SALON OF COVIVIALITY
Despite the manifold ways exhibitions take form in the contemporary world, the fundamentals of art literacy addresses to the Western Salons as their seminal starter. Since then, many changes took place, passing through the white cube and trying to look further. Salonnières initiatives were a display of economic and intellectual power that developed into institutionalization, yet they fostered a direct exchange between individuals by opening up their private spaces to the public. Before the export of that model, Eastern salons were public places enlivened by intense inter-religious, inter-ethnic discussions and scientific exchanges, serving as an information and educational hub for young and adults. Mainly combined with cafés, they functioned also as a locifor performing oral history, merging verbal art, cultural memory and daily life.
Driven by such concept of historical Western and Eastern salons, and by their understanding as a-statal platforms, this project addresses to its convivial inception by sharing aesthetic experiences that vehiculate intellectual exchange, social interaction and sensory involvement by gathering a group of international artists to collaborate in formats of exhibition, talks, concerts and workshops. Embodying the understanding of conviviality as joyful yet complex togetherness and as a continuous reinterpretation of cultural identity, the project aims to explore in three editions the different contexts of Moscow, London and Berlin - their poetic, architectural, political and social cityscapes through the work of contemporary artists.The Salon has a clear intention to include the audience’s initiatives and opinions offline and to focus on this complex topic inflecting it contingently to the neighborhood the project takes place.
As a matter of fact, Western countries have seen dramatic shifts in the last decades; such a fast-paced development brings both an enlargement of possible horizons and a gloomy shadow upon some of them. In a society which becomes more fluid and movable, hyperconnected yet fragmented, where do we find a common place in highly urbanized contexts? As Susanne Wessendorf points out in Commonplace, the super-diversity celebrated in London boroughs like Hackney often covers a plethora of isolated middle-class bubbles which coexist in a uninterested, unengaged modality. We ignore our neighbor’s culture and, at time exoticising them rather than trying to include them or understand their concrete needs. On the other hand, despite some beneficial effect of gentrification, it is undeniable that the poorer part of society is seen as a temporary, picturesque element that will be removed or emarginated from the process of the “regeneration” of the area, instead of being part of it.
Where can we trace the thin line between regeneration, capitalization and gentrification? And how can global cultures interact healthily with local ones in both economic and cultural terms?
Battersea borough, originally a farmland for the City, became an industrial area marked by pollution and poor housing in the late 18th century, declining dramatically in the 1970s. Nowadays, the borough attracts young families and professionals, being known as “Nappy Valley” and “Pram Springs”, and despite problems such as drug-dealing or the 2011 London riots, the area is proud of a certain sense of community. 1,6 miles from the exhibition in Art Lacuna, Battersea Power Station stands out as a cathedral of industry since the 1930s, even if decommissioned since 1975 and empty until five years ago. Local community groups advocated social housing on-site, but the power station, with various failed attempts to either restore or demolish it, has been subject to a chain of feverish land speculation and largely ill-advised architectural plans, becoming enlivened only in utopist renderings.
In 2010, its developer made a monetary donation to the Tories and gave as a venue for their election launch party the Station itself, described then by David Cameron as a “building in need of regeneration in a country in need of regeneration”. Nine years after the U.K., long seen as a model of welfare state, is in a complex debate about brexit, the tory election and, above all, the result of decades of privatization. Funnily enough, two years later Battersea Power Station has been sold for £1.6bn to a Malaysian consortium (PNB), becoming the most ambitious placemaking project in London. “Our goal from the start has been to create a neighborhood that connects into the historic fabric of the city, but one that has its own identity and integrity. […] It will be a space where people can come together to run workshops, to create, to innovate – or simply to socialize with other residents”, says architect Frank Gehry, Battersea Prospect Place’s designer.
Placemaking, inspired by the urban activism of Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte in the 1960s, aims to capitalize on a local community to shape public spaces promoting their health and well-being and advocates for the citizens’ ownership of streets and the place identity. Battersea’s project is prospected as a place “with flagship stores and signature restaurants; where technology giants mingle with local artisans. A place to work, shop, eat, enjoy and sleep”. In 2016, Apple announced to move in the station by 2021; meanwhile, 3-bedrooms apartments started to be disclaimed at £8,000,000. While the contemporary view on Placemaking can be a decisive factor for development, critics question whether it sustains communities in their local economies, or merely accelerates gentrification and the privatization and socio-spatial exclusion that it engenders. After the grim facts of Grenfell, economic inequality, speculations and state negligence emerged as the most dangerous factors of neoliberalism in U.K. and Europe.
The quest for accessibility is one of the key-factors to keep in consideration along the narrative of development, integration and regeneration processes in our economic and social systems. The new buzzword ‘Good Growth’ suggests that places have to be inhabited by a heterogeneous poll of users, yet we should not overlook how the original character of a regenerated area might see the replacement of the local community with rich leisure seekers and tourists.
Most importantly, as it often happens nowadays in conservative and separatist movements throughout Europe, these areas’ vestigial authenticity enacts a restorative aesthetic, which draws from the cultural imagery of the past and rebuild its pieces in a projection of the future.
How to ensure that regeneration can include groups outside the white middle class, in both economic and social terms? And how can local communities and artists avoid that cultural public initiatives won’t led to an acceptance of governmental negligence or, even worse, contribute to erase the key factor of conviviality: accessibility?
Artists from London, Berlin and Moscow examine these topics in different perspectives, suggesting alternative models, criticizing or ironically supporting to the ongoing process of restorative aesthetic for an inaccessible to the most and somehow utopian society.
Works by: ZIP Group, Zina Isupova, Hoa Dung Clerget, Oberflächenunterstützung, Staaltape, Sergej Vutuc, Vikenti Komitski.