Isola Art Center
- Authors: Aria Spinelli / Bert Theis
- Location: Milan / Italy
A radiography of the Center
Since its outset, Isola Art Center’s gamble has been the creation of an open and dynamic experimentation platform, combining international-level contemporary art, emerging young art an theoretical research, with the needs and desires of a mixed, working-class neighborhood’s inhabitants, affecting such neighborhood’s transformation. A precarious, extremely local project amidst a situation of global, conflictual transformations. Isola Art Center has chosen not to repeat pre-established institutional models, as in NYC, Paris or Berlin, creating instead a new form of Art Center apt for a prolonged cultural, social, economical and political crisis. It still remains a “no-budget” project, functioning only through energy, enthusiasm and solidarity.
To understand the Center’s nature one has to consider that its organizational structure is all but top-down, monolithic: there is no director or curator deciding the program and projects. Neither is it an “artist-run space”, where a group of artists holds its exhibitions inviting friends all along. The center is instead characterized by its flexible, open, rhizomatic structure, lacking a pre-established hierarchy.
In this sense a series of projects confided to invited curators and artists could serve as an example, such as “Chechnya Emergency Biennial” curated by Evelyne Jouanno, “Women Shi Gaibian” with artists from Canton, China, curated by Martina Koeppel-Yang, “The Art Community” with over 500 artist portraits by Wolfgang Träger, and many more. As well as our “Picnics”, which have allowed art spaces from Turin, Pescara and Piacenza to design and wholly realize shows in Milan. In such cases Isola Art Center has opened its venues, offering services such as communication and set-up assistance.
Such “external” contributions have proved complementary to the projects of artists and curators more consistently involved with the Center’s Construction; among them are Alessandra Poggianti, Katia Anguelova, Marco Scotini, Roberto Pinto, Stefano Boccalini, Paola di Bello, Adrian Paci, Fani Zguro and others.
The rhizomatic aspect can be made cleared through the contribution of the aforementioned groups, autonomously operating within the center. For example, Osservatorio inOpera has produced, besides videos, actions and installations, two issues of its “Bollettino multimano”, focusing on the destruction of works of art and on the neighborhood’s situation.
Yet another rhizome develops from the social fabric: the work carried out for years with the neighborhood association and the foundation of Forum Isola have led to the creation of a new public for contemporary art in the area. The inhabitants participate in many ways to the Center’s activities, either helping in the realization of some works (such as Tomas Saraceno’s Museo aero solar, or the shutters of our Permanent Green show) or hosting international artists with local families, or participating in actions, performances and labs, proposing new projects in neighborhood venues. Such a participation has been, from its outset, spontaneous, for the Center’s action field has since its start been the neighborhood’s public social space, instead of closed exhibition venues. The need for a Center for Art and Community Life has thus been originally expressed by the inhabitants themselves.
(Bert Theis 2008)
Isola Art Center
Isola Art Center’s history spans through seven years now. From 2003 to 2007 the Center has been cooperating with Forum Isola to convert former industrial building “Stecca degli artigiani” in a Center for art and community life. The exhibition space on the second floor has allowed artists, critics, curators, philosophers and inhabitants in general to create Milan’s most dynamic situation of contemporary artistic research. The Center remains a laboratory offering an experimental platform to contemporary art, acting with interdisciplinary methods, international yet firmly rooted in the local social fabric, with the long-term aim of opposing political decisions and urban design projects that will have a negative impact on the neighbourhood. Since 2001, the inhabitants have engaged in the defence of their only public space, the Stecca and the nearby park, doomed to be privatized.
In the same year began the first interventions in contemporary art. In 2002 the Office for Urban Transformation, out, was opened within the Stecca: a meeting place for artists, architects, critics, curators and neighborhood associations. Since 2003, the association Isola dell’Arte started working towards a Center for contemporary art, while other organizations autonomously developed social activities. Throughout the years, works of artists such as Stefano Arienti, Massimo Bartolini, Tania Bruguera, Loris Cecchini, Gabriele Di Matteo, King’s, Luca Pancrazzi, Dan Perjovschi, Marjetica Potrc and Vedovamazzei, specifically conceived for the Stecca, have entered the Center’s ideal “permanent collection”.
