How art and design respond to pollution

How art and design respond to pollution

Giorgia Massari · 2 months ago · Art, Design

«I worry about it, but I don’t deal with it,» with a quote from his barber, Ferdinando Cotugno ends his article in Rivista Studio on the subject of air pollution, bluntly and sincerely summing up most people’s attitude toward the problem. Poor air quality has been a hot topic since the beginning of the new year, but it is in recent days, especially in Milan and throughout the Po Valley, that it has taken center stage. II data shown are alarming, on social media everyone seems to share the infographics. That deep purple color worries us, especially if we look at the rest of Europe, colored green and blue, even in big metropolises like London and Paris the situation seems to be stable. This does not mean that the rest of Europe-or the world-does better than us, the reason for this substantial difference is geographical conformation, but this does not take away from the fact that the situation is serious and needs to be addressed. The anxiety spread on social media underscores an alarmism from below that does not seem to be picked up by the higher ups. Air pollution, smog, fine particulate matter-as well as climate change more broadly-is certainly not a new issue. It is a decades-old problem that we hide under the doormat, some out of resignation and some out of indifference, to be brought up only when it becomes a trend, perhaps because it is being thrust before our eyes?

In this sense, the infographic plays a crucial role. A visual image can trigger an awareness mechanism, transforming the issue from invisible and imperceptible to tangible and evident. If the visual aspect is crucial in this perspective, who better than art can contribute to spreading it? Besides the graphics circulating on social media, art also attempts to enter this context, though not without difficulties. Searching the web, it’s not easy to come across truly meaningful projects that effectively communicate the environmental issue. A few years ago, Indian writer, journalist, and anthropologist Amitav Ghosh published “The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable,” questioning why contemporary artists find it challenging to address natural disasters. A partial answer comes from the recent exhibition “Everybody talks about the weather” at the Venice venue of the Prada Foundation. Curator Dieter Roelstraete argues that the art world seems to pay little attention to the theme, with everyone talking about the weather except the art world. Or at least, not as it should. In this perspective, Roelstraete insists on the collaboration between science and art, leveraging the aesthetic power of scientific knowledge and the role of contemporary art. The power of metadata and infographics resurfaces. «This exhibition is precious because it could be one of the first of a new generation capable of not stopping at art but of ‘using’ it as an opportunity to address the socio-political inattention of today’s society, which appears as a symptom of the new ‘Don’t Look Up’ syndrome,» referring to the 2021 film by Adam McKay. Nicola Davide Angerame on Artribune comments on the joint effort of art and science in delineating a form of something that does not have one but cannot be ignored. Therefore, now that the problem has a form, will it be addressed, or as in “Don’t Look Up,” will we let the meteorite hit the Earth until it destroys it?

Likely, this last question cannot have a definitive answer. Undoubtedly, many have taken action. While art, with a scientific and documentary approach, tries to convey a message, architecture and design are attempting to respond concretely to the problem. In this third paragraph, we want to be optimistic, presenting some significant examples that inspire hope for a more sustainable future. Considering that over 10% of carbon dioxide emissions come from the construction sector, staying in the Milanese territory makes it impossible not to mention the Vertical Forest and take it as an example of an ongoing progress. «We now know that cities play a significant role in shaping the future of our planet, being responsible for 75% of CO2 emissions. And in cities, we must take action,» explained Stefano Boeri, the architect of the Vertical Forest, in an interview last year during Milan Design Week. «Big cities have the opportunity to become an integral part of the solution to climate change and environmental issues that influence our daily lives, integrating nature, preserving existing greenery, and increasing the number of forests.» Boeri suggests a practice that has gained traction in recent years in design, namely drawing inspiration from nature to find alternative materials. In the past, we have discussed mycelium, one of the most suitable biomaterials to replace fiberglass and concrete, the latter being among the most polluting materials. In this context, it is interesting to mention the Netflix documentary “The Future Of,” which, in Episode 10 (Skyscrapers), envisions a future scenario where skyscrapers will be entirely constructed with living materials that become part of Earth’s metabolism, thereby increasing oxygen production and minimizing waste.

