Addressing contemporary climate and environmental crises requires the collaboration of artists, scientists, and other experts to respond to the challenges we are facing. The integration of these different groups is necessary to act as buffers between the public and scientific data and to encourage a richer and more complex conversation about the fundamental issues driving the climate and environmental crises and how to use the powerful impact of contemporary art and photography.
In this context, trans-disciplinarity, which integrates the natural, social and health sciences in a humanities context that transcends the traditional boundaries of discipline, is the path to follow. Trans-disciplinarity involves the integration of knowledge and the abandonment of binary thinking, so we can help construct deeper meanings in the context of real-world problems. For example, when dealing with environmental issues, we know we need to refer to a complexity that embraces a world of injustice and inequality, both in the causes and the consequences of the problems.
How can contemporary photography and art raise their ambition to make real changes in the world? What artistic, human, or scientific approach does trans-disciplinary work require artists to put in place? How do they maintain their personal vision when they deal with scientific data?
This event features Maria Teresa Salvati and guest speaker David Cross and is moderated by Dr. Paul Lowe.
This event is supported by the Photography and the Archive Research Centre, London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, and Everything is Connected.
Maria Teresa Salvati: Thank you for joining us for the second episode of this series, “Visualizing the Environmental Emergency. Today we’ll talk about Contemporary Photography and public engagement. And I wanted to tell you that there is a kind of a sequence in all the talks we will be having in the future and we had in the past as well. So we will not dig too much into the content that we already talked about last in the last session, which was about the connectedness and the empathy that Contemporary Photography can and should depict when talking about climate change. And you can find the episode on our website, which is everythingisconnected.eu.
Today, I have the pleasure to have here as a guest speaker, Arianna Rinaldo, who is a curator, photo editor, educator and a lot of other things she will talk about later. She’s been working for many years as artistic director and curator of two important festivals in Italy- PhEST and Cortona On The Move. And they’ve been working a lot with using the public space. And that’s why I wanted to have our opinion on the idea of engaging the large public to talk about important social topics. And also Rosella Ferorelli, she’s a Ph.D. in urbanism, and she’s an architect, she will tell her better what she does, but she’s working in the last years a lot with tactical urbanism. And I think is a great opportunity that we should explore further also to include content like Contemporary Photography. So thank you very much for joining us today, and I will have an introduction to the conversation and then I will leave the word to Ariana and Rossella. And then we will have 10 minutes at the end for open questions if there is someone, so I’m sharing the screen with you.
Okay, so I will take you through this kind of content. And I want to start with why is different to communicate climate change than from other social messages we’ve been dealing with in the past for those who work in communication, visual communication and social content. So why climate change and environmental issues is different? There is a paradox, which I found very interesting that I found through my research that is created when we show disastrous events and most of the exhibitions or the, or the images we see in main magazines worldwide still show disastrous events. And probably this is one of the reasons why there is no real engagement with the topic. There are some premises made when we talk about public engagement and the three areas to consider when we talk about taking important content to the public, which is about the content, of course, channel and people. I will share with you some of what I think are interesting examples. And obviously, it’d be great to have an idea and also share some ideas with you on how we measure engagement with some open questions in the end.
So the reason why, when, over the years, when we talk about you know world photography or famine in poor countries, usually what is required for people to do is to make donations often. So can you imagine this completely different approach to climate change, which in a way implies for people to take some responsibility for the anthropogenic origin of the problems and so it requires some degree of self-criticism and self-doubt and putting doubts on the way we conduct our lives?
And so this is a complex process because it means accepting that there is a fault that there is a problem in our society. And also accepting that you need to make some major changes in the way we conduct our lives. And also there is an unconscious mechanism, which is that of the public using an unconscious mechanism, such as confirmation bias in order to filter out what is uncomfortable or unacceptable. And so many people can reach a significant level of knowledge about the reality of human-induced climate change, even develop a sense of concern in a way but not necessarily they become engaged. And also, engagement implies connectedness, which includes how people think about climate change, but also how they feel about it, and how their thoughts and feelings lead them to act in ways that from their perspective, are still connected to climate change.
We’ve been talking very widely about it. And climate change is a very complex phenomenon, there isn’t one solution to it. So it’s a matter of really putting together a lot of thinking, research and experiments in order to find new ways of being effective with communication about the environmental emergency.
I found this interesting example, on the New York Times, it was this one- in 2011, there was an outbreak of wildfires in Texas. And in disasters, especially in areas with strong communities, people tend to pull together and show a remarkable and inspiring sense of collective purpose. So they recovered their cities, in a very quick way, very fast, and the local economy, as a consequence, had grown because of the government recovery grants, insurance and imagine that most, over a third of the residents, lost their homes. But the point, talking with most of them, was that if the current society and the economic model have served them in a crisis, and so they were they managed to reconstruct, to create a sense of solidarity, and cohesion with the community. They were less willing to accept, they had to make a change. So what happened was kind of a confirmation that society works well. So disasters sometimes encourage powerful and compelling survival narratives. And you can see the difference between these two narratives.
