The President of Aipai (Italian Association of Industrial Heritage) Edoardo Currà talks about the Italian situation between virtuous cases and opportunities to be caught
From Centrale Montemartini in Ostiense to Rome, where classical sculptures and heavy machinery happily coexist, to Pier Luigi Nervi’s flight sheds in Marsala, the panorama of disused industrial structures in Italy includes excellences that have been converted into art or that should be restored. This was argued by Edoardo Currà, President of the Italian Association of Industrial Heritage – Aipai, to the second “States General of Industrial Heritage” held from June 9 to 11 at the site of San Pietro in Vincoli at the Faculty of Engineering at La Sapienza University in Rome and in the sanctuary of Ercole Vincitore in Tivoli. The Department of Civil, Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University and the Villa Adriana and Villa d’Este Institute of the Ministry of Culture collaborated in the congress.
What is the image of the Italian industrial heritage adapted for cultural and, above all, artistic purposes?
It is certainly encouraging. The cultural and even more artistic use has long been identified as a fundamental element in regaining new meanings from the industrial past.
The most representative cases?
On the one hand, it is they who place themselves in a dialectical way in relation to the art object, who follow the principle of “alternative spaces”, where performative activity takes place. Another type is given by the places where space and place establish dialogues with art and archeology, as in Rome the unique experience of Central Montemartini: here the candid sculptures from the Capitoline museums contrast chromatically and happily with the dark and black machinery.We can also mention places like Ogr (Officine Grandi Riparazioni) in Turin, right?
Yes, as we remember Bicocca in Milan, the cultural sites of Zisa in Palermo, where the whole spectrum of art is found, or the slaughterhouse area of Rome. Perhaps the most iconic place in the world is the Tate Modern in the former thermoelectric power plant in London: it shows how the large dimensions of modern works of art find a suitable place there.
What structures in Italy need to be restored and saved?
There are whole and endangered complexes that still retain the machines. For example, Snia Viscosa in Rome or gasometers found in all cities: they were factories where gas was produced and stored, so they are also polluted areas. The Aviation Center in Guidonia, in the province of Rome, is very important: it is colossal wind tunnels, where scale models of aircraft were tested in the late 1930s and 1940s. This is where the laws that allow ultrasonic flying, and which regulate the behavior of airplanes in the stratosphere, were discovered. Still in the aeronautical field, only two of the aircraft transfers from a great engineer like Pierluigi Nervi in Marsala remain and should be salvaged.
Why restore disused industrial structures? And why set them aside for cultural use?
They are almost 3% of the available land, a huge heirloom, largely private and probably increased today because it is an Istat figure ten years ago. They include everything from factories to abandoned stations to ports. To answer, you need four arguments.Let’s start with the first.
The structure belongs to a company that is still active, and therefore the recovery should be part of a business plan that draws value from its memory and benefits from what many Italian companies have already done by opening museums or archives. These are fields of creativity that reposition the companies themselves in the market.
The second reason?
In many urban areas that have become publicly owned or owned by banks, often due to bankruptcies, marginalization is accumulating, but they need to be cleaned up. They must first and foremost be restored to recreate the city. Other areas have colossal potential because they preserve the memory of the locals for generations: a commendable cause, because they are successful, are the areas of Eridania in Parma.
The third reason?
We’re talking about expertise, and here’s the question of museums. Like Aipai, we do not want to museum the entire heritage because it is limitless, but cases like the Montemartini power plant or old power plants have an unusual deposit of assets.
The fourth and final point?
I think of places like Torinos Ogrs or, from another point of view, Maam [il Museo dell’altro e dell’altrove, ndr] at Prenestina in Tor Sapienza in Rome: it is an inhabited, informal, busy space, the story is complicated, but somehow holds and is comfortable for living and practicing art.