Gardens By The Bay, Singapore

If “The Future Of,” mentions both the Vertical Forest in Milan and the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, the third episode of “Abstract” – also on Netflix – further clarifies our understanding. The protagonist of the episode is Neri Oxman, an Israeli-American designer and former professor known for blending art, design, biology, computer science, and materials engineering. Oxman collaborates with a multidisciplinary team at the MIT Media Lab, with a well-defined vision: to envision a future of complete synergy between Nature and humanity. Her goal is, in fact, to “create new materials for nature, with it, and derived from it,” as seen in the Silk Pavilion, for example. It is a metal structure on which robots – designed by her – wove a silk net, complemented by the presence of over six thousand silkworms acting as biological 3D printers,” covering the entire structure initiated by the robots until completion.

There are many examples we could bring back from the field of design, but even street art-in its own small way-brings a contribution to fighting pollution. Think of the anti-smog paint used by some, which can absorb fine particulate matter in the air. One of the largest in Europe is in Rome, in the Ostiense district, made by Iena Cruz and absorbs the same amount of smog as a forest of thirty trees. In Milan we bring you an old mural from 2019 by Camilla Falsini in Corso Garibaldi.

Indifference and activism. Two sides of the same coin that characterize the socio-political attitude to a problem more than relevant to our survival. Art, architecture, design try to fit into an environmentalist current and offer alternative solutions, but will they be enough to save us? All we have left is to try to remember this at all times, not just when our algorithm decides so. In this wake critical of ourselves, we close this reflection with a short film by British illustrator Steve Cutts, which in raw, direct language explores the destruction of the environment at the hands of man, perhaps prompting us to take action.

How art and design respond to pollution
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How art and design respond to pollution
How art and design respond to pollution
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Ivana Sfredda, If We Assimilate To Enjoy (And To Lose Ourselves)

Ivana Sfredda, If We Assimilate To Enjoy (And To Lose Ourselves)

Giorgia Massari · 3 days ago · Photography

I’m not sure if it’s the sexual component that catches my attention. Perhaps it’s some elements, especially snails, that evoke a sense of familiarity in me, but also nostalgia for something I can’t quite identify. There’s a call back to my childhood, and it’s precisely the snails that evoke it. They were my only playmates when I spent the summer in a remote mountain location, in my grandparents’ garden which after a storm became the perfect habitat for these small creatures, as slimy as they were curious. Back then, I would pick them up from their shells, place them on my arms, and let them slide over me, amused by the trail of slime they left on my skin. I didn’t know it then, but I was assimilating them. In fact, that’s exactly what Ivana Sfredda talks about in the photos she showed me a few weeks ago in her studio in Milan. Soak up is the title of the series still in work in progress that the Molisan photographer has been working on since 2022, or perhaps even earlier. Interpreting the Anglo-Saxon term “soak up” literally, it refers to the sensation of enjoyment perceived in the act of assimilation. A unique human and animal need, that of joining someone or something, of being connected, and of “annihilating the boundaries that delimit a body.”

ivana sfredda
ivana sfredda

Ivana Sfredda’s macro shots do not contemplate any subject hierarchy. A strawberry in a man’s mouth, a group of worms intertwined, a droplet about to fall from an old faucet, all appear one after the other in a carousel of images that dance hand in hand in a perpetual circle, without jerks or arrogance. Hand in hand, united, assimilated into each other, in the other. So that in the act of encounter between two bodies, there is no longer a “my body” and “your body.” The power dynamics that humans have built in the relationship between artifact and nature are nullified. Perhaps this is where my childhood memory fits in, where it is clear that in that space-time arc, I did not know of this imposition, and no construct had yet had time to settle in the logic that today exists in me, the inequality of man > animal or even more so, artificial > nature.

ivana sfredda
ivana sfredda

But there is something beyond this unconsciousness or yet uncorrupted consciousness. Ivana explains it to me by citing Mario Perniola, a philosopher, writer, and theorist of contemporary art, delving into the sexuality mentioned earlier. Because it is clear that in the union of two bodies there is a tension that moves them towards each other, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be laden with a pleasurable end. Perhaps it’s just an unconscious need to lose one’s original form?

