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The Roman Spring By Stalker. Wondering Around With Lorenzo Romito

 

“Walking the streets is what links up reading the map with living one’s life – Rebecca Solnit writes in Wanderlust: A History of Walking – the personal microcosm with the public macrocosm; it makes sense of the maze all around.” [1]

In 1995 Lorenzo Romito s one of the initiators of Stalker, an urban art lab, a multidisciplinary collective subject aimed at exploring the transformations and urban changes. [2]

If the vision of the contemporary city can be traced back to the rational/irrational and planned/not planned dichotomy, Stalker sees the urban space as a continuous change, a flow, a place of disorientation and restless circulation. Walking, in Stalker‘s first actions, is meant as a body and physical form of knowledge, investment and re-appropriation of those shapeless territories, of those “interstitial and marginal areas, abandoned or vacant urban spaces in transformation” called “actual territories”. [3] A walking-based process of mapping the city in which who walks and the places he walks across, determine and redefine in a reciprocity relationship: if the environment acts on the individual who goes through it, the space in turn is altered and created by the moving body or, as De Certeau wrote: “steps are a sort of space organization, they constitute the nature of places […] They do not localize: they constitute the space themselves”. [4]

 

 

15 years have gone by and Romito keeps on walking, but with many more people now. Primavera Romana is a project born in 2009 and is now in its 3rd year. The project proposes a series of itineraries in a broad territory, starting from the suburban area, located externally to t

This year “Primavera Romana” will move even further inland, to the towns and villages once separated from the city, which are now part of it, entering even more the Oltrecittà. Routes are defined through google maps within an open process of sharing information, news, sources and links posted on-line, to then become concrete along the way in forms of knowledge of the territory as a consequence of the “immersion” in situ, and also through readings, tales and memories of who lives or lived in the territories we walked through.

If the model for the first actions by Stalker is the one of the situationist derivè, now the concept of walking as a form of resistance, as a relationship, sharing and re-appropriation modality, in a dimension more explicitly collective, seems to prevail. The phase started with Primavera Romana evolves, as a matter of fact, into a web of micro-actions whose aim is the activation of processes of social transformation, “from the bottom up”.


“Le arance non cadono dal cielo” (Oranges don’t fall from the sky) is a project of nomadic agriculture realized on the 9th of January, on the day of the anniversary of the rebellion in Rosarno and of the assault which came after, to remember the exploitation conditions in which foreign workers live, in Italy. It is a collective harvest of oranges and citruses in the public gardens of Rome, organized through a blog and google maps, which lead to the mapping of orange trees on the territory and to the creation of self-organized groups of people. The oranges were then used to produce juices, marmalades, candies, and through the funds obtained, the restoration of a public space in the city of Rosarno is being planned, to be then used as a social centre for foreign workers.

The “Olio Pu.Ro” (public Oil of Rome) was produced the same way. Walking through spaces and becoming aware of their existence, means also testifying the change they are undergoing and rebuilding the lost memories, slowing down that collective process of forgetting and annihilation of the territory (following Paul Virilio) which is the result of the speed of the contemporary communications and transportations. The projects starts from Acquedotto felice in Rome and aims at creating a spontaneous territorial museum through a process of collection of stories, memories and accounts.

 

 

These are concrete goals then, the will of effectively affect the social fabric through collective micro-interventions restoring the relationship between spaces and people living in them, in order to turn the city into a place of encounter and creative cohabitation.

