A few steps away from Piazza Duomo in Milan is the medieval Via Mercanti, a pedestrian area which includes Palazzo della Ragione. Founded in 1228, the brick building remained for hundreds of years the centre of the city government and trade.
Disused for some time, the stunning palazzo has been recently revamped to host Unknown Weegee, an exhibition of some 100 photos dating from from 1937 to 1964 and three videos shot by the notorious night-crawler. Large panels hide and protect most of the walls but the contrast between the old frescoes remaining on the walls and Weegee's pictures worked extremely well.
I thought i knew Weegee, the New York photographer who set up his sleeping quarters, photo lab and office inside his two-seater car. The man who listened to his police and fire department shortwave radio while he was in bed. 'Weegee the Famous' who lurked around the darkest corners of Manhattan on the lookout for the next crime, the looming car crash, the upcoming scandal, the starlet sneaking out of the ball room. The guy with a massive camera and a big cigar who always manages to take his subjects off guard.
Unknown Weegee proved me wrong. Of course Weegee did crime scene and villains, he documented life in the city from the 1030s Depression to the postwar period, but he was also keen on bringing into light urban social issues. In 1940, Weegee joined PM, a daily paper conceived as a liberal crusader to fight against oppression, to advocate for the rights of unionists, Jews, and African Americans (text by curator Cynthia Young.) Some of the photos pertaining to this series are deeply moving. I couldn't find any digital version of it online (actually i can't find most f my favourite picture online, which justifies the title of the exhibition after all), but there was one stricking 1941 picture showing a Washington movie theatre divided by a partition: one side of the theatre was reserved for the white and the other for black people. Elsewhere were the homeless, the immigrants, the riots in Harlem, daily tragedies, racism, people struggling to make ends meet, etc.
Unknown Weegee: cronache americane runs at the Palazzo della Ragione, Milan, through October 12, 2008.
Photo galleries in kataweb and Panorama (sorry!). The exhibition was shown two years ago in Manhattan, the the new york times has a slideshow and so does the International Center of Photography where all the photos come from.
This year Turin is the World Capital of Design, a title that the city is holding fairly decently but without much panache. No critical design, no interaction design, nothing really progressive nor challenging either. Still, there's a couple of interesting exhibitions going on throughout the city right now. The one i visited on Thursday might actually be the best show about design i've seen in a long time.
Olivetti, Una bella società --which could be translated as something that sums up the ideas of a fine company and a better society-- was curated by Enrico Morteo and Manolo De Giorgi to celebrate the centenary of Olivetti's foundation.
The Italian manufacturing company was founded by Camillo Olivetti in 1908 in tiny Ivrea to produce typewriters and later on, calculators, and computers. Right from the start he decided that Olivetti would become a synonym of innovation and experimentation. His son, Adriano, succeeded him and cast the figure of an enlightened boss who would decrease the hours of work, build a library to encourage his employees and workers to get more intellectual education, and increase salaries and fringe benefits. By 1957 Olivetti workers were the best paid in the metallurgical industry and they showed the highest productivity. The company's vision didn't stop at mechanics and electronics, it quickly attempted to encompass new social values, look for a rational approach to producing things, and search for new ways to contribute to the development of society as a whole.
The 22 rooms of the exhibition in Turin host 700 objects and memorabilia: typewriters from the early 20th century, calculators, telephones, and portable computers but also office furniture, old commercials from all over the world, documentaries, videos, photographs and at the end of the exhibit, a labyrinth of rooms guides you through the spirit and story of Olivetti from the letter A to Z.
If there's one thing i associate Olivetti with, it's Valentine, the mythical and so red portable typewriter designed by Ettore Sottsass , along with Perry King, and launched in 1969. If anyone could point me to a portable computer which looks as neat, fun and elegant as Valentine, they will receive my undying respect and unlimited thanks.
Olivetti produced many other iconic devices: the portable typewriter Lettera 22, designed by Marcello Nizzoli in 1949, the Divisumma 24, the first print-out calculator able to perform the four basic arithmetic calculations, the exquisitely portable Divisumma 18 calculator encased in pop rubber skin and designed by Marco Bellini in 1973.
At the time, enlisting designers to work on devices was far from being as commonplace as it is today. Olivetti understood almost immediately the concept of 'brand image'. They not only hired talented designers to shape their products (Sottsass, De Lucchi, Nizzoli), they also employed renowned artists and graphic designers to make their posters, well-known directors to handle their audiovisual communication and commissioned top architects and designers to create their flagship stores throughout the world. Carlo Scarpa, for example, was responsible for Olivetti's showroom in St. Mark's Square in Venice, 1957.