So there is a weak one which says in the case of Bastrop, the case of Texas, the fires were caused in part by weather conditions, which were caused in part by climate change, which were caused in part by the culture and behavior of Bastrop residents. Okay? Because, of course, we can create some links, but some links are not so linear, so obviously, is in part. While there was, as opposed to that there was a strong narrative, “We support each other. We are surrounded by evidence of our love and kindness. We are tough. We face a huge challenge, and we went through and we can do it again.” Can you see that there is such a kind of a paradox, and there is a big difference between these two? And of course, when you find a community that is really strong, actually, they could be really less willing to make changes or to accept that there is something wrong in the society. I found this example very interesting, but also coherent with what we’ve discovered over time through the narration of climate change, which is about disastrous images.
I wanted to make some important premises before entering the public engagement toolkit. And so the areas we need to consider, and all of them are very important, are the content so how we engage with the public, and again, on this one we talked about last in the last session, how can really, how Contemporary Photography can emotionally inspire people to act upon. Sorry. The importance of the public space as a channel to convey powerful and engaging messages. So the channel obviously, with the pandemic, we’ve been forced to stay more in open spaces and so the open space became a great opportunity to drive important messages. But also, I think this is something that is here to stay. And so as a consequence, public space should become a really important channel for creating relationships and conversations about important topics. As been always done, but probably we need to review the way it’s been done. And of course, one of the most important things is the people because we need to create a critical mass because without big numbers it’s impossible to create real changes.
Again, for those who weren’t following our first episode I’ve done a summary of what we talked about last time. And so it’s very important to show it’s very important. It’s more than very important. It is more effective to show local images that demonstrate local relevance of climate change impacts, because we’ve seen that images that refer to faraway places while they understand the problem, the public unlikely will connect emotionally to the place because they feel distant emotionally, culturally, and physically. Including the images, real people show real emotions, because they, of course, think they are more engaging. Go beyond showing victims of climate change is always better to show inspiring people. So leaders, innovators, solutions to the problem rather than just catastrophe and problems. And it’s better to show a pioneering idea of possible future, for example, green cities, green buildings, rather than again, destruction and hopeless future. Focus on building efficacy to complement risk perception as a motivator for action, especially in messages aimed at those already highly concerned or even alarmed about climate change.
So we don’t, as we know, climate change has become a little bit of a political view. So it’s not an objective topic, there are deniers. There are not interested people, while there are also people very concerned. So the message will be different based on who you talk to. So these are, these are kind of research that talks about a variety of people. But of course, there will be there probably need to be a different message for different target audiences.
Of course, the importance of the public space now more than ever, probably to convey powerful and engaging messages. Since the 80s, policymakers and artists have been increasingly using public art as both rhetorical tools to among other things, put cities on the map of city marketing and urban regenerating logic, layout political issues, make cities and regions more interesting to investors, aestheticized the environment and promote social cohesion, community engagement, social movements and cultural empowerment.
I don’t know in other countries, probably in the UK as well, but definitely in Italy, for years, and until probably a year ago, the institution that manages tourism and culture are managed together. And this is some of the reasons why often important investments in arts and cultural projects have been made almost like an object for marketing or touristic reasons. So most of the activity happened in the center of cities in places where you can attract tourists in a way. And this has changed a year ago in Italy. I think. And this is a good thing, because in my opinion, while I understand that the reason for public art being driven by numbers, because, you know, politicians, institutions have to justify the investment by a return on investment, maybe in credibility and visibility, and creating cities attractive for many reasons. There is also a need to focus on the quality of content, and also, in my opinion, to go to the peripheries of cities, and maybe connect different parts of cities through public art.
So why is it important to use public space? Because it’s they create a sense of belonging, connecting people with the urban landscape creates a sense of belonging to a place. It is important also to spread important content I usually a product of a niche. Often when we go to exhibitions, so we go to see important content, they are in museums. They are in places where a lot of people don’t have access, not because they can’t but they don’t naturally have access. So the public space can become an opportunity to reach people that usually don’t have access to that kind of content. Also, a could be a good point to connect suburbs and centers of cities. And of course, the public space because it’s virtually open to everyone can reach big numbers and so approach the general public to environmental issues.
Obviously, one of the most important things for doing well, public art in public space is social participation. So the point is that people are involved in the designing, the planning, the management of the space that we’re talking about. And it’s very important that there isn’t a feeling that the idea or the project or the art installation is just put there. And you know, just put, there you go, you take a photo, and you put it on Instagram, which is, I think, still is what mostly happens. So I think those who work in this area, need to think further on how to really involve people and usually the social participation of public space and an art installation or an art project in a public space. One of the most important things is this social participation. So the local people are involved in all the phases and the maintenance of the project the place as well. And that’s, that’s how you, you know, that actually works.