The aesthetic dimension of these practices flows always more into the political and social sphere: creating a community, promoting processes of spontaneous change and of interaction among groups, auto-organized forms of citizenship, of re-appropriation of the territory and of its memories. Practices directly inscribing in the social fabric, without institutional or aesthetic mediations. Walking can then turn into marching ( a passage indicating a clear political aim), like in the “Marcia per un Mondo Nuovo” (March for a New World) which ended in Sicily not long ago, to claim public water, civil rights and auto-determination of local communities. [5] Or the long way of Stalker with nomadic people can reinvent itself in the denunciation of the Piano Nomadi and in the support to nomadic families which a few days ago, during the Easter Period, after being evacuated from Miralanza and Cluniancensi street, took refugee in the Basilica of San Paolo in Rome. [6]

If Situazionism is an explicit reference, to Stalker, since the first experiences, this passage seems to be drawing the extreme consequences following Guy Debord‘s path towards a practice always more markedly political [7]and Situazionism just like in the actions and projects of Stalker, is always about rewriting the urban space identity “as the locus of a potential reciprocity and community, the crucial spatial stake of any project of radical social transformation” [8]

We talked about these developments with Lorenzo Romito in Gorizia, during a workshop at MAGIS International Film Studies Spring School organized by the University of Studies in Udine. “Archive”, this year school’s theme, was explored together with Romito, in the dimension of urban mapping, of informal memorial forms and auto-organized forms and of the oral history of places. What follows is part of the confrontation which took place during the three hours of this meeting…

 

 

Lorenzo Romito: As Stalker, we started walking in 1995 and we kept on walking. Places change together with the experiences of people going through them, we are the ones to produce the environment we live in: this is the first and most important discovery of our practice. The modalities of living and experimenting the spaces can change the way we perceive them… Finding connections and links between spaces which are closed, far away or separated and inserting them in an endless narration, that spacial continuity which nowadays we don’t live any more (we are separated, we live at the same time on the web, on the phone, on a global scale…). The simple and physical practice of walking wants to restore a primary relationship with the space on the basis of this continuity we lost. Walking through allow us to get back possession of the spaces and to perceive their change and it is a central element of our work since Stalker was born. Then the idea of walking through evolved and extended into the idea of going through political, social, cultural and linguistic boundaries […]

Another key word in our job is “cartography”, a subject representing the landscape in the most objective way possible, since always it is a device of measurement and control of the territory. We use the map as narration, but also as collective work: when we go for a walk within Primavera Romana we do not decide an itinerary a priori, but we have a map of the area on google map and we ask everyone to help us finding interesting places… so people start locating and suggesting places, they add bookmarks, they link videos, news, comments, information. The map starts filling up and after the walk, it enriches itself with other information, it constantly changes, it becomes and index. These maps, in a way, become the real time representation of the becoming of things. We use the map not as a control or representation mean, but as a co-evolutionary element. Maps are in circular relationships with walking: we create the map to walk and from walking comes the map.


Elena Biserna:
Coming back to the term boundary, this word, in our works, assumed diverse and complementary identities: political boundary between states (I think about Transborderline, 2000), physical boundary between city areas (like in the project Meantime, Meanpace, Meanculture in Miami, 2000), but also “mental” boundary, all the differences dividing ethnic groups living in the same territory (I think, for example, about the projects created in Campo Boario with the Arat Association)… It seems to me that in your works the attempt is to turn the boundary into an inhabited space, of confrontation/meeting.


Lorenzo Romito:
Yes, into a recreational and experimental place of coexistence. Giving space to the boundaries and living this dimension: we have created many works on this. I think that for an architect the only way of understanding the possibilities of a space is to live in it and cohabit with other people living in it, providing new possibilities (not ideas, but possibilities) and bringing out naturally the need of a collective process of cohabitation.

 

 

Elena Biserna: How did your way of walking change and how important is now the collective dimension of walking?


Lorenzo Romito
: One of the differences is that in the first walks we were experimenting ourselves and on ourselves the possibilities of knowing, representing and living those undefined and uncertain spaces that we call “actual territories”. Now instead, we are trying to promote this practice as social and collective practice. Changing the way we behave in order to change the society we live in


Marco Mancuso
: I ask myself, how did the relationship with people taking part in your walks change? How did the involvement and relationships among participants during these 15 years of work change?