«Perniola identifies in sexuality a point of suspension that he defines as neutral sexuality: the detachment from one’s own body that implies a sense of estrangement, cybernetic and indeed neutral. This erotic impulse detaches itself from the pursuit of carnal pleasure in function of an intense contact where the organic and inorganic body becomes a meaningful surface. A very powerful communication system that leaps beyond the categories of human/artificial, human/animal, animal/artificial – relative to being as such – which traces the fluid architectures of an alternative body.»

ivana sfredda
ivana sfredda

As explained by Ivana Sfredda, in the encounter with the other, the self feels fulfilled. This reminds me of a book I read some time ago when I was searching for a more conscious self. A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle – found in the “esotericism” section of a bookstore – actually talked about this. It discussed how the self exists only in the reflection in the other, when the annulment of the ego occurs, which only defines the boundaries of a prison where a false narrative of ourselves lives. So, in Ivana Sfredda’s shots, which she explains to me are a sort of exercise and play, all this is visually translated, as if to illustrate the daily and widespread existence of continuous equal and harmonious connections between elements that seem distant both in a hierarchical and semantic sense.

«The series focuses on the meaning of contact and relational energy, an exercise in imagining how these incomplete relationships can represent profound portals of learning.»

ivana sfredda
ivana sfredda
ivana sfredda
ivana sfredda
ivana sfredda
ivana sfredda

Courtesy & Copyright Ivana Sfredda

Ivana Sfredda, If We Assimilate To Enjoy (And To Lose Ourselves)
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Ivana Sfredda, If We Assimilate To Enjoy (And To Lose Ourselves)
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Alec Gill and Hessle Road photo archive

Alec Gill and Hessle Road photo archive

Anna Frattini · 3 days ago · Photography

Alec Gill is an English photographer, historian, and psychologist born in Hull, a city in the East Riding of Yorkshire county, famously known for its port. A few years ago, a crowdfunding campaign was launched on Kickstarter to celebrate the fifty-year anniversary of the first photo taken for the project dedicated to Hessle Road with a book, and we’re discussing it here today. The archive of 7,000 photographs – taken with his Rolleicord twin-lens reflex camera – dates back to the decade between 1970 and 1980. There are 240 images included in The Alec Gill Hassle Road photo archive, and in each of them, one can feel the atmosphere of a very difficult historical moment for the residents. It marks the decline of the fishing industry and the demolitions of mass housing in the area.

alec gill photo archive

The Alec Gill Hassle Road photo archive

The book, launched on May 18th last year, was written and conceived by Iranzu Baker and Fran Méndez. In this interview with Port, Baker discusses some aspects of working with Alec Gill. The photographer – during the writing of the book – proved to be «endlessly curious, extremely determined and dedicated». During those years, Gill also focused on the lack of play areas for children and how younger generations adapted to the changes in the area. Another goal was certainly to freeze time before the end of an era. That of fishing in the area, ended with the Cod Wars starting from 1958 until 1972 and 1975. A piece of history that thanks to Gill has not been forgotten.

Gill’s is a genuine inclination towards the stories of the underdogs. The aim was to ensure that these stories were told, both now and at the time of the shots. The Alec Gill Hassle Road photo archive is not just a social study, therefore. It is a testament to the relationship Gill has established on a human level with his fellow citizens. Their stories seem to tell themselves in front of the photographer’s lens. Furthermore, the naturalness of the shots not only captures the theme of childhood but also communicates extremely functionally moments of the daily life of the inhabitants of Hassle Road.