There is a problem also with the critical mass too because as we know, there will be no real change. If we then if we go back to the first slide, the point was, we need to create a cultural shift into changing the way we live our lives. And obviously, art and photography cannot be alone responsible for doing this, but they can be very important languages that can get closer to people. Because they have a universal language. Because they can powerfully touch emotionally people. So obviously, we need to create a critical mass. And at the moment, there is a kind of an obstacle also, in the narration that a single individual action is not sufficient to make real changes, and sometimes is actually a justification not to do anything. And it’s obvious it’s also true. But we need to remember that politicians, policymakers, and corporations live out of public and social consensus. So removing it could force them to make important political and economical and law changes to protect the planet and reduce the consequences of the environmental emergency. So the critical mass is necessary, and everyone is called to make their bid in order to become one of millions.
I found this very interesting project it’s an American project, which started exactly from this premise is called the “Environmental Voter Project.” They identify millions of non-voting environmentalists and turn them into consistent voters. Because they realize that there are a lot of people that don’t go voting because they don’t trust the institution anymore. So they managed to do a very precise profiling of these people and with very targeted messages, they managed to convince them to go vote. Because, of course, the more environmentalists who vote in the election means politicians shift to appeal to environmental voters, which means the pro-climate legislation that passes. So I find it very, very interesting because this is the point.
You know, we can talk about a lot of things. We can talk about a single, single project about public space, but if there isn’t a number of important people really doing something such as voting, and this seems disconnected, but actually, some engaging projects can really make some people shift their thinking about something and also then go to vote or not buy product from some companies or change the eating habits and everything that we need in order to create the cultural shift.
So some questions that I have, and it would be great if we could discuss together because they are open questions, is that probably, in my opinion, we should go beyond the temporary interventions and exhibitions in public spaces, and work with urban planners, architects and institutions to deliver permanent solutions that could become an active part of people’s everyday lives. Another point was, could we go to the suburbs and connect the peripheries of cities with the centers and create narratives that imply having to physically go to different places to towns and interact with content? How can the medium of photography be part of this new scenario and use its social power to really be part of a cultural shift?
At the moment, I, you know, I’m sure Arianna will talk about a lot of exhibitions and photography exhibitions in public places. And I’m challenging this point, but it’s an open question. But I haven’t found, and probably this is an opportunity for all of us to discuss, I haven’t found projects that are permanent that actually go in that direction. But I found other projects that I think could be interesting hints into thinking together, what could be some of the solutions in the future.
These are the ones I found, and I found really cool. I don’t know if you’ve seen the bee bricks in England. They’re practically all the there is a policy, the council’s policy that stipulates that all new buildings above five meters should include bee bricks, as well as bird nesting boxes suitable for suits. I know we are talking about this is, of course, a way to maintain the ecosystem and to increase biodiversity. Obviously, we’re not talking about artistic projects here. But the reason why I’m showing you these projects is because probably the direction is that, in my opinion, the direction is that. And maybe the art of photography, how can be part of this project where it’s more about activism, but maybe it can lead into a narrative that takes you to a place where you can see these things. So you can talk about these things. You can build the bricks. But actually, maybe the photography lives somewhere else? I don’t know, an open question.
This is one of the largest smog-eating murals in Europe, which is in Cremona, Italy. This is made over 400 meters long and two and a half meters high. The wall, yes, the wall says that “If we don’t leave the future we’ll be passed over for nothing.” And is made by an artist called MisterCaos. And it’s about, the idea was about a symbol of creating relationships, strong relationships and the connectedness of people and people on the planet.
On this one, I’ll leave Rossella to talk about, I want to just introduce the idea because I think is a great opportunity for us to discuss which is tactical urbanism, which is there are temporary places that can become permanent in the future. But the idea of being permanent, the idea sorry, is being temporary, is about also seeing how the people, the local people perceive and connect and participate in the creation, what happens. And then obviously, based on the results, I imagine, they can become permanent, but they are, they are interesting at the moment, they are mainly made by like coloring streets and like they are mainly made for entertaining people. And I wonder if there is, this could be a good opportunity to insert some relevant content that go beyond the entertainment. But because it is a phenomenon that is growing pretty fast, probably it’s, it could be a good opportunity to discuss or to have a look at or to even propose new solutions.
This one is just like, because sometimes, you know, we talk about engagement, but are we really measuring engagement? It would be good if you know Arianna has some case studies out there that she can share. But of course, it’s very important to measure engagement in order for also for everyone that works in the industry to understand what works and what doesn’t work, rather than just, you know, sensational events that are just great for entertainment. But again, because when we talk about climate change, the objective is different probably entertaining is not the only or the main objective we should aim for.