Olivetti, Una bella società runs at the Società Promotrice delle Belle Arti through July 27, 2008.
The Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin is dedicating an exhibition on prison architecture. I happened to be in town the day of the opening. Arriving very early that evening meant that i could not only skip the donne ingioiellate and the rest of the usual aperitivo art crowd but i could also listen to a panel in which the architects invited to contribute to the exhibition shared their view on prison architecture. I don't think i would have enjoyed the exhibition that much had i not attended those talks.
11 international architectural studios were challenged by curator Francesco Bonami to leave aside the world of lavish towers, swanky condos or spectacular bridges for a moment and turn their attention to the far less glamorous correctional facility. They had to design a life-size cell equipped with all the essential features the inmates require and from then on engage in a reflection about the prison system and its corollaries: the restriction of freedom, human rights, instruments of surveillance and control, etc. Unsurprisingly most architects started their statement by saying that the invitation from Bonami posed an ethical dilemma for them.
The architects were very tempted to say 'no' to the invitation. The challenge they had to face was formidable as the organization of space in prison often embodies the legal and political principle of punishment for a crime.
Some of the participants dutifully designed the three by four metre space required by the curator. Others worked a way around their artistic homework.
Bernard Khoury, who was the only one in the panel who had actually set foot in a prison in the past (due to some misunderstanding), didn't hide the fact that the request from Bonami seemed to come out of the blue. His Beirut-based studio is usually dealing with the realization of shopping malls, nightclubs, restaurants, hotels, villas for the rich, etc.
Khoury's schizophrenic design envisions a kind of portable self-propelled apparatus worn by a prisoner of war returning to his or her homeland. He would be harnessed inside the device and use his arms to slowly, very slowly crawl his way across the enemy lines and back to his own camp while the technology inside the device would send back some useful data to the enemy. The prisoner becomes unwillingly a traitor, a sort of drone that informs the opponents. What could be more humiliating?
Jeff Inaba and SLAB Architecture's project started as a question. Not the one that the curator had asked 'what can architecture do for prisons?' but instead, they wondered 'what can prisons do for architecture?' Their installation explores how color is used to judge and organize prisoners, and draws correlations to forms of judgment that are made in the field of architecture.
In the U.S. colour is used to separate, divide and to create misunderstandings. In some prisons, inmates with black skin are separated from those with a white skin (the practice is justified as a mean to avoid gang violence). If a prisoner is under medication or if he or she is violent, they have to wear a uniform of a particular colour. Colour in prison predetermines and defines what prisoners are. And of course, there's pink. Pink underwear is worn by prisoners in some prisons in Arizona and other States as a form of humiliation.
Diller Scofidio + Renfro embraced the exercise as an ethical challenge, because, in their view, designing a prison cell would mean, in a sense, endorsing the system. They referred particularly to the carceral system in the U.S. where the concept of rehabilitation has been almost abandoned. Today the focus is on protecting society from prisoners and there's very little attempt to bring back an inmate into society. The architects studio designed Does the punishment fit the crime?, an interactive interface that you can swing around an empty cell to determine what its spatial configurations will be, depending on the degree of security required and type of crime the detainee has committed.
project_ (Anna Miljacki and Lee Moreau) used the cell space to set up a small exhibition space that gathers on the floor facts and figures about the relationship between U.S. prisons and the economic and industrial system, commenting on its controversial and profit-making essence.
Ines & Eyal Weizman chose to envision the prison cell as a space of intellectual production. They collected books and artworks produced inside a carceral environment to investigate whether there is a relationship between cells and the kind of writing emerging from there. The result was an impressive library of books ordered according to the time the author has spent in prison. It was extremely thought-provoking and surprising to see the letters of Saint Paul in the same library as the novels of the Marquis de Sade, the works of Jean Genet, Marthin Luther King, Girolamo Savonarola and the writings of political dissidents like Gandhi and Antonio Gramsci. The collection of "prison literature" will be donated to a correctional facility after the exhibition.
