On Friday, 6 September 2019, a lot of people walked along Via del Mandrione, a historical street in Rome running alongside the Felice Aqueduct. This street has been at the centre of several events in history: as a refuge after the bombing of San Lorenzo, as a home for the Romani community and prostitutes, and much more. Its charm has captured the attention of several writers and film directors including Bertolucci and Fellini. After being converted into a commercial area, the street became a highway, but was forced to close to traffic in 2018 following several years of neglect. This closure represented an opportunity for art and, specifically, the project by Fulvio Chimento who, together with ten of the most interesting artists on the Italian scene, restored the street’s memory and brought its aesthetic and historical features back to life. Moreover, the project has represented an opening for discussion which, from the specific case of Mandrione extends to art as a whole and potential for the creation of future scenarios. We will find out more from Chimento himself while he prepares for the next event.
Elena Giulia Rossi: How did the project start? What inspired the title Amore e rivoluzione (Love and Revolution)?
Fulvio Chimento: The project emerged from a deep feeling for the word “friendship” and a general sense of disdain for the Italian and international political situation over recent years. Love and Revolution is the artistic answer to a politics that has lost all humanity and the capacity for social analysis, relegating culture to an undefined instrument for consensus. Love and Revolution is also a warning sign to the art world, often self-absorbed and enslaved by its own clichés.
Alfredo Pirri himself, in an interview given to Artribune in 2018, raised the alarm about the general climate which restricts individual freedom, also denouncing the guilty silence / acceptance shown by the art world and intellectuals, who would rather avoid being part of the debate. Love and Revolution also emerges in response to this call.
With Alessandro Sarra and Stefania Galegati, therefore, we decided to organise an exhibition in Via del Mandrione, both the birthplace of Italian Neorealism and also a symbol of our poverty, so rich in resources.
Support for the project was obtained through an e-mail invitation sent out to artists from all over Italy and we finally managed to meet over the Easter period in 2019 to walk together across the twenty meters of void which separate Via del Mandrione from the quarries below. The stretch of road we used coincides with Casilina Station square, an area where traffic was banned by Rome City Council in 2018 due to the expansion of underground caves. It was precisely this road closure that gave us the opportunity to intervene undisturbed in the area. Fabrizio Basso, Silvia Cini, Alfredo Pirri and the Stalker collective – artists who have a solid work experience characterised by talent and civic engagement – responded positively to our call, as well as other artists who have a direct link with this area of Rome: Sara Basta, Elena Bellantoni, Grossi Maglioni and Jacopo Tomassini.
The title was chosen at the first site inspection. A large inscription dominates one of the walls of Casilina Station square: Love and Revolution – an invitation which was impossible to ignore.
The languages used in art are becoming increasingly hybrid. There is often an overturning of the relation between content and container. How do the languages used by these artists intertwine with the urban context?
The hybridisation of artistic languages is a fact and could be a blessing if people decide to open up to experiences which are as diverse as possible. Many artists with whom I am in contact are alive to the possibility of measuring themselves against “uncomfortable” areas, bearers of historical truths. In the case of Love and Revolution, however, we are far from the concept of urban art: in contrast, the project demonstrates how a person can work in a public space using contemporary art codes, mainly installations. We have actively decided to distance ourselves from street art while appreciating, in particular, the pre-existing interventions made in the square by writers, who are often the first to find spaces of artistic “freedom”. The fact of intervening in a museum space or in an urban space does not make a difference if the intellectual and cultural aims on which the project is based are clear. For Love and Revolution we did not ask for permission from institutions and we did not send out press releases to magazines. The communication of the event took place by sending out direct invitations to people who were potentially interested.
Our commitment has been to support coherent projects focused on the area. The organisation of the exhibition was, in itself, a “light” task, as was the type of works proposed by the artists who immersed themselves in the project. The most demanding task was the one carried out with citizens and neighbourhood committees responsible for this area. The district committees, in particular, contributed in a decisive way to the realisation of the exhibition: they did an extraordinary job cleaning the area, with the help of fifty volunteers, thus allowing the exhibition to come to fruition. They have conveyed a deep sense of belonging to this place.