I just wanted to leave you with a quote here that says, “Climate change is not ‘a problem’ waiting for ‘a solution.’ It is an environmental, cultural and political phenomenon, which is reshaping the way we think about ourselves, our society and humanity’s place on Earth.” That’s why it’s not really just about open-air cool stuff. I think we need to put together different disciplines, different ideas to conceive something completely new, in my opinion. So thank you. I will leave the word to Arianna. And yeah, I’ve introduced you before, but maybe you introduce yourself a little bit further. And we’ll leave it to you. Thank you.
Arianna Rinaldo: Sure. Thank you. Thank you. Maria, is very, very interested in some of what you’ve been dealing with, and what you’re trying to develop and follow up with, “The Everything is Connected” project. I think it’s, it’s a great beginning. There’s a lot of work to do for all of us. But it’s important to talk about it. So I am going to talk about my experience, the past decade, as artistic director and curator mainly of two festivals, as you mentioned, one in Tuscany, Cortona On The Move and one in Puglia in the south of Italy, which is called PhEST. So I don’t know if I have many answers to the questions. I have many other questions as well. So I’m hoping we can discuss these together at some point, but at least throw them out there because we really, really need to talk about this. So I’m going to also share my screen and start is that the right one? Yes.
Okay, so let’s start talking about this idea of public engagement, which is a question that I’ve asked myself more recently. Since especially in PhEST, the festival in Puglia, in this town of Monopoli, we have been realizing much more outdoor exhibitions. So of course, this idea of putting photography, big images in a public space where a lot of people go by, has, initially, we probably didn’t do it with the right awareness, because it was something new for us as well. But over the past six years, we’ve been, of course, trying to understand the responsibility of putting images and narratives out in the open. So PhEST is the International Festival of Photography and Contemporary Arts, founded in 2016, in Monopoli, which is a seaside town near Bari, where Mother Teresa comes from, actually, in the south of Italy.
So when we got there the first time in 2016, we found this, okay, this is a Monopoli beautiful seaside town with this amazing wall, overlooking the main beach, in the town beach, let’s say the beach that is closest to the town. So it almost became for us the natural stage to propose some photography. Of course, as many festivals PhEST has a different theme every year, so it’s not always related to climate change. But still, we know we’re using a public space to talk about something to give a message, to create emotion, to inform, to document, whatever the reason is for that year, this was considered for us from the beginning, kind of like our main focus point, our main core.
So we did start to use it to hang up really big images. Now, of course, we got immediate reactions to these installations. Not much on the content at the beginning, but actually on the fact that we were touching a heritage wall. Of course, we did this with all permissions from all the necessary governmental and state permits to be able to do this. So nothing illegal, nothing harmful was done. But that was the first reaction to what we were doing. And in the six years that we’ve been doing the festival, of course, every year, people are expecting what is going to go up on the wall this year?
So just to give a little back history. The first year, we showed a Dutch photographer’s work on Afghanistan and the road to Kabul. In this case, for us, the interesting thing was just creating a contrast between two different and very, faraway cultures. We have to you have to know that PhEST happens in the summer. It’s usually open in August or in some years it opened at the beginning of September. But you can imagine that this beach is going to be full of people swimming and having fun on vacation with their families. In 2017, we brought an African artist Osborne Macharia with Afrofuturism. Again, trying to somehow provoke the general public to content that they might not be used to. These were the first years, so we still didn’t know who our public was apart from the vacationing families in Monopoli and the colleagues and professionals who started coming to visit the festival. So the idea of the audience at the moment at the time was still quite vague. We didn’t know exactly who we were targeting.
The year after, in 2018, we showed the work of Alessia Rollo, “Fata Morgana,” which related to migration issues. In this case, we tried to bring it more local, the work of Alessia Rollo is in Puglia, so it’s very much connected to the region where Monopoli is. So we understood that trying to talk about social topics, in this case, migration, and trying to bring it closer to home, hopefully, would create a closer reaction from the public. We’re not talking about the other side of the world. We’re not talking about something that happened on another shoreline but on the actual shorelines of that same region. And we started to get feedback on social media. So people started photographing, of course, this is a beautiful wall. So people take pictures of it and post it on social media. But are they really engaged with the content that we’re putting on that wall?
The next year was 2019. We installed Sanne De Wilde, “Land of Saints.” This work was actually commissioned work done for the festival on the religious festivities of the region of Puglia during the summer. Again, an intense attempt to get closer to the general public by talking about something they knew very well about.
So coming to 2020, which is the year of the initial, starting of the pandemic, when most festivals were, and most outdoor events were suspended, we were able to do our addition of PhEST. We had a thing that had been already thought about before, which was, “Terra! (Earth!)” and decided to do or had to do everything outdoors, of course, because of COVID-19 issues. So we had 22 exhibitions, totally outdoors. Compared to the previous years, where we only had two or three locations that had outdoors, this time, the whole town was full of photography. So of course, we had to consider and be more aware of what we were putting outside, how we were putting it, what we were trying to communicate. Because as Maria Teresa said the public space in this case becomes a very powerful tool to convey a message.
