The evening of the launch of L’incontro and the following day, there were some wonderful responses. Perhaps my favourite came from a woman who told me that the characters were not just Italian, but “from here!” (Perhaps I’ve spent enough time in Italy now to have captured certain Italian characteristics?) Someone else described the event as “not just a beautiful story, but a beautiful experience”; and the Mayor, Marcello, promised me that if I came back and did another one, he would organise Italian citizenship for me…
But I left Casaprota for Venice two days after the presentation, so I did not witness any individual Casaprotani ‘walking the story”. I harboured the idea of people “walking the story” in groups and making it more of an oral tale, but I now think that a reading by actors achieved more; it was not just an oral story, but also a community event. I hope future projects like this one will have a similar community presentation.
I originally intended the story to be in place for two weeks, but at the suggestion of Renato, we decided just to leave it there and see what happened. It stayed up for almost three months, and in that time, locals and tourists alike “walked the story”, and as a result, some of the characters from the story have now been absorbed into the locals’ sense of their town, while tourists from Rome — there are many during the hottest part of summer — discovered parts of the town they would rarely go.
Towards the end of my time in Casaprota, I agreed to publish the text with an English translation after returning to Australia. It has taken an inordinate amount of time, while many unrelated issues intervened, but L’incontro (The Encounter) is now ‘printed matter’. I wanted a book that had the feel of an object, that when you held it you felt that you were holding something precious. There is more than a little influence of Bruno Munari on the design of the book. The English translation was difficult, it seemed bizarre to be translating my own work into my native language, and I have to say, my Italian original is somewhat better than my English translation! Had I written the story in English originally, it would have had a different rhythm.
As the book was put to press, (and the bookbinder, Martin, went off on holidays), the Casaprota project took another fascinating turn. Through a wonderful chance encounter during my stay in Venice this year, I was invited to submit a proposal for next year’s Architecture Biennale. Okay, I know that writing is not architecture, I know the Architecture Biennale is not a place of pilgrimage for writers… but the relationship between the two is at the heart of the Casaprota project: the physicality of place (the built environment) and the telling of stories that give meaning to place.
I had been intrigued by one of the exhibits in the 2014 Architecture Biennale, Luka Skansi’s The Remnants of a Miracle (I resti di un miracolo), which I have written about under Art-Architecture. I feel strongly that we need to find some path to re-thinking our relationship to buildings (such as these) and to the built environment generally, and that it is not something for architects as professionals specifically to do, it is for those who occupy, who live in, who live with built environments, those for whom a specific built environment is a central part of their everyday life. Could we change the way we see built environments, I now wondered, by writing stories about them?
The resultant project ‘Building Stories’ has been accepted into the ‘Time-Space-Existence’ exhibition in the European Cultural Centre at the 2018 Venice Biennale. I have in mind a particular space in the Palazzo Moro in which to place a bespoke object, that is literary in form and architectural in construction. The project may not go ahead, though, unless certain funding issues can be satisfactorily resolved. As I write, we are still in negotiation, so I remain hopeful. The proposal is documented below.
Re-imagining our relationships with the built environment
Time-Space-Existence: a proposal for the 16th International Architecture Biennale 2018
Architecture is more than design, more than building, more than the enclosure of space; it is also the stage on which life’s stories play.
BUILDING STORIES is based on the proposition that we can utilise place-centred fiction to find new ways of engaging with buildings, new ways of configuring our relationships with diverse built environments. Through these imagined stories we are reminded of the centrality of architecture in our lives, we see afresh the potential of buildings beyond their – sometimes exhausted – historical or utilitarian existence.
BUILDING STORIES reports on a recent project of place-centred fiction in a small Italian town, and suggests the potential for re-imagining our engagement with diverse built environments, including the urban and industrial. Here, reference can be made to Luke Skansi’s The Remnants of a Miracle from Monditalia at the 2014 Architecture Biennale.
The project, L’incontro: a ‘story for walking’, took place over a period of four months (late April – late August 2017) in the central Italian town of Casaprota (RI), under the auspices of l’Associazione Culturale SabinARTi. The aim was to foster a re-imagining of relationships to the town by combining two ways we come to know place: the spatial experience of place and the telling of stories that give meaning to place.
I selected certain sites of actual or imagined significance in the town and constructed a fictional historical narrative which responded to these sites. The story was installed on panels, each section at its corresponding site, so the narrative lead the reader on a journey of encounter: laneway, courtyard, archway, balcony, stone stairway, piazza, abandoned church. ‘Walking the story’ became an opportunity for renewed spatial exploration through an imagined cultural layer.
The community enthusiastically engaged with the project. For the launch, two local drummers lead the audience on their journey through the town, while local actors read the story to them. During the three months in which the panels remained in place, many ‘walked the story’ individually. Characters from the story became absorbed into their relationship with certain sites: the one-armed Capitano Bassetti with the Palazzo del Gatto, for example; the would-be lovers, Alice and Mario, with the narrow vicoli of the medieval borgo. For the August holiday-makers from Rome, ‘walking the story’ meant engaging with town sites they would rarely visit.
L’incontro has now been published, (with a translation in English), as a pocket guide to walking the story.
The BUILDING STORIES exhibit will present the project in Casaprota and suggest the potential of this idea for re-imagining relationships with more challenging built environments.
©2017 Linzi Murrie