What are the specific features of this neighbourhood, situated to the south east of Rome?
The Mandrione is not a real neighbourhood, but a strip of longitudinal land (the longest street in Rome, even longer than Via del Corso), situated between Tuscolana, Casilina and the railway. It is a place rich in history and constantly changing, a border land in a multiform Rome.
From 1943 to 1973, the people who were displaced by the American bombing of the San Lorenzo district lived in desperate conditions alongside the aqueduct, together with families who, during the economic boom, had left the countryside and small mountain villages to seek their fortune in the city.
The exhibition has become an opportunity for discussion and dialogue between artists from different parts of Italy, intellectuals, citizens and former inhabitants of these huts. We can speak of a real ‘street party’ based around an art project. In this case, the container hosting the exhibition has become an ideal place, a hypothetical square in which people confront each other, also bringing to the forefront all parties interested in continuing artistic initiatives to be developed in this area.
In your statement you spoke of an event that should not be understood as an exhibition but as a ‘happening’, a ‘performative sign’. What has this ‘sign’ left behind during the course of this exhibition?
The general feeling we want to convey to all visitors who cross the stretch of road that coincides with Casilina Station is that of disorientation, without the works of art immediately being recognised as such. Those who cross the square will therefore have the feeling of an artistic “presence”, but will not be able to fully recognise the hand of those who orchestrated the whole project. Love and Revolution wants to be, above all, a stimulus to enter into a relationship with this area, aware that crossing it may involve risks.
Not an exhibition, in fact, but moments of concentration of artistic experience, without the need to define them as performances, an inflated term which does not represent all the actions that can take place in the present moment of looking. For the launch, for example, the duo Francesca Grossi and Vera Maglioni nursed their own children as part of their own work Occupazioni (Occupations): Tenda dell’accudimento (Tent of Care) together with the banner created by Fabrizio Basso with the inscription Calma Calma Calma paraded among the audience accompanied by the audio recording of fragments of the declaration of occupation of the Porta Romana Theatre in Milan in 1984.
Some works will survive time and bad weather while others have been dismantled by the artists themselves, such as the Welcome flag created by Sara Basta on one of the gates of the station and Jacopo Tomassini’s Piccolo monumento precario (Small Precarious Monument). Works such as Tornando in alto a ardere le favole (Returning Upwards to Ignite Fairytales) by Elena Bellantoni are still visible. This is a rope staircase with wooden steps that allows visitors to climb over the walls surrounding the square and look at the excavations of the Felice Aqueduct, the Mausoleum of Elena (built by Emperor Constantine in honour of his mother in 330 AD) and the offices of the State Mint, which owns most of the land in this area.
It is also possible to read the poem by Stefania Galegati, carved in the asphalt of Casilina Station, entitled Monumento al Cadere (Monument to the Fallen) and which consists of a single 350-metre long poem accompanying visitors through the entire square. Silvia Cini’s three works are sophisticated, with Preghiera (Prayer) standing out – a work of golden dust which symbolically stitches up the cracks present on the road surface to coincide with the chasm below. Even the painter Alessandro Sarra has left a sign of his presence with Bisogna riscrivere tutto (Everything Must Be Rewritten): two canvases, deliberately left white, located at the exit of the tunnel that leads from the Certosa district to Via del Mandrione, have been set up to accommodate potential interventions by other artists or the effects of the weather.
You proposed to “create a physical space for discussion and encounters for possible future experiences which are also open to other artists, a way to “enliven” the area, but not to upgrade it“. Alfredo Pirri, in his text published on the occasion of the exhibition, identifies via del Mandrione “with the set of points that characterise the making of art itself, that is the possibility and ability to put itself forward as a changing narrative, accepting this active dynamic as preparation for the future, and finally facilitating the ability to harmonise things through the coexistence of instinct and reason”. Does the project appear to be aimed at a view of the future? Which part of it? And what is the role played by the Mandrione area and the story it embodies?