Isola Art Center was officially inaugurated in 2005 by provincial government’s cultural delegate Daniela Benelli. The Center belongs today to the Province of Milan’s inContemporanea network, and has hosted various cultural and social projects, such as Love Difference, Osservatorio inOpera, Werkstatt, Stazione Isola, Millepiani, Undo.net, Forum Isola. A joint effort of these associations, with artists such as Tomas Saraceno, has given shape to the innovative project of a Center for art and community life within the neighborhood park. Today, Isola Art Center has held 29 exhibitions, 13 special projects and 28 conferences, bringing in Isola over 200 artists from all over the world and lodging them in the inhabitant’s homes. Throughout the years the Center has cooperated with academics and students from a wide range of universities; it is presently very well recognized on an international scale, and was recently invited to Geneva’s Mamco Museum, Istanbul Biennial and London’s Goldsmiths College.
In April 2007 the city government and real estate multinational Hines have cleared the Stecca, evicting Isola Art Center and the craftspeople and associations, subsequently proceeding to the demolition of the building. The operation was aimed at delivering the Stecca and park to the corporation, so as to develop new buildings summing up to over 90.000 m3. The latest project for the area, signed by Boeri Studio, involves underground parking lots, luxury dwellings and two tree-covered towers called “vertical forest” in place of the present park, added to the construction of a 30.000 m3 building with parking lots, offices and a shopping mall to be built by the Italian Ligresti group.
The strong connection of Isola Art Center to the territory has allowed us to survive the eviction and carry on with our activities, using the neighbourhood itself as our acting space. Hosted by other venues, such as associations, shops, public spaces, we have created a field of cooperations eventually engendering new possibilities.
(Bert Theis, Vincenzo Latronico 2008)
Isola. Tactics and transitions
Isola Art Center should be considered a platform, which’s definitions and transformations have constantly paralleled the political context. Its activities have necessarily been diversified, never organized through pre-established methodologies; instead it has searched each time for different processes, in close relation to the actual needs. This led to the creation of a research, experimentation and development device, aimed not at the definition of a territory of its own, but at the proliferation of methodologies and activities both creative and temporary – and, as such, non-capitalizable. Tactics, instead of strategies, which following Michel de Certeau’s definition, activate interventions and operations within the territories produced by power’s strategies.
During the first phase within the Stecca degli Artigiani, Isola Art Center operated as a poacher, adopting the most radical and diverse practices, ranging from the creation of labs to the holding of discussion boards, from the production of projects conceived for precarious spaces to the involvement of internationally meaningful events. Everything has been realized in contingency, constantly playing with different events in order to turn them into favorable “occasions”. “New Museum” was one of the last interventions before the building was demolished: a ten-meter long neon sign installed on the Stecca’s roof. The project, realized by Kings (Federica Perazzoli and Daniele Innamorato), seeks the legitimating of the space; it paradoxically renders official the presence of a clandestine node. The building was destroyed little after. That sign is presented today in the Milan Triennial, in “inContemporanea” project, promoted by the Milan Provincial government. The neon no longer indicates the existence of a space; instead, it signals a transition through which our tactics are re-conceptualizing different moves within the established domain. Lost the cube, Isola Art Center now deploys into and out to the neighborhood itself.
Hosted by other venues such as associations, shops and public spaces, it creates a human network based on solidarity, allowing the re-invention of the relations between individual and social bodies. This implies as well, rethinking the public arena as a space for actions looking for the transformation of the social structure, into a creative and generative organism.
The constant redefinition of an Art Center by artists, critics, curators, and intellectuals, together with the people of the neighborhood, has opened new possibilities of resistance against a violent banalization process, which implies the destruction of “difference” and the singularity of today’s “differential spaces”. The context gave the ‘lexicon’, designing “the circumstances in which the fact is being re-inscribed”.
(Alessandra Poggianti 2008)
(source: http://www.isolartcenter.org )