On 12 December 2021, the Auditorium of Palazzo delle Esposizioni presented Cityscapes – Digital Museum of Memory, created by the artist Valeriana Berchicci.
The project is available at www.cityscapesroma.it
Berchicci’s work, in its main structure, uses a technology available to all to reactivate perceptive processes that this very technology has inevitably eliminated. I am talking about Google Maps and, more specifically, about Street View.
Valeriana Berchicci decided to collect people’s memories in the form of small capsules of oral memory, micro-stories about a city, neighbourhood, building or street in that particular city. You just have to venture onto the map, turn on the audio and explore the city.
While encouraging the reader to “stroll with ears wide open” on the site I would add three considerations about my travel experience on Cityscapes, strolling around looking for the narrators’ references.
- A world without possibilities.
Google Maps’ Street View started covering Italy in 2008. The first virtual walks were a strange surprise for someone like me who is used to walking around the city. You could see everything – buildings, cars and shops with their shop windows – and you could do this while moving through the streets. But, of course, the living context was missing: sounds, noises, the voices above all, but also the bodies of other people, the light that changes according to how they move and, finally, the smells and scents. This absence was not immediately evident but, little by little, the enormous curiosity and amazement I felt took over when I was able to take a walk in the centre of Rome while sitting in my studio in Turin or see the sea again in Taranto or wander through the streets of Berlin.
But just when I started to let my eyes wander in those places that I knew so well, I powerfully felt this absence. I was certainly not surprised that it was not a real walk, of course, but the absence I am talking about was the absence of the other, of the people who walk in front of me, behind me, around me and who look at me while I walk or look at them. I missed the gestures of those people, especially their voices. But this is not simply “the discovery of hot water”. It is obvious, I repeat, that this noisy and chaotic perception contained no life. But this very perception is what stimulates the cognition of the other – the one who has put his foot before me right where I am putting it now, who has stopped on the same bench where I am sitting, who is looking at the facade of the building next to me. What is missing is the experience of someone who is not me. Walking around a city makes you realise that there are other lives, other stories, that the city is made up of people who live in it and who have built it as you are seeing it, even if you are only passing through. It makes you aware of the community.
This is why Google Street View has just become a tool to see the exact location of a place (shop, office, doorway) and nothing more. I use it just to reinforce what I already know (the address of a place) so as not to be unpleasantly surprised. So I already know what I will see, what I will find if I go there, what to expect… “what the future holds” as they say.
In the dead city of Google-Maps-Street-View one therefore finds oneself in a lifeless cardboard reproduction of the city, without the corporeal perception of life. Where cognitive perception is no longer possible.
- The vision of the voice
The spark of life is actually provided by the narration of a voice. It is with this perfect balance that the Cityscapes project expands and restores the presence of human beings to the deceptive and laconic world of Street View. The images come to life with a carnality that only the oral narration can restore; the buildings, crossroads, streets and small details suddenly become real only because it is someone else who describes them to us and enriches our vision with an extra experience that would otherwise be denied. All these stories must necessarily be engaged with by searching for what the narrators are talking about on Street View. Otherwise the experiential device does not start, literally it does not work. Taken individually, the treadmill-like images of the streets, on the one hand, and the stories, on the other, seem incomplete. Only when enjoyed simultaneously do the cityscapes suggested by the stories overlap and graft the memory of the present onto the Street View images, allowing both awareness of the other and recognition of the self.
- Museum of memory and experience.
It is exactly in this sense that Valeriana Berchicci’s project, Cityscapes, perfectly follows the line drawn from its inception. I was lucky enough to witness its creation during a workshop with Valeriana, held by maestro Muntadas, entitled Personal Immaginary Museum. Well, if it is true that the museum is the place where objects rest after losing the significance of their experience (I am quoting a text by Castellucci from memory), then Berchicci’s project overcomes this impasse by restoring a communal essence to the city, turned into a museum by the intangible reality of Street View, through the memory of its inhabitants’ experiences. A museum in the making.
Everyone can find their own perspective to narrate, deciding to be part of the community, no longer as a separate self wandering in a city with no memory, but as a member of a community that shares and generates experiences without the uncertain nostalgia of memories for their own sake. Because it is exactly the alternation of images and sounds, and their fusion into a single story, that eliminates the danger of a mere collection of memories, a nostalgic and much exploited look back at the past. So not a memory to be manipulated but an experience made available through a memory. Here memory activates the present and creates awareness of the context (the city), the self (me wandering) and the Other (the community). This is why the artistic device, while using memories and memory, cannot be misunderstood and is not divisive.
The project, winner of the public concourse of Regione Lazio “Lazio Contemporaneo”, was conceived by Valeriana Berchicci realised in collaboration with the Association CAP – Cities Art Projects, curated by Benedetta Carpi de Resmini.
images: (cover 1) Valeriana Berchicci, Cityscapes, 2021 (2) Cityscapes, Museo digitale della Memoria, Corviale (Rome), ph Marina Pietrocola, Courtesy CAP – Cities Art Projects (3) Laboratories in Tor Bella Monaca (Rome), Cityscapes Museo digitale della memoria, ph Marina Pietrocola, Courtesy CAP – Cities Art Projects (4) Cityscapes, Museo digitale della Memoria, Rome Fine Arts Academy, ph Marina Pietrocola, Courtesy CAP – Cities Art Projects (5) Laboratories in Corviale, Cityscapes Museo digitale della memoria, ph Marina Pietrocola, Courtesy CAP – Cities Art Projects (6) Laboratories in Tor Bella Monaca (Rome), Cityscapes Museo digitale della memoria, ph Marina Pietrocola, Courtesy CAP – Cities Art Projects (7) Cityscapes, Museo digitale della Memoria, Corviale (Rome), ph Marina Pietrocola, Courtesy CAP – Cities Art Projects