We want to provide the art initiatives in this stretch of road with continuity. We feel that the forces in the field that were revealed during the organisation of Love and Revolution may produce follow-up activities to this type of experience. In November we will meet again with all the people and organisations working on this stretch of road to decide how to move in future. Certainly the art projects will have to highlight key figures linked to the history of the place, going beyond the ideas offered by great film directors such as Pasolini, Bertolucci and Fellini, who have made the Mandrione a topos of Italian cinema. Our goal is to bring some of the “stories” to life using art – for example the figure of Don Roberto Sardelli, who recently passed away. In 1968 Sardelli left the neighbouring parish of San Policarpo to live among the shanty dwellers of the Felice Aqueduct. Here he founded “School 725”, which was named after the house number of the hut used by the kids for their meetings.
The hut was bought by Sardelli directly from a prostitute who lived and worked there. Don Roberto taught reading and writing to children who had excluded from school because they were considered unsuitable. Above all, he was able to provide them with a civic and political conscience. His work allowed many boys from these huts to continue their studies and get to know texts and authors such as Gandhi and Malcolm X. The conversations between the boys and Don Sardelli were collected in a fortnightly magazine written by the boys themselves. In this way Lettera al sindaco (Letter to the Mayor) and the book Non tacere (Do Not Keep Quiet) came into being and were self-published. Thanks to these initiatives and political demands, in 1973 the inhabitants of the shanty town were able to obtain dignified housing distributed between Ostia and the district of Spinaceto.
Another extraordinary story is that of Professor Angelina Linda Zammataro, also known as Linda Fusco. In the second half of the 1970s, the Mandrione area continued to be at the centre of the city’s social and housing problems. During this period, it is worth mentioning the important work of Zammataro, psychologist, pedagogue and founder of the psycho-animation method. It was actually Zammataro who managed to finally solve the housing situation so that, in the following years, Mandrione became a residential area with lively artisan activity and where shops, buildings, workshops and artisan shops alternated along the aqueduct.
How important is the documentation of this project for you and the other artists?
Images are important, but leaving significant traces is always very complicated. In this case, words can be more evocative than images. With this aim, I entrust the readers of Arshake with the official statement and narrative of Love and Revolution.
Amore e rivoluzione (Love and Revolution), curated by Fulvio Chimento, Via del Mandrione (Station Casilina), Rome
Artists: Fabrizio Basso, Sara Basta, Elena Bellantoni, Silvia Cini, Stefania Galegati, Grossi Maglioni, Alfredo Pirri, Alessandro Sarra, Morteza Hosseini (Stalker), Jacopo Tomassini.
images: (cover 1) Stefania Galegati,Manifesto del cadere, washable painting, 2019. (2) Fabrizio Basso, Calma Calma Calma, print on fabric, 2019. Ph. Sabino de Nichilo 2019 (3) Sara Basta, Welcome, textile wax writing wax on pic nic cloth, 150 x 100 cm, 2019. (4) Casilina Station Piazza on Mandrione Street, location Amore e Rivoluzione, Rome, 2019. (Title-writing “Amore e Rivoluzione/Love and Revolution”, 2019 (5) “Amore e Rivoluzione”, the public (6) Francesca Grossi and Vera Maglioni breastfeed their respective sons within their work: Occupazioni: Tenda dell’accudimento, fabrics, mattress, rope, stones, 2015/19; the work was realised in collaboration with Sara Basta, Maria Pia Picozza, Guendalina Salini. (7) Elena Bellantoni,Tornando in alto ad ardere le favole,installation in wood, fluorescent pigment, 350 x 40 cm, 2019 (8) Stefania Galegati, Manifesto del cadere, washable painting, installation view, 2019.