GHOST PLACES: THE CASE OF MARCELLINA
To listen while reading:
“STUPID EXPRESSIONS LIKE GLOBALISATION AND NON-PLACE WERE OFTEN USED TO DESCRIBE AIRPORTS. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS NON-PLACE AND I STRONGLY SUGGEST ARCHITECTS STOP USING THIS BRAINLESS EXPRESSION.”
This quotation is taken from Peter Fischli’s intervention to the opening Marathon of the Swiss Pavilion at Venice Architecture Biennale in 2014.
Peter Fischli & David Weiss: 800 Views of Airports is, to me, the greatest way to rethink Augé’s non-place theory. My mind always drifts to this series of pictures when I’m alone in an airport, drinking coffee and looking outside of the window. My mind wanders and I find myself thinking that the non-place definition, besides what Marc Augé actually meant in Non-lieux. Introduction à une anthropologie de la surmodernité (Paris, Le Seuil, 1992), denies the realistic dimension of an airport, somehow.
To make it simple, I firmly believe that it’s a place if you make experience of it. If you do not, you are in a ghost place. I prefer this term to non-place, because I feel that airports, highways and supermarkets have all the features a place should have to be named as such: presence, possibility of being experienced, relation to time. I cannot believe non-places actually exist, but ghost places surely do. They are less visible, negligible, but they often whisper the story of our times.
OUTER SPACE IS A GHOST PLACE.
THE MIND IS A GHOST PLACE.
THE OLD FACTORY IN MARCELLINA WAS A GHOST PLACE.
It stands as a witness of the possible mutation of a ghost place into a place. Let me tell you about the old factory in Marcellina and the homonym performance.
Since 2013, Italy has been the stage of tragic landings, for it is the principal destination for migrants arriving from North Africa to Sicily, Europe’s front door. The country has welcomed them in provisional shelters everywhere from South to North – often witnessing a dramatically deliberate disorganization. One of these centres was in Marcellina, traditionally a small village resisting to what’s new and hostile to foreigners, and also the place I was raised in.
Even though immigrants have never been settled in the local area, it’s not wrong to state that they have changed it profoundly. Regardless of the fact that afterwards they have been moved away, the traces of their passage ha remained. The slow and constant walk from their residence on the outskirts to the centre of Marcellina then onto Rome by bus, has left a path, has marked the landscape. A shortcut has been created by footprints on the bit of land in front of a majestic abandoned ruin, the former CI.DI factory, closed down for decades. Most locals don’t really stop by this desolate place; almost everybody speeds right through it, indifferent to its massive concrete structure and to the nature that surrounds it. During the long summer 2014, I saw immigrants going up and down, slowly. They appeared way more native than I thought, for they had been able to modify a static landscape that everybody else, all of us locals were no longer able to see.
This was the reason behind my invitation to Mexican artist Humberto Duque. His performance shows the official Marcellina band near the old factory and covering “Havalina” by The Pixies. The reactivation of the song led to the conceptual rebirth of the landscape, previously started by the immigrants. The ruin itself turned from shade to a setting, from a ghost place to a place to be lived – at least by somebody. The shortcut is a trace of this mutation, and that’s where the performers stand on.
To conclude, it seems to me that the basic difference between a place and a ghost place is the attention one pays to it. Then art is nothing but this effort. Perhaps artists have the power of turning invisible places into stages, places worth being experienced. They see ghosts that we are not able to recognize, and turn them into creatures. After all, Paul Klee once said: “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.”