Networks of Resistance: Isola Space Sharing

Alessandra Poggianti

At Isola Art Center we recently presented The People’s Choice, an exhibition curated by Marco Scotini and supported by the Department of Culture of the Province of Milan. The show gathered over forty proposals, projects and concrete experiences that attempt, in different ways, to develop a possible model for a contemporary art space that interacts with the life of its host neighborhood or location.

Within this framework, together with the curator Katia Anguelova and the art collective Alterazioni Video, we created Isola Space Sharing, a project in progress designed to prompt direct communication between the art audience and the street, activating a system of participation with direct impact on the locality and its community. Such a system constitutes an investigation, therefore, of the potential for working together, generating virtual spaces of interaction capable of stimulating intercommunication among spectators who might include neighborhood residents, travelers or passers-by. A central coordination point gathered video contributions from outposts positioned around the neighborhood and contributing to the life of the Isola district, interviewing citizens but also interfering in the relationship between art and the neighborhood in the hope of provoking reaction and response.

Isola Space Sharing is partially the result of the process of defining a neighborhood art centre. Called Isola Art Center, it is a precarious space on the second floor of an abandoned factory known as the ‘Stecca degli Artigiani’ belonging to the city government. For some time the building has been used by local craftspeople and cultural and community associations. The public administration proposes that it will be demolished as part of a plan to redesign the entire area, constructing 100,000 cubic meters of new development. Many neighborhood groups, on the other hand, are determined to preserve conditions of urban quality and livability in the zone. In particular, there is widespread support for the project of renovating the Stecca degli Artigiani to transform it into a multifunctional centre integrated with the community and the city, a place that can be “lived” in every moment of the day. The Stecca would be seen as an integral part of a concept of shared management of leisure together with its two adjacent parks, the only green area in the quarter. Today the art centre has been re-named Isola Art & Community Center, precisely because its content and form are defined through this process of public and collective discussion and joint action involving professionals, community associations and individuals. The mobilization of local individuals has created a true “network of resistance” against the demolition of the sites and their replacement with banal, standardized real estate that would erase the specific character of the place, seen as an indispensable part of truly human existence. A multiplicity of voices, faced with the indifference of the administration, has united with a shared aspiration, demonstrating a willingness to listen and a determination in turn to be heard.

Isola Art & Community Center plays an active and central part in this struggle; through it the creation of a centre for the community has become not just a demand but a reality. On the second floor of the Stecca degli Artigiani, Isola Art & Community Center has held many exhibitions, research projects, conferences and encounters. Its spaces contain a café, a bookshop, a technical workshop, a storeroom and a number of project workshops such as OUT, Stazione Livorno, Osservatorio in opera, SUGOE, and Love Difference. It is thanks to the commitment of Bert Theis, an artist who has been involved in the neighborhood’s struggle and the development of the Center’s activities from the outset, that the association Isola dell’Arte was created, of which he is president. Today the association oversees the activities of the center and has the support of local citizens as well as that of many people in the art world, including Miuccia Prada, Angela Missoni, Alessia Bulgari, Daniel Soutif, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Thomas Hirschhorn, Maurizio Cattelan, Marina Abramovic, Giò Marconi and Lia Rumma.