On the main wall, we exhibited this huge glacier. Now Igor is actually not a photographer. He is a physicist. He is a senior physicist, and actually, he’s a senior fellow at the Institute of Physics in Kyiv, Ukraine. And he photographs this glacier in Antarctica, in 2009. Okay, so it’s something that during an expedition that he did with other colleagues, many, many years before they 10 years before. So remembering, what Maria Teresa just said about showing disastrous events, you know, we all know about glaciers, melting and the disastrous effects of climate change on glaciers. In this case, what we were showing is a beautiful image of a glacier, which probably, if we have a picture that now is not as big as it was, it’s probably diminished its size. But what we were showing is the actual beauty of it. So hoping to create that, a double reaction to something that is not there anymore. This was the rendering that we had done of the project when we had to show it to our, all the people we referred to in the municipality of Monopoli. Of course, they loved it because it’s beautiful. But still, we kept asking ourselves, “How do we create an impact? How does that reflect on the visitors?” So again, we find on Facebook, of course, all these images, “Are they engaging?” That’s our question. We hope so. Right? “Are they engaging? Are they looking at this after a whole day at the beach in August and then leaving to go home?” These are the questions that we still have.
We weren’t ready yet at this stage, to actually have an objective quantification of the type of impact that it could have. So the way we measured it at the time was simply through word of mouth by talking to the people. Monopoli is quite a small town, so we know everybody. We’ve been there for six years now and you get feedback from people. But we haven’t actually found a way yet to measure that impact. So what did we try to do at the time to engage the audience, to this, to the issues? Especially, in addition, in 2020 when all of the exhibitions were outdoors, and they were all referring to climate change, environmental issues. So of course, we had guided tours of the exhibits. We tried to organize a few panel talks on the subject matter, and to organize interactive activities, which all great ideas, but the reality is that it’s this festival is in August, people are there to relax and to have fun. And it’s really, really hard to get them to talk about climate change when they are just trying to, you know, get a suntan and freshen themselves up in the wonderful water of Monopoli.
So what did we do? For example, a simple thing that we did was to organize a swim competition to the buoy and back, you know, and then you would get a towel or something as a prize. So, the same year, we also had this exhibition an underwater exhibition, which is a little bit farther in the sea from the wall that you’ve seen. The big wild that you’ve seen, so people had to swim to that, to these fish and come back. Now, this is also an exhibition that has an important message. These are tropical fish. And this exhibition is about the tropical isolation of the Mediterranean Sea. Okay, which is a very local issue, because these people are swimming in Italy in Monopoli in the Mediterranean. How do you get that information to them? Where’s the signage? Where’s the information about this exhibition? Right? So there are all these elements of logistics to make not only exhibition to make sure people know about it, of course, not. Everybody’s going to read the intro panels, but some will, there was actually a boy that was floating near these images with the intro panel on it. Is that everybody? Is everybody going to read it? Surely not. But that’s what we’re going to try to do. And the idea of the swimming competition was to get people to go there and to try to understand what it was and that it wasn’t just some beautiful image below the sea.
Other exhibitions that we had for example other glaciers on the rocks. This is, “Northern Landscape,” by Jan Erik Waider, a German photographer who creates beautiful images of glaciers. His intent, he says is not really political. It’s us. We made it political by putting it next to all the other exhibitions like the big glacier on the wall and the tropical fish under the water. Then we had Solmaz Daryani, “The Eyes of the Earth.” Iranian photographer who has been following the drying up of Lake Urmia in Iran. These are images, these were all along the walkway, as you can see here, which is full of people during the day, especially at night, walking back and forth and having a drink and getting some fresh air. And you can look at these images. People would take pictures of them, and post them on Facebook or Instagram. And this is what we’re trying to understand is how when they compose these kinds of images, are they just looking at the aesthetics of it? Or are they actually trying to make a connection between what they see in the picture and what is in the background of their beloved Monopoli?
Another exhibition was by Luca Locatelli, “The Future of Farming,” different high-tech solutions to defeat hunger, world hunger. They were positioned in the main Fisherman Wharf in Monopoli. So work by Ciril Jazbec, “The Ice Stupas,” an interesting solution found in the Himalayas, where ice mountains are manually made to be able to continue recovering water during the rest of the year. We also tried to work with something beyond photography, which is, in this case, is graffiti is street art by a street artist called Millo. This was also a commission that was done specifically for us and which is permanent compared to the other exhibitions that are of course, temporary only for the few months of the festival. This is permanent, and it stays there. And it also talks about the tropical isolation of the Mediterranean, so it refers, it connects somehow to the other underwater exhibition.