Lorenzo Romito
: Today we consider social aspects to be more important than our practice. At the beginning our research was aimed at investigating the possibilities of achieving knowledge through the experience, now instead, it is the sharing of an action, the participation in the re-appropriation of spaces. It is becoming almost a movement. We have hundreds of people walking with us and I think this is the most interesting thing. We have urban planners and architects who come walk with us, but also simple citizens, young and old people, artists, nomadic people, students, professors… I measure the significance and success of our activities on the basis of the diversity of the people involved.

At times, people carry works of literature with them and we read them together, or they call friends living in those places, who can tell us stories on those places. The levels of cooperation in the process of getting to know our city: this is what changed. At the beginning, even if we are a collective of artists, we were taking care of our work. Now the work itself is a sharing practice. The idea is to put people in action, in the exploration and re-appropriation of their environment, in social practices, memoirs or in the creation of stories. Promoting auto-organization starting from the re-use of spaces and left behind memories.

 

 

The participation of Stalker to the Architecture Biennale in Venice, three years ago, in 2008, represents this moment of change in our way of working. We had been working for ages with the nomadic people community and“Savorengo Ker” – an experiment of “do it yourself” in the Casilino 900 field – is one of the results of this collaboration. Together with nomadic people, we constructed a wooden house as an alternative to the container, demonstrating that, at a lower price, you can obtain the twofold result of giving a job and building houses respecting Italian standards.


We were in contact with Institutions to start the project on a large scale, but then they set fire to the house and we realized that there was no political will to carry on with this process. This incident also lead to our division: I understood that I no longer had the will to work with Institutions and with the University. At the Biennale we presented the house in the Italian pavilion
and we took place in the Experimental Architecture exhibition, curated by Emiliano Gandolfi, which was aimed at investigating new modalities of working with architecture and imagining the future.


We asked all the visitors and colleagues presented at the exhibition to ask a question about the future of architecture, while an oracle was giving I
Ching’s answers. I think the time in which architects had the possibility to create new images for the future, is over now. We live in a world full of future images, preventing us from seeing the present. The only possibility of looking at the future is observing the change in our society. We decided that our job, from that moment on, would no longer be an artistic job, that we would work to promote the social change, following the philosophy of the I Ching, through the reading and cultivation of the smallest traces of spontaneous change.


Since then we started
Primavera Romana. I don’t know if this direction is going to be successful, for sure it was for us a very clear and conscious change.

 

Elena Biserna: How do you relate to the idea of movement? Some of the works you talked about, like the project Le arance non cadono dal cielo, are also a modality of commemoration, ephemeral and collective monuments, fighting against the traditional concept of monument or maybe, they update it in active modalities and with a precise and concrete planning. I think about some of your less recent works like Egnatia


Lorenzo Romito:
Yes, this is what we do, through a process of collection and reconstruction of collective memories and in a way they become monuments. In our walks we try to shape or make levels and layers of memories and lost memories come through and also to re-interpret them. But not always these projects are ephemeral. For example, we started working on another project entitled Le voci dell’Acquedotto Felice, a collection of memories created through maps and blogs and constructed by people who shared their stories linked to the path which stretches along the Acquedotto Felice in Rome. The idea is that the Aqueduct itself can become a territorial museum without any kind of infrastructure and any change in the physical space. The memories and accounts will be collected through the web, will be accessible in situ through mobile phones connected to the network, and at the same time, it will be possible to access these data through the internet thanks to a digital archive with a map basis. The aim is to come to the creation of the museum without mediations, but through an open and auto-organized process.

