In the Trebbia valley in the North of Italy, newts inhabit two rainwater basins carved in the rock of Pietra Perduca – little “dragons” called tritons by the local population. Traces of this occurrence can be found in a variety of places in the valley in the region Emilia-Romagna, and fables based on it have been passed down for many generations.
In a series of expeditions Milan-based artist duo Invernomuto is not only investigating the myths fabulated about these creatures but actually tries to find them in their natural habitat. Invernomuto consists of Simone Bertuzzi and Simone Trabucchi, who both grew up in the region. Since Invernomuto’s inception in 2003, Bertuzzi and Trabucchi have created a series of interdisciplinary works – from moving images and sound to performances and publishing projects – that blur the boundaries between fact and fiction.
As part of our ongoing theme “Fabulating,” Bertuzzi and Trabucchi are documenting their research trips to Val Trebbia, that span the first half of 2023. The report from their initial trip at the end of February is published below. Over the course of time, the log will be updated with new discoveries from their expeditions. The article as a whole is the first published result of Invernomuto’s latest project “Triton.”
Our first expedition to Pietra Perduca took place on the cold morning of a Monday, February 27th, 2023. After a few days of exceptionally warm weather that already emanated the sexiness of springtime, a storm came, abruptly bringing the north of Italy back to winter. With it a timid amount of snow arrived on the hills, and the forecasts by our friends and family still living in the valleys strongly suggested that we postpone our trip to the rocky mountain.
It’s funny how the perception of snow in this area is always seen as an extraordinary, dangerous, and highly dysfunctional event. One would think people from the valley are used to dealing with such weather, but, in fact, they’re not. A mixture of disorganization, childish fascination, and a general lack of improvisational skills makes this otherwise regular occurrence a dreadful event that can cause problems, fear, and even death.
Underequipped but determined, we decided not to postpone our expedition. In the worst-case scenario we would turn back and return to our headquarters under the milky gray sky of Milan, just an hour and thirty minutes away from our destination point.
Making such a short trip look like an expedition is an exercise in fabulation. These exercises have a long tradition in the practice of Invernomuto. They date back to the time when we were both still living in the valley, and a process of observation and excavation of our immediate landscape was at the center of our daily practice: We spent days with wet feet wandering around hills covered in plenty of snow, throwing an old handheld camera to each other. We also experienced sunny afternoons in the belly of a dry dam, recording the imperceptible crackle of the ground on a MiniDisc. We drove infinite kilometers on a Mitsubishi Space Runner, blasting Aqua Necromancer  while observing the banality of the surrounding area where we were condemned to be born.
Invernomuto, besides all the semi-academic, semi-real, semi-conceptual premises that have defined our research over the years, was essentially about an alchemical process. Alchemical in the sense of transforming something apparently extremely poor into something unexpectedly rich. Rich as in layered, multi-dimensional, and rampant.
Wandering through our own landscape with revitalized eyes, well-tuned ears, and equipped with yet unknown senses, always evoked in us the practice of rhabdomancy.
In this vein we embarked to Pietra Perduca to explore a little tank excavated in the rock of a mountain where water, so they say, never turns into ice and never evaporates. It is, as we have been told, the home of a colony of tritons, loved and venerated by the locals.
Memories of a Disappeared Ocean
Pietra Perduca and Pietra Parcellara, a neighboring peak, are two fragments of oceanic crust that were trapped amidst clays and sandstones 150 million years ago. At that time, the ancient Ligurian-Piedmontese Ocean, now disappeared, extended across the area currently occupied by the Apennines, but it was erased by the collision between the African and European continental plates. However, its existence is testified to by fragments of oceanic crust, known as ophiolites, scattered throughout the Alps and Apennines. The term “ophiolite” refers to the greenish color of these rocks, which is similar to snakeskin (ὄφις in Greek). Pietra Perduca and Pietra Parcellara are two fragments of ophiolite.
These two formations were born as large submarine landslides. Blocks of oceanic crust precipitated from the Bracco-Levanto ophiolite, dragging along the sandy and clayey sediments that had been deposited on the ocean floor. To understand the scale of these events, imagine the size of Pietra Parcellara – roughly 800 by 200 by 200 meters, exactly the same height of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa – and picture it silently sliding towards the depths of the ocean, surrounded by a huge cloud of sediments.
There is, however, a difference: Pietra Parcellara is composed of a large block that, although fractured, has remained more or less intact. Pietra Perduca, on the other hand, was produced by a landslide that involved smaller fragments. Its rock, a “breccia,”  consists of clasts held together by a fine matrix that acts as a binder. These are fragments of oceanic crust mixed with abyssal sediments.
The Ligurian-Piedmontese Ocean was later swallowed up beneath other tectonic plates. However, some oceanic flakes were saved and were then brought up to the heights by tectonic movements that lifted the Apennines.
The idea that “long ago this was all sea” is an important concept for anyone who grew up in the area. It was quite common to scratch the clay wall of a “calanco”  and find some seashells.
Lowriders of the Storm
The car we are riding today is a very common and very low Toyota Prius, designed for smooth driving in a flat city, not very suitable for an off-road trip in the mountains. The vehicle’s design works against us, and at the first heavy sound of rocks scratching the bottom of the Prius, we decide to abandon the car and continue by foot. Pietra Perduca is right in front of us, standing out in its greenish-black splendor against the white landscape. It’s a quick walk and not a very difficult one, and although the rock is slippery, it is easy to climb. In less time than expected, we are at the top, admiring the tank and forgetting about the stunning 360-degree view that this peak offers.
The water is not frozen. According to legend only an extra thin layer of ice covers most of the surface, making it impossible to properly see what’s inside. We search for the tritons, thinking they might be hidden in some little ravine, hibernating and waiting for spring to come. But with no success.
Discouraged, we pick up our gear and start taking pictures and short videos of the surroundings, trying to capture the beauty of the tank and accepting that we will not encounter our beloved tritons today. Moved by an unconscious curiosity, we fashion a stick with a small tripod, intending to take some underwater shots with a GoPro.
When the camera breaks the thin layer of ice, the sound is gentle, and by moving the improvised sticks, we can see the trajectory drawn on the surface. We move the stick in a rhabdomantic manner. We take the camera back, clean it from the slimy green algae, dry it, and pack our gear, heading for lunch.
After a hefty lunch we drove back home. In our studio we checked the footage we had gathered – out of habit, not with much excitement. But then, the surprise!
The tiny creatures were there.
Camouflaged in their surroundings, silent and alert.
Not one, but four! Or even more…
 An album by Japanese noise musician Merzbow
 A “breccia” is a rock composed of sharp pieces surrounded by fine-grained material
 A “calanco” is a groove of erosion produced by meteoric waters on certain easily disreputable clayey and impermeable slopes