So again, public space, public art is a tool, is a channel. I’m interested, these are more questions actually. They’re not answered. But again, the idea of something that is temporary, like photo exhibitions, or something that is permanent, like this commission work. Does it have, does it become more efficient? Does it become more powerful if it’s permanent? Or does it become something that’s mainly a decoration that we forget about after a while? When do the act, does the action which is what we do as creators of these cultural events create a reaction? And when does this reaction create a new action? Which is the critical mass and then possibly some policymaking. Right? How do we create interactive activities that can go on during the whole year, for example, and not just during the opening days of the festival? So these are all questions that we’ve been asking ourselves and continue to do.
So I believe that photography certainly is a powerful tool in that sense because it is a very clear direct language. The language needs to be simple, right? The message needs to be simple if it’s outdoors in a public space for a larger audience. And photography does, somehow, speak to a wider public just because of that. But how do we go to the next step? How do we make it deeper? How do we create awareness and then action and reaction by continuing to do it? And finding more effective ways to do it. So we do hope, this was this year’s 2021 edition. So we are hoping that people are looking at the images and understanding what’s going on on that wall. Beyond the beautiful light of the sunset. The work was by Angelica Dass, “The Colors We Share.” Beautiful work on different colors of skin, and the ones that we share. We’re hoping that this man is also thinking about that.
And just before closing one last example, one last challenge that I had thanks to Cortana On The Move, the other festival that also made me think a lot about what we do in public space. Cortana On The Move was invited to Saudi Arabia to bring exhibitions from the previous years of Cortona. Alula is an oasis town near the northwest Saudi Arabia, home to the first UNESCO heritage site of Saudi Arabia. It’s a place that is becoming a big tourist destination with there’s a big renovation happening, big changes. So we put Simon Norfolk’s big, huge wrong glacier right smack in the middle of the town, 13-by-9 meters. The theme of the whole exhibition, the whole festival was time passed forward, time, life and longing. And it did have a mix of themes on the planet universal global themes and themes related more to personal reasons, but I’m just showing you this example of Simon Norfolk’s work, which is just five images of his Shroud work.
Of course, for us the idea of bringing this work to Saudi Arabia, which has, of course, many environmental issues like desertification, water pollution, air pollution, that also like many countries has a plan for 2030 to up its renewable energy sources. But still, something very new something which sparked a lot more questions in our mind because the general public, the public that was going through this town was completely unknown to us culturally, but also physically, like we didn’t know what type of people were going to walk through this area. So this was the first edition we still don’t know what the impact is, the exhibit is still on until the end of this month. So hopefully we’ll be able to get some answers and some more triggers and more insights to do more and better for next year. Thank you.
Maria Teresa Salvati: Thank you, Arianna. Thank you very much. Very good, very insightful. Yes, definitely. We need to talk because it’s, there are a lot of open questions. I leave the word to Rossella Ferorelli and maybe you can introduce yourself and talk to us about your beautiful projects. Thank you.
Rossella Ferorelli: Thank you. Thank you for the very inspiring presentation all my personal compliments go to you both. Hello everyone. I’m Rossella Ferorelli. Let me share my screen, just a second, okay. Do you see the presentation?
Maria Teresa Salvati: Yes.
Rossella Ferorelli: Enlarge the window, okay. Okay I am Rossella Ferorelli. I’m a Ph.D. architect. I have my architecture office in Milan, Italy where a lot of the projects more or less come from. My office is made small, but I also work as a consultant for urban design for rural cities in Italy. And I’ve been working for three years now with the city of Milan.
So what I’ll show you today is a little bit of this season of work. This year, so, I have happened to experiment with some, I would say innovative participatory design processes that I use to call to be called tactical urbanism techniques. That is basically low-cost temporary and reversible urban formations that can be realized collectively with communities as it has been saddled with. And that has the ambition of never, despite having short-term, durability, duration, have the ambition to last long in terms of impacts of changes, so. And also the importance, or the interest that I personally find in tactical urbanism, but it’s that it not only has this intriguing relationship with time because the temporary ephemerality of experiments has a specific value because it allows you to experiment with some more, let’s say bold positions but also is very useful to try to demonstrate foresee and test solutions for urban design that you are not completely sure on. You can also use it to criticize and reflect on urban phenomena. So try to realize experiments that are also a way to criticize reality. And also they are very, very useful to react and solve quickly. Let’s say logistics or urban problems of any time, that are usually very long and complex to be tackled inside the classical urban framework of urban public works. So it’s very useful on several levels.
And it has now some quite deep literature that I can just leave you if you need. So the first very basic literature that one can find interesting to enter this work is the “Tactical Urbanism Manual Series,” that has also a specific Italy version. The number five is completely dedicated to Italian case studies.