The project was born from an experience of Primavera Romana in 2010, thanks to the meeting with Don Roberto Sardelli and to the need to remember the history of the sheds that until a few years ago, were along the arches of the Aqueduct, to testify the right to a home. We decided to create a not institutional memorial to remember and pass on this story. So we walked along the Aqueduct reading the remaining traces of the sheds along the way. Both the priest and ex scholars – now adults- who once lived in that place, got involved. They told us their stories and we carved them in stone…

But also the walk that in a few days we are going to start in Sicily, is going to follow the footsteps of a great march which took place in 1967, organized by Danilo Dolci and Lorenzo Barbera (who is going to walk with us) to which communities of Valle del Belice participated. The march of 1967 was the result of a long and incredible project to claim the construction of barrages in Belice and set the farmers free from the slavery of water, which was not public. Now, together with Sicilian associations, we will walk this march again for civil rights, against the privatization of water and suggesting the idea that these Sicilian villages, which are now partially abandoned, can be given back life hosting refugees coming from Africa. We will go through Sicily from nord to south, for a week, starting from Menfi, to come to Palermo and then Trappeto.

The Egnatia project, instead, started from the extension to European level of the work we were carrying out in Rome at Foro Boario. The idea was to create a monument dedicated to the memory of people who were forced to abandon their houses, to migrants, collecting memories along this path along the ancient Via Egnatia which connected Rome and Istanbul, the longest road constructed at the time of the Roman empire between The East and The West. The idea was to create agencies to collect memories of refugee people and migrants… We also created radio, tv programs, and newspapers.

 

 

Elena Biserna: This is another interesting aspect: the use of media like blog or tv, to create relationships within communities, like in Corviale.


Lorenzo Romito:
Yes, in Corviale we created a satellite tv with the help of citizens. We do not have a privileged language, to say so. This is another matter related to boundaries. We try to escape disciplinary boundaries: are we artists, architects, activists?


Marco Mancuso:
If I could criticize your work a bit, on the use you make of new technologies, internet mainly, I would say that it seems to be more focused on the memory and documentation, rather than on the idea of real time connection between what is happening in the physical space and what is happening on the web. Social networks, for example…During the last few months we have seen what happened in North Africa and what political impact they can have. What happens in the street can reach people who are at home, it can be shared. It may be interesting to work in this direction… It may broaden both the number of people involved in the projects and the political and social potential of what you do. .


Lorenzo Romito:
In certain respects I agree with you, but in others, in a way, I fear the real-time of the Internet because it may become a substitute for real time. With the maps we are partially going in this direction, but it is a slower process and it is just a support to a physical activity. I am opened to this kind of interaction but we are not a political organization or a party, and I do not believe that our aim is to collect majorities. We promote practices going through the physical fact of doing something together. We prefer doing something together instead of talking about it or make people talk about it. But, on the other hand, I agree with you on the fact that, in certain moments, we need this very fast and immediate possibility of being in contact with everyone.

 

 

Marco Mancuso: For example, in the project in Sicily, your aim is to get together a thousand people and a way to reach this goal is to use Twitter or other social networks: participants may communicate what they are doing and attract other people day by day..


Lorenzo Romito:
I agree, but on the other hand, if a thousand people come to walk with us, they would be like “visitors” expecting something from us. It would not be something we do together, but something we should do for them. I want to know who gets involved, establish a personal relationship. People come because other people invite them or tell them what we do and the movement is growing this way, too.


Elena Biserna:
Maybe what you are trying to do is really a physical form of acquiring knowledge and experience (and that is the reason why your work is so difficult to communicate and document). Another aspect relating to this is the importance of the account in your work. The account seems to prevail on the real-time communication or the documentary, as if the only way to express contemporary transformations, those transformations taking place in our society but also in the space we are living in, is witnessing them.


Lorenzo Romito:
Exactly. I think the way in which media communicate makes everything immediately visible but so easy to forget. For this reason we try to get as many people as possible involved, at experiential level, through common experiences difficult to forget. For us this is very important. I like the idea that our work is shared and spread but you should not forget “popular”… I remember what Guy Debord wrote in the first issue of Internationale Situationniste about Surrealism: “Surrealism gained success and this is why it is dead now”. We never worked on auto-promotion and neither on post-production. I like the fact that different and far away people spend some time with us and come work with us. Hundreds of people went through Stalker and now there are film-makers, photographers, architects, activists… but I am frightened by the possible commoditization of Stalker’s activity.