Marco Navarra's NOWA was the only architecture studio which ventured outside of its ivory tower and actually engaged with people living inside prisons (inmates, guardians and medical staff). They collaborated with two prisons, one at Caltagirone, in Sicily, and the Casa Circondariale di Torino (Turin Correctional Facility), asking the inmates to draw a cell, real or imagined. The hundreds of designs were then turned into small-scale models and displayed inside a cell covered with Guantanamo's style prisoners overalls. The final result was very disappointing but some of the issues he raised during his presentation were worth some further investigation. For example Navarra underlined the fact that our society keeps on replicating the same model that saw the light in the early 19th Century, while the whole world around them is changing at an increasingly fast pace.
I'm really looking forward to get my hands on the catalog of the exhibition (is it finally out?) and i'll certainly bike back to the Fondazione to see YOUprison more quietly as soon as i'm back in town. Apart from the architecture projects, the show also includes a series of works by artists. The ones that i need to go back to are the videos of Ashley Hunt. More soon ladies & gentlemen....
My flickr photo set. Image on the homepage: Ashley Hunt, I Won't Drown on that Levee and You Ain't Gonna' Break my Back, 2006. Courtesy Ashley Hunt.
The exhibition runs at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin, until 12 October 2008.
According to the Antarctic Treaty signed in 1959, the continent's territory is a protected ecosystem and as such cannot be used neither for military purposes nor commercial exploitation. The Antarctic contains 70% of the planet's fresh water reserves in the form of ice and, today, its name evokes the slow melting of the ice caused by global warming. In 2007 Lucy + Jorge Orta went to the inhospitable land on an artistic and social research expedition.
The tents, survival kits, videos and mobile aid units created by the artists as a result of their expedition to the edge of the world are having their first public showing at the Hangar Bicocca in Milan. Hangar Bicocca is real big. Before being a space dedicated to contemporary art, it was a vast industrial factory that manufactured bobbins for electric train motors.
The star of the exhibition is Antarctic Village. Made of 50 dwellings that bring out the images of refugee camps broadcast on tv, the installation is a symbol of the plight of those struggling to cross borders and to gain the freedom of movement necessary to escape political and social conflict. The temporary encampment was envisioned as a free, neutral territory in a place where living conditions are so extreme that it imposes a situation of mutual aid and solidarity, no matter your nationality.
The tents are hand stitched with sections of flags from around the world, along with clothes and gloves, symbolising the multiplicity and diversity of people. A recent UN source states that 2.2 million migrants, mainly from the African and Asian continents, will arrive in the rich world every year from now until 2050. The artists go beyond their comment on the free circulation of individuals across the whole planet by proposing an amendment to the Universal Declaration of Human Right that would include the right to free circulation, on par with merchandise, economic flows and pollution.
The Antarctica exhibition is also an occasion for presenting other works created by the couple over the last five years, addressing social, environmental and humanitarian issues: mobility, migration, climate and environmental crises, and human rights:
- Orta Water, everyday objects and mobile prototypes which allow for water gathering, purification and distribution. They were designed for the part of the world population whose access to food and water is put at risk by the consequences of environmental crisis and free market privatization.
- Urban Life Guard, the famous series of survival figures created by the artists for their urban performances. The structure is made of stretchers, camp beds, resistant garments and modular devices, which, in case of situation of crisis or danger, can be assembled and used as sleeping bags or shelters.
- some M.I.U. (Mobile Intervention Unit): industrial, ex-army vehicles or ambulances converted into first aid units for civilian populations. They are outfitted with an array of emergency equipment that range from water filtering systems to temporary dormitories. On the exterior, quotations, sentences or images recall the fate of those who are forced to immigrate for survival. Stationed at hangar Bicocca was Nomad Hotel, a reconditioned military four-wheel truck with micro living quarters and a transformed Red Cross ambulance, from which visitors can claim their Antarctic World Passport, created by the artists to offer a symbolic access to all the countries in the world.
Among the new works which have been commissioned for the Milan exhibition is a fascinating and poetic wall installation of life jackets Life Line.
My flickr set.
Lucy + Jorge Orta's Antarctica expedition is on view at Hangar Bicocca in Milan until June 8, 2008.
There are very very few artists whose work i admire as much as Nathalie Djurberg's. Actually there's only one and she's a woman too. Her name is Gabríela Fridriksdóttir. These artists create universes which are dark and mysterious. But there stops my desire to compare one with the other.
I don't know what happened to Djurberg since the first time i saw her work, at the 2006 Berlin Biennale but her twisted tales have grown crueler and more menacing .