And the specific season of experiments that I will talk to you about a little bit today is specifically based on this idea of a 15-minute city, a concept that was born in Paris under Anne Hidalgo’s government for the city in around 2015. A principle that states that sort of right of the citizens to be able to access a complete urban experience in a 15 minutes radius walk or bike from each one’s home. So it’s both, it’s a concept that keeps together the push towards sustainable active urban mobility, which is my own field of research and of work. But also it merges dispositions with a wider discourse about redistribution of urban rights. So it’s very interesting on this point of view. From the right to access basic service, so for everyday needs to higher level of accessibility scores, that inbox culture and the experience of beauty on urban quality of arts, for example. So the cities are now using these techniques to try to quickly transform redundant urban spaces that were overwhelmed by traffic or downright created for cars to try to or salvage parking, for example. So also cars that just stay there and not even cross space in a livable way. They just stay there occupying space. And so try to take back these spaces and give them back to the citizens to the local communities as fully public spaces. And usually through deep, long and complex participatory processes. That’s why it is this interesting.
So I just, I’m going just quickly through some of these experiences that are starting to be realized in Milan since 2018. So it’s four years now more or less. And this is, you will see some before and after very quick gallery of images that give you an idea of how seizing space from car-oriented development, and giving them back to the community can actually look a little bit. And you can also imagine how the relevance of these experiments grew in the last two years since 2020 when we finally got to understand that space itself is a common good, all of it all public space, all of it belongs to the collectivity. And that the access to purely space, to void space is a new kind of fundamental right, that we still underestimate. So you see some of the most successful a transformation that we realized in Milan since 2018, 2019, until today.
So then, progressively when activating these experiments that have had since the very beginning, some participatory co-creation phase since the very early stages of the selection of urban sites, through a public call for proposals for the transformation of these spaces, also through the selection of functions of the idea of how the final stages of the development of the space should look. And also to the concrete, the physical co-creation of spaces with a huge collective section of painting when it was possible, accepting 2020, and it will be 2021 too, unfortunately. So after this very dense season of experimentation, we started to understand the potential of this experiment to also deliver some content, actually. So I find myself in a very, say very similar position to what has been said before. So this is actually the case where we found in the same point where Arianna, for example, was when she was speaking about how the delivery of content could go through urban spaces. And so we try to understand how all these new surfaces and spaces could also be used to, in a way send some powerful messages to the community.
And so I can show you some post-2020 cases in Milan and nearby where the involvement of some visual artists, because before that the cases I showed before were just designed by the city technicians and together with the citizens. So they were very basically designed, so there were just color fields to fill in the space and distinguish the new pedestrian surface from the original street space. So from 2020 on, we start in some collaboration with visual artists to try and understand the new potential of this of these techniques.
And so this is Piazza Tito Minniti with a super-scale illustration by Camila Falsini, well known Roman muralist and illustrator. She transformed this very dull, asphalt surface, in both playground and the supersized drawing that can be read from above. And it projects the name of the neighborhood inside these shapes so you can barely read the word Isolma. So you have and I, S, O, L, M, A among the shapes of this super big playground. So I can just show you instead how it looks from the ground level. So it’s a super-scale space. This is also a complex site because it hosts a market twice a week. So it is a space that couldn’t be transformed completely into a square because it should stay empty. So we were only able to put some benches on the very border of the space but the center of the square should stay and empty to welcome the market. So the challenge was very powerful that we only had the 2D visual techniques in order to deliver a very strong sense of transformation to space.
So we called, we issued actually a call for artists. So on this square, we have not only the results, which is this one that is, in my opinion, very powerful on the pure visual point of view. But we also collected tons of different proposals from all over Italy and abroad. And this was a very new process for us to try to get more something about the debate on how to interpret this new media in a way. A new medium in ways that go as Arianna also said, and also Maria Teresa that happened to touch beyond the pure spectacle of the results. So beyond being beautiful, trying to have some content, trying to release some form of art that has something more than decoration. And so these are other proposals from the same site that did not win in the end.
So this is another space actually, because the competition involves two sites. So these are other artists and Camilla Falsini let’s say won the work on both sites because it was let’s say simply a two-sided competition with two sites in it. So this is another site in Piazzale Loreto. And this is relevant not because you are just another piece of the puzzle, but because you can see the scale of these experiments sometimes compared to the size of this old city. And so the ephemerality, and let’s say the politics of it, the fact that you are actually realizing something that will last one or two years, not more than this, if you do not, let’s say, remake it constantly, because it goes, it paints a time. So it’s also very poetical how these spaces act as debates against the Goliaths of sometimes very hard and muscular urban mobility. In huge cities like Milan, where you have this very aggressive, car-oriented, urban ganglia. I think this kind of experiment have also some sort of ethical value in trying to fight these black holes with beauty, even in a small section of them.
