Episode 1: The Poetry of Politics | Rome, Italy
In this first episode of the series, we visit Italy to explore the recent work of visual artist, Iginio de Luca. For many years de Luca has focused his work on the production of videos, photographic images, and sounds that activate public spaces with bold, satirical actions that aim to interrupt everyday life in order to hold a mirror to the absurdities of current politics.
De Luca is well-known for his “blitzes,” which he has named his bold, satirical actions that aim to interrupt everyday life in order to highlight absurdities of current politics.
One example is a blitz from 2018, called “iailat,” for which de Luca reduced the speed of the Italian national anthem by 80% to create a slow-moving, distorted soundtrack. He then equipped a van with loudspeakers and slowly drove around polling stations on election day, amplifying the sound to voters heading into poll booths.
As part of the artist statement accompanying the piece on de Luca’s website, editor Silvano Manganaro writes that “Iailat” “turned out to be a perfect metaphor for the country and the electoral climate at the time: the slowness and heaviness of an entire people unable to get out of the mud…The title itself, which is an anagram of the word ‘Italy,’ is presented as an image of a nation dismembered, divided and senseless, which becomes something else in an attempt to give itself a new configuration…”
De Luca has been carrying out these blitzes for years, activating public spaces in flash interventions of cultural guerilla warfare. It is largely due to this interplay between political awareness and poetic sensibility that ECCOM decided to reach out to him for his involvement in the project, “Amplify: Make the Future of Europe Yours.”
Based in Italy, ECCOM is a transdisciplinary organization created to promote the cultural and creative sector and support the needs of those who work in the cultural system. ECCOM is one of 12 partners that has participated in the Amplify project. In the autumn of 2021, ECCOM engaged inhabitants of a peripheral neighbourhood of Rome, Tor Bella Monaca, in conversations about Europe. Instead of using more traditional workshop methods, ECCOM decided to involve participants in a more unconventional way, taking into careful consideration that for most of them, Europe as a debate topic is perceived as something distant and intangible; not particularly relevant in their daily discussions and life priorities.
Over the course of nine times, de Luca led participants, on foot, up one of the 15 towers that visually characterize and dominate the Tor Bella Monaca neighbourhood. The voices gathered expressed the progressive fatigue, hardships, hopes and disappointments, local politics, Europe and private lives. This artistic intervention resulted in de Luca’s audio-visual piece, “Verso Dove” or “Where to.”
The final work, which is presented in video format, is primarily comprised of audio, which is playing while the viewer watches a blank, black screen. You can hear individual voices overlap each other, layering their speech and thoughts in an interwoven dialogue, accentuated with the increasing sounds of breathing, which becomes more laboured, the higher they go up the tower. As the physical exertion of the piece becomes more and more evident, so does the depth of the conversation: The conversation becomes personal and challenging, some participants, for instances, talk about feeling completely abandoned by European institutions.
The viewer can hear the voices overlapping, by giving bits of complementary, personal accounts: there is nothing here…we have been abandoned…the neighbourhood is neglected, it is a time bomb…if I were the mayor…it is all grey, it’s difficult to make a distinction between black and white…cleanliness…I need a job…families…life…relationship with diversity…Europe, institutions should be closer.
These conversations are peppered with more deep breaths and gasps for air, something that de Luca defines, in his own words, as “Words under stress between physical performance, oxygen and ethical practice, a gymnastic of social conscience, in the performative act of climbing, of going upwards, towards a metaphorical “where”, a place full of possibilities.”
Towards the end of the video work an image appears once the participants have reached the very top of the tower. You see a blue horizon over the tops of trees and building tops. The sun is shining, bring a lightness that contrasts starkly to the black screen that the viewer experiences for the majority of the piece. The viewer is given a vantage point of each of the four sides of the tower: the hills, the other towers across the landscape, the city and the clouds. The horizons seem open and almost as if they contradict each other in a quite dramatic and unconventional view of Rome. De Luca says that “finally outside, high up on the terrace, a cathartic light reveals and enhances a landscape on the edge of the city, a contemplative reward after so much effort.”
In an interview with Cristina da Milano, who works with ECCOM and oversees the Amplify project in Italy, she spoke more about how she envisions the role of artists, such as Iginio de Luca, in institutional decision-making at the European Level. When asked what lessons she thinks practitioners and policymakers can take away from the experience of bringing an artist into a participatory exercise like the one she coordinated with Inginio, she spoke on the topic of trans-sectorality. “I think the most important lesson is that when we talk about the need for trans-sectoral activities…we shouldn’t only use the term trans sectoral, because it is very trendy nowadays, but we should really try to think in a trans sectoral way, in a flexible way, also opening our minds, to different methodologies, to different approaches…It requires an effort to see that things can be done in a different way, in a much more creative way, in a less codified way. And artists can really be important triggers for this change of approach. They help us in thinking outside the box, they help us in really applying this idea of a trans-sectoral approach. And they can help us also in getting in touch with different kinds of people, and different kinds of topics, also difficult topics.”
“Those working in the cultural sector are often put in the position of prioritising the economic value of their work in order to stay relevant and accepted.”
When asked what she thought some of the challenges were that the cultural sector faces when communicating to policymakers, she talked about how sometimes culture is perceived as being something “nice,” but something that doesn’t affect people’s lives profoundly and is not as important as other sectors. She attributes this to the societal importance often placed on the economic impact of a sector and in this way culture is seen as a marginalised sector. She says because of this, those working in the cultural sector are often in the position of prioritising the economic value of their work in order to stay relevant and accepted. She stresses that it’s as important to see the social values the cultural sector brings to the table and it will take a change of mindset to see how culture is crucial to creating societal impact. Even with this work to be done, Cristina is very hopeful.
“It’s incredibly lively…and rewarding working in this sector and fostering the values related to this sector to society. I think there are many great potential opportunities to really make people’s lives more interesting, more lively through cultural activities. Then, of course, culture cannot solve all the problems, but I think culture and creativity can add many positive aspects to people’s lives. I think we are in a period in which we need to believe in that.”
“Frequencies” is a podcast that explores arts and cultural initiatives that seek to impact and transform communities, near and far. Each episode features the work, voices, and experiences of artists and cultural workers across Europe and beyond. “Frequencies”, a production of Culture Action Europe, lives at the intersection of culture and politics by focusing on the power cultural practises and agents have in nurturing inclusive, open, diverse, fair and democratic societies.