 

 

Elena Biserna: Do you think change can only happen through spread and informal micro-actions rather than through actions involving majorities?


Lorenzo Romito:
Yes, I think mass society is over and there is the need to find other ways. I believe reconstruction of the social organization should come from small communities and the consciences of individuals and this network should grow from the bottom up.


Claudia D’Alonzo:
Maybe, in relation to that, you can tell us about the creation of economies…


Lorenzo Romito:
Since 2008 we stopped looking for political contributions and we do not receive them any more, that made us focus more on the creation of economies (the selling of Oil, oranges, for example, we organized a catering of nomadic food). We try to promote the creation of a network among the different realities on the territory (for example groups of purchasing, the nomadic community, social centres) and finding economies is pivotal in order to create projects and make them last. Even if at times the incomes are ridiculous and limited, they contribute to create an economy of solidarity and cooperation, a network of exchange of materials and ideas. In Rome there are thousand of small self-organized groups. Our walks helped creating this Network, promoting and intensifying the circulation and relationship among these realities. A project lead to another and by doing, a community is created, a community always more transversal because different people are involved. This, to me, is a social process: the social process we try to start. I think the future can emerge from these spontaneous practices.

 

 

http://primaveraromana.wordpress.com/

http://levocidellacquedottofelice.wordpress.com/about/

http://www.osservatorionomade.net/tarkowsky/tarko.html

http://www.osservatorionomade.net/

http://stalkerpedia.wordpress.com/

 

Note:

[1] – Rebecca Solnit, Storia del camminare (trad. di: Wanderlust. A History of Walking), Mondadori, Milano 2002, pp. 200-201).

[2] – Impossibile, in questa sede, ripercorrere nei dettagli il percorso del collettivo Stalker e di Osservatorio Nomade (rete di ricerca interdisciplinare promossa da Stalker nel 2002). Si veda, tra gli altri: Thierry Davila, Marcher, Créer. Déplacements, flâneries, dérives dans l’art de la fin du XXe siècle, Regard, Paris 2002, Flaminia Gennari Santori e Bartolomeo Pietromarchi, Osservatorio Nomade. Immaginare Corviale. Pratiche ed estetiche per la città contemporanea, Bruno Mondadori, Milano 2006 e i cataloghi: Stalker, Attraverso i Territori Attuali, Jean Michel Place, Paris 2000 e Stalker, Capc Musée s’Art Contemporain, Bourdeau 2004, accessibili alla pagina: http://stalkerpedia.wordpress.com/606-2/

[3] – Manifesto. Stalker attraverso i territori attuali, http://digilander.libero.it/stalkerlab/tarkowsky/manifesto/manifest.htm

[4] – Michel de Certeau, L’invenzione del quotidiano (trad. di: L’invention du quotidien. I Arts de faire, Union générale d’éditions, Paris 1980), Edizioni Lavoro, Roma 2009, p. 150.

[6] – Durante i 3 giorni a sostegno dei Rom sgomberati, le associazioni e i movimenti che hanno partecipato hanno montato alcune tende per ospitare le famiglie a cui era stato impedito di rientrare nella Basilica e, nel giorno di Pasqua, hanno organizzato un pranzo di solidarietà aperto alla cittadinanza nel prato di fronte a San Paolo.

[7] – Un percorso che culminò nel ruolo giocato negli eventi e nei movimenti che sfociarono, nel 68, nel “maggio francese”.

[8] – Tom McDonough, Introduction, in Id. (a cura di), The Situationists and the City, Verso, London-New-York 2009, p. 3.

 

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  • Elena Biserna Elena Biserna

    Elena studied Humanities and History of Contemporary Art at the University of Bologna and completed her Ph.D. in Audiovisual Studies at the University of Udine. Her interests deal primarily with interdisciplinary areas of aesthetic research [...]

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