Emanuela De Cecco is an art critic and associate professor of Contemporary Art History at the University of Bozen-Bolzano, Italy. She is the author of numerous articles with her most recent publications including; ‘Maria Lai: nearby, up close, far away, in absentia’, n.paradoxa, vol. 38, 2016 and ‘Non volendo aggiungere altre cose al mondo, politiche dell’arte nella sfera pubblica’, Postmedia, 2016.
Spacing is related to the act of creating space, which is interesting because this kind of action has an inherent mobility to it that can influence change within the city. Currently, what I find troubling is the tendency towards clear divisions between spaces when we should be looking to create more intersecting spaces. This is especially the case in regards to the presence of nature within our cities. Fragmented natural spaces might be able to sustain flora but is a significant problem for providing a proper habitat for animal species. Allowing nature into the cities to grow freely, without human intervention, would provide the opportunity for biodiversity to arise in a manner that is not completely planned.
There are a number of keywords that arise when I consider the topic of urban assets: finance, real estate, entrepreneurship, management, value, economy, competition, governance and heritage. These are important terms but I emphasize alternatives as the critical term because we need to rethink the current meanings of these words - a culture of looking for alternatives to these pervading terms is critical.
On the one hand I see the imbued sense of place in space created through memories and collective consciousness, and on the other one hand I see the community and their governing representatives. By governance I mean the relationship between the decision-makers and the people affected by the decision. If we continue to operate in a manner which is related solely to economic concerns and does not recognize the value inherent in the collective consciousness of place then I believe that things are condemned to be the same. We will continue to see a huge distinction between people who can stay in some places and those who cannot.
Amongst the exciting possibilities that are arising as a part of this rapidly expanding toolkit, I would like to suggest that social inclusion is an incredibly important consideration to remain mindful of. We need to consider the sections of our community that are unable, through age, ignorance, or disability, to keep up with this pace of change – who struggle with the use digital communications and connections – and how our society remains open to these people.
There are many questions in relation to interdependence but a particularly critical one is: ‘Is it possible for us to maintain our standards of living into the future?’ My reflection on this is that this will simply not be possible. A little over 1% of the world’s population, 65 million people are currently displaced in the world, travelling from one side to the other for reasons outside of their control, be it war, famine or persecution. This means that we have to be able to accept other people in our places where we are lucky enough to have clean water and are safe from widespread violence. Western Europe in the perfect position to open our doors to these people. In this sense, I believe we have to be open to losing something in order to change something else, especially in dealing with a crisis as large as worldwide displacement.
This project is about creating a ‘New Vocabulary of Terms’, what do you think defines the contemporary vocabulary and is there something that should change about it?
The first thing that I would like to say is that I think we need to cultivate an attitude of criticality towards the meaning of words. Words, on a simplistic level, are defined in a dictionary, but they are also alive – their meaning is generated through experiences related to the word. If you change the experiences, in time, the meaning of the word also evolves. Language is a dynamic rather than fixed process and, in this sense, the understanding of the ideas behind a word is of greater importance than the word itself.
Do you recall any positive or negative experiences you had with vocabulary in communication between disciplines - a moment when a word from a different discipline inspired you or when you discovered you were misunderstood because of lack of common understanding of terms used by specific disciplines?
I was working on a project for Pitti Immagine in Florence, an Italian publisher specializing in fashion. The research was in relation to the concept of ‘total living’. By ‘total living’ we were referring to the way in which an idea can be applied to all aspects of life: from your house, to the city up to the world at large. I came across a book by economists, B. Joseph Pine II and James Gilmore, called ‘The Experience Economy’. It was illuminating to see experience characterized in terms of monetary value. To me, my lived experience is something related to human interaction – something associated with big life-changing events rather than objects and services. In this book however, they characterize experience as something than can be purchased - to them, the act of buying a t-shirt can be marketed as an experience.
In the recent past, many architects and artists focused their research on the city, and some of their utopias became real. How have these collectives of artists, such as Superstudio, Stalker and Cliostraat, influenced the new ones working on similar topics?
The legacy left by these art collectives lies in the notion that one can be socially progressive whilst also making art. Projects still appear in the same as those of Cliostraat and Stalker utilizing the medium of walking as a form of experiential mapping. In 2013, Leonardo Delogu, a theatre director and choreographer, invited me to collaborate on a project for the Terni festival. The idea was to walk from the Tyrrhenian to the Mediterranean Sea, crossing Italy horizontally, but in the context of the festival it was also intended as a spectacle; a performance. The act of walking together for thirty kilometres a day was an interesting experience because it altered the nature of the act; like standing on stage. Their perception of Stalker was also interesting to me as they, of course, knew of the work of Stalker and it fed into their work, however for me, the work of Stalker was like a heritage but they transformed my perception in terms of art related to the body directly.
Speaking of urgencies, how would you define the relation between public space and art?
It is a very complicated question because of this problem of definitions. With the same word potentially meaning different things little can be assumed. We don’t recognize open space as something which is necessarily open to the public. Similarly, how the labeling of a sculpture as a ‘public sculpture’ changes its relationship to ‘the public’ is never really questioned. Is it really public? We could even argue that museums are more ‘public’ than traditionally public spaces as they become increasingly consumer-focused. I can’t help but notice that many of the terms used in the arts, specifically arts management, derive from the marketing industry and have shaped the way we talk about art. Our perception is distorted by this. When one sees a large image in a city it is often treated absolutely the same as a commercial advertisement, and this restricts the ability to initiate a dialogue between contemporary art and the notions of the public and to question its meaning. When I hear of the creation of a new ‘monument’ in the city, I find it very difficult to think that this is a truly public monument. When somebody declares that this is a ‘public monument’, most of the time this image of ‘public’ is really sustained by marketing.
What ‘the public’ means is constantly changing, so I feel more positive towards the idea of transitory action. Through mobility, in this precarious situation, it is possible to perceive something more.