Alec Gill and Hessle Road photo archive
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Alec Gill and Hessle Road photo archive
Alec Gill and Hessle Road photo archive
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Nanni Licitra’s non-places

Nanni Licitra’s non-places

Giorgia Massari · 2 days ago · Photography

Nanni Licitra ‘s (1988) photographs focus primarily on non-places, anonymous and impersonal spaces that dot urban peripheries. Licitra transforms these marginal areas into other scenarios that acquire new meaning. We are talking about the series Hell end in Hell, whose images are emblematic reflections of a society in transformation, where the individual struggles to find a sense of belonging and identity in an increasingly chaotic and alienating context. The series, winner of the Liquida Photofestival Grant, on view in Turin from May 2 to 5, is a true socio-cultural analysis that reflects in toto the contradictions of contemporary society.

nanni licitra

Nanni Licitra ha iniziato la sua ricerca fotografica nel 2008 concentrandosi esclusivamente sulla fotografia analogica. Questa scelta non è casuale; infatti, la fotografia analogica richiede una pazienza e una precisione che si riflettono nel suo approccio distaccato e contemplativo. Licitra si pone come uno spettatore attento delle realtà che lo circondano, privilegiando uno sguardo che va oltre le apparenze per cogliere l’essenza delle cose. L’utilizzo dell’analogico da parte di Licitra non è solo una scelta tecnica, ma rappresenta anche una dichiarazione di intenti. In un’epoca dominata dalla velocità e dall’effimero delle immagini digitali, il fotografo siciliano opta per un ritmo più lento e contemplativo, che permette di approfondire le tematiche trattate e di trasmettere un senso di nostalgia e malinconia tipico dei non luoghi.

nanni licitra
nanni licitra

Courtesy Nanni Licitra

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MIA Photo Fair, What We Liked Most

MIA Photo Fair, What We Liked Most

Giorgia Massari · 2 days ago · Photography

The preview of the eighth edition of MIA Photo Fair, the photography fair that returns to Milan every year with a selection of international artists, was held yesterday, April 10. This year it is no longer in the usual Superstudio Maxi, but moves next to the star of the week, Miart. So that, potentially, in one day the bravest can see two fairs by getting off at the Portello metro stop. Miart at gate 5 of Allianz MiCo while MIA Photo at gate 16. Getting to the point, let’s talk about what we liked. As is always the case, following the trade fair system, many of the exhibits are seen and seen again, but still enjoyable to review such as shots by established photographers of the caliber of Giovanni Gastel and Ugo Mulas, or even photojournalists Fausto Giaccone and Carlo Orsi. But, among the many evergreens we have unearthed a few new ones, perhaps a few names we have already heard, but not so much in our opinion. Therefore, we made a selection of our favorite booths.

#1 Maria Svarbova – ARTITLEDcontemporary (B022)

mia photo fair

#2 Irina Werning – OTM Gallery (B023)

mia photo fair

#3 Karla Hiraldo Voleau – Christophe Guye Galerie (B019)

mia photo fair

#4 Laetitia Ky – LIS10 Gallery (E014)

mia photo fair

#5 Giulia Frump – Young Art Hunters (F018)

#6 Paolo Ventura – MarcoRossi ArteContemporanea (A022)

mia photo fair

#7 Daniele Ratti – VisionQuest 4Rosso (C018)

mia photo fair

#8 Najla Said – Mashrabia Gallery (F005)

mia photo fair

#9 Angelo Formato – Welcome to my known collective exhibition

mia photo fair

#10 Thorsten Brinkmann – Galleria Fumagalli (A019)

mia photo fair

MIA Photo Fair will remain open until Sunday, April 14.

MIA Photo Fair, What We Liked Most
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MIA Photo Fair, What We Liked Most
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