this project. By carving the most iconic symbols of the city on the tree, Beju identified a connection between the citizens and symbols that characterize and brand the city with recognizable artwork for them to be proud of. By providing a humanly accessible pulpit or podium on top of the sculpture, the artist provided a place for a person to speak or survey the entire city, and by assuring that it was reachable by anybody he made it a venture point in the town, as well as, a democratic one. Collected by Sherryl, the words on the “bees” (honey dippers) randomly collected within the town symbolize the human workers who after venturing outside of town return with the fruit of their effort and their wealth of information.
The “bees” are now in essence the wishes and hopes of the citizens and much like the Shaman’s readings of the birds’ flight symbolize the potential future of the town. These bees are accessible to anybody and it is up to the community to consider them. As the original “bees” disappear with time, from decay or loss, one can imagine that the community could replace them on a regular basis hence rejuvenating the idea and perpetrating the project.

Once finished the project was presented to the city and its citizens. At dusk a fire, using the remains of the sacrificed tree, was lit in the ancient cistern adjacent to the sculpture and was used as a call to all citizens to gather around the project. Sherryl gave a lecture in English, which was translated in Italian by Stefano Serafini to explain fully the reasons and symbols of the project. Finally, she climbed to the top of the sculpture and onto the podium to read out loud the text written using the words from the people. As it was read, sentimental reactions to certain words that resonated could be heard and at times were repeated by the spectators who recognized their own input. In the end, Lejobart warmly thanked the citizens of Segni for their unconditional participation and their hospitality.
Through the study of the past and present of a small city, and using arts as a means to uncover the information, Lejobart created a tool for the community to restore its disconnected communication process. The response from the citizens of the town to the project was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Even the few detractors of the project, were to leave convinced of its positive potential after it was fully explained to them. Before leaving Segni, Lejobart witnessed, among other visitors, a local musical band discussing how they would use the new venture point for an outdoor concert. Lejobart wishes to thank all parties involved and will be eagerly studying the future of this project as it now lies in the hands of the citizens of Segni.

Auguraculum Collettivo di Segni
Written by: Beju and Sherryl Muriente
Mrs. Sherryl Muriente, MURP, Assoc. AIA, is an Instructor at the School of Urban and Regional Planning, Florida Atlantic University.
Beju is an Artist born in France, and based in Palm Beach, Florida, USA.
They sign their common artistic performances as “Lejobart”.