And so, for us, the reflection that we have been able to make so far is that if we still didn’t really reach the level of delivering very powerful messages at the moment, so I understand that these are more or less the creative spaces at the moment, they’re not so powerful, so engaging. But yet, the fact that you are with this technique, you can join both the fact that you are pedestrianizing, huge parts of the soil that belonged to cars before is already a message. Then you can make this message-rich art, so you have another layer of discussion on it. We just missed the final connection where this becomes a mature media to develop more powerful, more useful and more complex kinds of messages.
So I can show you another case, and this is really recent. This was completed last week, actually. And this is another case, meaning that this was, the space was already pedestrianized. So it was a square but it was a square that was not very successful. This is a smaller city nearby. And so the collective participatory program that we made basically took us, the community took us to understand that this place needed some revitalization process. And we chose art to do this, so the function is not the same. So we were not seizing space from cars. We were trying to revitalize the space and trying to take people by the hand and try to make them discover the space that is neglected at the moment. So we involved with another visual artist, actually, a muralist. Another muralist usually also works on street art-related projects. And he’s Daniel González. And he chose to realize this work of art inspired by a typographic approach that he sometimes uses. And the techniques used in this, in this work on several layers. One of these is having a written message like the new rules that militaries are shown at the beginning. This says, “L’appartenenza è avere gli altri dentro di sè,” which is a quote from a very known Italian songwriter from past Giorgio Gaber, that means, “belonging means having others inside of ourselves.” So it’s about participation and the sense of community.
But the scope of the game of this writing is not the sentence itself, it’s also the choice of super scaling the sentence, considering that each letter is six meters tall, so it’s very gigantic, makes it very appealing, if looked at from above. So it’s very effective if it’s looked at from the balconies. So it speaks to people that actually live on the square. But it also is an interesting, let’s say, game for those that cross the space because it’s difficult to understand what’s written on the ground, if you do not carefully cross all the space from one side to the other, to read each letter one after the other. So you are forced to cross all the space and observe it carefully from all from one side to the others, and then go back and follow the second line to understand the message in the end. So you’re forced to in a way make a performance where your body is in a way included in the space as a reader, as part of the typewriting activity. And it also has other parts where the typographic techniques, find other ways.
So now coming to the field of photography, I have not shown anything related to photography, actually. These works that I showed make us really easily think of the work of one artist that has some similarity to all the things that I showed. But it is, of course, they were not Jr. Jr. That usually is able to tackle social things like exclusion and expulsion within techniques that has a lot to do with photography and street art. So that speaks to both the fields at the same time, so it also deals a lot with gigantism. So all these things, these cases that I showed actually talk a lot about gigantism, which is not to say that this is the only way to convey messages in urban space. Of course, it’s not. But I chose these words because it seems to me that they are interested in the fact that they are trying to understand specificity. So the specific potential that is hidden in urban space is a medium, the potential that we probably don’t have completely clear so far. And that’s why it’s interesting because I think there is a lot to experiment with, a lot to invent and to discover and that photography can play a very important role in it. Thanks.
Maria Teresa Salvati: Thank you very much, Rossella. Great presentation, I think yes. tactical urbanism has a great potential for experimentation in public space and also includes photography. Paul, I think we don’t have time for questions. I don’t know if you want to…
Paul Lowe: Yes, we’re already gone over time. Yeah. Unless you just perhaps have a comment or a question for each other, maybe just to finish off.
Maria Teresa Salvati: Do you girls, do you want to add something? Okay, well, I think it was, I think we’re all aligned. And we are in a place where experimentation is needed. And as you can see, I’m very proud that Rossella is part of the Everything Is Connected team. And definitely, we will move in that direction in the future. And but there isn’t, as we said, there isn’t an answer yet. It’s all about experimenting, measuring, understanding, doing some testing and see what works or what not. And definitely, it’s a case of connecting different disciplines. Because no single discipline is enough to make big changes, photography or you know, architecture or anything. We all need to work together and really change the paradigms when we talk about climate change, because it’s a new challenge. And the objectives are different from the social messages we’ve been dealing with in the past. And so this implies new directions and new experimentation. So the good thing is that we are all aligned and that we are going in the same direction. And we’ll see what happens in the near future.
Paul Lowe: That’s fantastic. And thank you so much to all three for the amazing presentations, really fascinating. And I think it’s really important that you’re not just sort of putting things on a wall or putting them on the street, but also thinking about what impact they have, how we measure that impact, and how it might actually affect change. And that’s really how we got to move the narrative on. So thank you very, very much. And thank you to our audience. And we’ll see you again in a couple of weeks’ time for the next in this series. Thank you very much.
Maria Teresa Salvati: Thank you.
Arianna Rinaldo: Thank you, everyone
Rossella Ferorelli: Thank you. Goodbye
Maria Teresa Salvati: Bye.