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In the 1)Aeolian Air, Art and 2)Volcanic Fire

  The elegant, 19th-century 3)palazzo on the remote Italian island of Salina looked like any other 4)dilapidated building on the 5)promenade paved with slabs of volcanic stone. Water stains6)streaked down its weathered stone 7)facade and a blackened, cast-iron balcony was crammed with 8)rickety chairs.

The village of Pollara sits above the Tyrrhenian Sea on Salina, one of the more developed of the seven inhabitable islands in the Aeolian archipelago north of Sicily.
  But then the 9)fortress-like wooden doors swung open and out walked a priest in white collar, a police chief, and several art collectors and curators. They 10)mingled with artists, fishermen, and curious passersby, sipping white wine while exploring the art in the palazzo’s 11)rambling chambers before squeezing up the narrow stairs to the roof for views of the 12)Tyrrhenian Sea and a distant volcano 13)spouting fire and smoke into the warm evening air.
  It was the opening reception for Russian conceptual artist, Vadim Fishkin. The unlikely spectacle was nothing if not 14)surreal, and that may explain why the island of Salina—which is part of the Aeolian Islands, a hard-to-reach volcanic archipelago that juts out of the Tyrrhenian Sea—has become the center of an 15)effervescent art scene.
  Situated in the hook of Italy, just north of Sicily, the Aeolian archipelago is made up of seven inhabitable islands, of which the largest and most developed are Salina, Lipari, and Vulcano. The exhausting journey adds to the 16)mystique. There are no commercial flights to the islands, and most visitors arrive by 17)hydrofoil, which takes about five hours from 18)Naples and four hours from 19)Palermo.
  One popular ferry route goes to 20)Stromboli. From the water, Stromboli looks like a small agricultural village, but with a heavy dose of the 21)offbeat. Hearty locals with 22)potbellies and sideways caps 23)clog the dock, offering tourists white-washed 24)cottages for rent.
  The island is a surprising contrast. One side is lush, with caper bushes, palm trees, and intensely colored wildflowers. But the other side, which the 25)lava occasionally 26)belches and 27)sears, is black and dead.
  This is hardly the first time the volcano has served as a 28)muse. Artists are drawn to the weird 29)conical shape and seem compelled to recreate it, document it, or 30)riff on its 31)eerie intensity. “Artists like the Aeolians because it’s hard there,” said Marina Abramovic, a 32)Serbian-born artist known for her dramatic performances. “Stromboli” is also the name of Ms. Abramovic’s series of photographs. “It’s a place of intense power and energy,” she said.
The artist Marina Abramovic in a self-portrait made on Stromboli, where she had a house until recently.  That’s not to say the island lacks a softer, tourist-friendly side. In San Vincenzo’s main stone square, visitors will find a 33)gelato 34)stand and a cafe serving35)espresso in the shadows of an 36)ocher church from the 18th century. And around dusk every night, small gangs of 37)wild-eyed climbers, amateur geologists, and 38)gonzo tourists gather here.
  But things do get less 39)quaint on the other islands. On the remote islands of Filicudi and Alicudi, the land is barren and there are few restaurants and hotels. Winter populations there are 200 to 400. Needless to say, there are not many gelato stands. “The back of Alicudi looks like it’s been in a fight,” said Paola Pivi, a 40)Milanese artist who has spent considerable time photographing the island’s fantastical landscape. “The earth is sort of missing. It’s very violent.”

  Pulling into Filicudi’s raw-looking harbor, one immediately longs for shade and a comfortable couch. Rocks are strewn around a 41)dormant volcano, with the sun forming hard shadows. On a recent visit, a few fisherman and construction workers were gathered under the outdoor 42)awning of Da Nino sul Mare, the island’s sole cafe, shouting out to each other like 43)extras from some black-and-white Italian movie.
  Filicudi is far from postcard charming. That may be why artists, designers, and architects gravitate to its harsh and 44)serrated shores, said Sergio Casoli, an art dealer from Milan.
  But not all of the Aeolian Islands are known for their hard, natural splendor. The smallest island, Panarea, which is about three times the size of Central Park, is famous for its 45)jet-set 46)bacchanal. The island may be lined with fragrant olive trees and 47)picturesque swimming 48)coves, but come August, it’s wall-to-wall49)aristocrats and playboys: 50)bold-faced names like Princess Caroline of Monaco, Prince William, and the fashion designer Roberto Cavalli.
  To some eyes, the 51)spectacle lends itself to satire—maybe even art. 52)Aleksandra Mir, who rents a fisherman’s cottage on Panarea every summer, recalled a favorite moment when she witnessed a yacht run into a pile of volcanic rocks. “It seemed to happen in slow motion,” she said, “as the high-tech 53)navigational gear on the boat was overtaken by the slow force of the 54)wave. Hearing and seeing white 55)fiberglass being crushed by the silent volcano was like experiencing the most masterful of sculptures.”