The protagonists of Djurberg's stop-motion animations are hand-modeled plasticine puppets. If this reminds you of some cute tv programme you followed as a kid then let me crush any nostalgia you might have. Djurberg clearly didn't see the same children animations as you and i. Her animations show human beings at their most crass, psychopath, sadistic and often disarming behaviour. The macabre atmosphere of her animations almost never come with words, just a languid and fidgety music composed by Hans Berg.
It often starts well. In one video, a mother plays in the bedroom with her kids. In a second video, three beautiful girls get naked to take a bath in the pond. A third film shows a pretty eskimo girl walking on thick ice. After a few seconds, the children start disappearing inside their mummy's vagina turning her voluptuous, elastic and Fellini-esque body into a monster creature with multiple arms and legs, the girls chase and burn the young lad who was peeping at their nudity and the eskimo does what any eskimo is supposed to do: she harpoons a walrus, remove its bowels. Only that she won't eat it. She sews herself inside the animal's skin and quietly leaves for a crawl on the icefield.
The videos address a fair amount of intense issues such as violence, sexuality, sadism, cruelty, death and brutality. Made all the more upsetting by the fact that the artist messes with our moral codes and would never point to us where is the right and where is the wrong. She takes us on a roller-coaster and all we can to is try and keep track of our landmarks.
The artists filled the exhibiting space of Fondazione Prada with models that work as counterparts to her videos, there's a huge sprouting potato, the plump bum of a woman, a little house . These models become pavilions inside which the videos are projected.
You have until June 1 to check out the show. Previously at the Fondazione Prada in Milan: Tom Sachs.
All images courtesy of the artist and Fondazione Prada, Milan.
There's something about Second Life that totally repels me: its aesthetics. No matter how sexy W. James Au makes his adventures in the online universe sound, i just can't go beyond the barrier of SL's dull and flavourless look. On Saturday while i was visiting the Holy Fire exhibition at iMAL in Brussels, i got to meet with Gazira Babeli and change my opinion. Gazira Babeli is not a human being, she's an avatar performing and living inside Second Life.
Like everyone, i had read times and times again how SL residents actions inside the synthetic world impact on their daily life, how one can make a living there, how businesses and organizations were rushing to get a space inside the online gaming platform but yesterday was the first time i could feel SL's tangible effect on my life: i had bought a train ticket to Brescia (only 50 minutes from Milan). There, the Fabio Paris Gallery is dedicating a solo show to Gazira. I couldn't think of a better place to get to know her work with more depth. Yeah! don't smirk, please. I know i could do all that online but i'm old school. Still, i can't believe i took the train to see the work of an artist who was born only two years ago.
An old entry of mine (The Second Life code performer) and a beautiful text by Domenico Quaranta will tell you all you need to know about what she does. I'll just move to what i saw in Brussels and Brescia.
The Brussels exhibition shows one of the episodes of Gaz of the Desert , a 23 minute movie which might very well be the first high definition movie entirely shot within a virtual world. Gaz of the Desert is inspired by Luis Buñuel's 1965 movie Simón del desierto (Simon of the Desert) which focused on St. Simon Stylites, a 4th century religious man who climbed on a column to be nearer to God and stayed there during thirty seven years preaching Christianity to passersby. If you were already taking for granted the fact that the virtual merges with the real, Gazira's machinima messes with your algebra by adding surrealism to the operation. The artist takes you on a rollercoaster ride which will drive you from dream to nightmare with the elegance of Buñuel, a Persian carpet, rows of call center employees, and a motorcycle killer. The movie is online.
In Brescia, there are several projects by Gazira. There's also Anna Magnani, an Italian actress everybody remembers as 'Pina' in Roberto Rossellini's neorealist masterpiece Roma, Cittá Aperta (Rome, Open City). Now Magnani was famous for that very Italian characteristic of constantly moving her hands and the expression of her face while talking. Gazira gave the actress' name to another video where the avatar gesticulates and where all kinds of expressions seem to fight and take power over her face.
For people like me who wear their lack of knowledge about SL on their sleeve with some kind of pride this might not seem much but the making of the video actually required some coding skills. In the virtual realm any gesture is the result of a script. Anna Magnani is thus more than a video, it is also (as the catalog, Gazira Babeli explains) a script that forces the avatar to perform all the animations present in his or her inventory, in random order, one after the other.
If Gazira is Saint Simon, i've had my epiphany the other day in rainy Brussels: Miss Babeli is like Anna Magnani, she's not beautiful, she's better than that.