Tafterjournal n. 73 - luglio 2014

Curiosity and contemplation: a geography of culture


Rubrica: Editoriali

Parole chiave: , , , ,

Culture is certainly rooted in specific sites. Such a simple feature has been used, often overused or even abused in the attempt at drawing borderlines or highlighting local pride, emphasizing a sense of belonging based upon the refusal of strangers and – symmetrically – the exploitation of foreigners. Despite its evident failure territorial marketing, more a label than a tool, is still adopted as a sort of Troy horse aimed at attracting blockbuster visitors rather than curious and non-prejudicial travellers.


A geography of culture can be drafted. Its ancestor is the inevitably euro-centric view that convinced Napoleon to bring an army of archaeologists in Egypt: the aim was the enormous collection of ancient manufacts to be hosted in the new cultural hub, Paris. In such a way the newly born institution of nation state could show a powerful endorsement; while kings were there by grace of God and will of the nation, the bourgeois democracies devoted at keeping the manufacturing economy alive could only rely upon the past, even a stolen past. The golden age needed the sacred authority of grandfathers.


After one century, just before the fall of the hundred-years peace in 1914, the ability of culture to define our ethical and political hierarchy of values was drained by the exhaustion of our creative language: creative artists started to steal signs from other vocabularies, from the pentatonic Javanese music to African sculptures, intuitions from the photographic technology, tribal metaphors. It was the chaos, the creative chaos. It destroyed the commonplaces conventionally associated with culture: it represents beauty, it reproduces nature, it is the product of original, unique crafting. Still in the Thirties the judge of the Brancusi vs. United States trial falls into this romantic trap.


But then, after a dark period in which books were burnt, Jews killed, ancestors resurrected and life horribly theatralised, culture was absorbed by the industrial wave, and started to uncomfortably navigate between elitist clubs and popular hordes, reactionary (often apocalyptic) conservatives and leftish intellectuals. It was almost a religious war. The cultural system still carries the wounds of such a dimensional obsession: ideas are evaluated through their revenues, projects are compared through the width of their audience, objects, events and even professionals are identified through their label. Conventions prevail upon substance, and the diffused stress of performance ends up to look for cheap solutions: impressionists’ exhibitions, three tenors’ concerts, and the like. Site-specificity disappears, and culture adopts a superficial global orientation.


This self-referential framework managed to widen the gap between culture and society. Still now much more than half of the world adult population has never been involved in any cultural experience. The long conviction that culture is special and that only initiated individuals can enjoy it led to the geographic isolation of cultural buildings and areas from the urban grid: ivory towers, rather than places for sharing emotions, intuitions and experiences. At the end of the Twentieth Century a relevant part of creative language was no more connected with views and expectations of society; in the same way a wide proportion of cultural supply was still organised like in the past, totally ignoring the deeper and more versatile perceptive ability on the part of contemporary individuals. Culture was progressively abandoning society, locating itself in a noble nowhere to give a precise signal of its own special status.


In the meantime, while the cultural milieu continued to complain about feeling neglected, underfunded, endangered and abandoned, society started to reflect about its perspective in a complex period: while the manufacturing granted certainties were fading away a new unpredictable paradigm was being crafted from facts rather than from decisions. Such a crisis (a big change, according to the ethimology of the word) required long time horizons, multidimensional thematic views, wide connections, and deep territorial identity. Society starts to reconquer the urban spaces, and culture can keep and enhance its value reshaping its geographical structure; in our close future we will find cultural options in many places, not necessarily in conventional ones. No more special and difficult to appraise, culture is becoming the powerful response to our urgency of self-representation: we need it back in our everyday life.


This may seem a merely territorial issue. Actually it is a sort of Copernican revolution in the relationship between culture and society. The conventional view of culture, where experts know the truth and hermetically convey it towards the few inclined to make an effort (without sacrifice souls cannot be saved), considers whatever can be defined culture as objective and unchangeable: sculpted on bronze. But culture is such only if it can activate a relationship, a dialogue, an exchange. Seeds being planted grow only when they absorb the features of the soil and the impact of human action. Culture without a recipient can be art, craft, technique, but it cannot exert any cultural value since nobody could perceive it and digest its indefinite content.


Despite an intensive resistance against changes that would put many things in discussion, our time is recording a growing wave of creative and innovative projects whose aim is to reduce and eliminate the gap between cultural discourse and society’s appraisal, appreciation and participation. This incudes not only non conventional areas or issues (the section ‘After’ in this Journal is rich of various and stimulating examples) but also traditional projects or activities where new ways of shaping supply or of establishing an interactive dialogue with consumers are experimented.


The experience of ‘Isola delle Storie’ book festival, being held in Gavoi (Sardinia) and aimed at extracting the genius loci through a hybrid and plural exchange of ideas, interpretations and suggestions is analysed by Annapaola Bornioli, whose multidisciplinary approach sheds light on the value of emotion and trust in cultural relationships. The ‘Voices’ project, hosted in the Music Conservatory at Milan and crafting a map of the town where dynamics are made by graphic signs added by visitors describing their emotional digestion of urban spaces where they live, is examined by Ilaria Bollati, still an eclectic professional able to emphasize the normality and effectiveness of technology as a powerful tool for expression and discussion.


The insufficiency of the conventional (and bureaucratised) models in the theatre system can elicit responses where creativity concerns formats before languages, as in the Trust in BO emerging framework adopting a new legal structure still absent in the Italian experience, and building a stable productive horizon through strategic alliances, as Anna Caramia and Luca Carboni show in their joint article (in the ‘After’ section).


Culture and society do not fight, they finally speak to each other. Curiosity can open the path to new experiences, without being subject to a consolidated and rigid grid of rules, formats and praxes. Contemplation will properly highlight the centrality of language and the consequent consistency between semantic power, managerial soundness, economic strategy and financial sustainability of culture.

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